Populism and nationalism

Профессор социологии Роджерс Брубейкер делится своими мыслями о взаимосвязи популизма и национализма. В новой статье исследователь анализирует существующую литературу и пытается найти сходства и различия двух феноменов

Rogers Brubaker, Wiley Online Library

Few social science categories have been more heatedly contested in recent years than ‘populism’. One focus of debate concerns the relation between populism and nationalism. Criticising the tendency to conflate populism and nationalism, De Cleen and Stavrakakis argue for a sharp conceptual distinction between the two. They situate populist discourse on a vertical, and nationalist discourse on a horizontal axis. I argue that this strict conceptual separation cannot capture the productive ambiguity of populist appeals to ‘the people’, evoking at once plebs, sovereign demos and bounded community. The frame of reference for populist discourse is most fruitfully understood as a two‐dimensional space, at once a space of inequality and a space of difference. Vertical opposition to those on top (and often those on the bottom) and horizontal opposition to those outside are tightly interwoven, generally in such a way that economic, political and cultural elites are represented as being ‘outside’ as well as ‘on top’. The ambiguity and two‐dimensionality of appeals to ‘the people’ do not result from the conflation of populism and nationalism; they are a constitutive feature of populism itself, a practical resource that can be exploited in constructing political identities and defining lines of political opposition and conflict.

Few categories in the social science lexicon have been more heatedly contested in recent years than ‘populism’. The conceptual meaning, empirical extension and normative valence of the category are all deeply disputed. Some construe populism as a discursive form or style, others in terms of substantive political commitments or social structural foundations. Some define populism broadly and regard it as endemic in democratic settings, while others define it narrowly and regard it as episodic. Some locate populism on the right, others on the left, while still others emphasise its hybridity or political indeterminacy. Some deny that Trumpism or contemporary anti‐immigrant European parties should be considered populist, while one prominent scholar excludes late nineteenth century American populists – the first to call themselves such and the prototypical populists on many accounts – from the category. Some abhor populism as illiberal, demagogic and anti‐pluralist, while others embrace it as intrinsically democratic. Beyond these disputes about meaning, scope and valence, some dismiss ‘populism’ altogether as an analytical category, seeing it rather as a journalistic cliché and a weapon of political struggle. Scholars thus disagree radically about what populism means, about who or what should count as populist, about whether populism is dangerous or desirable and even about whether populism is a useful category of analysis.1

One important recent focus of contestation concerns the relation between populism and nationalism (Bonikowski et al. 2018; De Cleen 20162017; De Cleen and Stavrakakis 2017; Stavrakakis et al. 2017). On one view, the two are intimately connected: nationalism is central to populism and vice versa. Already half a century ago, populism was characterised as ‘a kind of nationalism, the distinguishing feature of populistic nationalism being its equation of “the nation” and “the people” ’ (Stewart 1969: 183). The Latin American literature, going back to Germani (1978), has long characterised nationalism as integral to populism. And in much recent usage, especially in the large literature on Europe’s anti‐immigrant parties, nationalism – indeed a specifically xenophobic and nativist form of nationalism – has come to be the primary connotation of ‘populism’, or at least of the forms of right‐wing populism that, until the rise of left‐populist Syriza and Podemos and of the shape‐shifting, hard‐to‐classify Five‐Star Movement, had come to stand for European populism in general. Others, however – most notably Benjamin De Cleen and Yannis Stavrakakis – argue that the ‘reified association’ (Stavrakakis et al. 2017) between populism and exclusionary nationalism conflates fundamentally different, analytically independent phenomena. Although both populism and nationalism invoke ‘the people’, they do so on this view in radically differing ways: populism invokes the ‘people as underdog’ on an up–down axis, nationalism the ‘people as nation’ on an in–out axis (De Cleen 2017; De Cleen and Stavrakakis 2017). On this understanding, Europe’s anti‐immigrant parties are fundamentally nationalist but at best only secondarily populist – and perhaps not populist at all (Stavrakakis et al. 2017).

I am sympathetic to this cogent critique of the conflation of populism and xenophobic nationalism. Yet I am sceptical of the attempt to ‘purify’ the concept of populism (Stavrakakis et al. 2017: 424) by defining it as analytically entirely independent of nationalism. I shall argue here that populism and nationalism are most fruitfully construed as analytically distinct but not analytically independent: as intersecting and mutually implicated though not fully overlapping fields of phenomena.

My interests in this paper are both historical and theoretical. My historical aim is to sketch – in admittedly bare‐bones fashion – the originally largely independent development and subsequent convergence and blurring of the literatures on nationalism and populism. The burgeoning literature on populism has been justly criticised for its lack of historical perspective (Knöbl 2016). (The literature on nationalism, by contrast, has long been more self‐reflexive about its own history and about the construction of its object of analysis.) The lack of historical perspective has been remedied by some recent contributions to the conceptual history of the term ‘populism’ that situate the concept in the changing contexts in which it has been pressed into service (Houwen 2011; Jäger 2017; Jones 2018). Without seeking to make an original contribution to conceptual history myself, I point to ways in which the historical approach might be broadened to include the relation between populism and nationalism, and I gesture towards a twinned conceptual history that would follow the distinct trajectories of the two literatures but also trace their partial entanglement.

My historical sketch treats the literatures on nationalism and populism symmetrically. My theoretical discussion, however, is deliberately asymmetrical: I am primarily interested in populism, and I situate my argument within current debates on that topic. My theoretical aim is two‐fold. First, I seek to specify the zone of overlap between populist and nationalist discourses, while also noting their differing frames of reference. Secondly, I argue that populist discourse involves appeals to ‘the people’ that are at once vertical (against those on top) and horizontal (against outside forces or groups) and, further, that vertical and horizontal appeals are constitutively intertwined, such that ‘the elite’ is represented as both on top and outside. I defend, in other words, a conception of populism that that incorporates rather than excludes horizontal (and therefore often nationalist) appeals. And I argue against conceptual purification and for a strategy of concept formation that embraces ‘impure’ but nonetheless clearly articulated concepts.

Trajectories of analysis: from independent to converging literatures

The scholarly literatures on nationalism and populism developed quite independently of one another. The first scholarly accounts of nationalism emerged around the turn of the twentieth century. These began to cluster into literatures in history and psychology in the interwar period (Lawrence 2005: chapter 3). By the late 1960s, a densely populated field of analysis involving the full array of social sciences could be surveyed in Anthony Smith’s doctoral dissertation, published as Theories of Nationalism in 1971. Enduringly influential works by Ernest Gellner (1983), Benedict Anderson (1983), Eric Hobsbawm (1990) and Smith himself (1986) gave new impetus to the field in the 1980s. By the 1990s, the study of nationalism was institutionalised in a network of journals, associations and academic programmes.

The first scholarly discussions of small‐p populism – as distinguished from Populism as a specifically American agrarian movement of the late nineteenth century or from Russian Narodnichestvo, generally if problematically translated as Populism – emerged only in the 1950s.2 These discussions multiplied in the 1960s, but they remained embedded in other literatures and subsumed under other overarching rubrics. They had not clustered into anything like a recognisable literature, defined by a shared set of questions and a shared reference to key theoretical statements: indeed, it was precisely the absence of such a literature – and the absence of a minimal consensus on the meaning of the term – that prompted the convening of a high‐profile conference entitled ‘To Define Populism’ at the London School of Economics in 1967 (Ionescu and Gellner 1969). Only thereafter did an identifiable literature on populism emerge, first (in the 1970s) as a regional literature focused on Latin America, subsequently as a broader comparative literature accompanied by key theoretical statements associated with Laclau (197719802005a2005b), Taguieff (1995), Canovan (1981) and others. Works of codification and synthesis (Moffitt 2016; Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser 2017) have appeared only in recent years.

The literatures not only developed at different times; they constructed their objects of analysis in sharply differing ways. Nationalism was construed by key theorists as a major vector of historical development, central to the epoch‐making political, social, economic and cultural transformations of modernity. It was construed as involving a new principle of political legitimacy, a new mode of social and economic organisation, a new kind of cultural identity and psychological orientation and a new form of imagined community. It was understood as a universal transformative force, crystallising first in Europe but diffusing worldwide.

Populism has never been endowed with a comparable grandeur as an object of analysis. There is no macro‐historical theory of populism remotely comparable to the major theories of nationalism. Populism has been construed on a smaller historical canvas, cast in a reactive rather than generative role, assigned a particular rather than a universal significance, analysed as episodic rather than enduring, located primarily at the periphery rather than the centre and seen as deviant or pathological rather than normal. There are of course partial exceptions, most notably the work of Laclau.3 And a good deal of recent work has challenged the construal of populism as episodic, peripheral and pathological. But even this work, significantly, often sees populism as the ‘shadow’ (Canovan 1999) or ‘mirror’ (Panizza 2005b) of democracy; in so doing, it defines populism in relation to something larger and more fundamental.

In the last few decades, two developments have contributed to the blurring of the originally sharp boundaries between the nationalism and populism literatures. The first is the uncoupling of both literatures from the scaffolding of modernisation theory. This uncoupling fostered a shift from a prevailingly historical and macro‐level to a contemporary and meso‐level perspective on nationalism and from a ‘special’ – that is, spatially and temporally restricted – to a general understanding of populism. The field‐defining works of Kohn, Kedourie, Deutsch, Gellner, Smith, Anderson, Hobsbawm, Breuilly and others were interested in the ‘origins and spread of nationalism’ (Anderson 1983) as a major vector of modernity: in the longue‐durée ‘ethnic origins of nations’ (Smith 1986); in the shift ‘from empire to nation’ (Emerson 1962) as a model of and for political organisation; in the emergence of ‘the nation’ as a crucial focus of loyalty and identity; and in the shift from a world in which the demand that political and cultural units should be congruent was unintelligible to one in which it was taken for granted (Gellner 1983). Notwithstanding rival emphases on intellectual (Kedourie 1961; Kohn 1944), socio‐economic (Deutsch 1953; Gellner 1983), political (Breuilly 1994 [1982]; Hobsbawm 1990; Mann 1995) and cultural (Anderson 1983; Smith 1986) factors, the field‐defining works all conceptualised nationalism as a transformative force on a world‐historical scale.

By the 1990s, this macro‐historical line of work had received what are still today considered to be its major statements. Significant macro‐historical work, to be sure, has continued to be done (Wimmer 20132018). But the big historical questions – and the major answers to those questions – had been staked out already by an earlier generation of maverick intellectuals. As the study of nationalism became institutionalised and professionalised, its centre of gravity shifted to works of more modest scale and scope. Nationalism lost its ‘grandeur’ as it came to be understood less as a key axis of the great transformation from the pre‐modern to the modern world and increasingly as a chronic and ubiquitous – even specifically ‘banal’ (Billig 1995) – feature of the modern world itself.

While nationalism has become a more mundane object of analysis, populism has become a less parochial one. As it ceased to be read through the lens of modernisation theory and understood as a product of ‘deviant’ modernisation, populism became de‐parochialised: it was no longer confined to the periphery or seen as deviant or pathological. Populism was to be found here as well as there, now as well as then (Canovan 1981; Taggart 2000; Taguieff 1995). Like nationalism, populism came to be understood as ubiquitous – or at least as endemic – in modern democratic settings.

The second development contributing to the blurring of the boundaries between the nationalism and populism literatures is the pronounced cultural and discursive turn in both literatures since the 1980s. The foundational, field‐defining works in both literatures were structural rather than cultural. The single most influential theory of nationalism, that of Ernest Gellner (1983), strongly emphasised transformations in social and economic structure; it was formulated in specific opposition to the earlier intellectual history accounts of Kohn (1944) and especially Kedourie (1961) and – in later formulations of the argument – against more recent cultural interpretations as well.4 The important line of work stressing the autonomy of politics against Gellner’s socio‐economic reductionism was similarly structural rather than cultural, emphasising the rise of the modern state as the key context, precipitator and agent of nationalism (Breuilly 1994 [1982]; Hobsbawm 1990; Mann 1995; Tilly 1996). But Anderson’s (1983) hugely influential conceptualisation of the nation as an ‘imagined community’ and Smith’s (1986) emphasis on the constitutive significance of myths, memories, values and symbols heralded a broad cultural and discursive turn in the study of nationalism, a turn that, three and a half decades later, has yet to be exhausted.5

Like the foundational literature on nationalism, the early Latin American literature on populism emphasised social and economic structures (Di Tella 1969; Germani 1978). Populism was situated in a particular stage – and on a particular path – of social and economic development or modernisation, defined by social mobilisation, the declining political and cultural authority of notables, the absence of stable working class parties or autonomous trade unions, and (on some accounts) by the early phases of import‐substituting industrialisation. In this context, personalistic leaders brought new popular sectors into politics and held together multi‐class coalitions through expansionary, developmentalist and redistributive economic policies (Jansen 2011: 78–9; Weyland 2001: 4–6). The unexpected cluster of Latin American neoliberal populisms of the 1980s, however, undermined this socio‐economic structural account (Weyland 2001: 6–9). While some proposed a political‐structural alternative (Weyland 2001), most analysts – especially those that sought to characterise populism in broader trans‐regional perspective – came to focus increasingly on discourse and style. This discursive and stylistic turn allowed scholars – increasingly aware of the heterogeneous ideological commitments, programmatic goals, core constituencies, organisational forms and developmental contexts of populist movements and parties – to capture the discursive, rhetorical and stylistic commonalities that cut across substantively quite different forms of politics.6

Like the uncoupling from modernisation theory, the discursive turn aligned nationalism and populism as cognate phenomena on the same analytical level. It enabled both to be understood as chronic and ubiquitous, if varied in form and fluctuating in intensity. And it enabled them to be construed as interpenetrating or even mutually constitutive, highlighting the populist or demotic dimension of some nationalisms and the nationalist dimension of many populisms.

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