Course Description

Course Name

Populism Ancient and Modern

Session: VPGS1324

Hours & Credits

6 ECTS Credits

Prerequisites & Language Level

Taught In English

  • There is no language prerequisite for courses at this language level.


1.    Course Description
The aim of the course is to recall the historical roots of the ambiguous term “populism”, with an emphasis on the original link between populism and democracy, which is its condition. The starting point will be the Greek form of democracy and its critique, including Plato’s diagnosis of those who wish to win the admiration and love of “the people”. Using various texts, it will thus be necessary to clarify not only the term demos (people) itself, but also who the “demagogues” actually were. Connections to discussions of contemporary populism will offer us not only this narrower question, but also a more general consideration of the importance of personal charisma in the history of populism. In this context, we will also consider the difference between populism with ideology and populism without ideology.

2.    Student Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this course, students should be able to:
●    understand the main features of contemporary populism and its historical origins together with its association with democracy;
●    compare contemporary democracy with its ancient counterpart, including the critical perspectives;
●    analyze and interpret various texts in political philosophy from different periods;
●    explore contemporary discussions surrounding populism.

3.    Reading Material
Required Materials
Ancient sources:
●    Thucydides II, 35-46 (Pericles' speech over the fallen), III, 37-41; Solon W36 (Gagarin 27-28)
●    Plato, Republic 555b-562a
●    ps. Xenophon, Constitution of the Athenians 1.1-12, 2.17-20
●    Plato, Republic 471c-497a
●    Aristotle, Politics 3.11, 4.1-2 a 4.5
●    Cicero, Pro Sestio 96-135; Plutarch, Lives of the Gracchus Brothers
Gagarin = Gagarin, M., & Woodruff, P. (1995). Early Greek political thought from Homer to the Sophists (Cambridge texts in the history of political thought). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Modern sources:
●    Cohen, Joshua. “An Epistemic Conception of Democracy.” Ethics, vol. 97, no. 1, 1986, pp. 26–38. 
●    Michael Ignatieff, “The Politics of Enemies.” Journal of Democracy, Volume 33, Number 4, October 2022, pp. 5-19.
●    Müller, J.‐W. (2014), “The People Must Be Extracted from Within the People”: Reflections on Populism. Constellations, 21: 483-493.
●    Canovan, M. (1999). Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy. Political Studies, 47(1), 2–16.
●    Müller J-W. Democracy and disrespect. Philosophy & Social Criticism. 2019;45 (9-10):1208-1221.
●    Rosanvallon, P., A Reflection on Populism (available online)

Recommended Materials
●    Arruzza, C., A Wolf in the City : Tyranny and the Tyrant in Plato’s Republic. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. 
●    Finley, M. I. Democracy Ancient and Modern. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2019. 
●    Kaltwasser, R.M., Cristóbal et al., eds. The Oxford Handbook of Populism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. 
●    Müller, Jan-Werner. What Is Populism? Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016
●    Sandel, M. J., The Tyranny of Merit : What’s Become of the Common Good? London: Allen Lane, 2020.

4.    Teaching methodology
The seminar will start with introduction, which will place the material and problems under discussion into context. Next, there will be a short presentation of the materials for a given meeting (focused on problems and questions, not exactly summarizing the entire text) followed by an exposition to answer these problems. We will proceed with discussion of the materials and their implications for current ethically loaded problems. In relevant classes students will receive the feedback on their assignments as well.

*Course content subject to change