Felix Breuning (Lüneburg): Populism in Historical Comparison? Modern Authoritarianism in Theories of Populism

Nous publions sur ce blog les abstracts des interventions à la journée d’étude Critiques de la démocratie, autoritarismes, populismes en Europe: quelles continuités et ruptures entre l’entre-deux-guerres et aujourd’hui?, dans une autre langue que celle de l’intervention pour favoriser le dialogue entre les participants. Aujourd’hui, l’intervention de Felix Breuning, doctorant au Centre de recherches sur la démocratie de l’université de Lüneburg, dans le deuxième panel Penser la démocratie dans les années 1930 et aujourd’hui qui aura lieu le jeudi 14 mars 2019 à 15:45.

The German-speaking discussion about right wing populism is constantly referring to the Weimar Republic. It often serves as historical background, against which the current rise of populist right-wing parties and movements as well as their possible effects are discussed. What can social-science based theories of populism contribute to clarifying this reference to the conditions in Weimar Germany and the right-wing extremism of the inter-war period? What do they have to say about, whether or not and to what extent we are dealing with a (modernized) return of something of the past? Conceptualizing the rise of the right wing as a modernization of authoritarianism, I will argue, that contemporary theories of populism are poorly equipped to grasp this development. To support this argument, I will address some shortcomings of those theories: Irrespective of whether they conceptualize populism as an ideology, a normal dimension of political action, or as a result of social inequalities, they spend too little work on highlighting the similarities and differences of populist and other right-wing movements – such as the movements of the Weimar Republic, but also contemporary ones.
Because they often conceive populism as a historically relatively new and independent phenomenon, they overlook continuities and disruptions. This becomes evident, when we look
at applications of the contemporary concept of populism to the Weimar Republic and the German National Socialism. Approaches of democratic theory on the one hand and social theory on the other hand are largely unrelated. Therefore, the investigations of the relation of the populist right to present-day liberal democracy are mostly detached from those of their relation to contemporary capitalism. Lacking their necessary counterpart, both approaches overlook, that what we discuss as “populism” takes place in the context of a changing relationship between liberal democracy and neoliberal capitalism.
 
Furthermore, the idea of modernization within the theoretical approaches to populism suggests that populist right-wing movements are to be interpreted as an anachronistic reflex to the ultimately inevitable modernization of liberal democratic societies. Thus, the danger of a political regression or even a collapse of liberal democracies is ignored. I propose, that these problems can be addressed by employing critical theories of authori-
tarianism, such as by the Frankfurt School and its heirs. Not only do their origins date back to the 1920s and 1930s, they also try to combine insights into socioeconomic roots, ideology and domination within democracy. Thereby they offer a broader inquiry into ruptures and continuities of authoritarianism in its historical development.

dhiparis

Teamaccount der Redaktion. Forschen – Vermitteln – Qualifizieren: Das DHI Paris ist ein zentraler Akteur international ausgerichteter historischer Forschung im Verbund der Max Weber Stiftung, Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland.

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