February 26, 2016

Jan-Werner Müller on Populism and Democracy

Network member Jan-Werner Müller (Princeton) has alerted us to a piece in Public Seminar, entitled "Claims to Populism, Danger to Democracy?"  The thoughtful and incisive piece charts the contour of populism -- the "permanent shadow of modern representative politics" -- and its relationship with democracy.

The first paragraph is below; the full version is available here.

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No US election campaign in living memory has seen as many invocations of “populism” as this one. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are labelled as “populists”; the term is regularly used as a synonym for “anti-establishment,” irrespective of any particular political ideas; it is also associated with particular moods and emotions: populists are “angry,” their voters are “frustrated,” or suffer from “resentment.” Similar claims are made about figures in Europe: Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders are most commonly referred to as populists, as are Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. Yet do all these political actors actually have anything in common? If we hold with Hannah Arendt that political judgment is the capacity to draw proper distinctions, the widespread conflation of right and left when talking about populism should give us pause. Might the popularity of diagnosing all kinds of different phenomena as “populism” possibly be a failure of political judgment? In fact, could contemporary diagnoses of populism turn out to be a second coming of theories of totalitarianism, where the extremes are always bound to touch each other?

The post continues here.

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