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Driven by the perception that liberal democracy is in a state of crisis across the developed world, political and legal commentators have taken to contrasting two alternatives: “illiberal democracy” (or populism) and “undemocratic liberalism” (or technocracy). According to the logic of this antinomy, once an erstwhile liberal-democratic nation-state becomes too populist, it is on the path toward illiberal democracy; once it becomes too technocratic, it is on the path toward undemocratic liberalism.

While the meanings of liberalism and democracy are historically and conceptually fraught, the contemporary discourse of liberal democratic crisis assumes a few minimal definitions. Within this discourse, liberalism means something like “the protection of the rights of minorities and individuals, guarantees of citizens’ liberty, and the subjection of the government to the constraints imposed by the rule of law.” And democracy means something like “the combination of popular sovereignty and majority rule.” Given the size of the population of nearly all modern nation-states, that combination is thought to require a representative mechanism: comparatively free, fair, and competitive elections, in which the people choose representatives to govern their common life.


Law | Law and Philosophy | Law and Society