Jan-Werner Müller

Professor of Politics, Princeton University

Populisms effect on politics and markets

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Jan-Werner Müller is an internationally recognized authority on the rise of populist movements and their influence on markets, politics, and governance. A long-time student of European politics, he offers important insights into how Donald Trump won the election, how he can be expected to govern, and the wider trends toward populism that are gaining ground around the world. A German-born political scientist at Princeton University, Jan-Werner Müller is the author of What Is Populism?, published in 2016, and many other books on twentieth-century political thought.

The message. In What Is Populism?, Müller answers the questions that Donald Trump’s electoral success has raised — how did he win and what does it mean? For Donald Trump is a populist, as Müller defines it. But Müller reaches farther and deeper than the surprise emergence of one political figure. He explains a dynamic that is reshaping Western democracies which is as social and economic as it is political in nature. His message is indispensable to anyone seeking to understand the world we live in.

What is populism? According to Müller, the populist declares who the “real people” are, and then claims that only he can faithfully represent them. The populist defines himself against the elites, whose control and obstruction will always be the real reason for any of his failures. The populist portrays dissent and opposition as at least suspect, if not outright illegitimate. The populist is against pluralism as a threat to the “real people” and therefore is a champion of exclusion. The populist feels free to break the rules because the rules themselves are illegitimate and because he claims to represent the will and the interests of the “real people” against whom the rules are rigged. Populist movements are well established and growing in Europe. Now populism has come to America.

Credentials. Jan-Werner Müller has been teaching in the Politics Department of Princeton University since 2005. He has studied in Berlin, Oxford, and Princeton. He has taught at institutions all over Europe and was the co-founder of the European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin, Germany’s first private, English-speaking liberal arts college.

Author. In addition to What Is Populism?, Müller is the author of many books, including Constitutional Patriotism and Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth Century Europe, published by Princeton and Yale University Presses respectively. His commentaries have appeared in numerous German publications and in the London Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, and other English-language periodicals.


  • Free University, Berlin
  • University College, London
  • St. Anthony’s College, Oxford
  • Princeton University


  • Politics Department, Princeton University
  • Co-founder, European College of Liberal Arts (ECLA), Berlin
  • Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford
  • Fellow in Modern European Thought, European Studies Centre, St. Anthony’s College
  • Member, School of Historical Studies, Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton
  • Visiting Fellow, Collegium Budapest Institute of Advanced Study
  • Collegium Helsinki
  • Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna
  • Remarque Institute, NYU
  • European University Institute, Florence
  • Visiting professor, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris; Ludwig Maximilians-Universitaet, Munich; Humboldt Universitaet, Berlin; and the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Paris.


  • Christian Democracy: A New Intellectual History (forthcoming)
  • What Is Populism? (2016)
  • Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth Century Europe (2011)
  • Constitutional Patriotism (2007)
  • German Ideologies since 1945: Studies in the Political Thought and Culture of the Bonn Republic (2003)
  • A Dangerous Mind: Carl Schmidt in Post-War European Thought (2003)
  • Memory and Power in Post-War Europe: Studies in the Presence of the Past (editor; 2002)
  • Another Country: German Intellectuals, Unification and National Identity (2000)


What Is Populism?

Jan-Werner Müller

Donald Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, Marine Le Pen, Hugo Chávez — populists are on the rise across the globe. But what exactly is populism? Should everyone who criticizes Wall Street or Washington be called a populist? What precisely is the difference between right-wing and left-wing populism? Does populism bring government closer to the people or is it a threat to democracy? Who are "the people" anyway and who can speak in their name? These questions have never been more pressing.

In this groundbreaking volume, Jan-Werner Müller argues that at populism's core is a rejection of pluralism. Populists will always claim that they and they alone represent the people and their true interests. Müller also shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, populists can govern on the basis of their claim to exclusive moral representation of the people: if populists have enough power, they will end up creating an authoritarian state that excludes all those not considered part of the proper "people." The book proposes a number of concrete strategies for how liberal democrats should best deal with populists and, in particular, how to counter their claims to speak exclusively for "the silent majority" or "the real people."

Analytical, accessible, and provocative, What Is Populism? is grounded in history and draws on examples from Latin America, Europe, and the United States to define the characteristics of populism and the deeper causes of its electoral successes in our time.

University of Pennsylvania Press (August 22, 2016)


"No one has written more insightfully and knowledgeably about Europe's recent democratic decay than Jan-Werner Müller. Here Müller confronts head on the key questions raised by the resurgence of populism globally. How is it different from other kinds of politics, why is it so dangerous, and how can it be overcome? Müller's depiction of populism as democracy's antipluralist, moralistic shadow is masterful."
— Dani Rodrik, Harvard University

"This is an exceptionally intelligent book about a notoriously slippery, yet essential, political concept. Jan-Werner Müller's sweeping critique of populism will both instruct and challenge anyone who seeks to understand the roots and nature of the political conflicts that are roiling Europe and the United States."
— Michael Kazin, author of The Populist Persuasion: An American History

"Populism is not just antiliberal, it is antidemocratic — the permanent shadow of representative politics. That's Jan-Werner Müller's argument in this brilliant book. There is no better guide to the populist passions of the present."
— Ivan Krastev, International New York Times

"The most useful work to comprehend Trump's appeal is What Is Populism? (2016) by Princeton University political scientist Jan-Werner Müller. In this essential book, Müller defines populism's most salient characteristics — anti-elitism, anti-pluralism, exclusivity — and explains Trump and other populists through that framework. It is a quick read, and worth every page."
The Washington Post

Contesting Democracy

Political Ideas in Twentieth-Century Europe

Jan-Werner Müller

This book is the first major account of political thought in twentieth-century Europe, both West and East, to appear since the end of the Cold War. Skillfully blending intellectual, political, and cultural history, Jan-Werner Müller elucidates the ideas that shaped the period of ideological extremes before 1945 and the liberalization of West European politics after the Second World War. He also offers vivid portraits of famous as well as unjustly forgotten political thinkers and the movements and institutions they inspired.

Müller pays particular attention to ideas advanced to justify fascism and how they relate to the special kind of liberal democracy that was created in postwar Western Europe. He also explains the impact of the 1960s and neoliberalism, ending with a critical assessment of today's self-consciously post-ideological age.

Yale University Press; Reprint edition (May 28, 2013)


"[An] impressive survey of 20th-century European political thought.”
— Tony Barber, Financial Times

'This is a pathbreaking study in the intellectual history of Europe in our time. Analysing ideas that had political impact, Jan-Werner Mülller illuminates a never-ending debate about true and false democracy.'
— Timothy Garton Ash

'The most innovative parts of this admirably thorough and comprehensive book deal with the not so liberal roots of the liberal political institutions and practices that came to fruition in post-war Europe. What strikes me is the balanced treatment of developments in Western and Eastern Europe.'
— Jürgen Habermas

'Ideology is the place where theory and practice, philosophy and history, meet. Understand this "in-between" and you are well on your way to understanding the deepest dynamics that shape modern political existence. In this illuminating study Jan-Werner Müller helps us see the experience of twentieth-century Europe, East and West, in a fresh light by showing how its characteristic ideologies developed, functioned, and adapted to the world they created. By focusing on "political thought that matters politically" Müller takes us beyond the simple stories we have inherited about revolution and reaction, post-war reconstruction, the Cold War, the Sixties, and much else. By the end he puts us in a much better position to understand the forces at work in contemporary European politics and the strange attraction of the "anti-political" ideology that governs our time.'
— Mark Lilla, author of The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics

'The great achievement of Jan Werner Müller's Contesting Democracy is to guide us safely across the vast unruly manifestos of European political ideas, from the appalling doctrines that helped generate the totalitarian regimes and world wars to the uneasy decency of our own era, without sacrificing the reader's sense of urgency and signifiance.'
— Charles S. Maier

'Jan-Werner Müller’s Contesting Democracy is the most philosophically sophisticated and topically comprehensive study of political ideas in twentieth-century Europe yet available. It exhibits a masterful command of primary texts, archival sources, and myriad secondary literatures. Müller assembles for political theorists, intellectual historians and social scientists previously disparate pieces of intellectual-political life from the last, most incomprehensible century on that eternally perplexed and infinitely perplexing continent. By so expertly conveying the full significance of communism, fascism, liberalism, social democracy and Christian democracy, Müller makes the European twentieth century much more fathomable from a historical, moral and political standpoint than any previous work, in any language.'
— John P. McCormick, author of Machiavellian Democracy

“…… [A] fine study of the impact of mass democracy on European political cultures.”
— David Marquand, The New Statesman

“…..[An] excellent book…..Müller provides an insightful and comprehensive overview of the development of political ideas in 20th-century Europe that takes in Fascism, Communism, social democracy, liberalism, and much else.
— Jeremy Jennings, Standpoint Magazine

“Muller’s profound and stimulating book has much to offer, both to specialists and for others.” — Roger Morgan, Times Higher Education

“There is no chapter of the twentieth century’s European political thought that is not luminously analysed in this superbly written, lucidly argued and immensely engaging book.” — Vladimir Tismaneanu, International Affairs

"Jan-Werner Muller has written a fine book which for the first time gives us a reliable synthesis of twentieth-century European political thought."
European Review of History

"The originality of Contesting Democracy stems in good part from the diversity of its subject, its well thought-out structure, and, last but not least, its lively anecdotes and memorable quotes. Müller writes elegantly and has a good eye for important ideas and neglected authors."
— A. Craiutu, Springer

Constitutional Patriotism

Jan-Werner Müller

Constitutional Patriotism offers a new theory of citizenship and civic allegiance for today's culturally diverse liberal democracies. Rejecting conventional accounts of liberal nationalism and cosmopolitanism, Jan-Werner Müller argues for a form of political belonging centered on universalist norms, adapted for specific constitutional cultures. At the same time, he presents a novel approach to thinking about political belonging and the preconditions of democratic legitimacy beyond the nation-state. The book takes the development of the European Union as a case study, but its lessons apply also to the United States and other parts of the world.

Müller's essay starts with an engaging historical account of the origins and spread of the concept of constitutional patriotism-the idea that political attachment ought to center on the norms and values of a liberal democratic constitution rather than a national culture or the "global human community." In a more analytical part, he then proposes a critical conception of citizenship that makes room for dissent and civil disobedience while taking seriously a polity's need for stability over time. Müller's theory of constitutional patriotism responds to the challenges of the de facto multiculturalism of today's states — with a number of concrete policy implications about immigration and the preconditions for citizenship clearly spelled out. And it asks what civic empowerment could mean in a globalizing world.

Princeton University Press (September 9, 2007)


"Is it possible to develop a 'patriotic' attachment to what is basically a set of intellectual positions? This is the question Müller attempts to answer in this short, bracing book. His analysis is centered on the Federal Republic of Germany, a government deliberately designed to eliminate the need to be 'German' in order to be a German citizen. . . . What can be learned from this experience can, Müller hopes, be brought to bear on similar problems facing the newborn EU. A clearly written, thoughtful, and enjoyable analysis."
— M. Berheide, Berea College, for Choice

"In Constitutional Patriotism, Werner Müller, who teaches politics at Princeton, has provided a thorough and engaging defense of the concept."
— Michael Lind, American Prospect

"[T]his is an interesting and thoughtful book. There are many open ended arguments and some gaps (for me the ambiguity of theoretical republicanism loomed large), however, overall it is be welcomed as a valuable contribution to current political theory."
— Andrew Vincent, Nations and Nationalism

"I do not know a more precise or more careful account of the political and intellectual-historical context in which the debate about constitutional patriotism unfolded initially. Above all Jan-Werner Müller offers a masterful interpretation of this important concept, which clarifies many misunderstandings."
— Jürgen Habermas

"Jan-Werner Müller provides a wonderfully lucid (and for the American reader absolutely necessary) account of the German history of 'constitutional patriotism,' and then he develops and applies this important idea to the circumstances of the European Union. He asks us to imagine a mode of attachment to 'Europe' based not on blood or faith but on civic engagement, democratic decision making, and the appropriation and critique of a common (and sometimes not so common) history. This is exemplary political theory: an argument about things that matter here and now."
— Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study

"How can 'political space' catch up with the ever-widening economic space in our era of accelerating globalization? Will Europe be able to show us the way to a political community that does not require antagonism towards the 'other' to foster cohesion and acquire legitimacy? Jan-Werner Müller's analysis and ideas are central to the great debates of our time."
— Kemal Dervis, chair of the United Nations Development Group

"Given currency by Jürgen Habermas in the late l980s, 'constitutional patriotism' has emerged as an appealing principle for post-national political allegiance. Jan-Werner Müller traces the long postwar history of the concept, takes honest account of the conservative critiques it has provoked, but proposes that it can serve as a robust norm for European Union citizenship. This is a profound meditation with real importance for contemporary political society."
– Charles S. Maier, Harvard University

"Constitutional Patriotism provides the most thorough and insightful discussion available on the subject of constitutional patriotism. One of its major achievements is to help us assess the strengths and weaknesses of different recent approaches to social cohesion."
— Glyn Morgan, Harvard University

"This book stands alone in clarifying the idea of constitutional patriotism analytically and historically while also linking it to debates about forms of solidarity in the European Union. What I especially like is the form of constitutional patriotism the book ends up endorsing for the EU — a 'thin' form with an emphasis on political morality and a commitment to public argument rather than memory and militancy."
— Joshua Cohen, Stanford University

A Dangerous Mind

Carl Schmitt in Post-War European Thought

Jan-Werner Müller

Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) was one of the twentieth century's most brilliant and disturbing critics of liberalism. He was also one of the most important intellectuals to offer his services to the Nazis, for which he was dubbed the 'crown jurist of the Third Reich'. Despite this fateful alliance Schmitt has exercised a profound influence on post-war European political and legal thought - on both the Right and the Left, from Franco's legal advisors to Italian Marxists. In this illuminating book, Jan-Werner Muller traces for the first time the permutations of Schmitt's ideas after the Second World War and relates them to broader political developments. Offering a concise account of Schmitt's life and career along with discussions of his key concepts, Muller explains why interest in the political theorist continues. He analyses Schmitt's post-1945 writings on international order, partisanship, and terror. He explores in detail the responses of liberal thinkers to Schmitt's challenging legacy and the highly ingenious (and often problematic) defences of liberalism they devised. Muller offers a range of insights into the liberalization of political thinking in post-authoritarian societies and the persistent vulnerabilities and blind spots of certain strands of Western liberalism. Finally, he also assesses the current uses of Schmitt's thought in debates on globalization and the quest for a liberal world order. Jan-Werner Muller is a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He is the author of 'Another Country: German Intellectuals, Unification and National Identity' also published by Yale University Press.

Yale University Press (October 21, 2003)


"In his rich new book, Jan-Werner Muller examines the post-war appropriation of the ambiguous legacy of Carl Schmitt, the arch anti-liberal. This is an important book, and anyone concerned with modern political thought will learn from this paradoxical study."
— Mark Lilla, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago