From Rhetoric to Action: A Constitutional Analysis of Populism

27 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2018

See all articles by Théo Fournier

Théo Fournier

European University Institute - Department of Law (LAW)

Date Written: 2018


Through this article, I analyse populism through the scope of constitutional law. It allows me first to underline the using, by populist parties, of a specific rhetoric which targets directly the two pillars of constitutional democracies: the rule of the majority and the rule-of-law. Populist rhetoric is, in my opinion, the much smaller common denominator to all populist parties. It consists in a fictional discourse aiming at convincing a fictional majority that constitutional democracy is at the origin of a tyranny of the minorities. Then I demonstrate how populist rhetoric – which is a strategy of political opposition – evolves into concrete constitutional amendments once populist parties are in power. For this I analyse, first, Ms. le Pen constitutional program drafted at the occasion of the 2016 French elections and, second, Mr. Orban constitutional amendments since Fidesz party came in power in 2010. The two cases underline a thorough understanding of the specific constitutional contexts the two populist parties are evolving in – far from a spread assumption that populism does not play by the “constitutional rules”. It is where the paradox of populism lays down: while through their rhetoric they reject any sort of rule of law, one in power, populists still respect constitutional rules to implement reforms which threaten the rule of law. I conclude my study by asking whether or not populism and constitutionalism can be reconciled. My answer is no, the so-called ‘populist constitutionalism’ is an oxymoron simply because values carried on by constitutionalism are incompatible with populists’ agenda.

Keywords: Populism; Constitutional strategy; Populist rhetoric; Hungary; France

Suggested Citation

Fournier, Théo, From Rhetoric to Action: A Constitutional Analysis of Populism (2018). EUI Department of Law Research Paper No. 2018/08, Available at SSRN: or

Théo Fournier (Contact Author)

European University Institute - Department of Law (LAW) ( email )

Via Bolognese 156 (Villa Salviati)
50-139 Firenze

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