Critical theory and demagogic populism provides a detailed analysis of the relevance of the Frankfurt School’s work to understanding contemporary populism. It draws on the research that the Institute for Social Research conducted concerning domestic demagogues during its period of ‘exile’ in the USA. The book argues that the figure of the demagogue has been neglected in both orthodox ‘populism studies’ and in existing critical approaches to populism such as that of Ernesto Laclau. Demagogic ‘capture’ of populist movements and their legacies is thus a contingent prospect for ‘left’ and ‘right’ populist movements. An account of ‘modern demagogy’ is thus detailed, from the Institute’s own dedicated demagogy studies through to their dialogue with Weber’s work on charismatic leadership, the US liberal critique of demagogy and Freud’s group psychology. The Institute’s linkage of ‘modern demagogy’ to the culture industry speaks to the underestimation in ‘populism studies’ of the significance of two other ‘modern phenomena. The first is ‘cultural populism’ – the appeal to a folkloric understanding of ‘the people’ and/or ‘their culture’. The second is the pivotal role of modern means of communication, not only in the recent prominence of social media but demagogic exploitation of all media since the rise of literacy and the widening of the suffrage in the nineteenth century. The dialectical dimensions of these processes are also highlighted in reconstructing the Institute’s work and in extending these analyses through to the present. The book so concludes by weighing up potential counter-demagogic forces within and beyond the culture industry.
This book offers a unique and timely reading of the early Frankfurt School in response to the recent 'affective turn' within the arts and humanities. It revisits some of the founding tenets of critical theory in the context of the establishment of the Institute for Social Research in the early twentieth century. The book focuses on the work of Walter Benjamin, whose varied engagements with the subject of melancholia prove to be far more mobile and complex than traditional accounts. It also looks at how an affective politics underpins critical theory's engagement with the world of objects, exploring the affective politics of hope. Situating the affective turn and the new materialisms within a wider context of the 'post-critical', it explains how critical theory, in its originary form, is primarily associated with the work of the Frankfurt School. The book presents an analysis of Theodor Adorno's form of social critique and 'conscious unhappiness', that is, a wilful rejection of any privatized or individualized notion of happiness in favour of a militant and political discontent. A note on the timely reconstruction of early critical theory's own engagements with the object world via aesthetics and mimesis follows. The post-Cold War triumphalism of many on the right, accompanied by claims of the 'end of history', created a sense of fearlessness, righteousness, and unfettered optimism. The book notes how political realism has become the dominant paradigm, banishing utopian impulses and diminishing political hopes to the most myopic of visions.
Populism, neoliberalism, and globalisation are just three of the many terms used
to analyse the challenges facing democracies around the world. Critical Theory
and Sociological Theory examines those challenges by investigating how the
conditions of democratic statehood have been altered at several key historical
intervals since 1945. The author explains why the formal mechanisms of
democratic statehood, such as elections, have always been complemented by civic,
cultural, educational, socio-economic, and, perhaps most importantly,
constitutional institutions mediating between citizens and state authority.
Critical theory is rearticulated with a contemporary focus in order to show how
the mediations between citizens and statehood are once again rapidly changing.
The book looks at the ways in which modern societies have developed mixed
constitutions in several senses that go beyond the official separation of
legislative, executive, and judicial powers. In addition to that separation, one
also witnesses a complex set of conflicts, agreements, and precarious
compromises that are not adequately defined by the existing conceptual
vocabulary on the subject. Darrow Schecter shows why a sociological approach to
critical theory is urgently needed to address prevailing conceptual deficits and
to explain how the formal mechanisms of democratic statehood need to be
complemented and updated in new ways today.
This book describes how human rights have given rise to a vision of benevolent governance that, if fully realised, would be antithetical to individual freedom. It shows that contemporary human rights practice is increasingly managerial in nature, interested above all in measuring and improving human rights performance. This has the effect of shifting the focus of human rights from the individual rights-holder to the activities of the duty-bearer: the state, international organisation, or business. The result is a preoccupation with achieving measured improvements within abstract groups such as the population or ‘stakeholders’, with the individual rights-holder being relevant only insofar as he or she is a datapoint in a larger grouping. The book then analyses this trend and its consequences. It describes human rights’ evolution into a grand but nebulous project, rooted in compassion, with the overarching aim of improving universal welfare by defining the conditions of human well-being and imposing obligations on the state and other actors to realise them. The ultimate result is the ‘governmentalisation’ of a pastoral form of global human rights governance, in which power is exercised for the general good, moulded by a complex regulatory sphere which shapes the field of action for the individual at every turn. The conclusion is that it is unsurprising that this alienating discourse has failed to capture the popular imagination – and that if the human rights movement is to succeed it may be necessary for it to do less rather than more.
This volume collects and revises the key essays of Gunther Teubner, one of the
world’s leading sociologists of law. Written over the past twenty years, these
essays examine the ‘dark side’ of functional differentiation and the prospects
of societal constitutionalism as a possible remedy. Teubner’s claim is that
critical accounts of law and society require reformulation in the light of the
sophisticated diagnoses of late modernity in the writings of Niklas Luhmann,
Jacques Derrida and select examples of modernist literature. Autopoiesis,
deconstruction and other post-foundational epistemological and political
realities compel us to confront the fact that fundamental democratic concepts
such as law and justice can no longer be based on theories of stringent
argumentation or analytical philosophy. We must now approach law in terms of
contingency and self-subversion rather than in terms of logical consistency and
Critical Theory and Dystopia tracks dystopia as a genre of fiction which occupies the spaces of literature and of politics simultaneously. Using Theodor Adorno’s critique of the situation of writing in the twentieth century, this volume uses the notion of a ‘negative commitment’ to situate the potential and the limits of dystopia. Examining classic dystopias by Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, McManus follows the mutation of the genre in dystopias by Margaret Atwood, J.G. Ballard and William Gibson in the 1980s. A sample of twenty-first-century dystopias are then read for their efforts to break with the politics of the present, and their inability to realise those breaks. Tracing lines of continuity and of discontinuity within the genre, McManus ends by exploring the dystopias of Michel Houellebecq, Lionel Shriver and Gary Shteyngart.