Another reading post…

Busy, busy at semester’s end – a reading post will have to do for this week. Re-reading something that seemed poignant in the light of the US mid-terms, and to a lesser extent Labor’s current soul-searching and the bizarre turns at the National Press Club dais from the directors of the last election campaign:

In my view, it is the incapacity of traditional parties to provide distinctive forms of identification around possible alternatives that has created the terrain for the flourishing of right-wing populism. Indeed, right-wing populist parties are often the only ones that attempt to mobilise passions and create collective forms of identifications. Against all those who believe that politics can be reduced to individual motivations, and that it is driven by the pursuit of self-interest, they are well aware that politics always consists in the creation of an ‘us’ versus a ‘them’ and that it implies the creation of collective identities. Hence the powerful appeal of their discourse, because it provides collective forms of identification around ‘the people’.

If we add to that the fact that, under the banner of ‘modernisation’, social-democratic parties have in most countries identified themselves almost exclusively with the middle classes, and that they have stopped representing the interests of the popular sectors – whose demands are considered ‘archaic’ or ‘retrograde’ – we should not be surprised by the growing alienation of an increasing number of groups who fdeel excluded from the effective exercise of citizenship by the ‘enlightened’ elites. In a context where the dominant discourse proclaims that there is no alternative to the current neoliberal form of globalisation, and that we have to accept its laws and submit to its diktats, it is small wonder that more and more workers are keen to listen to those who claim that alternatives do exist, and that they will give back to the people the power to decide. When democratic politics has lost its capacity to shape the discussion about how we should organise our common life, and when it is limited to securing the necessary conditions for the smooth working of the market, the conditions are ripe for talented demagogues to articulate popular frustrations.

Mouffe, Chantal, 2005. The ‘End of Politics’ and the challenge of right-wing populism. In F. Panizza, ed. Populism and the mirror of democracy. London ; New York, NY :: Verso, pp. 50-71.

Back here with more soon, I hope.