ASTK15732U COURSE: Democracy between populism, technocracy, and compromise

Volume 2017/2018

Master students: 7.5 ECTS

Bachelor students: 10 ECTS


The politics of democratic compromise is under siege. The voters of many democratic countries are turning their back to the representatives of the old parties in search for something new. Some speak of a crisis of representation. We hear about the rise of populism across the globe. At the same time, the world is faced by daunting new challenges, such as climate change and economic crisis, which cannot be solved without respect for expertise. The latter has let some to endorse more technocratic forms of governance.


The aim of this course is to understand and evaluate current forms of populism and technocracy and relate them to the politics of compromise. We will do so from the perspective of democratic theory and normative political theory. This means that we will study not only how democracy is understood but also how we ought to understand democracy. Thus, we will analyze and discuss to what extent populism and technocracy should be seen as legitimate forms of (democratic) rule, or if these forms of politics threaten fundamental (democratic) principles. In particular, we will study how these phenomena relate to the democratic politics of compromise. Is compromise formation among political parties itself a worthwhile democratic ideal, or must it be rejected because it fails to realize “the will of the people” (populism), or because it fails to do what is objectively right and necessary (technocracy)?


In order to understand populism, technocracy, and compromise, we will study them in relationship to key concepts in democratic theory, such as popular sovereignty, majority rule, representation, constitutionalism, judicial review, and partisanship.


This course enhances the students’ ability to think critically as well as understand and evaluate current changes in democratic politics. Emphasis will be on the ability to present a coherent argument, to discuss and evaluate competing claims, and to write in concise and clear manner. The course will be relevant for students interested in working with complex issues in politics and elsewhere.

Learning Outcome

The objective of the course is to enable the students to:


  • Describe populism, technocracy, and the politics of compromise.  


  • Present and analyze the arguments for and against populism, technocracy, and the politics of compromise and relate them to key concepts in democratic theory.


  • Apply the theories and arguments to discussions about current democratic politics.


  • Combine and synthesize different theories and argument about populism, technocracy, and compromise.


  • Evaluate the validity of the various theorists’ arguments concerning populism, technocracy, and compromise.

We will read texts by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jan-Werner Müller, Nadia Urbinati, Margaret Canovan, Jürgen Habermas, Daniel Bell, Ernesto Laclau, Plato, David Estlund, Amy Gutmann, Dennis Thompson, Richard Bellamy, Hans Kelsen, Christian Rostbøll, and others. A complete reading list will be available before semester start.

The course presupposes a strong interest in democratic theory, political theory, history of political thought, and political philosophy
This seminar will consist of a combination of short lectures, student presentations, and discussions.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assesment


• Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course’s goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings

• Grade 7 given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings

• Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner.’