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.
(a) From Volk to culture industry
Previous chapters have emphasized the utility of approaching critical theorizations of populism via their assessment of fascism. As we saw in Chapter 5 , both Gramsci and the Institute linked these assessments with the domain of aesthetic culture. In both cases the relevant realm of the aesthetic was socially broadened beyond compositions identified within philosophical aesthetics: for Gramsci, the national-popular; for the Institute, the culture industry.
(a) Towards a conclusion: mediated physiognomics and demagogic populism
The introductory sections of this book stated that its remit was delimited to ‘demagogic populism’ rather than populism in its broader usage. Nonetheless, the identification of demagogic populism can certainly inform that wider conception by specifying the role of the demagogic within populist practice. As argued throughout, it is the Institute's work within the Studies in Prejudice project that provides us with a core understanding of ‘modern demagogy
This chapter examines what I will call ‘the Gramscian tradition’. The work of Ernesto Laclau and Stuart Hall are the best known self-styled Gramscians in non-orthodox populism studies and their work on populism constitutes a kind of ‘de facto’ critical theory of populism. Laclau's more elaborated theory of populism was long ignored in orthodox populism studies but has recently begun to inform it.
Hall's conception of ‘authoritarian populism’ represents only a brief component of his work but
From orthodox ‘populism studies’ to critical theory
Paul K. Jones
As I was completing the manuscript for this book a marketing email arrived from Verso Press. It was headed, ‘Populism: how can we define it?’ That the publisher of Laclau and Mouffe, among others, still considers this the central appeal of publications on populism is indicative of a wider problem in the field of ‘populism studies’. Indeed, it was Laclau who pointed to the endlessly self-reproductive form of this intellectual dilemma of classification. Its broad contours are now well-known: populism can be ‘left ‘or ‘right’; it lacks an
(a) The problem of ‘modern’ populism and demagogy
As we have seen, the Institute's demagogy studies were under-utilized at the time of their publication and their main intellectual influence, via the Radical Right project, was heavily contested within the US academy. While the broader Studies in Prejudice project, and especially The Authoritarian Personality , continues to exert influence in social psychological and political psychological studies of authoritarianism, it has rarely featured in the contemporary literature
Populism is viewed by many as a negative concept. Donald Rumsfeld, one time United States Secretary for Defence under President George W. Bush, in a speech given in March 2006, expressed his concern about Latin Americans turning to ‘populist leadership … that clearly are worrisome’. Alejandro Toledo ex-president of Peru (2001–06) believes that ‘cheap empty populism is the danger to democracy’. 1 The Economist warns that ‘populists are leading Latin America down a blind alley’ 2 while British
... it seems to be an intrinsic characteristic of the modern demagogue that he earns his living through his performance.
Adorno, (Draft) Introduction to Prophets of Deceit
(a) From ‘authoritarian(ism)’ to ‘modern demagogy’
As shown in the previous chapter, the figure of the demagogue is, at worst, completely neglected or, at best, highly contested terrain in populism
Inflation, democracy, and populism139
Inflation, democracy, and populism
I have suggested in earlier chapters that we are currently seeing a series
of Newspeak manoeuvres in which some bizarre semantic reversals
are taking place. In this present chapter, I want to examine one very
fundamental shift, in which the University has played a decisive role.
This is the shift from an alleged subscription to democracy into a
mode of populism that is virtually the opposite of democracy. The
shift in question manipulates the usual vocabulary and instruments of
Institutionalisation and democractisation in Chávez’s Venezuela
This chapter will expand on these ideas by examining in more detail the political consequences and impact of populism. Examining the literature, two principal consequences of populism emerge: (i) increased popular participation; and (ii) diminished institutionalisation. This analysis, I will argue, however, overlooks the influence of ideology on the extent of popular participation in specific populist experiences, and fails to place Latin American populism, and specific populist governments, within a global and regional context.
In order to