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Populism, understood as an appeal to ‘the people’ against both the established structure of power and the dominant ideas and values, should not be dismissed as a pathological form of politics of no interest to the political theorist, for its democratic pretensions raise important issues. Adapting Michael Oakeshott's distinction between ‘the politics of faith’ and ‘the politics of scepticism’, the paper offers an analysis of democracy in terms of two opposing faces, one ‘pragmatic’ and the other ‘redemptive’, and argues that it is the inescapable tension between them that makes populism a perennial possibility.