The Relationship between the Leader and the People in Populism
Populism establishes a particular relationship between leaders and followers, twisting democratic representation. This chapter analyses the kind of link that populist rhetoric tries to establish between the leader and the people and suggests that this is the key element for understanding the way in which populist discourse challenges democratic representation. Democratic representation generates several tensions between the representatives and the represented. One such tension is between processes of authorization and accountability within democratic representation; a second one is between the vertical nature of the relationship characterizing leadership, and the horizontal character of the principle of democratic equality. Populist rhetoric emphasizes both horizontal equality amongst the people, whose presence they constantly evoke in their politics, and the more vertical and hierarchical relationship between the leader and the masses, whose characteristics and passions are often embodied and symbolically represented in the leader. The chapter discusses how populist leaders deal with such tensions and the way in which they twist representation. In particular, the identitarian link that populism establishes between the leader and his/her followers has a worrying anti-democratic character, it threatens democracy’s central features of transparency and control, thus disempowering citizens.
Keywords: populism, leadership, identification