Against the Populist Temptation

Tilton Gallery - New York, NY - 11/20/2006


The general conclusion is that, although the topic of populism is emerging as crucial in today's political scenery, it cannot be used as the ground for the renewal of the emancipatory politics. The first thing to note is that today's populism is different from the traditional version - what distinguishes it is the opponent against which it mobilizes the people: the rise of "post-politics," the growing reduction of politics proper to the rational administration of the conflicting interests. In the highly developed countries of the US and Western Europe, at least, "populism" is emerging as the inherent shadowy double of the institutionalized post-politics, one is almost tempted to say: as its supplement in the Derridean sense, as the arena in which political demands that do not fit the institutionalized space can be articulated. In this sense, there is a constitutive "mystification" that pertains to populism: its basic gesture is to refuse to confront the complexity of the situation, to reduce it to a clear struggle with a pseudo-concrete "enemy" figure (from "Brussels bureaucracy" to illegal immigrants). "Populism" is thus by definition a negative phenomenon, a phenomenon grounded in a refusal, even an implicit admission of impotence.

go to article