The state as a firm: Understanding the autocratic roots of technocratic populism

Lenka Buštíková, Petra Guasti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Why, when, and how does populism emerge in a stable democracy? This article investigates the political logic and ideological appeal of a rarely explored form of populism: technocratic populism. Technocratic populism uses the appeal of technical expertise to connect directly with the people, promising to run the state as a firm, while at the same time delegitimizing political opponents and demobilizing the electorate by instilling civic apathy. Technocratic populism is an anti-elite ideology that exploits competence to create the appearance of authenticity and proximity to ordinary people. It is less exclusionary than nativist or economic forms of populisms and its broad appeal is therefore arguably more threatening to representative democracy. In order to understand the appeal of technocratic populism, as well as why it arises at critical junctures when dominant ideologies are in turmoil, we argue that one must not ignore its historical roots, which shows that it transcends both regime changes and the traditional left–right divide. The article develops and examines these points using evidence from communist-era populist campaigns against “elitist” dissidents (from Charter 77) in the Czech Republic, and demonstrates how post-1989 politicians have exploited and also adapted ideas and strategies from the authoritarian past for the new democratic setting. The article highlights the adaptive character of technocratic populism across political regimes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)302-330
Number of pages29
JournalEast European Politics and Societies
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2019


  • Czech Republic
  • Dissidents
  • Legacies
  • Political parties
  • Technocratic populism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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