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The paradox of emancipation: Populism, democracy and the soul of the Left

Azmanova, Albena (2019) The paradox of emancipation: Populism, democracy and the soul of the Left. Philosophy and Social Criticism, 45 (9-10). pp. 1186-1207. ISSN 0191-4537. E-ISSN 1461-734X. (doi:10.1177/0191453719872291) (KAR id:70924)

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What is the connection between the surge of populism and the deflation of electoral support to traditional left-leaning ideological positions? How can we explain the downfall of the Left in conditions that should be propelling it to power? In its reaction both to the neo-liberal hegemony and to the rise of populism, I claim that the Left is afflicted by what Nietzsche called ‘a democratic prejudice’ – the reflex of reading history as the advent of democracy and its crisis. As a result, the Left now undertakes to recover democracy by resurrecting the growth-and-redistribution policy set that was a trademark of the ‘golden age’ of social democracy in the three post-war decades. This nostalgic gesture, however, is leading the Left into another predicament, which I call the ‘paradox of emancipation’ – while fighting for equality and inclusion as essential conditions for democratic citizenship, the Left is validating the social order within which equality and inclusion are being sought – namely, order shaped by the competitive production of profit which is the root cause of our societies’ plight. The analysis concludes with a proposal for building a counter-hegemony against neo-liberal capitalism by means of enlarging the Left’s focus beyond its traditional concerns with inequality and exclusion, to address also the injustice of growing social and economic insecurity – a harm whose reach surpasses the working poor. Reformulating an agenda of social justice around issues of economic insecurity that cross the ‘class divide’ would allow the Left to mobilize a broad coalition of social forces for radical and lasting change in the direction of socialist democracy.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1177/0191453719872291
Uncontrolled keywords: capitalism, domination, justice, neo-liberalism, populism, radical democracy, social democracy, socialism
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Depositing User: Albena Azmanova
Date Deposited: 10 Dec 2018 21:46 UTC
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2021 10:22 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Azmanova, Albena:
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