Political Theory Workshop: Ben McKean (Ohio State)
Talk title: "Populism and the Anxiety of Equality"
paper access: https://duke.box.com/s/n6i61npczma24a89ahh8dlxuzgcb9toq
Populism is often portrayed as a response to rising anxiety. Some argue that this anxiety is economic, driven by dissatisfaction with decades of rising inequality and stagnant wages. Theorists like Chantal Mouffe argue that neoliberalism not only causes inequality but also shrinks the space of the political, explaining populism of right and left as a necessary eruption of the political in the face of its repression. Others argue that the relevant cause is status anxiety, as white men respond to demands for racial and gender equality. These views share a common flaw: all of them understand populism as a political response to anxieties from outside politics and, as a result, none of them consider populist politics as itself generative of anxieties. In particular, some populist movements imagine popular sovereignty entailing forms of political equality that are especially prone to produce anxiety. I trace this conception of political equality to its roots in Hobbes, who grounds natural equality in the possibility of murder and frames popular sovereignty as softening, but not ending, these anxieties by transforming natural equality into competitive, status-conscious political equality.