Should liberals relax when populists are democratically elected?

Eternal nervousness might well be the price of democracy

Rohit Pradhan usually has interesting things to say and minces no words. Especially on Friday evenings. As he inaugurated last weekend, he decided to take liberals to the cleaners.

“But of course democracy is awesome till it elects people I don’t like. Then I want to rescind democracy & elect the government by the elite.”[@Retributions]

Let me deliberately take this statement out of its context, to try and escape the hangover of the politics of the previous week.

In conditions of “business as usual”, Rohit would be right. Supporters of liberal politicians and parties sometimes do engage in the dubious sport of blaming democracy for their electoral reverses. It would be appropriate to call out such behaviour as self-serving and hypocritical.

However, sometimes the sourness of the grapes is an early sign of bitter poisonousness. Communists, Fascists, Populists and authoritarians-sans-ideology can use democratic process to acquire power, and then systematically undermine the institutions and values that enabled them to do so. Like burning the ladder after you’ve climbed it, there are many instances in world history where this has occurred (even without invoking Godwin’s Law). The fear of “one man, one vote, one time” can be ignored at our peril. This is neither an argument for excessive, unwarranted fear nor for disenfranchisement based on political ideologies. Rather, it is a case for greater vigilance.

In the introductory chapter of a new book on populism, Jan-Werner Muller argues populism is “an exclusionary form of identity politics (that) tends to pose a danger to democracy. For democracy requires pluralism and the recognition that we need to find fair terms of living together as free, equal, but irreducibly diverse citizens.” Read his essay in the London Review of Books.

Mr Pradhan ought to be kinder on those are scared by what they happening around the world.