By Jeff Maskovsky and Sophie Bjork-James
This book is about the political forms of anger that have emerged across the globe in the last decade, and what they tell us about the conjunctural shifts taking place as neoliberalism exhausts itself as a set of ruling projects, ideologies and rationalities. Exasperated publics routinely express their disdain for the political and economic status quo and the prioritization of finance-led globalization, free trade, structural adjustment, and austerity. At first it appeared that the left would successfully channel this public anger, as the Arab Spring, the Indignados movement, Occupy Wall Street, #BLM, and other uprisings criticized neoliberal austerity, challenged the legitimacy of authoritarian regimes, condemned economic inequality, opposed environmental destruction, protested racialized state violence, and innovated radically democratic governing forms. Yet, very quickly, right-wing nationalist movements also flourished. In the United States and among the countries in the European Union, angry publics delivered xenophobic political outcomes such as the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s presidency. And political leaders in Russia, India, the Philippines, Turkey, and in parts of Latin America and Africa also mobilized public anger into attacks on cosmopolitan elites and outsiders.
Populism is the key term that is used typically to describe these political developments, and for good reason: it directs our attention to the brutal effectiveness of political mobilizations channeling popular disdain for established governing norms, forms, ideas and values, replacing democratic ideals of inclusion with nationalist movements advocating the power of “the people” against outsiders and the elites who allow them in. Yet conventional academic debates over populism’s exact form and the kinds of politics that are covered by the term do little to help us understand the ways that popular disdain, disillusionment, and disenchantment are taking political form in the world today. Nor does the term populism capture the full scope of popular misgivings about the status quo that are expressed in current political formations. This book thus does not attempt to intervene in the academic discussion around populism’s proper definition or to isolate its organizational or ideological features in current movements. Our focus is instead the kinds of disturbances and dislocations that are created by today’s popular political passions.
In a broad sense, we locate what we are calling angry politics within the political-economic regime of neoliberalism and its failures as a viable project. Indeed, we make the anthropological case that angry politics in many ways point to the decline, limits, and failures of various neoliberal projects as they have been enacted across the globe. Yet our point is not simply that new political forms emerge mainly as a popular expression of dismay over the kinds of dispossession, inequality, and disenfranchisement that have accompanied neoliberalism’s rise, though they are sometimes that. Rather, we argue that new destructive projects of resentment have surfaced in the political spaces opened by neoliberalism’s recent failures, faults, and retreats. These projects, the book demonstrates, enact retrograde politics around race, class, gender, sex, ethnicity, migration and inclusion and help to consolidate harder edged forms of authoritarian rule.
The Twilight of Neoliberalism
The collapse of the global financial sector in 2007-2008 is one of many signs of strain in a global neoliberal order that has sought, since the 1980s, to tie US-led globalism with a revived form of 19th century liberalism. In truth, the form of capitalist political economy since the 1980s that is frequently glossed as neoliberal globalization has never been fully secure, just like the Keynesian system before it (Harvey 2007, 2018). It nonetheless succeeded on many fronts: anointing a new group of transnational elites, restoring profitability and growth in the metropolitan centers of global capitalism after they had slowed in the 1960s and 1970s, enabling the rise of China, India and Brazil as economic powerhouses, and facilitating the emergence and expansion of the entrepreneurial middle classes in parts of Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and in some of the countries in the former Soviet orbit. Yet neoliberal policies and projects also introduced greater competition, financialized volatility, and economic polarization, poverty, and precarity. For example, the introduction of billions of new workers into the global capitalist system devalued labor on a global scale, producing new patterns of class division, uneven development, and dispossession (Kalb and Halmai 2011). Far from a laissez-faire system, governments – especially central banks – have had to intervene repeatedly to stabilize an increasingly volatile economy. Indeed, long before the 2008 financial meltdown, neoliberal globalization was plagued by recurrent crises, from the US savings and loan disaster of the 1980s and the collapse in the late 1990s of the technology boom, to the 1997 Asian financial crisis. In these moments of crisis, and beyond them, economic policy makers seldom asked for, or were given, popular support or approval for the technocratic reforms they proposed and implemented. The liberal democratic ideals that are at the ideological core of neoliberalism were thus chronically under strain, and a long-term crisis in political authority and legitimacy was, in fact, endemic to neoliberal globalization from the start.
The 21st century rise of authoritarian regimes is not merely an expression of neoliberalism’s core political contradiction, however. A variety of contingencies have reshaped global, regional and national politics in the post-Cold War period. The US attempted to position itself in the aftermath of the Cold War as the unrivaled global hegemon with neoliberalism as the core ideology of its global ambitions. Yet it failed to consolidate global power on precisely these terms in the wake of 9/11. Indeed, the Bush era war on terror, far from helping to consolidate a new global order, failed at every level, including militarily. What was supposed to mark a new phase of privatist, free market globalism cum US-styled democracy (which is what the neocons envisioned for both Afghanistan and Iraq) marked instead the beginning of the end of global American imperialism (Smith 2004). Russian interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere further offered up an alternative to US geopolitical power and demonstrated the US’s declining influence. And China’s ascent onto the global stage occurred without the democratizing political reforms that pundits in the West predicted for decades as the inevitable consequence of its integration into the global capitalist system (Mann 2008). In parts of the Global South, during the same period, popular mobilizations surfaced against the erosion of the economic and social benefits previously available to the popular classes during the period of state-led development (Almedia 2007; Brenner 2010). Although these mobilizations exposed the limitations of the neoliberal development model and its attendant pattern of inequality, the leaders who road the wave of these protests into political office had to rely mostly on China and the Global North for investments, rarely broke with global trade accords, and faced considerable obstacles in the crafting of heterodox development models as a result.
With US-led globalism in decline, liberalism itself, and neoliberalism in particular, have weakened in several senses. The neoliberal orthodoxies of unfettered international competition, flexible and deregulated labor markets, and the non-interventionist state, for example, no longer hold sway even if the global economy continues to be organized with a neoliberal architecture. At the level of policy and ideology, neoliberalism has become a form of zombie economics, a set of dead ideas and policies that walk the earth in search of vulnerable people to feed on (Peck 2010; Quiggin 2012). Further, democracy itself is no longer seen as vital to economic growth and prosperity. Indeed, for many, the very idea of a global order organized around human rights and liberal democratic principles is no longer as compelling as it once was, as issues of safety, security and stability take popular priority over the liberal freedoms that were traditionally valued or aspired to. This is not to say that the ideals and rationalities associated with liberalism, neoliberal or otherwise, were unproblematic. The actually existing liberal order has left a great deal to be desired, and was built on systems of colonialism, slavery, exploitation, oppression, war and violence at a scale that had never been seen in human history. But, as Don Robotham argues in his chapter in this volume, the liberal movement also served productively as a counterpoint to more radical experiments in economy, democracy and inclusion, which now must find different footing in a world where liberalism is no longer taken for granted (cf., Chatterjee 2016). In short, the ideological and political terms of popular struggle and sovereignty have changed dramatically since the Cold War ended, first with the demise of the Soviet model and now apparently with the demise, or at least dramatic weakening, of the liberal model that was expected to ascend unrivaled after its collapse. Taken together, these developments are suggestive that faith in the idea of representative democracy and cosmopolitan liberalism as the longstanding political and governmental correlates of capitalism itself has been severely undermined.
It is no surprise, in this situation, that the forces of reaction and authoritarianism have grown steadily, frequently in the form of right-wing populism. The political elite in the United States, for example, lost legitimacy in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, when both neoliberals and neoconservatives alike offered adequate bailouts only to the banks, not to the millions of people who faced home ownership foreclosure, mortgage default, job loss and social precarity. Donald Trump exploited this legitimacy crisis to make his political ascent. The imposition of austerity worked similarly in Europe, at both its core and edges, where frustration with techno-managerial rule became linked in some political quarters to long-standing skepticism about the European Union and about its stance on open borders and migration. Right-wing populist parties gained electoral ground in Italy, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Bulgaria, and elsewhere. In contrast, Latin America returned to some extent to the neoliberal fold as the anti-neoliberal “pink tide” receded in the late 2000s. Across the region, the limitations of neoextractivist growth models, or, in Brazil, the “Lula model,” hamstrung left-leaning governments, which backtracked on their redistributive promises. This created new tensions between leaders and the social movements that brought them to power, and several governments have taken unexpected authoritarian turns, as in Venezuela, as a means to “protect” the Bolivarian revolution against incursions from the right. In Brazil, a coup toppled the left-leaning president and a far-right populist won the presidency. Meanwhile, in the former Soviet sphere, authoritarian regimes have gained broad popular support as people express their disappointments with the politicians who steered the postsocialist transition and who championed European market integration schemes that weakened worker protections. In Turkey, the Philippines, and India, political entrepreneurs stoke nationalist sentiments to encourage popular outrage at “outsider” privileges, meddling, and control. Meanwhile, since 2017, eleven African countries have experienced coups, popular uprisings or other forms of non-electoral political change to oust long-standing dictators, but several have been replaced with equally authoritarian leadership.
What precisely is meant by the term “populism” in the current conjuncture? Clarifying how we use the term – and the limits we see to its uses – is important in a moment when the term is frequently used as a gloss for a variety of political configurations and forms. Benjamin Arditi (2007) defines populism as primarily about disrupting “politics as usual,” a definition focused on a difference in style, where populists act as “drunken dinner guests.” A different approach, influenced by Ernest Laclau (2005), proposes that populism should be understood as a particular political form, not an ideology, which unites disparate elements as equivalent while critiquing some form of power. Francisco Panizza usefully defines populism’s core element as “the notion of the sovereign people as an actor in an antagonistic relation with the established order” (Panizza 2005: 5). Further, populisms’ appearance is typically associated with distinct social, political and economic conditions: a breakdown in the political order, the failure of a political system to respond adequately to economic crisis, the loss of legitimacy by political parties, popular outrage over a lack of accountability by political elites, widespread social turmoil, and the rise of new forms of political identification and representation outside of establishment norms (Panizza 2005). These circumstances abound in the current conjuncture, and scholars today use the term to trace a wide variety of political developments, from populist efforts to empower marginalized groups in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, to populist efforts against them in Europe, the United States and Australia (see, e.g., Torre 2015, 2018). Yet, as with Panizza and many other scholars, we do not find it especially useful to pin down too precisely what is meant by populism. Indeed, a survey of populist politics across the globe would not find among them a common ideology, constituency, or set of demands. Nor are today’s populists unified by their political strategies or tactics or by a shared sense of who “the people” or their antagonists are. Indeed, as Chantal Mouffe insists in her call for a populism of the left to rise as a counterweight to its right-wing form (Mouffe 2018), a variety of populisms with different political coordinates are possible (see also Fraser with Sunkara 2019). Along these lines, we note in the literature the proliferation of populisms, popularly describable in terms of nationality, region, or scale (Asian populism, Russian populism, Latin American populism, Italian populism, global populism, and so forth), and in terms of particular kinds of people or politics (Islamic populism, agrarian populism, authoritarian populism, populist parties, and so forth).
Despite this variety, it is important to note the frequent organization of right-wing populism around a specific kind of antagonism; that between “the people” and an internal or external “other.” And in the right-wing populist playbook, the established political order is frequently attacked for its tolerance of, or ineffectuality in purging, the enemy of “the people.” This dynamic is clearly at play today in the angry expression of anti-immigrant politics that have arisen in the United States, the UK, Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, and elsewhere in Europe, in Duterte’s war on drugs in the Philippines and Modi’s crackdown on dissent in India. These dynamics are significantly different than those at play in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, where authoritarian leaders are sometimes challenged by populist revolts and where populist parties governed.
Furthermore, there is no unitary explanation for right-wing populism’s rise, political form, or popularity. Indeed, scholars emphasize different political forces, characteristics and contexts. For example, Kalb and Halmai (2014) see right-wing populism’s appearance in Europe in the present as the “return of the repressed,” an expression of working-class neo-nationalism borne from decades of dispossession and disenfranchisement under neoliberal rule. Judis (2016), in contrast, places greater emphasis on the political instabilities unleashed by the Great Recession of 2007-8 (see also Tooze 2018). Mishra (2017) locates current political trends within an even longer historical trend, as a backlash by modernity’s losers, a widely disparate group that is susceptible to demagoguery because it is unable to enjoy the freedoms and prosperity that modernity has offered only to its elites (Mishra 2017). We appreciate these approaches for putting populism in its place within wider cultural, political and economic contexts. Yet we note as well, as does Eric Fassin (2018), a failure to take race seriously at the level of theory in many of these accounts. Despite the centrality of racism and xenophobia in right-wing movements across the globe, rare is the account that places race at the center of the analysis. One result is that racist violence and animosity is figured in many accounts as a displacement of some other, more fundamental class-based political grievance.
We see politics around race – and around gender, sex and class – as of equal importance in the making of right-wing populist politics. Indeed, “the people” is almost always constituted as a raced, classed, and gendered political subject. In the United States, for example, we have seen in recent years a mad-dash scramble to formulate workable political programs in defense of the ever-ambiguous category of “the middle class.” Trumpism is one such attempt that articulates that middle class in largely racial—and racist—terms, and in terms also of retrograde gender and sex politics as well (Maskovsky this volume; see also Maskovsky 2017; Cole and Shulman 2018). Pundits have tried hard to insist that the roots of the flagrant racism and sexism of Trumpism is not racism or sexism but displaced anger at economic precarity. But polling data contradicts this assertion, which is frequently made by pundits who support various forms of economic populism from the left. In the vote for Trump, the single most powerful indicator was race, not class or gender, and most Trump voters were, in fact, middle class (Schaffter et al. 2018). Across Europe, coverage of the refugee crisis and anti-immigrant politics in Italy’s 5-star movement, among anti-Brexit Remainers in the UK, in Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France, and in increasingly visibly and politically effective far right groups in Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Denmark and elsewhere, may suggest a “return of the repressed” among many who were adversely affected by Europeanization and austerity politics (Kalb and Halmai 2014). But the politics of these groups also signal the return of long simmering racial and other resentments. In Latin America, popular politics has a complex relationship with the politics of indigeneity, gender, and race, and with populist traditions, which themselves are complicated and cannot be reduced to simple class dynamics (Laclau 2005). These are but a few examples that suggest a more complicated approach is needed that takes class seriously but that also goes beyond class in or for itself.
This brings us to the major theoretical orientation of this volume, which emphasizes conjunctural analysis over a singular or unitary account of the current global populist wave. Following Stuart Hall and others who have developed conjunctural analysis (Hall et al. 2013 ; Hall 1986, 1987, 1989; Clarke 2014), we are interested in the complexity of the current moment and of the multiplicity of forces, antagonisms, conflicts, and emergent political forms that mark the present as a moment of crisis. With this approach in mind, we explore angry politics in different social, geographical, cultural, governmental, and economic contexts, asking what social, economic, governmental, political and historical forces coalesce in the making of angry politics today. Central to this inquiry is attention to the forms of nationalism, populism, racism and xenophobia that have emerged from the current conjuncture. As cracks widen in the neoliberal order, new political possibilities have arisen. We are seeing the evidence that angry politics from the right are particularly persuasive at this moment; however as the chapters in this volume collectively assert, they do so in geographically and historically specific ways. Their forms may, of course, follow similar patterns or influence each other, but projecting resentments and grievances onto others is always a matter of local politics and history.
Along these lines, we need to consider the different kinds of anger that are at play in the politics of the present. We wish to highlight in particular three kinds of anger that have taken on political form in various contexts. Although there are many forms of angry politics, we highlight neoliberal disenchantment, racialized resentments, and the rage of the downtrodden and repressed as particularly salient and durable today. Taken together, these three kinds of anger do some of the work that is necessary to instantiate popular support for more authoritarian forms of politics across vastly different political contexts.
First is the disenchantment with neoliberalism itself. Recently a different form of angry politics led to a set of very different social movements. We can think back to the rallying cry of the Occupy movement, “We are the 99%,” as a movement articulating an anger against class exploitation. This deeply democratic framing of a people jointly oppressed by a small economic elite articulated this anger, but this vision was not translated into any kind of national policy. Similarly, the Arab Spring utilized a politics of anger to mobilize hundreds of thousands across several countries. As Wendy Pearlman writes, across the Arab Spring multiple citizens used the same expression to describe their participation: “inkasar hajez al-khawf—‘The barrier of fear has broken.’” (Pearlman, 2013, 388). Replacing a legacy of fear, anger helped to mobilize tens of thousands to risk their lives and demand democracy. Though these mobilizations toppled several long-term dictatorships, the anger at authoritarianism and economic exploitation that inspired most of these protests has led to only tenuous or temporary victories.
Across the Global North, the new discourse of economic exploitation provided by Occupy, and the anger it both cultivated and created, translated into few policy changes. Instead, the global economic consensus since 2010 has been an emphasis on austerity, leading to increased stratification. Extreme class inequality continues to define our economic reality. In 2017 the top 1% of global wealth holders received 82% of all wealth generated, while the poorest 50% of the global population received none of the generated wealth (Pimentel, Aymar, and Lawson 2018). The elite now get to fantasize about more extreme forms of luxury (the booming luxury yacht and private jet industries are now accompanied by an emerging private space travel line), leaving the multitudes faced with the challenges of meeting their basic needs. It has now become clear that the neoliberal promise of prosperity serves only as a “cruel optimism,” to use the words of Lauren Berlant (2011), for everyone but the wealthy. In the post-Fordist present, the desire for the “good life” of economic prosperity is expressed mostly in contexts where the possibilities for achieving this life of economic success and stability is impossible for most. In the crucible of neoliberal fantasies, which promise that as the wealthy get wealthier and as the welfare state is shrunk, that all will rise, the realities of economic stratification, precarity, debt, and stagnating wages, now produce widespread disaffection, distrust, and disenchantment. Importantly, in the Global South, the coordinates of angry politics are somewhat different. In many Global South contexts, neoliberalism’s demise is viewed less as a “crisis” in the “global economy” and more as a diminishment of US and European imperial economic, political and cultural power. Further, the popular classes in the Global South learned the lessons of neoliberalism’s limitations and often expressed their anger and frustration against it in progressive ways, and they did so long before their counterparts in the Global North. The angry turn in the Global South is thus not so much targeted against neoliberal rationality exclusively, though that anger still abounds. It is also now frequently asserted politically against those who promised – but failed – to offer a persuasive way out of the neoliberal quagmire.
This disaffection between the promise of prosperity and the reality of precarity can serve as a political resource for various forms of politics, but there are reasons why it leans so readily towards rightwing authoritarianism. Wendy Brown (2018) places these varied moves towards authoritarian right-wing movements as an outgrowth of neoliberal rationality itself. Brown writes, “As neoliberal rationality becomes our ubiquitous common sense, its principles not only govern through the state but suffuse workplaces, schools, hospitals, gyms, air travel, policing, and all manner of human desire and decisions” (Brown 2018: 62). Here the personal sphere is expanded and freedom is defined by personal pursuits, and not collective protections or the collective exercise of democracy. In this logic democracy becomes a threat to freedom, in that the collective – any collective – may limit the freedom of the individual to pursue their own private economic interests. This shrinking of democratic values and state welfare leaves only private interest and family values, which are themselves deeply anti-democratic. Brown thus sees neoliberal economic privatization as subversive of democracy in two senses: first because the kind of inequality it produces enacts a “profoundly dimmed democratic imaginary” and second because “it wages familial rather than market warfare on democratic principles and institutions. It positions exclusion, patriarchalism, tradition, nepotism, and Christianity as legitimate challenges to inclusion, autonomy, equal rights, limits on conflicts of interest, secularism, and the very principle of equality” (Brown 2018: 66) Brown sees the “personal, protected sphere” that is created in this situation as “empowered against the social” in such a way that it “expands to envelop the nation itself, securing and protecting it requires increasingly robust statism in the form of law, policing, and defense” (Brown 2018: 66). In line with scholars such as Ben Anderson (2015), who cautions against totalizing accounts of neoliberal affects, we take Brown’s analysis as an entry point into the ways that anger, disillusionment, disaffection and other affects condition and are conditioned by neoliberal rationality in specific contexts. Our analysis thus places many of these thrusts towards authoritarianism as an outgrowth of the conditions of neoliberalism and the structures of feelings and atmospherics it produces.
This leads us to racialized resentments and their connection to the new authoritarian turn. Across multiple national contexts, it is groups historically privileged by race, gender, ethnicity, or religion that are now defining themselves as victims, launching their fury at others, and challenging the political establishment. Indeed, in the liberal democracies, a new wave of anger is cultivated through framing privileged groups as imperiled. Political rage is thus an expression of victimhood, which is one type of anger that helps to animate right-wing populist and other forms of politics and to undermine the political and institutional bases of liberal democracy itself. As Brown writes, “the displacement suffered by whites, and especially white men, is not mainly experienced as economic decline but as lost entitlement to politically, socially, and economically reproduced supremacism,” and the salve to this feared loss of supremacy is not economic equality but a shoring up of this privileged identity (Brown 2018: 69). Perhaps then the real source of these angry politics is not the people left behind by modernity, or the working-class who are angry at economic exploitation, but rather the not unconnected fear by those holding racially supremacist positions that their supremacy is slipping.
Third is the anger of the downtrodden, expelled, exploited, oppressed, and repressed. This is typically the kind of politics associated with resistance, revolution or militant reformism in both liberal democratic and authoritarian contexts, and it was widely in evidence not so long ago during the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the Indignados, and in popular political movements in Latin America and elsewhere. However, as we note above, the anti-democratic impulses of neoliberal reason and racialized resentments are bolstered by the fact that leftist alternatives are weak or foreclosed in most contexts today. There are many reasons for this: the end of the Cold War, high-tech surveillance and the repression of political groups on an unprecedented scale, the capture of militancy by consensus politics, the pervasive elaboration of technocratic governing projects, and the failures of left social movements to gain popular support. One result is that the anger of the dispossessed and repressed is more easily channeled in anti-democratic directions (Kalb and Halmai. 2011). As Creed and Taylor write in this volume, “with the left foreclosed, restricted, or ‘post-political,’ there seems nowhere for the dissatisfied citizen to go but further right.”
These three kinds of angry politics work frequently in tandem to create a form of authoritarian populism that has a harder edge than the form described famously by Stuart Hall and his colleagues in Policing the Crisis (Hall et al. 2013 ). Hall and his colleagues described the reorganization of British society via the populist mobilization against a racialized criminal “enemy” – the mugger – that was conceived as the counterpoint to a white, classed British “people.” And this facilitated the law and order society in one sphere and the rise of a new technocratic elite enabled via Thatcher’s deregulation of the financial sector in another. In the years since Thatcherism and its governing correlates elsewhere were put into effect, the principles of liberal democracy have withered even further. It is not just a case that nationalist economic principles have gained popularity and political legitimacy in many places where they had once been vanquished. (And it is still too soon to tell what effect the protectionist games orchestrated by Trump and the isolationist moves such as the Brexit will have on the global economy.) What is clear also is that the axis of power now pivots between a neoliberal authoritarianism that seeks to regain its legitimacy and a harder edged, regressive nationalist authoritarianism from the right. In this situation, Modi, Bolsonaro, Putin, Orbán, Erdogan, and Trump thrive while leaders such as Morales in Bolivia become increasingly distanced from their original missions. In short, popular sovereignty in whatever form is more difficult to achieve in the face of a global political polarity that pits an increasingly illiberal form of authoritarianism against another that seeks to remain cloaked in neoliberal consensus politics.
In calling this anthology Beyond Populism, we do not mean to suggest that populist politics do not exist or that the populist right has not gained ground in many contexts. But to call populism a political trend is not as essential, in our view, as is placing it and other forms of angry politics in their broader contexts and in disaggregating angry politics, so that the complexity and plurality of its sources and its multiple political coordinates become legible. It is essential, in other words, to use conjunctural thinking to make sense of the angry politics that are in play across the globe. We organize the chapters collected here in three parts: The Roots of Rage, Multiplicities of Anger, and Unsettling Authoritarian Populisms.
In part one, the Roots of Rage, four chapters locate the roots of new angry politics in shifting global and regional capitalist political economy and in the elaboration of novel political rationalities that emerge in the context of a deepening critique of neoliberalism. Don Robotham’s contribution to this volume describes the dynamics we see as at the heart of today’s angry politics in the Global North or West. In his chapter, he places the recent turn towards populism, and its “the people” vs. “the other” dynamics in the context of neoliberalism’s decline. For Robotham, people in the Global North are not just dismayed by the effects of recent economic policies. They are also rejecting neoliberalism’s globalist cultural imperatives, and, in particular, in their embrace of populism, whites in the Global North are expressing their dismay and dissatisfaction that they can no longer take their global hegemonic positionality for granted (Robotham this volume). Sophie Bjork-James take a slightly different angle on the roots of anger in the Global North with an analysis of current-day diversity within the category of “white” within the white nationalist right. By comparing the millennial visions of the religious right and white nationalists, she shows how a unified racial ideology worked to bring these groups into an uneasy and tentative coalition. The chapter highlights the roots of anger in white supremacist rationality but also explores the limits and limitations of this convergence and is suggestive of a political fragmentation that is perhaps yet to come.
Several chapters also explore the ways that angry politics fuels and disrupts authoritarian forms in the Global South. In her chapter, Preeti Sampat analyzes the rise of Hindutva in India, drawing a connection between the emergence of 'jobless growth' in the Indian economy and the rise and consolidation of power by Modi and Hindu nationalist forces. The politically contingent decisionism of the Modi-RSS combine curates the Indian economy as both spectacle and as an implicit signifier for Hindutva. Lesley Gill takes up the case of Colombia, where an organized far-right resisted the “Pink Tide” sweeping through the region and transformed the country into a narcostate. This authoritarian configuration formed to resist demands for redistribution, building an alliance between drug traffickers, politicians, the military, and the economic elite, who together held antipathy for social movements and guerilla insurgencies. Through establishing a unique economic/political alliance rooted in the trade of cocaine, a far-right coalition was established to reestablish political power in the face of both guerillas and popular social movements. In all three cases, we see dramatically different examples of the strategies and tactics that political elites use to quell or channel popular anger and repress left-wing popular politics.
In the second part of this anthology, Multiplicities of Anger, individual chapters go beyond popular and academic explanations of the global populist rise by tracing the multiple and complex political forces that converge to forge new and unexpected political alignments and outcomes. John Clarke makes clear the importance of conjunctural thinking in his analysis of the anger expressed in the Brexit vote in Britain. This vote, he argues, is multiply motivated as frustrations with politics as usual and globalism were linked with anti-immigration, anti-European and other sentiments in the Leave campaign. Acknowledging these multiple sources of anger is essential for understanding the political ambiguities and contradictions that shape moments like Brexit and their aftermath. Indeed, overlapping constituencies with various disaffections and multiple ideas for how they might be remedies went into the Brexit vote. An important lesson from Clarke’s analysis is thus that if we ignore these ambiguities, if we ascribe instead simple or unitary explanations for events that are shaped by multiple perspectives and multiple political forces of disaffection, we ignore the new lines of political danger and possibility that open up in the aftermath of moments such as vote for Brexit. In a similar vein, two chapters – Creed and Taylor’s on Eastern Europe and Mahmud’s on Italy – show how the present day use of labels such as populism and fascism unsettle politics and have unexpected political effects themselves. Creed and Taylor, for example, trace the history of appeals to “the people” according to different paradigms in east Europe and point to the political analytical dilemmas that ensue when commentators use the term populism exclusively to reference right-wing, nationalist, and authoritarian movements. Drawing from case studies in Hungary and Bulgaria, they argue that liberal antipopulism reads people’s legitimate, longstanding economic and political concerns out of the political scene, reproducing a widespread sense of resentment and political disaffection. They show also how this political impasse disables the resurfacing of the socialist critique of the unequal distribution of resources. Mahmud takes a similar approach to her analysis of the use of the term fascism in contemporary Italian politics. Focusing on the constitutional referendum of 2016, she analyzes the political effects of the term’s use by a ruling neoliberal center-left party to characterize their political opponents. One effect of this is to obscure the multiple social and political bases of opposition to the referendum, some of which were indeed nationalist and xenophobic but others were rooted in left-wing concerns over mounting inequality and the elitism of technocratic rule. Fascism is thus, Mahmud shows, a specter that haunts Italian politics today in ways that ironically obscure the active resistance of antifascists against both the neoliberalism of the centrist left and the nationalist and xenophobic rage of the far right. Maskovsky discusses the race politics that adhere in the liberal responses to the rise of white nationalism in the Trump era in the United States. Contrasting white nationalism’s attempts to solve America’s “race problem” with that of their liberal antagonists, his chapter points to a political impasse in which a variety of political forces converge in politics that seeks, unlike white nationalism, to make politics in the United States about anything other than race. Noah Theriault posits the term “green authoritarianism” to explain the connection of environmental concerns to the Duterte regime’s consolidation in the Philippines. Theriault shows how climate-change adaptation, disaster management, and environmental enforcement became central promises and premises in Duterte’s politics, and how he used his engagements in ecopolitics to defuse opposition and to consolidate his authoritarian rule. Taken together, these chapters point to the multiplicity of liberal projects that operate in different political contexts and to the various kinds of anger – at multiculturalism, privatization, immigration, environmental destruction, and so forth – that converge to move politics towards illiberal and authoritarian ends.
The third and final part of the anthology, Unsettling Authoritarian Populisms, highlights the ways that populist and popular politics unsettle authoritarian regimes. Carwil Bjork-James again looks at Latin America, where frustrations with neoliberal economics inspired widespread social movements two decades ago largely stemming from the left. This so-called “Pink Tide” changed several national governments and mobilized a critique of globalization. In the Bolivian case, as C. Bjork-James shows, the leftist anti-globalization movement that brought Evo Morales to power succeeded in providing material advances and symbolic power to the formerly marginalized indigenous majority. To do so it had to overcome a form of technocratic authoritarianism that suppressed popular movements and marginalized and punished indigenous and peasant groups. These groups, in turn formed movements that mobilized in anger about marginalization to achieve both symbolic and structural changes. C. Bjork-James shows how the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) that brought Morales to power has embraced extractivism and mass export of raw materials and has put off its socialist and plurinational goals but it nonetheless remains one of the more durable “Pink Tide” regimes in a region that is moving rapidly to the right. Jennifer Riggan takes on the case of populist politics in Ethiopia, where, as with cases in Latin America, the Philippines and elsewhere, the contradictions of neoliberalism have led the country’s leaders to blur right and left political ideologies as well as authoritarian and liberal governance strategies. Popular protests began in 2015 around ethnic identities coalesced a few years later in a challenge to state authoritarianism, putting a progressive Prime Minister in place in 2018. And in the final chapter in the volume, Nazia Kazi locates the anti-immigrant politics of Trump to the post-9/11 rise in Islamophobia in the United States. But she also directs attention to the varieties of political responses forged by Muslim American groups, highlighting the limited effects of efforts to promote multicultural “tolerance” for Muslims, and its ineffectual response to the Trump administration’s imposition of anti-immigrant policies. Kazi contrasts this approach with the more militant, and effective, forms of popular pro-immigrant activism that erupted spontaneously in reaction to Trump’s “travel ban” in February 2017. These chapters point to the limits and limitations of rightwing populism and authoritarian rule and are suggestive of the ways out of the current political quagmire.
This anthology is not intended as a comprehensive ethnographic overview of the most salient kinds of angry politics and public outrage that have emerged across the globe since 2010. Rather, it is a collection of critical essays, inspired by ways of knowing in cultural studies and anthropology, by scholars with deep knowledge of places where different kinds of angry politics have surfaced recently. We see the rise of angry nationalisms, right-wing populisms, racist xenophobia, and various forms of authoritarianism as connected directly to the fraying of the global order of the last four decades. We eschew any simple, unitary or reductionist explanation for the fraying of this order or for the turns to authoritarianism in the spaces that have opened as the neoliberal order weakens and exhausts itself. Our approach is collectively animated by the explanatory power of political economic analysis and the critical investigation of new and extant patterns of inequality and domination (Maskovsky and Susser 2015), while we seek as well to unsettle disciplinary thinking in ways that can help to imagine new political possibilities in this dangerous moment of authoritarian ascent.
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