On Populist Reason
What are the political logics explaining the spread of populist experiences in the contemporary world? What is involved in constructing the idea of the people? And how does this construction relate to other forms of political subjectivity—classes, corporations and other forms of association?
Laclau’s analysis of populist experiences begins with a critique of current approaches to populism, illustrated by two essential cases: the formation of a popular identity in French Jacobinism, and the dissolution of such an identity in the aftermath of British Chartism. This is followed by a discussion of the classical theories of mass psychology—by Le Bon, Tarde, Freud, etc.—and of the role of the lumpenproletariat in Marx’s work. Finally Laclau examines a series of historical examples of populism, drawn mainly from American, Canadian, Argentinian and Turkish experiences.
Ernesto Laclau is Professor of Political Theory at the University of Essex.