Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Paul Gray (Brock University)
Session Abstract: Over the past decade or so, the rise to power of self-identified populist movements around the globe have been striking. Broadly, various types of internal political movements from the right and left have responded to, and taken political advantage of, severe global economic changes and inequities (and crises) by promising a ‘new future’, a stronger heterogeneous identity, or a return to economic glory, by and large via a dichotomous and litigious discourse. Much of the research that looks at the supply-side of populism describes its effects from the perspective of globalization, migration, inequality, and domestic policy, yet the realities of 21st Century forms of populism offer new spaces to identify, both theoretically and empirically, diverse approaches to the analysis of the recent populist upsurge. This panel thus departs from traditional left-right and ‘strongman’ perspectives on populism, and presents new questions on the degree to which older forms of populism still exist, how we can theoretically advance its fundamental principles, and how it manifests itself in new realms and cases.
The Politics of Nostalgia: Economics, Culture and the Rise of Right-Wing Populism: Robert Froese (York University) Abstract: This paper examines the role of nostalgia in the recent ascent of right wing populist movements, focusing primarily on the United States. In analyzing this development political scientists, economists, sociologists, and researchers of all types have tended to favour either economic or cultural explanations. Accepting the broad validity of both interpretations, this paper highlights the internal complexity of populist factions in an attempt to better understand how such a diverse set of interests, anxieties and frustrations are stitched together into a political coalition. Specifically, it explores how nostalgia, as a particular form of political discourse, is able to—by harkening back to a highly idealized and fictionalized past—create a broad base out of a diverse group through the narrow exclusion of particular key elements (such as ethnicity, nationality, or sexual orientation). In doing so, nostalgia allows fears and frustrations that arise around economic insecurity to become fused with, or even expand, pre-existing discriminatory attitudes (such as racism and xenophobia). Thus a study of populism requires a careful analysis of the intersection between class, race, gender, place, and culture to understand how a mass political subject emerges in a time of crisis.
Re-Thinking Laclau’s Populist Reasoning: Leadership, Identity, and Unity: Hailey Murphy (York University) Abstract: This paper will argue that the rise of right wing populism is a manifestation of a latent pathology within the social that, while new in its current focus is characteristic of similar movements in history. The constitution of the self as a member of the political requires a project of legitimized self identification. In the case of what Hannah Arendt calls ‘mass man’ the process of self identification produces a feeling of loneliness and political disenfranchisement wherein one finds themselves without a political identity. Politics often disregards the influence of the ‘mass man’ as they are often characterized as a backward thinking minority with little political utility and using empty rhetoric lacking a persuasive quality. However, when legitimized by way of a popular and charismatic leader the ‘mass man’ enters the political with a newly found self identification formed through the mobilization of a set of unified demands consolidated into a political movement. Ernesto Laclau’s “On Populist Reason” argues that a leader’s appropriation of demands ignites a process of mutual constitution between a people and a leadership that is fluid. Thus, the rise of 21st century populism can be understood similarly, and almost predictably as those from the past – a situation in which the masses become politically empowered via the development of the relationship between a group seeking unity and the coming together of previously heterogenous demands.
The Economic Challenges of Contemporary Populism in Consolidated Democracies: Julian Campisi (Glendon College) Abstract: Although it has remained in the relative periphery over the past few decades, the spectre of populism has long been a potentially dangerous shadow lurking in the political sphere of consolidated liberal democracies. While it may be early to quantitatively measure populism’s effect on pure economic or investment performance, there is room to investigate the political-economic intricacies of the populist turn. Therefore, the central questions guiding this paper will be: In what ways has the rise of populism and anti-establishment discourse in Europe threatened the fragile economic recovery? To what degree have populist electoral gains coincided with (trending) economic indicators such as GDP, income, FDI levels, and employment? Through comparative case analysis in European nations, this paper will frame the populist gains in Western democracies in a lexicon of risk assessment, and demonstrate that there are indeed serious political-economic challenges that incumbent governments and fragile economies are facing due to the populist turn.