The battle for the people

24 August 2010
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Politics of today is increasingly characterized by an ambition to represent “common people”. In the Swedish context, claims to represent ordinary people are perhaps most forcefully made by the conservative Christian Democratic Party – referring to the “people of real life” – and nationalist party Sweden Democrats – reclaiming the old Social Democratic slogan of the “People’s Home” (Folkhemmet). In several European countries, the populist radical right has found its way into parliaments and governments. By contrast, Latin American populism is primarily leftist in orientation.

Democracy is always a question about the People’s right to govern itself. But the precise meaning of the term is far from obvious. “The people” may refer to the overall population, such as when the will of the people is supposedly expressed in general elections. But it may also refer to only parts of the population: in political discourse, ordinary people can be contrasted with societal elites, or Swedes distinguished from non-Swedes.

Fronesis no. 34 explores the meaning of the people in relation to democratic politics. We examine how politicians invoke “the People”, both to carry out social change and maintain status quo. We review the conceptual history of “the People” and examine contemporary expressions of populism. Moreover, we discuss the conditions for realizing popular sovereignty in a world where political and economic processes are no longer contained within the borders of the nation-state.

Political scientist Cas Mudde analyzes the populist radical right in Europe. He argues that it is a pathological variant of a way of thinking otherwise accepted in our societies, rather than radical departure from it. Political scientist Anders Hellström examines the ways in which the Sweden Democrats make reference to the “People’s Home”. Sociologist Carlo Ruzza writes about the political right in Berlusconi’s Italy. Philosopher Ernesto Laclau discusses Latin American populism, focusing on the example of Hugo Chávez. Political scientist Mi Lennhag asks whether “Putinism” in Russia can be understood as a variety of populism.

This issue of Fronesis also includes a number of classic texts. Among them are Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès’ “What is the Third Estate?” from 1789, and the early feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Seneca Falls Declaration” from 1848. Historian C. L. R. James discusses the slave rebellions that led to the formation of the first post-colonial state in Haiti in the early 1800s. In their contribution, political philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri take issue with the conceptualization of “the people” that has traditionally marked leftist thinking.

Other contributors to Fronesis no. 34 include Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Renan, Per Albin Hansson, Sofia Näsström, Mikael Spång, Christian Fernández, James Bohman, Sara Kalm, The Committee for a Democratic U.N. and Magnus Wennerhag.

Published 24 August 2010

Original in Swedish
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