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Populism and the crisis of legal and political knowledge

  • 19 May 2022
  • 20 May 2022
  • IISL, Oñati

Coordinators: Adam Czarnota (The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia & the University of Wrocław, Poland), Leszek Koczanowicz (SWPS, Wrocław, Poland)


Description of the meeting

Across eastern and western Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa, so-called 'populist' parties have recently challenged democratic ones, and frequently overwhelmed them. Contemporary populism has taken many by surprise, particularly since it so soon follows the wave of 'transitions to democracy and the rule of law' that peaked in the 1990s.

This appears to be undoing what Huntington called 'an important global political development of the late twentieth century: the transition of some thirty countries from nondemocratic to democratic political systems.

The phenomenon called new populism has global character, possibly heralding a fundamental alteration of current understandings of democracy (Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Philippines, South Africa, India and Brasil)- each embodies some claim to have ushered in 'real' democracy, governing in the name of the 'real' people of their country.

The rise of populist power has not only taken both political scientists and legal scholars by surprise, but has also demonstrated the inadequacy of the hitherto dominant paradigms of thinking about politics and law. It seems, therefore, that populism can be framed as both a sign and a cause of a crisis of political and legal knowledge. Which then affects the epistemic authority of both lawyers and politicians.

Importantly, those who wield power in newly populist regimes have created distinctive relationships with pivotal elements of democracy. For example, they pay lip service to constitutional guarantees and institutions (such as constitutional courts, freedom of assembly), but in practice subvert their original purposes to serve the populist order. Unlike earlier forms of populism, when in power the new populists display, close engagement with law, principles of the rule of law, and constitutionalism, yet such regimes appear relentlessly hostile to the values, practices, and institutional constraints that underpinned those institutions, principles and practices. It looks that new populism in power is not throwing away all institutions of liberal democracy but trying to change them.

Legal profession , especially judiciary has become the main subject of populist in power reforms and critique in public sphere has become an arena of contestation of the role of legal profession in social and political life.

Such situation require deeper refection on sources and effectiveness of legal authority.

In the light of the mentioned problems, our workshop aims:

1. At the doctrinal level, to identify the main features of the 'new populisms' in the relationship between law and politics, addressing in particular such issues as:

  • Democratization of law and populism;
  • Populist versus legal constitutionalism;
  • Political and legal emancipation versus populism.

2. At the socio-legal level to examine basic problems of legal and political knowledge especially touching such issues as:

  • Legitimacy versus criticism of legal authority;
  • Legal strategies of resistance against populism;
  • Populism, Rights-bearers and changes in political-legal systems of representation in populism.

3. At empirical level, to confront the doctrines of the new populism with social practices, which lead to better understand the inherent logic of populist movements.

  • The aesthetics of populism;
  • Similarities and differences of populist movements;
  • The impact of populism on the law.

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