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The Promise and Perils of Populism

The Promise and Perils of Populism: Global Perspectives

Edited by Carlos de la Torre
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 484
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  • Book Info
    The Promise and Perils of Populism
    Book Description:

    From the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square to the Tea Party in the United States to the campaign to elect indigenous leader Evo Morales in Bolivia, modern populist movements command international attention and compel political and social change. When citizens demand "power to the people," they evoke corrupt politicians, imperialists, or oligarchies that have appropriated power from its legitimate owners. These stereotypical narratives belie the vague and often contradictory definitions of the concept of "the people" and the many motives of those who use populism as a political tool.

    InThe Promise and Perils of Populism, Carlos de la Torre assembles a group of international scholars to explore the ambiguous meanings and profound implications of grassroots movements across the globe. These trenchant essays explore how fragile political institutions allow populists to achieve power, while strong institutions confine them to the margins of political systems. Their comparative case studies illuminate how Latin American, African, and Thai populists have sought to empower marginalized groups of people, while similar groups in Australia, Europe, and the United States often exclude people whom they consider to possess different cultural values. While analyzing insurrections in Latin America, advocacy groups in the United States, Europe, and Australia, and populist parties in Asia and Africa, the contributors also pose questions and agendas for further research.

    This volume on contemporary populism from a comparative perspective could not be more timely, and scholars from a variety of disciplines will find it an invaluable contribution to the literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4687-4
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction: Power to the People? Populism, Insurrections, Democratization
    (pp. 1-28)
    Carlos de la Torre

    The illness, death, and subsequent manufacturing of Hugo Chávez into a saintlike figure in Venezuela; the coming to power in 2011 of former police constable Michael Sata in Zambia, which ended two de cades of rule by the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD); and the electoral successes of right-wing populist movements in Europe all attest to the vitality of populism on a global scale. Populist movements and parties are in power in several African and Latin American nations such as Senegal, Zambia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. They are also contesting the rule of traditional parties in Western nations from...

  4. Part I The People and Populism

    • 1 Political Theology and Populism
      (pp. 31-58)
      Andrew Arato

      Some of our significant political concepts are secularized theological ones. Not all of them. Some major religious-political concepts are theologized profane ones. What is crucial is that nontheological concepts like territory and population can also be theologized, as in “sacred homeland” or “the people.” Such is the main effort of political theology, the preservation and imposition of concepts and figures of thought in political theory inherited from mono the ism, however transformed. It can only be countered by the further secularization and disenchantment of political concepts, the preservation or the reestablishment of their secular and rational character.

      Why should we...

    • 2 Power to Whom? The People between Procedure and Populism
      (pp. 59-90)
      Paulina Ochoa Espejo

      Populism is generally regarded as a pathology of democracy.¹ With very few exceptions,² academics see populism as a threatening or degenerate form of demo cratic politics. But their view raises the question of why, if democracy is rule by the people, are populists not considered demo crats? Moreover, if we cannot believe the populist who claims to speak in the name of “the people” and to represent “the general will,” why should we believe those who profess to be “real” demo crats?

      These questions arise in a variety of situations in which both the media and scholarly literature see populism...

    • 3 The People as Re-presentation and Event
      (pp. 91-112)
      Benjamín Arditi

      “The people” is such an elusive signifier that it is tempting to drop it and replace it with one we can really get our hands on. So why don’t we do it? Because this solves nothing: in a non-Cartesian setting “the people,” like “equality,” “justice,” “freedom,” and so many other terms that make up our political lexicon, have a contested meaning. Ambiguity, as Michael Oakeshott claims, is a structural and not a passing feature of the vocabulary of politics.¹ On top of all this, “the people” has been the name adopted by outcasts in modern emancipatory plots—and also invoked...

    • 4 Insurgencies Don’t Have a Plan—They Are the Plan: Political Performatives and Vanishing Mediators
      (pp. 113-139)
      Benjamín Arditi

      The year 2011 turned out to be an extraordinary one. The clustering of insurgencies around time and geography gave a political ring to the seasons: commentators spoke of the Arab Spring, the Europe an Summer, and the U.S. Fall.Timemagazine even named “the protester” person of the year. Similar revolts emerged in the following years in Mexico, Turkey, and Brazil. Some faulted them for their lack of plans and proposals, a criticism that misses the point by confusing the disruption of the given with the task of reconfiguring it. Insurgencies are not standard political practices or policy-making exercises.¹ They...

    • 5 Populism, Political Mobilizations, and Crises of Political Representation
      (pp. 140-158)
      Kenneth M. Roberts

      As a political rallying cry, “power to the people” is widely used—and surely abused—by a vast array of popular movements with distinct social bases and diverse ideological inspirations. The phrase has a special association with populism, which explicitly seeks to empower “the people,” however defined, in opposition to established political, economic, and/or cultural elites. But what, precisely, does it mean to empower the people? As the chapter by Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser in this volume suggests, the constitution of “the people” is oft en a source of contention in any political community. That is also the case—even more...

    • 6 Populist Mobilization: A New Theoretical Approach to Populism
      (pp. 159-188)
      Robert S. Jansen

      Political observers often label social groups and political actors that make claims of “power to the people” as “populist.” Perhaps in most cases this characterization is not too far off the mark. But given the current state of populism scholarship, it remains unclear what this label adds analytically. Does it help us to interpret the goals or strategies of these groups or actors? Perhaps more importantly, does it help us to distinguish clearly between positive and negative cases, so that we can construct explanatory comparative analyses of the causes and consequences of such political action? Generally, I argue, it does...

    • 7 Explaining the Emergence of Populism in Europe and the Americas
      (pp. 189-228)
      Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser

      There is little question that since the 1990s populism has been gaining strength around the world. While Europe has seen a proliferation of populist radical right parties with anti-immigration agendas, Latin America has experienced the (re)emergence of populist leftist presidents, who are prone to enact reforms seeking to foster economic redistribution. In the case of the United States, populism has materialized as a social movement that demands a radical reduction of government spending. The rise of these different populist forces has generated an intense scholarly debate, in which theoretical issues and practical questions are addressed. As a result, there has...

  5. Part II Global Populism

    • 8 “Free the People”: The Search for “True Democracy” in Western Europe’s Far-Right Political Culture
      (pp. 231-264)
      José Pedro Zúquete

      One of the slogans that encapsulate the demands of the groups, movements, and parties commonly located on the far Right of the European political spectrum is “Give the power back to the people.” The “almost unmanageable”¹ and “even disproportionate”² attention that the social scientific literature has heaped upon this party (and sociocultural) family means it will surely have no qualms about recognizing the fundamental importance of such a motto—indeed a true leit motif—to the narratives, practices, and imagination of its members.

      One of the most striking characteristics of this political/cultural family is its “indefinite” quality. This springs from...

    • 9 A New American Populist Coalition? The Relationship between the Tea Party and the Far Right
      (pp. 265-292)
      George Michael

      Populism has a long tradition in American politics. Its most recent incarnation—the Tea Party movement—arose in early 2009 not long after President Barack Obama assumed office. A severe financial crisis, runaway federal spending, and a seemingly in effective federal government response to these intractable problems provoked a widespread right-wing populist backlash. Impressionistically, attendees at Tea Party gatherings appear to be predominately white, which suggests to some critics that there is a racialist motivation behind their activism. In the main, Tea Party stalwarts reject the racist characterization and maintain that their movement is open to all Americans irrespective of...

    • 10 Contemporary Populism and “The People” in the Asia-Pacific Region: Thaksin Shinawatra and Pauline Hanson
      (pp. 293-316)
      Benjamin Moffitt

      While the past decade has witnessed an explosion of literature about populism and the different iterations of “the people” in Europe, Latin America, and North America, the Asia-Pacific region remains relatively under-examined in comparison. This is peculiar, given the increasing strategic, political, and economic importance of the region, as well as the numerous rich cases of populism that have appeared there. Aiming to fill this gap in the literature, this chapter examines how “the people” are constructed by two of the most prominent contemporary populist figures in the region—Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand and pauline Hanson of Australia. Specifically, it...

    • 11 Varieties of African Populism in Comparative Perspective
      (pp. 317-348)
      Danielle Resnick

      In 2011, a poorly educated former police constable became Zambia’s fourth independence-era president and ended two decades of rule by the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD). Despite having been a longtime MMD party stalwart, Michael Sata capitalized on popular discontent with unemployment and poor service delivery in order to rally predominantly urban constituents around a new party he formed in 2001, known as the Patriotic Front (PF). As a result of his behavior in successive electoral campaigns, President Sata belongs to a handful of African politicians whom scholars and local observers have labeled “populist” in recent years.¹

      Yet, as in...

    • 12 The Contested Meanings of Insurrections, the Sovereign People, and Democracy in Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia
      (pp. 349-371)
      Carlos de la Torre

      Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia have all recently lived through episodes of collective action that, according to participants, redefined the meanings of the terms “the people” and “democracy.” Between 1997 and 2005 the three elected presidents of Ecuador were deposed in instances that many interpreted as the sovereign people rebelling against illegitimate governments. In Venezuela, both opponents and supporters of President Hugo Chávez literally took over the streets. For some Venezuelans, the future of democracy depended on getting rid of the democratically elected president. For others, Chávez became the symbol of democracy. From 2000 to 2005, Bolivia went through a cycle...

    • 13 Popular Power in the Discourse of Hugo Chávez’s Government (1999–2013)
      (pp. 372-397)
      Margarita López Maya

      Since 1999, when Hugo Chávez began to govern Venezuela, a profound change of its political institutions has been under way. These transformations have been justified with a view to advancing beyond the democracy installed in 1958 by supplementing its representative character first with a new “participative and protagonistic” dimension (“participativo y protagónico”) and in the second administration (2007–2013) with a so-called “socialist” model. In the course of this pro cess, terms such as “democracy,” popular sovereignty,” and “popular power” have been widely used in the official discourse. However, as Pierre Rosanvallon has pointed out (2006), the terms are not...

    • 14 “El Pueblo Boliviano, de Composición Plural”: A Look at Plurinationalism in Bolivia
      (pp. 398-430)
      Nancy Postero

      In December 2009, during the presidency of indigenous leader Evo Morales, the Bolivian people ratified a new constitution that declares Bolivia to be a plurinational and communitarian state. The fundamental goal of the new constitution is to “re-found the nation” and “decolonize” Bolivian society, reversing centuries of racism against the majority indigenous population. Th e constitution explicitly recognizes the rights of Bolivia’s diverse populations, especially indigenous Bolivians. For the first time, the constitution declares that “el pueblo boliviano” (the Bolivian people) is plural. This is a remarkable change from previous liberal visions of the nation-state, which imagined a homogenous mestizo...

  6. Conclusion: Some Further Thoughts on Populism
    (pp. 431-452)
    Cas Mudde

    “Populism” is one of the main political buzzwords of the early twenty-first century. A search for the term returns over five million hits on Google, of which over four thousand refer to recent news stories. The latter include references to a broad variety of countries (such as Australia, China, Bulgaria, and the United States) and political actors (from Greens to Republicans). This fairly trivial non-academic Internet search exemplifies several key aspects about the term “populism”; it is used very loosely, almost exclusively negatively, and (this is true) throughout the world.

    The loose usage of the term “Populism” has always been...

  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 453-454)
  8. Contributors
    (pp. 455-456)
  9. Index
    (pp. 457-476)