The flip-side of establishment-hating populism is the weakness of establishment political parties. Political parties keep democracy alive by channeling public frustration inside the system, subsidizing patience with disappointing incumbents by holding out the opportunity of electing an alternative governing team in the next elections. As establishment parties dissolve, frustration first finds expression by electing anti-system candidates who represent movements not parties. Subsequently, once these movement-candidates fail to produce the jobs they promised, frustrated citizens pour onto the streets, provoking a crisis in public order and a militarized police response. Violent clashes can legitimate authoritarian government which is how democracies die.
Stephen Holmes is Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law at the NYU School of Law. He previously taught at Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Chicago. His fields of specialization include the history of liberalism, the disappointments of democratization after communism, and the difficulty of combating terrorism within the limits of liberal constitutionalism. He is the author of Benjamin Constant and the Making of Modern Liberalism (1984), The Anatomy of Antiliberalism (1993), Passions and Constraint: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy (1995), and The Matador’s Cape: America’s Reckless Response to Terror (2007). He is co-author (with Cass Sunstein) of The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes (1999) and (with Moshe Halbertal) of The Beginning of Politics: Power in the Biblical Book of Samuel (2017).