I’ve been asked to review Francisco Panizza’s collection Populism and the Mirror of Democracy along with Ernesto Laclau’s On Populist Reason (which is finally out). I’m getting going on this review quickly, as it’s absolutely germane to the chapter I am finishing at the moment.
Laclau’s contribution to Panizza’s book is useful, clear, and interesting. But it seems clearer than ever, now that he’s returned so explicitly to the terrain of his first book, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory, that there is something missing in his post-Marxism that has never been replaced: an answer to the question of how to distinguish between populisms.
I’m relatively untroubled by the other changes that are consequent in the move from Marxism to post-Marxism (even if I may not agree with them). But the essay on populism in Politics and Ideology responded to a specific problem, arising from Laclau’s personal experience with Peronism in Argentina: is it possible (and if so how) to distinguish between a “progressive” or left-wing populism and a “reactionary” or right-wing one? In Politics and Ideology, this problem was resolved by reference to a second, class, articulation. So every political movement had its class aspect as well as its populist aspect. That’s gone now, and nothing has replaced it.
Or rather, he does distinguish between a right-wing and a left-wing populism, but only on the basis of their “entirely opposite political signs” (Panizza 45). But what are these “political signs,” and how do they differ from the signifiers deployed by and in political discourse itself? These political signs must be some type of meta-signifier transcending the political itself. But how does one adjudicate, in turn, within this secondary (primary?) order of political signification? I can only imagine it’s a matter of “common sense”: of course we know that (say) Mao is on the left and Hitler on the right. But that begs the question, precisely, of those more difficult populist movements such as Peronism.
Perhaps all will become clear in On Populist Reason. But I doubt it.
Anyhow, my aim is to finish this review by the end of the week, or earlier if at all possible.