Populism: Saturday 12:00 PM EST 20 February 2021
“Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”
– James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 10
Populism refers to the political mobilization of “the people” against a perceived elite caste of professional politicians. And whereas a corps of elected representatives was Madison’s and Hamilton’s buffer against the tyranny of factions, from time to time the political class may come to be viewed as insufficiently attentive to the needs of their constituents and then become the target and nidus that creates a populist movement.
What causes such mass movements and are they usually kept in check by the designs laid out in the Federalist Papers? What sorts of perceived failures on the part to the ruling class may provoke such movements, and when do these factors lead to right- versus left-wing populism? When do such movements form around notions of nationalism, classism, religion, xenophobia, or domestic oppression? Do anomie, alienation, or social humiliation play a role? What has been the effect of social media in catalyzing populist movements around the globe?
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Jeffrey Alexander is the Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology at Yale University, founder and co-director of Yale’s Center for Cultural Sociology, and co-editor of The American Journal of Cultural Sociology. A social theorist whose early work challenged the anti-cultural reductionism of classical and modern sociology, Alexander has worked with generations of students and colleagues to create a “strong program” in cultural sociology. Synthesizing late Durkheim with semiotics, poststructuralism, and cultural anthropology, he has conceptualized, not only models of deep cultural structure, but theories of cultural trauma, social performance, and material iconicity. Alexander has also developed “civil sphere theory,” a macro-sociological model of democracy and the forces that can undermine it. He is currently organizing a series of conference/edited book projects: The Civil Sphere in Latin America (Cambridge University Press 2018), The Civil Sphere in East Asia (CUP, 2019), Breaching the Civil Order: Radicalism and the Civil Sphere (CUP, 2019), The Nordic Civil Sphere (Polity, 2020), and Populism in the Civil Sphere (Polity 2021). The Civil Sphere in Canada will conference in 2021 and The Civil Sphere in India will conference in 2022. Both volumes will be published with Polity Press. His most recent book is What Makes a Social Crisis: The Societalization of Social Problems (Polity 2019). His most recent articles are “Performativity of Objects” Sociologisk Forskning, 57(3–4), 2020, and “”The Double Whammy Trauma: Narrative and Counter- Narrative during Covid-Floyd,” Thesis Eleven, online project: Living and Thinking Crisis. July 9, 2020
Dhananjay Jagannathan teaches philosophy and classical studies at Columbia University. His academic research centers on Aristotle’s ethics and political philosophy and contemporary virtue ethics. He has also written about issues at the intersection of philosophy and literature, including on tragedy and the novel. At present he is completing a book manuscript entitled Aristotle’s Practical Epistemology, which seeks to situate Aristotle’s theory of practical wisdom within his views of knowledge and understanding and thereby to explain why Aristotle thinks of practical wisdom as an extraordinary achievement that is equivalent to political wisdom. He has also taught philosophy at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn as part of Columbia’s Justice-in-Education Initiative. Before taking his position at Columbia, he taught at Dartmouth College. He received his PhD from the Joint Program in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy at the University of Chicago, having studied philosophy and classics at Balliol College, Oxford and St John’s College, Cambridge as a Marshall Scholar. He is a member of the New York Regional Selection Committee for the Marshall Scholarship and a national selector for the Beinecke Scholarship
Takis Pappas (PhD, Yale) is a Greek author and researcher currently associated with the University of Helsinki, Finland. Formerly a professor of comparative politics at the University of Thessaloniki, Greece, he has also held teaching and research appointments at the universities of Strasbourg, Oslo, Freiburg, Luxembourg, Central European University in Budapest, European University Institute in Florence, Yale, and Princeton. Among his books are Making Party Democracy in Greece (Macmillan 1999), The Charismatic Party: PASOK, Papandreou, Power (2009, in Greek), Populism and Crisis Politics in Greece (Palgrave 2014), On the Tightrope: National Crises and Brinkmanship in Greece (2017, in Greek), Populism and Liberal Democracy: A Comparative and Theoretical Analysis (Oxford University Press, 2019), and the co-edited volume European Populism in the Shadow of the Great Recession (ECPR Press, 2015). Takis is currently at work on a new book project on the challengers of European liberal democracy. He is a regular columnist in major Greek newspaper Kathimerini, a TED-Ed educator on populism, and a blogger writing about populism and democracy. He shares his time between Brussels, Belgium, and Athens, Greece.
Harry L. Watson is the Atlanta Distinguished Professor in Southern Culture in the History Department of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A native of Greensboro, North Carolina, he received his bachelor’s degree from Brown University and his doctorate from Northwestern before joining the UNC-CH History Department in 1976. His teaching and research interests focus on American political history, the early American republic, and the antebellum South. He served as director of the UNC Center for the Study of the American South from 1999 until 2012 and editor of its journal, Southern Cultures, from 1993 until. 2019. He is the author or editor of eight books, including Andrew Jackson vs. Henry Clay: Democracy and Development in Antebellum America (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 1998), Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (2nd ed.; Hill & Wang, 2006), and Building the American Republic: Volume 1, A Narrative History to 1877 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2018).