From political adversaries to political enemies? Evolution of political styles in European democracies since the 1960s

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Hardly a week goes by without reports of elected officials—often depicted as ‘populists’—having used vitriolic language and viciously attacked their opponents. In a context of ‘restyling of politics’, the style of political actors is presented as increasingly emotional and hostile. Some scholars have argued that these styles directly challenge the democratic functioning of our modern societies. Yet, such claims remain trivial intuitions and anecdotes that are as old as politics. Do the styles of modern politicians constitute new trends or reflect old habits? What are the factors constraining or favouring certain styles? In the face of a form of nostalgia for good old times, I critically challenge the idea that emotive and confrontational styles are necessarily threats for our contemporary democracies. First, I argue that not all hostility is equal. Conflicts are the democracy’s lifeblood allowing—and even requiring—heated disagreements, including sometimes uncivil and nasty interactions between political adversaries. By contrast, styles fueled by violence and intolerance must be considered as incompatible with the functioning of our pluralistic democracies; because they transform political opponents into an enemy to destroy. Second, I argue that emotive-conflictual styles are vices when they increasingly target individuals’ private traits and personal life—at the expense of the substance on issues and policies. While ‘politics is all about conflicts’, the real democratic threats concern ‘personalized conflicts without politics’. This contribution will present the POLSTYLE project and how it intends to make empirical, methodological and theoretical breakthroughs by analysing the evolution of political styles in four European democracies since the 1960s, studying performance of actors’ style in distinct arenas (TV, print press, parliamentary debates and Twitter).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2024
EventCongrès triennal de l'ABSP - University of Liege, Liège, Belgium
Duration: 31 Jan 20242 Feb 2024


ConferenceCongrès triennal de l'ABSP

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