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Democracy Unmoored Populism and the Corruption of Popular Sovereignty

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2023-03-28
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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A powerful new account of how populist movements are sabotaging political institutions from within and undermining democracies across the globe.

The 2016 election of Donald Trump focused people's minds on populism, and most of the attention paid to the subject since has been on the threat it poses to wealthy democracies. In Democracy Unmoored, Samuel Issacharoff takes a far wider-angle view of the phenomenon, covering countries from across the globe: Brazil, Poland, Argentina, Turkey, India, Hungary, Venezuela, and more. Just as importantly, he focuses on populism's attack on the institutions of governance. Democracy requires two critical features: first, a commitment to repeat play such that political actors understand that what goes around comes around; and, second, institutional constraints so that the majority can prevail, albeit not by too much. Democracies must avoid the doomsday scenario in which the contending parties see the next election as the final choice between salvation and perdition. Issacharoff shows how populist governance undermines each of these two critical underpinnings of stable democracy, first by compressing the time horizon to the immediate, and second by eroding institutional constraints on strongman rule. At the same time, Issacharoff highlights the fact that ascendent populists were pushing in an open door as they found democracies in states of disrepair in the post-2008 world. Electorates around the world had come to see institutional democratic party systems as cabals of elites working against "the people," which anti-institutionalist populists took advantage of in country after country. Global in coverage and featuring a powerful explanation of the true threat populism represents to democracy, this book will be essential reading for anyone who cares about the survival of democratic institutions.

Author Biography

Samuel Issacharoff is the Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law. He is a leading figure in the study of democracy, constitutions, and the courts, and the author of Fragile Democracies: Contested Power in the Era of Constitutional Courts. He is a leading figure in the law of democracy in the U.S. and has written scores of articles on democratic challenges around the world. He served as a senior legal advisor to the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and is long experienced as an appellate advocate in American courts. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Table of Contents


Part I: The World the Populists Found

Chapter 1: The Frayed Social Fabric of Democracy

Chapter 2: The Capacity to Govern

Chapter 3: The Political Institutions of Democracy

Part II: Politics Under Populism

Chapter 4: Populism and the Here and Now

Chapter 5: Caudillos in Command

Chapter 6: Judicial Intercession

Chapter 7: Corruption Simpliciter

Chapter 8: Institutional Wreckage

Part III: A Democratic Restoration?

Chapter 9: The Exposed Underpinnings of American Democracy

Epilogue: Glimmers of Hope?

Supplemental Materials

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The New copy of this book will include any supplemental materials advertised. Please check the title of the book to determine if it should include any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

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