As part of the Common Knowledge symposium “Antipolitics” — which concerns the present confrontation and confusion of democracy and populism — this essay begins from the observation that populism is a word of Latin, not Greek, derivation. The Roman populus did not have the independent democratic power of the Athenian demos, though both words can be translated as “people.” Whereas today, in representative democracies, the conflict of populism and democracy can and does do serious damage to the latter, under the regime of ancient Greek direct‐democracy populism was more a demon fantasy, conjured by its diehard, oligarchic opponents, such as Plato, than a real, viable alternative mode of doing democratic politics. Thus, ancient Greek political history has its limits as a guide through our present troubles.

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