Double Special Issue: Populism(s) and Lunch with Bauman
Issue 149, December 2018
Alonso Casanueva Baptista, Raul A. Sanchez Urribarri
The state of debates around the topic of `populism’ has made clear the difficulties that exist to provide a coherent definition of the concept. There is much to be argued from historical, epistemological, comparative and sociological perspectives that may provide clarity to the uses of the term. As the world meets new scenarios of uncommon styles of doing politics and the themes of ideological polarization and social segregation take hold, the question about the value of `populism’ as a theoretical tool needs to be met with an affirmative stance that delineates its principal characteristics. The present text introduces the reader to four new perspectives that serve such a purpose and locates them among the relevant contemporary literature.
Filipe Carreira da Silva, Mónica Brito Vieira
This article re-examines current definitions of populism, which portray it as either a powerful corrective to or the nemesis of liberal democracy. It does so by exploring a crucial but often neglected dimension of populism: its redemptive character. Populism is here understood to function according to the logic of resentment, which involves both socio-political indignation at injustice and envy or ressentiment. Populism promises redemption through regaining possession: of a lower status, a wounded identity, a diminished or lost control. Highly moralized images of the past – historical or archetypal – are mobilized by populist leaders to castigate the present and accelerate the urgency of change in it. The argument is illustrated with Caesar’s Column, a futuristic novel written by the Minnesota populist leader Ignatius Donnelly. The complex and ambivalent structure of this dystopian novel – a textual source for the Populist Party manifesto in the 1890s, which stands in contrast with agrarian populism as everyday utopia – enables us to move beyond the polarized positions dominating the current debate. Reading Caesar’s Column ultimately shows that populism can be both a corrective and a danger to democracy, but not for the reasons usually stated in the literature.
María Pía Lara
In this paper I want to leave behind the failed attempts to think about populism as ideology, strategy, style, or even discourse. I will focus on the ‘conceptual battles of politics’ and their potential to influence actors to pursue and effect specific ends. Reinhart Koselleck and his ideas about conceptual history will figure prominently in my discussion, as will his concept of asymmetrical combat-concept as a means of unleashing a theoretical and political war. The goal is to demonstrate that concepts have taken the place of weapons of war among political actors.
Comparative analysis of the emerging projects in Latin America after the crisis of the neoliberal modernity project in the early 21st century
This article provides a comparative and interpretative analysis of the emerging projects in Latin America after the crisis of the neoliberal modernity project. It offers a critical interpretation of the current tendencies in Latin American politics at the national level, while suggesting some hints to understand the current neoliberal crisis in Western countries after Trump’s electoral triumph. The purpose is to figure out the collective meanings behind the new national projects in Latin America (postcolonial indigeneity, confrontational populism, defective neoliberalism, and social liberalism) that are constructing a new regional order. The work examines how the neoliberal modernity project came to be dominant in the late 1980s, only to enter into a period of crisis in the current century. That crisis, in turn, provides the basis for exploring four different alternative projects of modernity, based on the kind of rationality and agency promoted by them.
Margarita López Maya
This article seeks to explore the relationship between populism, 21st-century socialism, and the emergence of what has been referred to as an ‘estado delincuente’ (criminal state), in the case of Venezuela. That is, a state structure permeated with transnational organized crime mafias in the executive and the judiciary, in the financial system, the prosecutor’s office, the police, the armed forces, the prison system, state-owned companies, governorships, and city councils, among other state institutions. First, I review conceptual aspects of populism to understand how this served as the basis for creating the postulates of 21st-century socialism, which promoted the institutional destruction of Venezuelan democracy and created the conditions for the unbridled dissemination of state corruption. Second, emblematic cases of white-collar and blood crimes, nepotism and other corrupt activities are discussed to provide an idea of the magnitude of the issues that permeate the state apparatus. To conclude, I provide a critical summary of the consequences of this way of doing politics in contemporary Venezuela.
Lunch with Bauman
This paper offers a memoir of living with Zygmunt Bauman. It begins with the early encounter of Bauman and Aleksandra Kania in Warsaw in 1954, where both were Masters students working with the humanist Marxist Adam Schaff. Kania and Bauman followed their separate life paths for decades, though they were both postwar communists and reconstructionists. Much later, the loss of their partners led to union, in Leeds and across the globe in travel. This is a story of friendship and mutual enthusiasms, then intimacy between two working sociologists. There are also some apparent differences, as between the Lark and the Owl, or between Phosphorous and Hesperus. Life together leads especially to Italy, and to Pope Francis. This is a reflection on what Bauman called the art of life.
Zygmunt Bauman, Aleksandra Kania
This conversation between Zygmunt Bauman and Aleksandra Kania picks up on the themes of crisis, interregnum and the decline of the West. Decline of the West is first of all decline of western civilization. This easily leads to panic about the end of the world; what it really indicates is the limits and constraints of a world system based on nation-states. Spengler and Elias are introduced as interlocutors, in order to open these issues, and those of capitalism, socialism and caesarism. Trump here appears as a wilfully decisionist leader. Populism plays its part, but illiberalism now overpowers neoliberalism. Bauman and Kania engage in this text as interlocutors; this is a record of their own dialogue, and a reminder of its possibilities.
This commentary responds to the recent enthusiasm for the idea of interregnum, revived by Gramsci in the 1930s and now by Zygmunt Bauman and Carlo Bordoni. While sympathetic to its impulse, the suggestion is made here that rather than being trapped in between, the West is entering a new authoritarian normal, where innovation as well as repetition are apparent. Trump Fever, in particular, may be a kind of smokescreen or western liberal obsession, not because the problems involved are less than fully serious, but because we allow their anxieties to disable us. Meantime, the serious global contender for global hegemony, The People’s Republic of China, is often occluded from vision. Ergo Spengler: this may be not only the epoch of the decline of the West, but also the rise of the New China.
Some texts appear more than once across the corpus of Zygmunt Bauman’s work. This has led to accusations of self-plagiarism and a lack of scholarly rigour. This paper is an explanation of why texts reappear. It pays attention to a number of frequently overlooked texts from the 1970s which are of fundamental importance for any understanding of Bauman’s work. It is contended that if: (a) there is an understanding of the stakes and purpose of sociology as it is framed in Bauman’s work; and (b) attention is paid to the argument of Hermeneutics and Social Science; then (c) the repetition of texts across the work becomes explicable and unproblematic. The paper argues that dealings with Bauman’s work need to be more aware of the less well-known texts. They also need to be alert to different – and incommensurable – ways of practising sociology.