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Photo: “UKIP office“, by Rathfelder, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Hue modified from the original

McKibben, Charlene. “Populism on the periphery of democracy: moralism and recognition theory.” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy (2020): 1-21.


Moralism is an often-cited feature of populist politics; yet, as a concept, it remains under-theorised in current literature. This paper posits that to understand the threat that populism poses to democracy, it is necessary to develop this key feature of populism. Essential to discerning what moralism is is the difference between moralism, or moralistic blame, and moral criticism. While moral criticism is a restrained and thoughtful method of holding persons accountable for their actions, moralism amounts to a distinctly punitive form of exclusion: it seeks to undermine the equal moral status of the target of criticism. As a key feature of populism, then, moralism enables a political actor to solidify a conception of the ‘morally-pure‘ while normalising hate and disrespect for particular persons and groups in society. Populism – shaped by the features of anti-pluralism and moralism – therefore presents a clear threat to democracy, especially if we consider pluralism and recognition-respect as two basic principles underpinning democracy itself.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.