Legal Populism

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Legal Populism (Právní Populismus), also known simply as Legalism, is a legal and political ideology originating from Enlightenment traditions and is still a major intellectual force today. It developed most prominently in modern day Pollona. The ideology is based on radical, liberal, and individualist thought, forming the foundation of Pollonan law and politics. Legal Populism is heavily associated with liberal republicanism, populism, and capitalist traditions.

Those who adhere to Legal Populism are referred to as Legalists.

Fundamentally, Legalism accepts the superiority of free will, acknowledging the individual's right to self-determination and development. They therefore regard personal liberty as fundamental in nature. Social institutions are the visible outcome of "self-organization" by people in their natural state. This borrows, and heavily draws from, the idea of spontaneous order. Legalism rejects the abstract construct of "society." Society itself has no "general will," only the wishes various factions and polities. Organizations in of themselves, such as governments and legal systems, are simply the creations of individuals (and a form of social compact). Governments can be subject to arbitrary authority (often by one faction or another), and undermine inalienable rights (life, liberty, property, etc.). It should, therefore, be in the best interest of humanity to devise a system to prevent the excise of arbitrary power.

  • In the Encyclopedia of Political Thought, Legalism is defined as "An ideology based on legal and social equality whereby society is governed by the unifying force of higher law."
  • Van der Buit's Compendium of Ideology defines Legalism as "An ideology in which all forms of arbitrary rule are abolished in favor of a constitutional order that protects individual rights, and creates a system whereby individuals have the maximum say over the development and morality of a society's laws."
  • According to Lindemann's Political Discourse in the 21st Century Legalism is "An ideology that promotes a system of liberal government where citizens are given final judgement in the judicial and legislative process."


Lennart Vaclav

The formation of legalism took place in the backdrop of two major events: the Enlightenment and the Morivaine Revolution. Undergoing dramatic social and political change of its own, Pollona (then the Moravian Empire) was a hot bed of new liberal ideas. Liberalism and republicanism however, began losing their popularity due to events in Morieux. Liberal thinkers found allies in the legal reform movement of the 1740s, advocating wholesale changes to criminal, penal, and civil law. Lennart Vaclav (1694-1761), was the first proponent to "unite progressive ideas" in his political treatise "The Science of Statecraft". Valclav is considered one of the many founders of the Legalist movement, alongside Klaus Bulow ("An Examination of the Citizen's Judiciary"), and Johan Havel ("On a Free Society").

The success of the Legalist movement ebbed and flowed in Pollona for the next century. It wasn't until the mid-19th century, with the founding of the Pollonan Liberal Party, the precursor to the Liberal Unionists, that Legalism became a strong political movement. The PLP mentioned that Legalism was a "fundamental element" of its political ideology and party platform. The PLP's strongest support came from the Moravian Empire's un-landed middle classes, religious minorities, and fervent republicans. Similar Legalist inspired movements or parties have, at one point or another, existed in Berry and Borgosesia.

The Legalist tradition is widely considered the inspiration for Pollona's constitution: the Basic Law.


Legalists propose a "constitutional state" (Rechtsstaat) or "legal state" in which the exercise of government power is constrained by a higher law, protecting citizens against arbitrary power and ensuring legal equality. Citizens have basic civil liberties and are connected to their government through democratic participation and via the courts. Legalists believe in the necessity of codified constitutions and laws. Legalism dismisses autocracy as virtue-less and fundamentally illiberal. It also opposes pure democracy (majoritarian rule) as both dangerous and hypocritical, as democracy claims to act for everyone, even opponents. There is little distinction, in their mind, between democracy and mob rule. It quite plainly rejects any form of unchecked authority, whether by one person or by many, regardless of their intentions.

Legalists by contrast, advocate for constitutionally limited, republican governments. A society's codified laws should be humanitarian and universal. All forms of governmental or legal privileges (nobless oblige) are unjust as they lead to intentional sectarian or class divisions. Radical for the time, Legalism rejects all forms of inherited rank, privilege, and social stature.

Legalism in practice

Legalists advocate for independent judiciaries and separation of powers

In a Legalists' "constitutional state," the laws are ultimately derived from the people. Statutes are mostly made by representatives of the people and judgements are rendered by courts set up by the people. Citizens may become isolated from their laws and government, rendering that government dangerously unrepresentative. Statutes and judgements can, from time to time, be unjust or against the expressed wishes of the citizens.

Within the confines of this "constitutional state," since citizens are the ultimate sources of society's laws, they should have the opportunity to render final judgement. Though many disagree on the exact powers citizens should have in their "final judgement," the following powers are the most identifiable with the Legalists:

  • Granting to citizens directly the power to approve adjustments to the constitution. (Constitutional Referendum)
  • Granting citizens a potential "negative" on newly created laws (referendum veto).
  • Enforcing trial by jury, and granting said jury the right of judgement and sentencing (jury trial)
  • Allowing citizens, in their capacity as jurors in a trial, to judge both the facts and merits of a case, overruling a law if necessary (jury nullification)
  • Creating commissions of randomly selected citizens to consult on government policies and audit national agencies (policy jury)
  • Creating a system of government in which laws made are, first and foremost, generally representative and agreeable to the local community (some form of federalism or localism)

Such powers are to be exercised in the confines of the "constitutional state." Through this system of "final judgement," Legalists hope that citizens can identify more closely with legal system and maximize their rights as "citizen jurists." Such powers avoid the hazards of direct democracy, while acknowledging popular sovereignty.

From this basis Modern Legalism (20th century onward) branches out into any number of studies, sub movements and break-away philosophies.

For example, Legalists are split on the nature of government (or social) involvement in the economy. The predominant Rationalist faction believes economies are a spontaneous order, to only be corrected if they damage the individual (via a market failure or externalities). The minority Empericalist faction believes that, so long as such economic intervention is non-partisan and within a "constitutional state," it is justifiable. The boundaries between Rationalists and Empericalists in economics are generally grey areas.

Some argue direct democracy is compatible with a "legal state" so long as basic rights are 'entrenched' in the constitutional order. Processes like the direct initiative and recall elections would naturally be allowed so long as they were constitutionally valid and did not infringe on the rights of others. This may lead others to claim unitary states are fine, so long as they have an element of participatory democracy. However, finding advocates of both systems simultaneously are rare.

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