Populist Constitutionalism and Meaningful Popular Engagement
Paul Blokker
Populist Constitutionalism and Meaningful Popular Engagement

Populists challenge liberal constitutionalism on democratic grounds, by invoking popular sovereignty and claiming to put the ordinary citizen in the centre of the political system, while reducing the powers of the ‘enemies of the people’.

In this policy brief, sociologist and expert on populism Professor Paul Blokker argues that such populists actually increase this lack of democratic legitimacy.

He asks: Why have populists found it so easy to radically change constitutional institutions and norms, and what can we do about it?

The policy brief presents a new sociology of constitutions that shows how liberal constitutionalism is too distant from society and hence lacks sufficient societal embeddedness, a fatal weakness that is expertly exploited by populist leaders.

The way to combat this, therefore, is by societal mobilization and civil society action, including programmes to:

  • enhance civic engagement and civic education;
  • overcome political and social problems such as corruption, inequality, and exclusion of minorities; and
  • promote constitutional resistance, by mobilized citizens, but also by the political opposition, distinctive state institutions, and judicial institutions and actors.


Without important civic engagement, it is difficult to see how endurable social and political attachment to the law and ‘constitutional patriotism’ might emerge, and how populist constitutionalism may be defeated or at least curtailed.