This article explores the development of political relationships between people and politicians since around 1820 in Latin America. In particular, it develops the idea of client‐ship as a form of political agency and contrasts it to citizenship, linking both to 'natural' and 'historical' interpretations of inequality. The piece claims that client‐ship has dominated political relations and that its twin tools of charisma and votes‐for‐goods allows it to thrive today in the form of neo‐populism. In contrast, citizenship has been thwarted by the efforts of parties which control political agency by imposing norms of intellectual superiority and hierarchies of disdain. Throughout, I argue that issues of race, gender and class are central to political relationships which are the cultural terrain of power, and conclude that parties must begin to take citizens – and citizenship – seriously if they wish to avert a crisis of democracy.