The “will of the (national) people” is the ubiquitously invoked reference unit of populist politics. The essay tries to demystify the notion that such will can be conceived of as a unique and unified substance deriving from collective ethnic identity. Arguably, all political theory is concerned with arguing for ways by which citizens can make e pluribus unum—for example, by coming to agree on procedures and institutions by which conflicts of interest and ideas can be settled according to standards of fairness. It is argued that populists in their political rhetoric and practice typically try to circumvent the burden of such argument and proof. Instead, they appeal to the notion of some preexisting existential unity of the people’s will, which they can redeem only through practices of repression and exclusion.

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