Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-127
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Pavel Machala (Section 01)
Most debate about populism presumes that the audience is unsympathetic. As often as not, this debate sounds like something from a horror film: an alien bacterium that has somehow slipped through democracy’s defenses which is poisoning civil society and leading to authoritarianism and ultimately fascism. The aim of this seminar is to suggest that instead of a supposed zero-sum relationship between populism and democracy, the connection between the two is necessarily overlapping and, indeed, interdependent. The logic of democratic politics is one where antagonism is unavoidable, in which consensus cannot ever be permanent, that there is always a “we” and a “they.” Any stable democratic system is always hegemonic but always only temporary; it can always be challenged by a movement that seeks to replace it with something new. Political change comes as the result of demands against the existing order, which must be fused together into a movement to change that order – a movement that may look a lot like populism. When individual demands are brought together in such a movement, they can become the basis for a new political “we”, i.e., the “people” insisting that the current arrangement of power be altered in their name. To the extent that such a movement succeeds, it creates a new hegemony which itself becomes open to challenge over time. From this perspective, the political question is not how to fight populism, but rather which type of populist you want to be. It’s about who you’re with, who you’re against and where to take your stand. By the end of the course, it is hoped that students will be better able to answer these questions for themselves.
Fall semester. Professor Machala.