Left-Populism on Trial: Laclauian Politics in Theory and Practice

Anton Jäger, Arthur Borriello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This paper offers a critical assessment of Ernesto Laclau’s theory of populism in light of recent populist politics. Following the 2008 crisis and its fallout, Laclau’s writings have enjoyed both practical and theoretical prominence, inspiring movements from Podemos to La France insoumise and an ener-getic section of discourse theory. Recent events, however, seem to testify to the exhaustion of his populist imaginary. Examples include Podemos’ internal tensions and its uneasy cohabitation with the Spanish Socialists and Syriza’s troubled European pact, while discourse theorists have reconsidered some of the tradition’s tenets. This paper investigates this cul-de-sac and hints at possible escape routes. It does so by examining two possible deficits in Laclau’s theory of populism as presented in On Populist Reason: (1) a tension between verticality and horizontality in Laclau’s variant of “leadership democracy” and (2) a descriptive and normative “hyperformalism.” The first deficit is explicated with reference to recent developments in European party-systems and how these restructure patterns of political engagement across party lines. The second digs deeper into Laclau’s earlier oeuvre for the roots of formalism and insights sidelined in his later work. The paper finishes with suggestions for a research agenda for post-Laclauian populism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)740-764
Number of pages25
JournalTheory and Event
Volume23
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes

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