The ‘Will of the People’: The Populist Challenge to Democracy in the Name of Popular Sovereignty

Open access publication with SAGE and Social & Legal Studies, by Dr. Oliver Schmidtke, University of Victoria. 
This article analyses how right-wing populist actors claim to represent the “voice of the people” and express “popular sovereignty” as a mode of challenging the traditional constitutional foundation of liberal democracy. This hypothesis is illustrated by an investigation into the political discourse of the Alternative for Germany considering how this populist actor has developed a political strategy claiming to speak for the “people” in an authentic and immediate fashion. The analysis of this actor’s political mobilization shows how the championed direct democratic representation is couched in a sovereigntist discourse that relies on divisive identity markers rather than genuine democratic participation. Drawing on Carl Schmitt’s concept of the political, the article interprets right-wing populism as invoking a permanent “state of exception” that employs an emotionally charged friendenemy distinction whose logic of representing the people has the potential of triggering radical political change as well as undermining the integrity of rule-based democracy.