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Empire and Multitude Populism


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In recent years populism has not only become some kind of Zeitgeist, but it has redesigned our beliefs and assumptions concerning liberal democracy. Is seems to be that radical right populism is more successful than leftist populism. According to my hypothesis we have entered the era of populist democracy and there is a fierce competition between the left and right to define and maintain the core nature of this populist democracy. I will apply the well know theory of Empire and Multitude by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2000) to understand our current populist tendencies. It will be argued in my paper that right-wing nationalist populism can be seen as a manifestation of the Empire. According to my understanding the populist parties and movements on the political right belong to the realist conception of the Empire: these actors are seeking the political power and would like to conquer the institutions of global capitalism. Right-wing nationalist populism is neither anti-capitalist, nor anti-elitist. It means that a new political elite has been created (for instance this is Donald Trump and alt-right in the USA, Viktor Orbán and his regime in Hungary) and seeks to gain political power with populist political communication and style. That’s why I call this new phenomenon elitist populism or Empire Populism. These actors are acting like populist in that sense they understand and solve the people’s problems, in fact they serve elitist purposes. On the other hand, the (radical) left populism has been called here a utopian or Multitude Populism. This form of populism tries to concern the multitudes of the people. Occupy movement, Indignados) and DiEM25 have emerged as left populist promises. I will analyse in my paper the political theoretical backgrounds of Empire and Multitude Populism. It has been stated here that the populist right has been inspired by the concepts of Carl Schmitt (the concept of the Political; the nature of neoliberalism; state of exception), Max Weber (leader democracy), and populist constitutionalism. On the left side, the Multitude Populism seems to be frozen from ideological point of view and suffering from ideological emptiness, but transnational populism could fill this theoretical gap. That is why I will put forward my thought on this crisis and argue that populist left needs to reformulate its bases as transnational political communities based on multitude.

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Empire and Multitude Populism

  1. 1. ECPR General Conference, 6-9 September, 2017, University of Oslo, Norway EMPIRE AND MULTITUDE POPULISM The Political and Social Theory of Contemporary Populism Attila Antal Eötvös Loránd University Faculty of Law Institute of Political Science and Institute of Political History Social Theory Research Group
  2. 2. Overview 1. The Legal and Biopolitical Concept of the New World Order 2. Rival Concepts in the Populist Democracy 2.1 Theorizing the Populist Democracy 2.2 Empire/elitist Populism (EP) 2.3 Multitude/utopian Populism (MP) 3. Conclusions
  3. 3. 1. The Legal and Biopolitical Concept of the New World Order • Hardt&Negri (2000): Empire • New world order caused by globalization • Global and new form of sovereignty • Counter-Empire: Multitude
  4. 4. 1. The Legal and Biopolitical Concept of the New World Order The legal framework of the Empire The biopolitical nature of the Empire • Capitalist relations fewer political control • The nation-state’ soveregnity has been challenged • Biopolitical production • State of exception/emergency • Managing the crisis caused by the Empire • Right of the police • Biopolitical and moral obligation
  5. 5. 1. The Legal and Biopolitical Concept of the New World Order Alternative within the Empire: Multitude • Realization of democracy • Incomplete democratization • Permanent state of war • Contest and subvert the Empire • The production of the common • Alternative global society
  6. 6. 2. Rival Concepts in the Populist Democracy 2.1 Theorizing Populist Democracy Paradoxes of Democracy Democratic Illiberalism • Two-strand model of constitutional democracy • Liberal or constitutional pillar • Own rules, traditions • The constitutional democracy fails balancing • Populist governing and opposition parties • Counter-concept of liberal democracy (Abts–Rummens, 2007; Mouffe, 2000; Canovan, 1999 and 2002; Mény–Surel, 2002) (Pappas, 2014)
  7. 7. 2. Rival Concepts in the Populist Democracy 2.2 Empire/elitist Populism (EP) • Right-wing nationalist populism • Similar charachter • Elitist populism (Antal, 2017) • Theoretical pillars of Empire Populism: Carl Schmitt’s theory of the Political, leader democracy, and populist constitutionalism
  8. 8. 2. Rival Concepts in the Populist Democracy 2.2 Empire/elitist Populism (EP) Theory of the Political • There is no consensus in the political sphere • The concept of the enemy • Political solutions based on the sovereign state • Schmitt, 2007 Leader democracy • An elitist political theory centred to the idea of personal leadership • Personalization of politics • Körösényi, 2005 Populist constitutionalism • Subtype of political constitutionalism • Exclusionary project • Prevail the Political against the legal system • Paul Blokker (n. a.)
  9. 9. 2. Rival Concepts in the Populist Democracy 2.2 Empire/elitist Populism (EP) Main features of the Empire/Political Theoretical Pillars of Empire Populism Concept of the Political Leader Democracy Populist Constitutionalism Legal based approach Partly (the stress on the political sphere which rule the legal system) Yes Exalt the political in constitutionalism Postmodern form of sovereignty Even though the People holds the sovereignty in fact the political leader acting as a sovereign The leader is sovereign Based on the political majority which is a collective, unitary entity Biopolitical/immaterial production There is no conflict with the global capitalism and the capitalist mode of production
  10. 10. 2. Rival Concepts in the Populist Democracy 2.2 Empire/elitist Populism (EP) Main features of the Empire/Political Theoretical Pillars of Empire Populism Concept of the Political Leader Democracy Populist Constitutionalism Biopolitical fixation Yes, the political leader is entitled to apply biopolitical instrument Not typical State of permanent exception The state of exception is normal state of the politics where the power of the sovereign can rule The leader defines the exceptional situation Not typical Right of intervention It belongs to the leader’s authority Not typical Deterritorialization Basically the concept is limited to the nation-state
  11. 11. 2. Rival Concepts in the Populist Democracy 2.3 Multitude/utopian Populism (MP) • A theoretical counter-concept • The left-wing transnational populism is an alternative possible way towards populist democracy • Utopian populist framework • An inclusive concept of political community • The multitude can be a solution to the dilemma of transnational populism
  12. 12. 2. Rival Concepts in the Populist Democracy 2.3 Multitude/utopian Populism (MP) The multitude as an empty signifier • Discursive construction of a popular subjectivity • Critique on the liberal political thought • The equivalential chain • Multitude as a transnational form of empty signifier • Corrective nature of populism • Political leadership The possibilities and difficulties of transnational populism • To specify the people “that populists appeal to and claim to speak for” • Go beyond the borders of the nation- state • Main cohesive force: biopolitical consequences of social production • The people has been hurt by the global capitalism • Meta-populism and common enemy creation is far not enough to create transnational populism (Laclau, 2005a and 2005b; Panayotu, 2017; Moffitt, 2017)
  13. 13. 3. Conclusions • How can be constructed transnational populism? • Nationalist populist theoretical heartland • A hegemonic fight between the political right and left to maintain the nature of contemporary democracy • Hegemony in terms of political culture and leading worldview (Antonio Gramsci) • “Historic bloc” of the right-wing nationalist forces • Transnational political identity as a strong counter- concept (Moffitt, 2017; Laclau–Mouffe, 1985; Ferraresi, 2016)
  14. 14. References Abts, Koen – Rummens, Stefan (2007): Populism versus Democracy. Political Studies, Vol 55. 405- 424. Antal, Attila (2017): The Political Theories, Preconditions and Dangers of the Governing Populism in Hungary. Czech Journal of Political Science, 2017/1. 5–20. Blokker, Paul (n. a.): Populist Constitutionalism. Forthcoming in: Carlos de la Torre (ed.): Routledge Handbook of Global Populism, Routledge. Canovan, Margaret (1999): Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy. Political Studies, 47 (1), 2–16. Canovan, Margaret (2002): Taking Politics to the People: Populism as the Ideology of Democracy. In: Mény, Yves – Surel, Yves (ed.) (2002a): Democracies and the Populist Challenge. New York: Palgrave, 25–44. Ferraresi, Giulio (2016): Left populism, Laclau and the case of Podemos. EuVision, 15 December, 2016. Hardt, Michael – Negri, Antonio (2001): Empire. Harvard University Press. Hardt, Michael – Negri, Antonio (2005): Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. Penguin Books.
  15. 15. References Körösényi, András (2005): Political Representation in Leader Democracy. Government and Opposition, 40, no. 3, 358–378. Laclau, Ernesto (2005a): Populism: What's in a Name? In: Panizza, Franscisco (ed.) (2005): Populism and the Mirror of Democracy, London: Verso. Laclau, Ernesto (2005b): On populist reason. London: Verso. Laclau, Ernesto – Mouffe, Chantal (1985): Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso. Mény, Yves – Surel, Yves (2002): The Constitutive Ambiguity of Populism. In: Mény, Yves–Surel, Yves (ed.) (2002): Democracies and the Populist Challenge. New York: Palgrave. 1–24. Moffitt, Benjamin (2017): Transnational Populism? Representative Claims, Media and the Difficulty of Constructing a Transnational “People”. Javnost – The Public, DOI: 10.1080/13183222.2017.1330086 Panayotu, Panos (2017): Towards a transnational populism: A chance for European democracy (?) The case of DiEM25. POPULISMUS Working Papers No. 5., Thessaloniki Schmitt, Carl (2007) The Concept of the Political. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press.