who is behind it
THE WITHERING OF POPULISM AND CONSEQUENCES
ICREA Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Barcelona.
His books include The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy
(2008), The Remains of Being (2009), and, most recently,
Hermeneutic Communism (2011, coauthored with G. Vattimo),
all published by Columbia University Press.
We will remember 2016
not only for the return of populism throughout the West, but also
for the blindness of those who could not see the difference between
right-wing and leftist populism.
distinction is vital, and overlooking it further contributes to
the degradation of a public discourse that is already in trouble.
The rise of both kinds of populism is the result of the long-term
failure of neo-liberal policies, as many already know, but it
is also "a necessary dimension of democratic politics"
as the political philosopher Chantal Mouffe explains.
understand why so many people in the world's "advanced"
democracies have turned to both far-right and leftist populism,
it is necessary to understand how harmful for traditional parties
and voting habits throughout the West has been the moralization
of politics, which took place in the second part the 20th century.
the victory of the free world over communism, the universalization
of liberal democracy, and the globalization of trade agreements,
traditional parties began to believe that partisan conflicts could
be overcome through compromise. Democratic elections became all
about establishing a discourse beyond ‘sovereignty’
and ‘opposition’, ‘left’ and ‘right.’
these necessary components of a healthy democratic society? Societal
debates arise not simply because we are conflictual beings with
diverse values, traditions and beliefs but also because we are
suspicious of the possibility of universal rational compromises.
The problem with these compromises, as we are now experiencing
in the European Union, is that the deliberations they embody are
always framed; that is, they do not involve real choices among
Giddens' "third-way" political theory in the 1990s was
among the first to represent this modern frame, as its implementation
through Tony Blair's New Labour policies demonstrated. The British
scholar explained that the goal of his idea was to create "one-nation
politics" where there is "no authority without democracy."
This is framed democracy, where the submission of laws to the
"consensus at the centre" is the only democratic, that
is, acceptable outcome of politics. This framing claimed that
it overcame traditional oppositional politics, but instead it
substituted moral categories - ‘good’ and ‘evil,’
‘right’ and ‘wrong’ -- for the language
of competing political ideas, giving rise to the moralisation
third way embraced neo-liberalism and hid the language of debate
behind curtains of political correctness, it not only obstructed
democratic channels of expression for diverse political stances,
but also delegitimized them. This moralizing vocabulary, together
with the third-way imperative of bipartisan consensus, has led
to further shrinking of the difference between the parties of
the left and the right and, as choices disappeared, popular interest
in politics withered.
to Mouffe and her fellow political philosopher Ernesto Laclau,
whose investigations of populism have now become central among
political scientist, if democracy wants to preserve its superiority
among other political systems, it must return to the people.
is what populism does. It is "a way of constructing the political
on the basis of interpellating the underdog to mobilize against
the existing status quo". It brings together different demands
in opposition to a common enemy. Laclau and Mouffe do not consider
populism an ideology but rather a political form capable of articulating
identities, interests, and needs that have been delegitimized
by centre-right and centre-left parties.
to others political analysts, Laclau and Mouffe do not believe
that this strategy as it is applied by populist politicians is
designed exclusively to obtain power; it is also a necessary effort
to overcome the lack of alternatives embodied by the traditional
parties of the past decades.
AND LEFT POPULISM
consequence of framed democracies, populism has become the only
productive form to take into account the demands of the people
and to promote collective participation. But just as there was
once a substantial difference between right and left-wing policies,
there is also a difference between rightist and leftist populism.
both apply the same principle -- bringing together a crowd around
a political idea in order to shape an us against a them -- the
concepts used to define these groups are radically different.
This is also evident in the emotions each side uses to mobilize
voters: fear of the foreigner on the right and hope for a better
future on the left. The former is rooted in hatred and indifference,
and the latter, in justice and equality.
populism of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, expressed in their
"Make America Great Again" and "Leave" campaigns,
restricts the national identity of ‘the people,’ excluding
immigrants, refugees and any Other definable as ‘foreign’
to a sentimental ideal. Although exclusion is also present in
the left-wing populism of Bernie Sanders and Pablo Iglesias, they
do not exclude categories of people but rather those sectors of
the establishment in the service of neo-liberal global corporations.
this meant breaking up the big banks and, for Iglesias, defeating
the Spanish ‘caste’ which includes the two major political
parties, the right-wing People's Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist
Workers' Party (PSOE). These parties, like the Republican and
Democratic parties in the United States as well as the Tories
and Labour in the UK, have also lost much of their popular support
through their acceptance of the demands of financial capitalism.
today goes deeper than the victory of the right-wing populism
of Trump and Farage, though the xenophobic nature of their regimes
are profoundly troubling. The failure of left-wing populism leaves
democracy in an even more desperate state.
did not manage to win the primaries, an exercise in corporate
governance designed to defang populist ideas. And Iglesias's Podemos,
which now governs in a number of regions and cities, has proved
unable to bring substantial social changes -- such as the basic
universal income -- to the level of national politics.
is right-wing populism, now elected to positions of power, that
is not compatible with a pluralist conception of democracy in
the 21st century. The left-wing populism of Sanders and Iglesias
represents the only chance that the parties of the framed democracies
have to defeat the populist monster they have unleashed.