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CfH Lectures


27 January 2010

The Political Space of Populism (or The Populist Representation of Representative Democracy)

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Rudi Laermans’s lecture is preceded by a lecture by Jolle Demmers.

Populism supersedes the differences between Left and Right and lacks a clear core of ideological beliefs. It is therefore a notoriously difficult to grasp political phenomenon. In the lecture, we will argue that populism is first and foremost a particular representation of societal space in general and of representative democracy in particular. More particularly, populist discourse reduces the complexity of the latter to a threefold relationship between ‘the people’, ‘the leader’ and ‘the elite’. Three main variants of populism may be discerned, i.e. ethnic populism, civic populism, and social-economic populism. Populism, thus we will argue, is difficult to reconcile with the actual logic of representative democracy and may even undermine its very foundations.

This lecture was given within the framework of the 2010 School of Critical Theory organized by the Centre for the Humanities in Utrecht. The programme was titled ‘Cosmopolitanism, Peace and Conflict’, and offered trans-national and interdisciplinary approaches drawn from the humanities, social sciences, law, philosophy and international relations. Its focus on the development of crossnational European perspectives in these areas, allows for the innovative use of key notions of cosmopolitanism and diversity as bridge-makers across different national, cultural and disciplinary traditions. The school consisted of three clusters, which focused on Populism and anti-cosmopolitanism in Europe today, Frames of War, and Legal Theory and Cosmopolitics.