Contemporary Populism and Crisis – Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?
10 April, 2013
By Benjamin Moffitt
It seems today that we are permanently experiencing some sort of political crisis. Suffering the hangover of the Global Financial Crisis, in the midst of the European Union crisis, and allegedly undergoing a crisis of faith in democracy, it would appear that the stage has been set for populists to sweep in, appeal to ‘the people’ and enjoy great success by capitalizing on a general loss of faith and disaffection with the elite. However, across the world this has not necessarily been the case in the past five years: after precipitous rises, the US Tea Party is flailing; in Australia, Pauline Hanson can’t get elected; in the Netherlands, Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party’s vote share has dropped; and a number of European countries have installed relatively popular technocratic governments. Only the Latin American region seems immune to this trend.
So what is going on here? In this presentation, Benjamin Moffitt argues that we need to flip the common wisdom on the relationship between populism and crisis, which sees crisis as a cause or necessary precondition of populism. Instead, there is a need to think of it as an internal feature of populism. In making this argument, he will examine the tactics, stylistic manoeuvres and performative repertoires that populist actors use to ‘perform’ and mediate a sense of crisis. Drawing on contemporary empirical examples, he will explore the effects of ‘performing’ crisis, including the division of ‘the people’ and ‘the elite’, the simplification of politics, and the legitimation of ‘strong’ leadership. Finally, he will ask what long-term effects populists’ performance of crisis has on democratic politics in Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific.
Benjamin is a PhD candidate and Postgraduate Teaching Fellow in the Department and Government and International Relations. He holds an Australian Postgraduate Award and University of Sydney Merit Award. He was awarded the inaugural Sydney Democracy Initiative PhD Collaboration Fellowship at the WZB (Berlin Social Science Research Centre) in 2011.
Working at the intersection of political theory and political sociology, Benjamin’s research focuses on the relationship between contemporary populism and democracy around the world, with a particular focus on representation, media, governance and crisis.
Location: RC Mills Boardroom, Level 1, R.C Mills Building, The University of Sydney