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Canihac, Hugo. “Illiberal, anti-liberal or post-liberal democracy? Conceptualizing the relationship between populism and political liberalism.” Political Research Exchange 4, no. 1 (2022): 2125327.


While most authors have attempted to conceptualize populism by exploring its relation with representative democracy, this note is concerned with a different, yet equally pressing issue: How is populism related to the other building block of contemporary democracies – political liberalism? Most commonly, populism has, in academic as political discourses, been described as ‘illiberal’. But the precise meaning of this ‘illiberal’ character is elusive, and often overlaps with other concepts such as ‘anti-liberal’ or even ‘post-liberal’. This conceptual haze is not only detrimental to political theorists, but to comparative political scientists as well. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to clarify these concepts, in order to cast light on the relationship between populism and political liberalism. It provides a review and critical discussion of the concepts of ‘illiberalism’, ‘anti-liberalism’ and ‘post-liberalism’; further, it offers to organize them in a coherent, and empirically productive, manner. In particular, it argues that ‘illiberalism’ should be treated with much caution; instead, it defines more workable concepts of ‘anti-liberalism’ and ‘post-liberalism’. So doing, it suggests how these concepts could be used in combination to fruitfully account for different dimensions of the study of populism, namely research on populist discourses, ideas and practices.

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.