Populism is a style of political discourse and practice that calls for the return of power to the people. The term populism derives from the Latin populus, referring both to a people, as in a political community, and to the common people, as in the masses. The populist tradition thus recalls the popular assemblies of ancient Athens and the plebeian councils of the Roman Republic. In modern politics, populism draws its force from the ideal of popular sovereignty, which holds that citizens are the fundamental source of power and authority in a legitimate political order. Populist actors and leaders claim to embody or represent the voice of the sovereign people, often dramatizing a conflict that pits the common people against elite concentrations of economic, cultural, or governmental power. Because it promises to return power to the people, and exposes fault lines in established orders, populism raises ongoing questions about the meanings, limits, and prospects of democracy.
Published in The Encyclopedia of Political Thought, Online: 15 SEP 2014, DOI: 10.1002/9781118474396.wbept0808, John Wiley & Sons, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781118474396.wbept0808/abstract