Populism, Cosmopolitanism, or Democratic Realism?

  • Christopher Meckstroth


This article argues that populism, cosmopolitanism, and calls for global justice should be understood not as theoretical positions but as appeals to different segments of democratic electorates with the aim of assembling winning political coalitions. This view is called democratic realism: it considers political competition in democracies from a perspective that is realist in the sense that it focuses not first on the content of competing political claims but on the relationships among different components of the coalitions they work to mobilise in the pursuit of power. It is argued that Laclau’s populist theory offers a sort of realist critique of other populists, but that his view neglects the crucial dynamics of political coalition-building. When the relation of populism to global justice is rethought from this democratic realist angle, one can better understand the sorts of challenges each faces, and also where and how they come into conflict.