Beyond Reason: The Subject of Desire and Enjoyment in Populism

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'Populism' is defined, debated, and contested at multiple levels. Without entering the complexities involved in trying to define the term, this chapter takes as its point of departure the ideational approach staked by Muddle and Kultwasser in Populism: A Very Short Introduction (2017). According to them populism is a "discourse, ideology or worldview" (Muddle and Kultwasser 2017: 5). It is a 'thin-centered ideology' which conveniently fuses with 'thick-centered' ideologies such as socialism and/or nationalism and "considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic camps, 'the pure people' versus 'the corrupt elite'" (ibid.: 6). But while Mudde and Kultwasser do an excellent job of laying down some of the critical terms underwriting the concept, namely, the people versus the elite, 'general will' (volanté générale) as separate from the 'will of all' (volanté de tous), and the cult of the charismatic strongman leader, their treatment lacks an interdisciplinary approach to the concept. But this is expected since, as John Abromeit correctly notes, academic scholarship on populism is commonly dominated by political scientists with few, if rare, contributions from sociologists, media scholars, and historians resulting in a general dearth of interdisciplinary and theoretical explorations of populism: "Insights into the socio-economic roots and social-psychological mechanisms that underlie populist movements" remain absent in current studies (2017: 177, 178). The attempt here will be to establish a partial corrective for this blind spot by introducing Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalytic theory for understanding some of the core concepts of Populism, but most specifically, by underlining the importance of addressing the issue from the perspective of the desiring rather than the discursive subject.

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