How does populism turn authoritarian? Venezuela is a case in point

Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist, wrote in a 2015 column for The Guardian that “populism is an illiberal democratic response to undemocratic liberalism.”

In other words, Mr. Chávez, like other populist leaders, told his supporters that their problems were caused by unresponsive, undemocratic elites and institutions. A strong leader, he argued, was necessary to break through those shadowy forces and impose the will of the people. That message was popular, as were initial steps.

“However, this comes at a price,” Mr. Mudde wrote. This “majoritarian extremism” reframes democracy not as a negotiated process meant to include and serve everyone, but rather as a zero-sum battle between popular will and whoever dares to oppose it — including judges, journalists, opposition leaders or even government technocrats labeled, in some countries, as a “deep state.”

This is why Kurt Weyland, a University of Texas political scientist, wrote, in a 2013 academic article, “Populism will always stand in tension with democracy.”