by Katrine Fangen
Over the past two decades, negative images of Muslims and Islam have become widespread throughout Europe and North America. Many of the images represent Islam (and particularly male Muslims) as a threat, as can be seen in the portrayal of Muslims as potential terrorists, as rapefugees (rapist refugees), or as patriarchal and misogynistic. In addition, worries are expressed about Muslims becoming ‘too many’ in number, leading to the gradual decline of the national population (defined as non-Muslim). Although some of these images have a long history in Europe, and can be traced back to colonialism and Orientalism, research has identified a sharp increase in representations of Islam as a threat after 9/11, when ‘virtually all parties and formations on the radical right made the confrontation with Islam a central political issue’. Within more mainstream political parties, too, there have been calls for the acculturation of Muslims to ‘our way of life’. The ‘war on terror’ itself has been said to have contributed to the derogatory portrayal of Muslims. Other critical events during the past two decades have also contributed to the threat-image of Islam, including Turkey’s EU application, which led to a ‘Europe versus Islam’ discourse, and the civil war in Syria, which triggered discussion on the securitisation of borders both in the aftermath of the war and during the preceding ‘refugee crisis’.
Terms like ‘Islamisation’ and ‘Eurabia’ point to concerns that Islam is slowly but significantly taking hold in European societies and replacing the Christian-Occidental values on which those societies were built. Related fears include demographic visions of a white population slowly dying out and the idea that Muslims with large families will take over through what those concerned see as a form of demographic warfare. Belief in such a scenario, which was popularised by the author Bat Ye’or, is shared by many different anti-Islamic actors.
Defining the concept
There is little agreement on what might be the best term for capturing generalising and negative attitudes towards Muslims and Islam. Many academics prefer the notion of ‘Islamophobia’. First used by two Muslim authors at the end of World War I, this term was introduced into the social sciences by Edward Said in 1985, and grew significantly in popularity after it was used in a 1997 report from the Runnymede Trust. According to that report, what characterises Islamophobia are its closed views on Islam as static and monolithic, as an inferior ‘other’ and separate from the West, and as a manipulative enemy. Erik Bleich’s definition of Islamophobia as ‘indiscriminate negative attitudes or emotions directed at Islam or Muslims’ is also very useful, as it captures the importance of strong negative emotions in anti-Islamic discourse. The term ‘anti-Islamic’, however, also highlights the role of strong negative emotions, and furthermore avoids any association with a psychological diagnosis that might be involved in use of the suffix ‘-phobia’. In this term, the prefix ‘anti-’ points to a sort of antagonism, or even aversion, which is important, since what is being designated here is more than mere criticism of religion. For the purpose of this article, then, I will use the term ‘anti-Islamic’, which is defined here as referring to groups or actors who advocate policies to restrict Islamic immigration or the practice of the Muslim faith, and to ‘the framing of Islam as a homogeneous, totalitarian ideology that threatens Western civilisation’.
What characterises anti-Islamic actors?
Anti-Islamic actors are opposed to Islam in itself and often hold that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim, as they think so-called moderate Muslims are only hiding their true intentions. They have in common the adoption of a strong stance against Muslim immigration and all forms of Islamic influence. What they identify as unwanted Islamic influence includes everything from the building of mosques to the use of Islamic clothing such as hijabs and, last but not least, all forms of special treatment. Anti-Islamic groups argue that Muslims do not fit into Western society, and stress that Islam as a religion preaches a fundamental hatred towards Western values and ways of life. Further, some of them hold that Muslim men are inherently dangerous and cannot ‘be taught how to behave’. The dislike of Islam and Muslims is so strong that it encompasses a whole range of negative emotions such as anger, fear, and aversion.
In political terms, strong anti-Muslim attitudes are often located on the far-right end of the political spectrum, although there are certainly instances of anti-Islam attitudes at the left or centre of politics too. One of the most prominent features of the far right is nativism, or the view that states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the relevant native group and that non-native persons and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the nation-state’s homogeneity. Members of the far right see fighting against those who ‘threaten’ a change in the beliefs and values of the nation as one of their main tasks. Typical for anti-Islamic actors is that it is first and foremost Muslims who are not defined as members of the native group (even when they are born in the country).
Different actors in the anti-Islamic movement
The many anti-Islamic groups that have arisen in different countries throughout Europe and North America since 2000 can be seen as constituting an anti-Islamic movement because of their shared anti-Islamic identity and rhetoric. There are many different types of actors in this movement—ranging from politicians or political parties, social movement organisations, and social media groups to individual actors (e.g. individuals writing in the comments sections of newspaper articles). There are connections between some of these actors, and even influence and collaboration across national borders, but there are also many actors who operate more or less on their own. Influence occurs, for example, through the reading of news on alternative media sites, some of which (e.g. Breitbart) are widely read across national borders, and such alternative news is spread widely on social media. An important feature of these alternative news sites is that they build a community of like-minded individuals, although these individuals are not members of a defined group. Further, anti-Islamic ideas and negative sentiments are also spread by the posting of internet memes in social media. Such memes contribute to a nasty form of humour and often dehumanisation of Muslims.
Influence is further seen in the fact that similar social movement organisations have emerged in many different countries, such as Stop Islamisation of America, Stop Islamisation of Europe, Stop Islamisation of Denmark, and Stop Islamisation of Norway. Similarly, the organisation Pegida, originally established in Germany, subsequently emerged in many other European countries. Even though many of the groups operate mostly in a national context, they obviously get inspiration from similar groups in other countries. This also holds for right-wing populist parties that have a strong anti-Islamic platform, whose intensive collaboration in recent years has led to the coining of the term ‘nationalist international’ to refer to them.
In addition, different actors espouse different degrees of extremeness, and the degree of extremeness may vary over time depending on the particular context in which it is expressed: In interviews with anti-Islamic actors, many reveal that they are far more extreme when writing posts on social media or in the comments sections of news outlets than they would be when speaking face-to-face with another person. It is from the internet sphere that far-right terrorists have gained inspiration and support for acts of terror they subsequently carried out. Therefore, the spread of anti-Islamic ideas through social media groups or more extreme internet platforms is far from just a possibly harmless online phenomenon. In Norway, a country that had previously seen very little terrorism, the last decade has witnessed both the worst violent attack on Norwegian soil since World War II and a later unsuccessful act of terror. On 22 July 2011, concern about the Islamisation of Europe motivated Anders Behring Breivik to detonate a bomb at the Norwegian government’s headquarters in Oslo, killing eight people, and to thereafter engage in a shooting rampage directed against adolescents attending a Labour Party youth camp, in which 69 people were killed. Philip Manshaus, who attempted to shoot Muslims at the Al-Noor Islamic Centre on 10 August 2019, was similarly inspired by anti-Islamist ideas. In other parts of the world, too, terror attacks have been motivated by anti-Muslim ideas (e.g. the Christchurch terror attack that Manshaus cited as a direct inspiration for his own failed terror attack). It is therefore vital that we keep track of the worldviews and mobilising potential of anti-Islamic groups, online and offline.
Leaders of anti-Islamic organisations
One important way of accessing what goes on in the mind of anti-Islamists is to interview them. Interviews with leaders of various anti-Islamic movement organisations have revealed that one of their main goals is to ‘reverse the Islamisation of society’. Social movements emerge as a reaction to something in society that certain actors think is intrinsically wrong and therefore needs to be changed. Even though the leaders of anti-Islamic groups share a nativist conception of what needs to be changed—that is, they believe that there are too many Muslims within their societies and that these Muslims threaten ‘national culture’ or ‘national values’—they differ in the degrees of extremism they espouse in relation to what needs to be done to address that issue.
The position of individuals and groups along the spectrum of extremism, however, can shift over time, and we have seen several examples of proponents of more moderate forms of anti-Islamism later moving on to more extreme standpoints—for example, Geert Wilders, who in the late 1990s was warning against the threat of Islamic terrorism and had a more national-liberal standpoint, but from 2005 onwards viewed Islam as the cause of ‘all sorts of problems’, demanded the full assimilation of Muslims and advocated a much more national-conservative form of anti-Islamism.
In addition to portraying Muslims as criminal and dangerous, those that suggest that Muslims are the cause of all sorts of problems often argue that Muslims do not contribute to society and instead represent a significant economic cost for the nation-state. According to this view, most Muslim immigrants are not refugees, but rather welfare tourists. Such attitudes form part of a broader discourse about immigrants as a burden on the welfare system, which, in Kymlicka’s terms, can be labelled ‘welfare chauvinism’.
The ‘solution’ put forward for the ‘problems’ identified above is often greater integration, or even assimilation, of Muslims. Another proposed ‘solution’ is a concern about national values, as well as human rights in general, along with an argument in favour of the voluntary return of Muslim immigrants. However, a more extreme variant is the view that Muslims should be forced to distance themselves from Islam or be deported, which implies a clear break with the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights (which specifies the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion). The most extreme variant is the call for extermination, as exemplified in the terror attack on the Christ Church mosque in New Zealand, when 51 people were killed.
Tracking anti-Islamic discussions on the Internet
Another way of studying anti-Islamic actors is to scrutinise the discussions taking place on various online platforms, which range from the more extreme sites in which actual violence has been planned and celebrated, such as 4chan, 8chan, and Telegram, to more moderate anti-Islamic social media groups. Even on mainstream social media such as Facebook, however, the discussion threads tend to be rather extreme—combining the use of anger, fear, and vomit emoticons with dehumanising words and metaphors, and even calls for violence.
The study of social media groups provides access to the ideas of individuals who have not necessarily taken the step of joining a defined anti-Islamist group. The memberships of anti-Islamist groups on social media may be much larger than those of social movement organisations. In Norway, for example, the number of anti-Islamists that meet up at demonstrations organised by groups such as Stop Islamisation of Norway (SIAN) is much smaller than the number of people taking part in social media groups supporting the same organisation. Indeed, it is a general trend that participation on the internet is stronger than actual participation in demonstrations: It is a much bigger step to actually attend a demonstration that might be met with a counter-demonstration than it is to participate in online groups. The Monday demonstrations in Dresden organised by the anti-Islamist organisation Pegida represent something of an atypical case in this context. At the height of their support, they succeeded in drawing large numbers of people, with 25,000 in January 2015 being the highest recorded attendance. Support for the organisation has since declined, however, and an interesting finding has been that although Pegida triggered more reactions in the form of likes and comments online the more radicalised content they published, public support for the group (in the form of people present at demonstrations) declined as the organisation became more radicalised. Accordingly, it seems that people are more willing to engage in extreme content in online settings than in public.
In my analysis of two anti-Islamic Facebook groups, it became evident that references to Muslims often involved the use of dehumanising, derogatory, and sexist words, expressions, images, and statements. In general, it was striking how central gendered arguments were in these anti-Islamic groups. In descriptions of the particular traits and characteristics of Muslim women, the terms used focused not just on their suppression, but also on their alleged stupidity (e.g. ‘ghost’, ‘Halloween costume’, etc.). In other words, these women were seen as passively accepting oppression and thus divested of agency. Similar de-agentification has been seen historically towards, among others, the uneducated working class. However, in contrast to a de-agentification found in the latter example through the use of passive language which obscure’s people’s agency, Muslim women in these Facebook groups were also dehumanised through the use of derogatory words. Alongside the images of oppressed Muslim women, however, there was also an image of Muslim women holding positions of power in politics, who were therefore targeted for hatred because they were thought to represent proof of ‘Islamisation by stealth’. We see here opposition both to the top and to the bottom—in other words, what Brubaker describes as vertical and horizontal opposition—both to the elite and to outside groups. Typically, outside groups are construed at the bottom by representing them as parasites or dangerous, and in any case unworthy of respect.
Muslim men, on the other hand, were characterised through the use of words that focused on how dangerous and discriminating they are to women. They were in general described as violent savages and as unable to learn how to behave. Such dehumanising forms of discourse can have very serious consequences for those concerned, since, in the words of Bandura, ‘once dehumanised, they are no longer viewed as persons with feelings, hopes, and concerns but as sub-human objects’. Group members used arguments about the dangers that Muslim men represented for women to justify the total exclusion of Muslims from access to Norway.
The way in which Muslim men and women are described in these Facebook groups is racist in the sense that Muslims are scorned both when they are seen as backwards because of their religious clothing or practice and when they are more secular and integrated and hold positions of power in society. In other words, no matter how Muslims behave, they will be scorned. Secular Muslims in positions of power are viewed only as evidence of Islamisation by stealth—that is, the gradual Islamisation of society. We can therefore say that discussants either implicitly or explicitly rely on the so-called Eurabia discourse, where even moderate Muslims are considered suspicious, as they are seen to be trying to incorporate Islam into Norwegian society in a disguised way.
The discussion threads analysed in my article on anti-Islamic Facebook groups are in line with the now-familiar and dominating narrative of Islam as the ‘other’, in which the main reason for being opposed to Islam is that it is associated with the oppression of women. Nevertheless, I found a paradoxical twist in that this representation of Islam as detrimental to gender equality was accompanied by highly sexist language, a feature not usually associated with being in favour of gender equality. Interestingly, the women in the two Facebook groups studied were as sexist in their vocabulary as the men. Such sexist rhetoric has obviously become jargon within these types of groups, where the intention is both to offend Muslims and to demarcate the gender-equal Norwegian in-group. As Brubaker has pointed out, provocative statements of such a nature represent a conscious opposition to political correctness. The approach is similar to what Gabriella Coleman has described as Trump’s style of ‘conspicuous rudeness, crude sexual references, and a general “bad boy” demeanour’ aimed at projecting ‘an image of authenticity’.
The seemingly humorous jargon used in the degrading of Muslims takes the form of what Sara Ahmed calls ‘the social production of disgust’ and reveals the centrality of emotions such as fear, anger, and contempt in anti-Islamic discourse. In the group members’ discussions, we see how humour is ‘used’ as a means of transgression, and how through such transgression the members create an online community culture in which they support and applaud each other’s anti-Islamic sentiments. Further research is needed into the importance of emotions, jargon, and humour in such anti-Islamic social media platforms, as this will provide an important window into the collective atmosphere of hatred and disdain that is created in such groups.
Anti-Islam in political parties
Within the political sphere, it is first and foremost right-wing populist parties that have propagated anti-Islamic sentiments. A characteristic shared by many right-wing populist parties in Europe is that they make use of cultural arguments against Muslim immigration, saying that Islam is alien to a given national culture or identity. The various right-wing populist parties differ, however, in terms of how extreme their standpoints are regarding their views on Muslims. Norway’s Progress Party is one of the more moderate of these parties, although some of its members have been associated with more discriminatory comments. In general, the Progress Party used culturalist arguments far more openly while in opposition than during the period in which it was part of the country’s coalition government. The same holds true for Siv Jensen, the leader of the party, who in 2009, some years before the party joined a government coalition, initially introduced the term ‘Islamisation by stealth’. At that point in time, she sounded a warning against what was perceived as the threat of Muslims becoming ‘too numerous’ and gaining too much power within Norway. The term ‘Islamisation by stealth’ refers to the idea that, unbeknownst to the population, society is slowly but surely becoming ‘Islamised’, while the Muslims involved in this process are hiding their true intentions. This line of thought is very much a replication of the main thesis of the Eurabia theory. It seems noteworthy that such a line of thought is shared both by members of the far right and by some (though not all) politicians of the right-wing populist Progress Party, which, as noted above, formed part of a coalition government in Norway just a few years ago. In its party programme, however, the Progress Party does not argue against Muslim immigration as such, but it does argue strongly in favour of providing help to refugees in the countries close to where they fled from, and that Norway should only accept quota refugees, not refugees in general.
There are some interesting differences between right-wing populist parties in Germany and Norway in terms of the types of argumentation against Islam they use. The German national-populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) argues that Islam itself is in conflict with the free democratic order. An analysis of the anti-Islamic argumentation in German radical right parties and organisations revealed the importance of gendered arguments against Muslim migration, as members of these groups see women’s rights as being threatened by the influx of Islam. These organisations legitimise their political aim of restricting immigration by referring to security measures held to be necessary because of the alleged threat emanating from male Muslims. Inherent in this argumentation is an ethno-nationalist view: German culture is presented as superior when it comes to women’s rights, while Islam and non-Western cultures are portrayed as primitive, misogynistic, patriarchal, and inferior. Here we see an important difference between liberal anti-Islamists and their more national-conservative counterparts: while the former may feel the need to maintain at least the appearance of neutrality on questions regarding ethnic identity, this is not the case for the latter.
References to Christianity here form part of a civilisationist argument about the backwardness of Islam, where the underlying argument is that Christian-Occidental culture is threatened by Islamisation. Evidently, what is at stake here is not belonging to Christianity in itself; rather, as Brubaker aptly puts it, the Christian identity is used as ‘a way of defining “us” in relation to “them”.... Crudely put, if they are Muslim, then we must in some sense be Christian.’ As argued by Brubaker, the rhetorical use these parties make of Christianity is cultural rather than religious; likewise, their support for women’s rights could similarly be seen as a cultural understanding rather than a feminist one. By presenting Muslims from non-Western cultures as a threat to non-Muslim women and values, anti-Islamic groups aim to prevent them from settling.
This blog is based on a summary of some of the findings from earlier articles in which I and various colleagues have looked at different kinds of anti-Islamic actors, ranging from social media groups and social movement organisations to political parties and individual politicians. Of course, there is a difference between political parties and anti-Islamic movement organisations, yet some ideas—such as the notion of ‘Islamisation’—have seen considerable diffusion among both types of groups. Indeed, as many researchers have pointed out, anti-Islamic ideas in general have spread quite widely since the turn of the millennium. One important distinction between anti-Islamic ideas and more moderate views that should be borne in mind is that, in the latter, distinct practices are for example criticised because they are considered patriarchal, whereas in the anti-Islamic viewpoint, no matter what they do, Muslims represent a dangerous Islamisation of society. In addition, distinctions can be made between various anti-Islamic actors in terms of what measures they regard as legitimate and what kinds of rhetoric and activism they promote. In general, we might say that what anti-Islamic ideas have in common is that that they do not take into account the huge variations in the ways in which Muslims live their lives and practise their faith. As a result, Muslims are targeted even when moderate.
The mainstreaming of anti-Islamic ideas takes place first and foremost on the internet, where scornful comments against Muslims and Islam have become so common that moderators have a hard time dealing with the problem. But this mainstreaming of anti-Islamist discourse is a problem not just because Muslims face hate speech on the internet: even though many anti-Islamist groups do not advocate or condone violence, their rhetoric potentially functions as a mobilising force for more extreme and violent actors.
 Edward Said (1978) Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books.
 Hans-Georg Betz (2007) Against the ‘green totalitarianism’: Anti-Islamic nativism in contemporary radical right-wing populism in Western Europe. In: Christiana Schori Liang (ed.) Europe for the Europeans: The Foreign and Security Policy of the Populist Radical Right. New York: Ashgate, pp. 33–54.
 Arun Kundnani (2007) Integrationism: The politics of anti-Muslim racism. Race & Class 48(4): 24–44.
 John Sides and Kimberley Gross (2013) Stereotypes of Muslims and support for the War on Terror. The Journal of Politics 75(3): 583–598. doi: 10.1017/s0022381613000388.
 Thomas Diez (2004) Europe’s others and the return of geopolitics. Cambridge Review of International Affairs 17(2): 319–335. doi: 10.1080/0955757042000245924.
 Stephen Zunes (2017) Europe’s refugee crisis, terrorism, and Islamophobia. Peace Review 29(1): 1–6. doi: 10.1080/10402659.2017.1272275.
 Bat Ye’or (2005) Eurabia: The Euro–Arab Axis. Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
 See AbdoolKarim Vakil (2009) Is the Islam in Islamophobia the same as the Islam in anti-Islam: Or, when is it Islamophobia time? e-cadernos CES 03. doi: 10.4000/eces.178.
 According to its website, Runnymede is the UK’s leading independent race-equality think-tank; see https://www.runnymedetrust.org/about.html.
 Chris Allen (2008) KISS Islamophobia (keeping it simple and stupid). In: Salman Sayyid and Abdool Karim Vakil (eds) Thinking Through Islamophobia: Global Perspectives. Symposium paper for the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies, University of Leeds, pp. 30–33.
 Erik Bleich (2011) What is Islamophobia and how much is there? Theorizing and measuring an emerging comparative concept. American Behavioral Scientist 55(12): 1581–1600.
 Charles Miller (2017) Australia’s anti-Islam right in their own words: Text as data analysis of social media content. Australian Journal of Political Science 52(3): 383–401. doi: 10.1080/10361146.2017.1324561.
 Lars Erik Berntzen (2020) Liberal Roots of Far Right Activism: The Anti-Islamic Movement in the 21st Century. London: Routledge, on p. 11.
 Katrine Fangen (2020) Gendered images of us and them in anti-Islamic Facebook groups. Politics, Religion & Ideology 21(4): 451–468.
 Sara Farris (2017) In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism. Durham. NC: Duke University Press.
 Cas Mudde (2016) On Extremism and Democracy in Europe. New York: Routledge, on p. 145.
 Lars Erik Berntzen and Sveinung Sandberg (2014) The collective nature of lone wolf terrorism: Anders Behring Breivik and the anti-Islamic social movement. Terrorism and Political Violence 26(5): 759–779.
 Manès Weisskircher and Lars-Erik Berntzen (2019) Remaining on the streets. Anti-Islamic PEGIDA mobilization and its relationship to far-right party politics. In: Manuela Caiani and Ondřej Císař (eds) Radical Right ‘Movement Parties’ in Europe. Abingdon, Routledge.
 Kemal Dervis and Caroline Conroy (2018) Nationalists of the world, unite? Brookings, 26 November; available at: https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/nationalists-of-the-world-unite/.
 Katrine Fangen and Carina Riborg Holter (2020) The battle for truth: How online newspaper commenters defend their censored expressions. Poetics 80. doi: 10.1016/j.poetic.2019.101423.
 The need to engage with anti-Islamic actors is potentially important also for deradicalising purposes. However, the path to deradicalisation is not ambiguous. For example, there have been examples of dialogue meetings between anti-Islamists and Muslims, where the anti-Islamists afterwards expressed that they were interested in building bridges to the extent that this could serve to diminish the Islamization of society. See Helle Svanevik (2020) Dialogmøte mellom SIAN og Muslimsk dialogforum. Dagsavisen, 31 October; available at: https://www.dagsavisen.no/fremtiden/dialogmotet-mellom-sian-og-muslimsk-dialogforum-terrorister-bygger-ikke-broer-de-sprenger-dem-1.1795089.
 My recent article with Maria Reite Nilsen was based on interviews with leaders of Stop Islamisation of Norway, the Norwegian branch of Pegida and Vigrid (the latter in reality now more a one-man entity than a group); see Katrine Fangen and Maria Reite Nilsen (2020) Variations within the Norwegian far right: From neo-Nazism to anti-Islamism. Journal of Political Ideologies. doi: 10.1080/13569317.2020.1796347. In addition, in the project on which I am currently working – ‘Reaching Out to Close the Border: The Transnationalisation of Anti-Immigration Movements in Europe (MAM)’, based at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) – we are a group of researchers interviewing different actors in what could loosely be seen as the anti-immigrant movement in Europe (or rather, we interview different anti-immigrant actors and see what forms of national and transnational collaboration and inspiration are involved in their activities). By talking with the actors themselves, we get closer to understanding the inner dynamics of their ideas.
 Koen Vossen (2011) Classifying Wilders: The ideological development of Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom. Politics 31(3): 179–189.
 Will Kymlicka (2015) Solidarity in diverse societies: Beyond neoliberal multiculturalism and welfare chauvinism. Comparative Migration Studies 3(17): 1–19.
 Fangen and Nilsen, Variations within the Norwegian far right.
 Fangen, Gendered images of us and them.
 Lars Erik Berntzen and Manés Weisskircher (2015) Anti-Islamic Pegida groups have spread beyond their German heartlands. LSE blogs, 17 June. Available at: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/06/17/the-anti-islamic-pegida-movement-is-making-progress-outside-of-its-german-heartlands/.
 Sebastian Stier, Lisa Posch, Arnim Bleier and Markus Strohmaier (2017) When populists become popular: Comparing Facebook use by the right-wing movement Pegida and German political parties. Information, Communication & Society, 20(9): 1365–88.
 Carsten Schwemmer (2019) Social media strategies of right-wing movements: The radicalization of Pegida. SocArXiv papers, 21 February. doi: 10.31235/osf.io/js73z.
 Fangen, Gendered images of us and them.
 Gabriella Modan and Katie Wells (2015) Capital Dilemma: Growth and Inequality in Washington. New York: Routledge.
 Rogers Brubaker (2017) Why populism?, Theory and Society, 46(5): 357–385, at p. 363. doi: 10.1007/s11186-017-9301-7.
 Albert Bandura (2002) Selective moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency. Journal of Moral Education 31(2): 101–119.
 Brubaker, Why populism?, p. 367.
 Cited in Brubaker, Why populism?, p. 367.
 Michelle Hale Williams (2010) Can leopards change their spots? Between xenophobia and trans-ethnic populism among West European far right parties. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 16(1): 111–134. doi: 10.1080/13537110903583385.
 Katrine Fangen and Mari Vaage (2018) ‘The immigration problem’ and Norwegian right-wing politicians. New Political Science 40(3): 459–476. doi: 10.1080/07393148.2018.1487145.
 The Progress Party was part of a coalition government from September 2013 to January 2020.
 Possibly inspired by Robert Spencer’s (2008) book Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam Is Subverting America Without Guns or Bombs (Washington, DC: Regnery). Spencer is a leading member of the alt-right in the USA and was an organizer of the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina, in August 2017.
 Wahlprogramm der Alternative für Deutschland für die Wahl zum Deutschen Bundestag am 24. September 2017 (Alternative for Germany, election program for the German bundestag election on Seotember 24th 2017), Available at: https://www.afd.de/wahlprogramm/.
 Katrine Fangen and Lisanne Lichtenberg (forthcoming) Gender and family rhetoric on the German far right. Patterns of Prejudice.
 Rogers Brubaker (2017) Between nationalism and civilizationism: The European populist moment in comparative perspective. Ethnic and Racial Studies 40(8): 1191–1226, on p. 1199.
 See Fangen, Gendered images of us and them; Fangen and Reite Nilsen, Variations within the Norwegian far right; Fangen and Vaage, The immigration problem; Fangen and Riborg Holter, The battle for truth; and Fangen and Lichtenberg, Gender and family rhetoric.
 Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter (2017) Articulations of Islamophobia: From the extreme to the mainstream? Ethnic and Racial Studies 40(13): 2151–2179. doi: 10.1080/01419870.2017.1312008.
 Kundnani, Integrationism.
by Arthur Borriello and Anton Jäger
Few words still offer a more tantalising, but also frustratingly vague, indication of our contemporary era than “populism”. The statistics speak for themselves: from 1970 to 2010, the number of Anglophone publications containing the term rose from 300 to more than 800, creeping over a thousand in the 2010s. The semantic inflation was not only the result of a growing and emboldened nationalist radical right, however. Instead, the 2010s also saw a specifically left-wing variant of populism gain foothold on European shores. This new group of political contenders took, tacitly or explicitly, their inspiration from previous experiences in the South American continent, of which left populism had long been cast as an exclusive specimen. Where did this sudden upsurge come from?
In addition to cataclysmic crisis management, without doubt the most important thinker in this transfer was the Argentinian philosopher, Ernesto Laclau—light tower to left populists like Podemos, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and even Syriza. Before he went properly political, Laclau was already a mainstay of academic debates in the 1990s and 2000s. Laclau’s theory of populism—formulated from 1977 to 2012, spanning books such as Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (1977) to On Populist Reason (2005)—has fascinated a whole generation of scholars dissatisfied by either positivist or mainstream Marxist approaches. To them, Laclau provided a full theory of populism that stands out by its conceptual strength, internal coherence, and direct political appeal. Contrary to many other approaches, there also was intense two-way traffic between his populism theory and its activist uptake by movements, from Latin America (Chavism, Kirchnerism, etc.) to the more recent political experiments in the post-2008 Europe (Podemos, Syriza, La France insoumise, etc.). In the 2010s, this two-way traffic took off in Europe.
Laclau’s vision of populism is as short as it is appealing. In his view, ‘populism’ is not an ideology, strategy, or designated worldview. Rather, ‘populism’ is an ever-present ‘political logic’, which tends to unify unfulfilled demands based on shared opposition to a common enemy—elites, castes, classes, parasitical outsiders. Populists condense the space of the social by reducing all oppositions to an antagonistic relation between ‘the people’ and a power bloc, the latter consisting of a politically, economically, and culturally dominant group held responsible for frustrating the demands of the former. To Laclau, the unity of this ‘people’ is always constructed and a given. This construction is both discursive and negative: because there is no pre-given to the ‘people’, cohesion is necessarily achieved through condensation in the figure of a leader—one of the most controversial aspects of Laclau’s theory. Populism, in this perspective, is also bereft of any intrinsic programmatic content. Instead, it only refers to the formal way in which political demands are articulated: those demands, in turn, can be of any type, and can be voiced by extremely disparate groups. For Laclau populism can thus take many forms, ranging from the most progressive to the most reactionary one—both Hitler and Marx have their ‘populist’ moments.
Like any grand theory, however, Laclau’s theory has also become subject to two symmetric processes: either dogmatic mutation or automatic rejection. These mirror the treatment of left populism in the public sphere in general. Academics either uncritically endorse these movements as democratically redemptive, or unfairly blame them for jeopardising democratic norms. Increasingly, disciples of the Laclauian approach themselves have express their dissatisfactions vis-à-vis Laclau’s theory and the current state of the field. Save a few exceptions calling for an earnest assessment of its balance sheet, however, these critiques—both theoretical and practical—are made from perspectives external to the Laclauian theory (mainly liberalism and Marxism). From the liberal perspective, Laclau’s theory is criticised for its alleged illiberal and authoritarian/plebiscitarian political consequences. Marxists, on the other hand, tend to resist the ‘retreat from class’ that his theory implies.
Contrary to these criticisms, we propose an internal assessment. To paraphrase Chantal Mouffe’s famous quip about Carl Schmitt, we can reflect upon left populist theory both ‘with’ and ‘against’ Laclau, submitting his theory to closer scrutiny while sticking to most of its basic assumptions. Four aspects of Laclau’s theory are granted particular scrutiny: the articulation of ‘horizontality’ and ‘verticality’, a deficit of historicity, an excessive formalism and a lack of reflexivity.
The first point moves from the abstract to the concrete. For Laclau, any populist ‘people’ needs to be constructed and moulded, something that will have to be done through a central agency—here taken up by the figure of the leader. In the view of ‘horizontal’ theorists, Laclau’s theory of populism supresses the natural spontaneity of groups, disregards their organisational capacity, and always runs the risk of sliding into an autocratic path. On the descriptive side, the central role of the leader encounters many counterexamples across historical and contemporary populist experiences, from the American People’s Party, the farmers’ alliance that shook up US politics at the end of the nineteenth century, to the contemporary Yellow Vests, the recent social upsurge against Emmanuel Macron’s politics in France. On the normative side, left populism does indeed live in the perpetual shadow of a Caesarist derailing—as recently shown in the extremely autocratic management of Podemos and la France insoumise by Pablo Iglesias and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, respectively. Yet, in a context where European parties are losing members and politics is becoming more liquid and impermanent, the importance of leaders to organisations seems to be an obstacle to patient organisation-building and mass mobilisation. In this sense, they tend to encourage rather than decelerate the anti-democratic trends they purport to critique.
A second problem in Laclau’s oeuvre is its treatment of historicity. Although Laclau makes recurrent references to historical episodes, his work as a whole consistently suffers from a chronic incapacity to relate his findings to a coherent theory of historical change. The poststructuralist language he takes on leads to a relative randomisation of history, placing him at pains to explain large-scale historical changes. Without falling back on a teleological and deterministic conception of history, it is necessary to pay greater attention to the structural transformations of global capitalism and parliamentary democracy to understand our current ‘populist moment’. The history of the 2010s as the European populist decade can not be understood only through the triptych dislocation-contingency-politicisation but must be replaced within a much broader context: the declining structures of political representation across Western democracies, whose roots, in turn, must be found in the changing political economy of late capitalism.
Finally, we claim that Laclau and his disciples lack a properly performative theory of populism. Recent research carried out by Essex School scholars (the current started by Laclau) have compensated for this problem, focusing on the intellectual history of populism as a signifier, and showing the performative effects its use by scholars and politicians can have. These show anti-populist researchers and political actors tend to consolidate the coming of a populist/anti-populist cleavage as a central axis of conflict by endorsing a specific reading of contemporary politics and setting out a terrain of battle that superimposes itself on older ones, such as the left-right distinction. However, Essex School theorists remain surprisingly silent on the thin frontier between description and prescription from a Laclauian perspective, and thus on their own inevitable role in creating the reality they purport to merely describe.
Finally, Laclau’s extremely formal definition of populism can easily turn into hypergeneralism. His endorsement of a strictly formal conception of populism creates an inability to account both for the similarities and differences between the left- and right populisms. It then becomes dangerously easy to overstretch the concept ad absurdum and even to depict contemporary anti-populism—such as Macron’s—as a form of populism, simply because of the latter’s antagonistic character towards established political parties, even though this antagonism is rooted in a liberal-technocratic conception of politics. As appealing as this overstretch might look—it rightly grasps that Macron and Mélenchon, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, for instance, have ‘something’ in common—it adds to the confusion around ‘populism’ rather than providing a satisfying answer to it. It also distracts the attention from what really unites these political actors: the fact that their emergence in the French party system represents a moment of political disruption (not necessarily populist) made possible by the decline of traditional, organised party politics.
To end on a hopeful note, we propose a renewed approach to populism that builds on Laclau’s strengths while re-embedding them in a more robust analytic framework. Such a reassessment could lead to a more careful balance between a general theory of populism (based on, but not reducible to, Laclau’s political ontology) and the concrete appraisal of its empirical manifestations. We can here deploys the metaphor of an ‘ecosystem’: populism is simply one political species (amongst many) particularly adept at adapting itself to the new environmental setting of our increasingly disorganised democracy. In scientific jargon, Laclau’s ‘populism’ is a bio-indicator: a species which can reveal the quality and nature of the environment, while also depending on it. Only when we take this step back, we claim, can we see the silhouette of populism against the wider democratic canvas.
 The most prolific schools of thought, besides the Laclauian perspective (C. Mouffe, For a Left Populism, London: Verso, 2018; G. Katsambekis & A. Kioupkiolis (eds.), The Populist Radical Left in Europe, Oxon & New York: Routledge, 2019) have undoubtedly been the approaches to populism as a ‘thin-centred ideology’ (C. Mudde and C. Rovira Kaltwasser (Eds.), Populism in Europe and the Americas: Threat or Corrective for Democracy?, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012; J-W. Müller, What is Populism?, London: Penguin Books, 2016) and as a ‘political style’ (B. Moffitt, The Global Rise of Populism : Performance, Political Style and Representation, Standford : Standford University Press, 2016).
 For an early criticism of this sort, see B. Arditi, ‘Review essay: populism is hegemony is politics? On Ernesto Laclau’s On Populist Reason’, Constellations, 17(3) (2010), 488–497 and Y. Stavrakakis, ‘Antinomies of formalism: Laclau’s theory of populism and the lessons from religious populism in Greece’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 9(3) (2004), 253–267. Recent initiatives to go beyond theoretical immobilism within the Essex school can be found, for instance, in the special issue of the Journal of Language and Politics edited by Benjamin De Cleen and al. (« Discourse Theory : Ways forward for theory development and research practice », January 2021), as well as in a 15th year anniversary symposium for On Populist Reason, edited by Lasse Thomassen, Theory & Event, vol. 23 (July 2020).
 Good examples of liberal and marxist critiques of Laclau’s theory can be found respectively in P. Rosanvallon, Le siècle du populisme. Histoire, théorie, critique, Paris : Seuil, 2020 and S. Žižek, « Against the Populist Temptation », Critical Inquiry, 32(3), Spring 2006, 551-574.
 See for instance: A. Jäger, ‘The Myth of “Populism”’, Jacobin, January 3 2018, available at https://www. jacobinmag.com/2018/01/populism-douglas-hofstadter-donald-trump-democracy; B. De Cleen, J. Glynos and A. Mondon, ‘Critical research on populism: Nine rules of engagement’, Organization, 25(5) (2018), 651; Y. Stavrakakis et al., ‘Populism, anti-populism and crisis’, Contemporary Political Theory, 17(1) (2018), 4–27; B. Moffitt, ‘The Populism/Anti-Populism Divide in Western Europe’, Democratic Theory, 5(2) (2018), 1–16; A. Mondon and J. Glynos, ‘The political logic of populist hype: The case of right-wing populism’s “meteoric rise” and its relation to the status quo’, Populismus Working Papers 4 (2016), 1–20.
by Angela Xiao Wu
Dissent is an opinion, philosophy, or sentiment of non-agreement or opposition to a prevailing idea or policy enforced by a government, political party or other entity or individual in a capacity of contextual authority.
Before the Lunar New Year, Beijing’s winter was brutal. I bicycled daily from my college dormitory to an intensive class for the GRE test required for US graduate schools. In the camp, a talkative guy named Luo Yonghao was responsible for coaching vocabulary sessions. Buried in piles of workbooks, 200 students listened to his venting, jokes, and meandering comments about silly Chinese norms in culture and politics. It was 2004, and I was a sophomore. Much of my college days had gone into ploughing through commentaries and memoirs chaotically dumped in online forums. These materials were too “sensitive” for broadcast media. With this inoculation, I found Luo’s extracurricular offerings delightful and amusing. But I was oblivious to what came next from him.
Locating the Chinese Dissent
China entered the “Year of the Blog” in 2005. In 2006, as blogging underwent rapid commercialization, Luo Yonghao left his GRE coaching job and founded an independent blogging platform called Bullog. About the same time, I started my M.Phil. studies in Hong Kong. Each day sprawling networks of online writers engaged in endless fierce disputes. Rivalry aside, their implicit addressees were always the faceless readers on the other side of the screen. Some readers extolled, some quarrelled, and numerous others, including myself, kept lurking.
In summer 2008, the Great Sichuan Earthquake killed nearly 90,000, including thousands of children buried under shoddy public school buildings. Within a couple of weeks, led by Luo Yonghao, “Bulloggers” organized its own disaster relief initiatives and received 2.4 million RMB (then about 400 thousand USD) donation from its reader-base scattered across China. As Bullog marshalled massive civic support, it also came under attack on many sides for relentlessly demanding government accountability in school construction work and for pushing back against the patriotic fervour sweeping the country at the time. This was one of the highlights of China’s so-called “liberal dissent” that had been blossoming online.
What increasingly troubled me was the gap between my personal observations and the academic vocabulary that I had newly acquired. The dominant framework in the Anglophone research literature over Chinese politics and digital media, much informed by mainstream American political science, was one that juxtaposed liberal resistance with authoritarian rule. It focused on how people use the internet to criticize and protest. Left out were questions so prominent on my mind: Where did the protesters come from? How did they develop their dissent? The Chinese online world was a vast restless landscape of self-complacency, genuine confusion, existential exasperation, and tragic posturing of the lone enlightened thinker. What truly fascinated me was instead the emergence of discontent in a cultural/media environment instituted to hinder it. In hindsight, the issue boils down to how perceptions of a regime’s illegitimacy may grow in a population.
After I arrived in the US for Ph.D. in 2008—during the Beijing Olympics—the puzzle began to expand. What constituted dissent in China in the first place? In mainstream political science, attention to nonliberal regimes focuses primarily on factors and forces fostering formal democratization. This agenda contrasts sharply with critical theories (emergent in liberal democracies) that explicate how liberalism and neoliberalism ideologically underpin forms of oppression and exploitation.
In fact, similar tensions underlay much of the intellectual debates within China since the 1990s, known as the “right vs. left” opposition between “liberal-rightists” (e.g., many Bulloggers) and the so-called “neo-leftists.” These labels were profoundly confusing, because in post-reform, post-socialist China, being “leftist” was not perceived as radical, but as conservative, for its association with the Maoist politics of the past. The Chinese right, in turn, inherited the legacy of being persecuted under Mao. Being “rightist” was not equated with conservatism—as in clinging to traditional Chinese values such as Confucianism—but with political dissention critical of the current regime of Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
But what really divided the Chinese right and left? On the one hand, the ways in which contemporary China narrated Maoist politics were passed onto the contemporary Chinese leftist position. Was it about supporting powerful state apparatuses, economic egalitarianism, the disregard for formal procedures, or some combination of each? In the eyes of their critics, Chinese (neo-)lefts were complicit with authoritarianism. On the other hand, claiming to “speak truth to power,” the Chinese liberal-rightists targeted the party-state as the embodiment of power. The leftists accused them of propagating ideas that ultimately served the interests of capital, abandoning social groups already marginalized in China’s economic reforms, which were orchestrated by none other than the current regime. Indeed, I saw strands of liberal ideas, including market fundamentalism, circulate among many Bulloggers.
Mapping Chinese Disagreements
No singular line of division defined the purported left-right antagonism in China. But both sides strategically downplayed the latent multidimensionality in order to denounce each other. This resembled the level of complexity in political ideologies that is taken for granted for studying liberal democracies. In China, as in other societies, no popular struggles can play out without enacting the local ideological magnetism and rhetorical devices. In fact, China’s lack of institutional consolidation of partisan division through voting, political organization, education, and media might make ideological articulations even more fluid.
In the early 2010s, an opportunity led me away from the vertigo of convoluted intellectual debates to think about where ordinary web users stand amidst a constantly morphing Chinese web. Some folks created a Chinese version of the Political Compass quiz. In absence of cultures and institutions formed around partisan politics, but with a raucous web filled with ideational conflicts, people resorted to this online quiz to understand their own political positioning. Between 2008 and 2011, hundreds of thousands of Chinese took it out of curiosity. In a country where formal survey design was highly policed and survey responses unreliable due to fear and discomfort, this immense cumulation of anonymous answer sheets regarding 50 ideational statements were invaluable. They recorded what an individual simultaneously agrees and disagrees about, which in aggregation can be used to map, bottom-up, the “indigenous” political belief system.
My analysis found that, in the popular mind, while statements reflecting political liberalism (e.g., it’s OK to make jokes about state leaders) tended to come with those of cultural liberalism (e.g., supporting gay marriage), none of these had a systematic alignment with economic liberalism (e.g., opposing certain government subsidies). This is not surprising given China’s lack of education and political socialization on abstract principles guiding economic policymaking. This also means that among its broad online population, unlike within intellectual discourse, views about the economy were yet to become a prominent factor informing their political positioning.
The data shows that, between 2008 and 2011, the popular line of division was not even views about the political system. Instead, it was about whether one was for the vision of China rising to be a global superpower, something not aligning neatly with the intellectual left-right division. In other words, it is fair to say that a significant portion of Chinese web users had formed their opinions in ways that systematically rejected this aggressive nationalist craving. Such a rejection came with an embrace of plural cultural values and critical views of the political system. This was confirmed by my oral history interviews of Bullog readers. A large portion of my dissertation (2014) explored their changing subjectivities—how they groped their way out of nationalism over time. Much of this transformation hinged not on political values per se, but on them acquiring folk theories about the power of media environments in moulding one’s existing thinking. Many developed a paranoia of having been brainwashed, in sharp contrast to our broader climate where calling one’s opponents “brainwashed” is commonplace.
Regime Legitimacy as Shifting Perceptions
The Chinese government banned Bullog in early 2009, the same year that Weibo, China’s much-larger-than-Twitter platform, was launched. With technical features enabling unprecedentedly wide and swift public participation, Weibo in its beginning years was expected to further augment “liberal dissent” in China. In the summer of 2011, amid its fast growth, the propaganda department called to better “guide online opinion.” Additional to targeted censorship, this push leaned much on mobilizing government agents and legacy media outlets to encourage and amplify desirable content on Weibo. Xi Jinping rose to power in 2012. Toward the mid-2010s, China scholars and observers alike began to note a broad waning of online protests.
What makes the Chinese party-state legitimate? Plenty has been written with a focus on the CCP’s official claims and China’s historical, structural propensity (e.g., the government's economic performance was the last resort when neither a charismatic leader like Mao Zedong, nor a genuine socialist conviction, remained alive). Yet ultimately, it comes down to how ordinary Chinese conceive these issues. If emerging dissent amounts to growing perceptions of regime illegitimacy, the observed conservative turn of China’s online cultures may boil down to changing perceptions about what constitutes regime legitimacy. These perceptions exemplify how people experience and evaluate the regime—I call them “regime imaginaries.”
One way to explore regime imaginaries is to investigate how tizhi is popularly spoken of. Tizhi is an umbrella-concept difficult to concretize. Its dictionary definition is ‘form and structure, system (of government, etc.).’ Today, tizhi often invokes some aspects of Chinese establishments. The term’s extraordinary breadth, ambiguity, and opacity effectively alludes to party-state’s fraught roles in national politics, culture, and social life, which distinctly characterizes China’s sociopolitical configuration. When people talk about tizhi, what are they talking about? Coexisting ‘regime imaginaries’ are discernible from analysing massive amounts of Weibo posts containing tizhi to identify recurring semantic contexts surrounding the term. Analysing datasets from 2011 and 2016 respectively, changes were also evident.
First, the most prevalent regime imaginary in 2011—let us call it “Critical-Reform”—attributed various social ills accompanying China’s economic reform to the regime’s negligence and incompetence in governance. In 2016, vocabularies used in Critical-Reform broke down to formulate two discrete imaginaries focused on governance over economic and judiciary matters, respectively. With this change, the permeating sense of crisis and urgency for structural overhaul had waned, and in its place emerged specific issues to be addressed professionally and bureaucratically.
Second, another major regime imaginary in 2011—which can be called “Liberal-Democracy” reflected a critique of Chinese regime legitimacy according to Western liberalism. Unlike Critical-Reform, Liberal-Democracy harboured a rejection of the existing party-state system. In 2016, many of its vocabularies, such as “liberty” and “democracy,” were absorbed by the most predominant regime imaginary that I call “Civilizational-Competition.” These terms were simultaneously discredited, as Civilizational-Competition was about revelations about Western hypocrisy and calls for national solidarity. Also entailed was pride over traditional cultures and suspicion of global capitalism. In the Civilizational-Competition imaginary, the regime at once represents and protects China's prowess. Moreover, this imaginary resulted from populist sentiments, because it dominated the semantic landscape of individual user accounts on Weibo, much more than that of organizational accounts.
In short, under the Xi Administration, the two legitimacy-challenging imaginaries—Critical-Reform and Liberal-Democracy—morphed drastically in five-year’s time. On the one hand, interconnected social conflicts became pigeonholed into domains of law and administration. On the other, the liberal democratic persuasions crumbled as the sense of foreign (Western) threats heightened. Characterizing the general trends at China’s political and ideological conjuncture, the discursive landscape in 2016 was much more in the regime’s favour.
Cut to 2020, the year Covid-19 and xenophobic populism ravaged China and the rest of world. Like the Great Sichuan Earthquake of 2008, the pandemic created a moment of national crisis and in its wake sweeping waves of patriotism. Courageous individuals again emerged, with support from numerous strangers online, contending that patriotic mobilization could be blinding and oppressive. But Bullog is long gone. And there are no similar hubs for comradery and coordination, toward which alternative voices can gravitate. At any rate confidence in the current political system is peaking. But this is not solely an outcome of authoritarian coercion and censorship.
It should be clear by now that in Chinese popular imaginations regime support is intricately entwined with nationalist sentiments and impressions of Western democratic systems. Already evident in 2016, the crumbling of liberal democratic ideals boosted favourable perceptions about regime legitimacy. What 2020 witnessed in the US and other Western countries, especially through the relay of Chinese media field, further hollowed domestic visions of liberal democratic rule as a viable, let alone desirable, option.
Meanwhile on the Chinese web, quite a few erstwhile prominent Bulloggers, together with many other Chinese liberal-rightist intellectuals, openly cheer for Trumpism and deride U.S. public policies that address social justice. The human rights lawyer once enamoured on Bullog, Chen Guangcheng, who in 2012 escaped to the US from state persecution, urged US citizens to vote for Trump to “stop CCP aggression.” Luo Yonghao, Bullog’s founder and once my GRE coach, became a tech entrepreneur manufacturing smartphones in the early 2010s, and then, after his business failed in 2019, joined legions of celebrities to live stream and sell goods, which were worth hundreds of millions of RMB at a time.
In shifting global geopolitics, continuing capitalist perversion, and our desperate search for transnational solidarity, the Chinese dissent cannot be assumed as the purported “liberal resistance” to authoritarianism, cannot be delegated to persons of heroic deeds, and cannot be pinned down to any binary framework. What we need is sustained attention to how popular political discourses warp, how some convictions become cozy together while repelling others, and how these changing formations relate to larger structures of power.
by Jaakko Heiskanen
Political ideologies are collections of concepts, ideas, or principles that provide a blueprint for how a society should be organised. Liberalism, conservatism, and socialism—the three major political ideologies of the modern era—can all be understood in this way. In each case, it is possible to identify a set of core commitments that provides the basic template for ordering and governing society: liberalism is centred on the principles of individual liberty and equality before the law; conservatism is centred on the maintenance of order and the preservation of traditional social institutions; and socialism is centred on the public ownership of the means of production. Other modern ‘isms’ such as environmentalism and feminism can also be understood in this way: environmentalism is centred on ecological sustainability and respect toward nature, while feminism is centred on women’s rights and gender equality. Of course, each of these political ideologies allows for substantial diversity within their general framework; they provide broad schemas rather than precise rules. They can also be mixed and matched in various ways to produce a much wider array of specific ideological positions that any given individual might hold. But what all of them have in common is that they offer a blueprint that says something substantive about how society should be organised and governed. To borrow Harold Lasswell’s well-known formulation, they are all ideologies about politics: who gets what, when, how.
Nationalism and populism are often erroneously described as political ideologies. What sets nationalism and populism apart from the ideologies listed above is that they offer no substantive blueprint for the organisation and governance of society. Precisely for this reason, nationalism and populism are typically qualified as ‘thin’ or even ‘phantom’ ideologies that are parasitic on ‘full’ ideologies such as liberalism, conservatism, or socialism. Indeed, part of what makes nationalism and populism so difficult to define is their chameleonic quality, which allows them to appear across the political spectrum, from the far left to the far right, and in all manner of political regimes, from liberal democracies to authoritarian dictatorships.
The elusiveness of nationalism and populism has been exacerbated by the politicisation of the terminology in political and academic discourse alike. Typically, the terms ‘nationalism’ and ‘populism’ are deployed in a derogatory sense to describe the politics of others: they are the populists, they are the nationalists. But not always: history has also seen their sporadic use of these terms as positive self-designations. Relatively recent examples of this include Yael Tamir’s defence of a liberal nationalism and Chantal Mouffe’s call for a left-wing populism. As a result of all this terminological politicking, nationalism and populism invariably seem to divide into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ variants. In the liberal-centrist mainstream of political and academic discourse, for example, there exists a longstanding distinction between ‘civic’ and ‘ethnic’ nationalisms, where the former is idealised as inclusionary and egalitarian while the latter is denigrated as a dangerous and divisive degeneration thereof. In a similar vein, among certain left-leaning scholars and politicians, there has recently emerged a conceptual distinction between ‘left-wing’ and ‘right-wing’ populisms, where the former is depicted as emancipatory and democratic while the latter is decried as racist and authoritarian. Neighbouring terms have also been drawn into these conceptual battles as a result of attempts to specify the positive or negative valence of nationalism or populism. The term ‘nationalism’, for instance, sounds exclusionary and dangerous when placed alongside ‘patriotism’, but inclusionary and unifying when compared to ‘racism’. All in all, definitions of nationalism and populism seem to reveal more about the commentator’s political stance than about the phenomena themselves.
The trick to making sense of nationalism and populism is to see their elusive and chameleonic quality not as a problem, but as a symptom of their political function. To this end, I propose a distinction between political ideologies and ideologies of the political. This distinction draws on the distinction between ‘politics’ and ‘the political’, which has become rather fashionable in recent years thanks to the work of Chantal Mouffe. Following Mouffe, ‘politics’ captures the concrete set of practices and institutions through which society is governed—or, in Lasswell’s terms, who gets what, when, how. In contrast, ‘the political’ refers to a fundamental and ineradicable antagonism or impossibility that is constitutive of human society as such. In Heideggerian terms, ‘politics’ is an ontic category whereas ‘the political’ is an ontological category. Hence, political ideologies such as liberalism, conservatism, and socialism are about guiding and legitimating the everyday practice of politics on the ontic level. In and of themselves, these political ideologies have little or nothing to say about the kind of political entity within which their core tenets are to be applied—this could be an ancient city-state, a modern nation-state, a futuristic world-state, a multinational empire, or something else entirely. In contrast, nationalism and populism are directly concerned with the ontological dimension of the political, that is, with the legitimation of the modern political order as such. And the central pillar of the modern political order is, of course, the modern state. Conceptualising nationalism and populism as ideologies of the political thus not only allows us to make sense of their constitutive ambiguity and to distinguish them from political ideologies, it also allows us to historicise these phenomena and to locate their origins in the advent of political modernity.
The central pillar of the modern political order is the modern state. There are two key features that differentiate the modern state from other forms of political organisation. The first is the reification of society and its projection as something separate from the state, as an alternate place from which the state can draw its legitimacy. The legitimacy of the modern state thus depends on its claim to represent a particular society, a particular group of people, the existence of which is taken to precede that of the state. This is the principle of popular sovereignty. The second and closely related key feature of the modern state is the emergence of a spatial disjuncture between government and society: the relatively small ruling elite and the mass of the common people are seen to exist on two distinct planes, whereby a gap of representation always separates the rulers from the ruled. This is the principle of political representation. Overall, therefore, the conceptual architecture of the modern state is composed of two closely interrelated yet conceptually distinct spatial boundaries: a ‘horizontal’ boundary between the inside and the outside of the state, and a ‘vertical’ boundary between the ruling elite and the common people. These two spatial distinctions constitute the basic ontological structure of the modern political order. And it is this ontological structure that gives rise to nationalism and populism as legitimating ideologies, that is, as ideologies of the political.
Nationalism relates to the horizontal boundary between the inside and the outside of the state: it is about the legitimacy of the state as a bounded territorial entity. To this end, nationalist ideology posits the existence of a nation as a bounded pre-political community that logically (if not always historically) precedes the existence of the state. Whether the identity of this national community is based on language, culture, geography, ethnicity, race, and/or something else, does not really matter here. In all cases, at the core of nationalism is the idea that the boundaries of the political unit should correspond to the boundaries of the national unit, no matter how this national unit is defined. Simply put, every state should represent a nation and every nation should have a state of its own. Within this general framework, nationalist ideology can take both ‘state-framed’ and ‘counter-state’ forms. State-framed nationalisms operate within existing states and underpin their legitimacy, whereas counter-state nationalisms aim at the reconfiguration of existing political boundaries, for example through secession or unification. Fundamentally, both forms of nationalism—state-framed and counter-state—revolve around the horizontal boundary between the inside and the outside of the state.
Populism relates to the vertical boundary between government and society: it is about the legitimacy of the ruling elite as the representatives of the people. If the ideal that drives nationalism is the equation of the nation with the state, then the ideal that drives populism is the equation of the people with the elite. At the heart of populism is thus the idea that the will of the people should be present in the place of power. Moreover, in the same way that nationalism splits into state-framed and counter-state variants, populism splits into ‘regime-framed’ and ‘counter-regime’ forms. Regime-framed populisms buttress the legitimacy of ruling elites by appealing directly to the people for legitimacy, while counter-regime populisms challenge the legitimacy of existing political regimes by claiming that they do not represent the will of the people. Fundamentally, both forms of populism—regime-framed and counter-regime—revolve around the vertical boundary between government and society.
Nationalism and populism emerge out of the ontological framework of political modernity, that is, out of the architecture of the political as such. This is why they are such chameleonic and contradictory phenomena. After all, as Mouffe reminds us, the concept of the political encapsulates a fundamental antagonism or impossibility that is constitutive of human society as such. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that nationalism and populism also revolve around a constitutive antagonism or impossibility. In the case of nationalism, at stake is the impossibility of determining the identity of the people qua nation through political means. To legitimate the territorial boundedness of the state, the identity of the people qua nation has to be given pre-politically, yet there exists no such pre-political community in nature: the pre-political community has to be politically constructed. The construction of the people qua nation is thus a never-ending political process of positing the existence of a pre-political community, while at the same time denying the political nature of this process. Similarly, in the case of populism, what is at stake is the impossibility of direct rule by the people: within the bifurcated architecture of the modern state, there exists an ineradicable gap of representation between the mass of the common people and the relatively small ruling elite that claims to govern on their behalf. The legitimacy of the ruling elite therefore depends on its political claim to embody the will of the people, which aims to short-circuit the spatial and conceptual disjuncture between government and society.
Both the nationalist and populist projects revolve around a constitutive antagonism or impossibility that can never be definitively resolved. This is why nationalism and populism continually turn against their own political creations. Precisely because the nation is not pre-given but has to be politically constructed as such by nationalists, the identity and boundaries of the nation always remains open to contestation by other nationalists. And precisely because the people are never directly present in government, but only re-presented therein through the political claims made by the populist ruling elite, the representativeness of this elite is always open to question by other populists. Ultimately, by precluding the emergence of a final political solution, it is the impossibility of the nationalist and populist projects that makes modern politics work.
In conclusion, thinking about nationalism and populism as ideologies of the political, rather than as political ideologies, helps us to better understand their historical origins and political functions. Instead of offering a substantive blueprint for organising and governing society, nationalism and populism are about legitimating the modern political arena as such. What this means is that nationalism and populism are much more pervasive in modern political theory and practice than has traditionally been recognised. The extreme phenomena to which the terms typically refer are just especially intense and polarised manifestations of two underlying political logics that are always-already at work. Following Michael Billig’s seminal work on ‘banal nationalism’, this constitutive function of nationalism in modern society and politics has become quite widely recognised. It is high time to complement this with a recognition of the equally prevalent role of ‘banal populism’ in modern politics. Significantly, this constitutive function of nationalism and populism also means that the two are, like conjoined twins, historically and structurally coupled to one another: it is possible to differentiate between them on a theoretical or conceptual level, but in practice nationalism and populism always come together.
 Harold Lasswell, Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1936).
 Michael Freeden, ‘Is Nationalism a Distinct Ideology?’, Political Studies 46(4) (1998), 748–65; Michael Freeden, ‘After the Brexit Referendum: Revisiting Populism as an Ideology’, Journal of Political Ideologies 22(1) (2017), 1–11; Cas Mudde, ‘The Populist Zeitgeist’, Government and Opposition 39(4) (2004), 542–63; Ben Stanley, ‘The Thin Ideology of Populism’, Journal of Political Ideologies 13(1) (2008), 95–110.
 Yael Tamir, Liberal Nationalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); Chantal Mouffe, For a Left Populism (London: Verso, 2018).
 David Brown, ‘Are There Good and Bad Nationalisms?’, Nations and Nationalism 5(2) (1999), 281–302; Rogers Brubaker, ‘The Manichean Myth: Rethinking the Distinction Between “Civic” and “Ethnic” Nationalism’, in Hanspeter Kriesi, Klaus Armingeon, Hannes Siegrist, and Andreas Wimmer (eds.), Nation and National Identity: The European Perspective (Chur: Rüegger, 1999), 55–72.
 Yannis Stavrakakis and Giorgos Katsambekis, ‘Left-Wing Populism in the European Periphery: The Case of SYRIZA’, Journal of Political Ideologies 19(2) (2014), 119–42; Jens Rydgren, ‘Radical Right-Wing Parties in Europe: What’s Populism Got to Do with It?’, Journal of Language and Politics 16(4) (2017), 485–96; Yannis Stavrakakis, Giorgos Katsambekis, Nikos Nikisianis, Alexandros Kioupkiolis, and Thomas Siomos, ‘Extreme Right-Wing Populism in Europe: Revisiting a Reified Association’, Critical Discourse Studies 14(4) (2017), 420–39.
 Chantal Mouffe, On the Political (Abingdon: Routledge, 2005).
 Rogers Brubaker, ‘Myths and Misconceptions in the Study of Nationalism’, in John A. Hall (ed.), The State of the Nation: Ernest Gellner and the Theory of Nationalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 300–1.
 Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (London: Sage, 1995).
by Maísa Edwards
When we think of international institutions, it tends to be a select few that come to mind: the UN, NATO, the IMF, and the like, as well as multilateral groups such as the BRICS and India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA). Less well-known is the Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic (ZOPACAS). But how should the ZOPACAS best be characterised? Is it even a formal organisation, an institution, or a military alliance? None of its member-states belong to the G7, although three are now members of the G20. It is made up of a collection of countries, some large like Brazil and South Africa, some very small like Uruguay and Benin, at times with Left- or Right-leaning governments, and some that have shifted from one to the other since its establishment. The ZOPACAS membership currently stands at twenty-four, with three South American and twenty-one African nations, and four official languages: English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. What these member states have in common, despite their differing individual and political characteristics as well as colonial legacies, is a shared ideal that brings them together—a shared approach to peace. So what is the ZOPACAS and why is it important for contemporary trends in global relations?
The origins of the ZOPACAS
The ZOPACAS was established on 27 October 1986 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Its founding Declaration, A/Res/41/11, has seven preambulatory and seven operative clauses. They detail the various commitments of the newly-created zone of peace. As well as being a zone of peace, a designated geographic area dedicated to the preservation of peace, the ZOPACAS can also be thought of as a nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ). This is due to a stipulation of membership being that states must not be in possession of any nuclear weapons capabilities. As Ramesh Thakur explains, ‘A NWFZ is characterised by “four Noes”: no possession, testing, deployment, or use of nuclear weapons’. This is significant, given that the ZOPACAS was established during the final decade of the Cold War. There are several other treaties that also have these tenets as core ideals. These include the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT); the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which prohibits nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean; and the Treaty of Rarotonga, which establishes the South Pacific as a nuclear-free zone. The ZOPACAS can thus be viewed as part of a wider movement, led predominantly by countries in the South, towards disarmament and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
The commitments of the Declaration of the ZOPACAS, as described in A/Res/41/11, were centred principally around maintaining the South Atlantic as an area dedicated to peace and cooperation, ‘for the benefit of all mankind and, in particular, of the peoples of the region’. The Declaration also includes the need to remove the threat and presence of foreign military powers from the South Atlantic region, as well as maintaining a strong stance against the introduction and proliferation of nuclear weapons. It also condemned South Africa’s existing racist Apartheid regime and the country’s contemporaneous and illegal occupation of Namibia, with a clause stipulating an end to both as ‘conditions essential to guaranteeing the peace and security of the South Atlantic’. Advocacy for change in South Africa was a progressive step for the ZOPACAS to take, and was seen as crucial if the ZOPACAS was to be effective and live up to its name in practice.
When the ZOPACAS came into being, the three South American member states, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, had recently returned to democracy following lengthy periods of Right-wing military dictatorship. They were keen to strengthen diplomatic and defence relations with their neighbours in South America and across the Atlantic. In West Africa, however, democracy was far from the norm, and states such as Nigeria and Ghana were governed by military juntas, whilst Angola was ruled by a Left-wing MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola) government closely aligned with the USSR. Despite the differences in political leanings and forms of government, a shared ideological position informed their actions and those of other ZOPACAS member states to the extent that they came together to promote their interests in the South Atlantic. In straightforward terms, we are dealing with a delimited geographical space occupied by a collection of state actors that shared a common approach to peace and cooperation.
How did the ZOPACAS come about? The UNGA voting record for its establishment shows that one hundred and twenty-four countries voted in favour, eight countries abstained, and one country voted against. Amongst those voting in favour were the future ZOPACAS member-states, as well as the Cold War superpower the USSR and its fellow United Nations Security Council P5 member, the UK. The eight abstainers were the European NATO members France, Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, and the Netherlands, as well as the then-rising Asian power Japan. The only opposing vote was cast by the US.
What motivated these abstentions? Whilst the fifth operative clause of the Declaration of the ZOPACAS stressed the need for an end to Apartheid and self-governance for Namibia, it also urged ‘the implementation of all United Nations resolutions pertaining to colonialism’. This may go some way to explain the abstentions of former colonial powers, particularly France, Belgium, and Portugal; after all, many member states of the ZOPACAS, including Brazil, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Senegal and others are former colonies of these European powers. France expressed reservations that the Declaration provided ‘no adequate guarantees for freedom of navigation on the high seas…. [and that there was] vagueness concerning the limits of the zone concerned’. The Federal Republic of Germany articulated the same reservations. It is likely that the abstaining European powers, as exemplified by France and Germany, viewed the establishment of the ZOPACAS as a hindrance to their continued Eurocentric influence in the South Atlantic Ocean as well as in many of the countries of the region. This would reinforce their reluctance to support the establishment of a zone of peace from which they, as foreign military powers, would be excluded.
Why did the United States vote against the establishment of the ZOPACAS? Diplomatic records in the Itamaraty (Brazilian Foreign Ministry) archives show that the US had initially planned to abstain in the voting process, only to ultimately change course and vote against the ZOPACAS. The cable shows that the US demanded that Angola be cited in the Declaration as a threat to peace in the South Atlantic region, in addition to mentioning South Africa and its occupation of Namibia. Furthermore, the cable shows that the US also shared the same concern as France and Germany with regard to freedom of navigation. These themes encapsulated the competing ideologies at play in the wider late-Cold War context. At that time, the socialist government of Angola, led by the MPLA, was backed by the USSR. It is likely that the US viewed Angola as a menace and an unsuitable guest at the table to discuss peace in the region, not least since the country was also in the throes of a civil war. It is also conceivable that the US was concerned that the ZOPACAS would, in time, evolve into a Southern alliance, one that could eventually challenge NATO. The United States’ decision to vote against the ZOPACAS did not, however, hinder its establishment in 1986.
We can pause for a moment to recap on the external ideological context at the birth of the ZOPACAS: a certain Eurocentrism on the part of some former colonial powers with a history and influence in the South Atlantic region, leading to abstentions in the vote to establish the ZOPACAS; the existence of Apartheid-era South Africa, isolated from and at odds with its African neighbours; and the closing years of the Cold War, when superpower rivalry was apparent in the ZOPACAS vote and the Soviet Union actively supported one side of the civil war in Angola.
The ZOPACAS’ evolution after its establishment
The first ministerial meeting of the ZOPACAS took place two years later, in Rio de Janeiro in 1988. The twenty-two founding member states convened to discuss the commitments of the ZOPACAS and would continue to do so at a further six ministerial meetings: Abuja 1990, Brasilia 1994, Somerset West 1996, Buenos Aires 1998, Luanda 2007, and Montevideo 2013. Those founding members were later joined by Namibia and South Africa, following the independence of the former and the end of the Apartheid regime in the latter. South Africa’s decision to end its nuclear programme and decommission its small arsenal of nuclear weapons also opened the door to membership. It is noteworthy that South Africa is the only known case of nuclear reversal and has since become a major advocate for nuclear disarmament, although this is more the result of steps to end Apartheid under F.W. de Klerk rather than a direct result of the formation of the ZOPACAS. The country would later host the 1996 ministerial meeting in Somerset West and eventually become a leading ZOPACAS member. The Treaty of Pelindaba, which established Africa as a nuclear-weapon-free zone, was also signed the same year. A subsequent meeting took place in Pretoria in 1996, at which ambassadors from several ZOPACAS member states (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Namibia, Angola, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo) as well as South African diplomats gathered to further discuss the protection of the marine environment, the denuclearisation of the South Atlantic, and combatting drug trafficking. What does this mean for the ideals of the ZOPACAS? In short: a steady change in focus.
The ZOPACAS is dedicated to preserving peace in the South Atlantic, particularly through the elimination of threats, including those posed by the presence of nuclear weapons. With the end of Apartheid in South Africa and the achievement of Namibian independence, two explicit threats named in the Declaration of the ZOPACAS had been removed. However, new issues were taking centre-stage with an emphasis on cooperation, the combatting of piracy and drug trafficking, as well as environmental concerns. These have become new priorities but the ideals of the ZOPACAS, however, remain the same: maintenance of peace and the strengthening of multilateral cooperation between members.
For South Africa, one the many positive outcomes of the end of Apartheid was its membership of the ZOPACAS. Like the abandonment of its nuclear arsenal, it is an example of the country’s shift from isolation, from a regime based upon racism and a recent history of draconian internal repression of its majority population, to a shared ideological alignment with twenty-three other states, to the extent that it too sought common goals of peace and cooperation in the South Atlantic. The addition of South Africa introduced another important player, a country with power and influence in Africa but also one interested in furthering South-South cooperation. As members of IBSA, Brazil and South Africa have continued to collaborate, and both have participated, along with India, in the IBSAMAR naval exercises. The size and reach of South Africa suggests that in the future it may begin to rival Brazil in terms of influence in the ZOPACAS.
The ZOPACAS agenda has evolved since 1986 and has developed to keep up with changing security concerns in the South Atlantic region. In the post-Cold War period, there has been increased debate in international fora and elsewhere about the Global South and South-South cooperation. The agenda of peace and cooperation between member states, however, remains at the heart of the ZOPACAS. This has led to the ZOPACAS often being cited as an example of multilateral cooperation, and member states have also been vocal in their individual approaches to, and interests in, the South Atlantic and regional security. In recent years, there has been a rise in concerns over maritime security, sustainable development, and the presence in the South Atlantic of extra-regional actors (such as the US and China), as well as piracy and drug trafficking. These concerns have escalated interest in strengthening maritime security and also brought those issues into sharper focus as potential threats to peace. These matters have impacted the agenda of the ZOPACAS and what the organisation defines as a perceived threat, and as a danger to the maintenance of peace. In turn, there has also been an increased focus on the maritime region of the Gulf of Guinea where many of these concerns have arisen. The most recent ministerial meeting in 2013, in Montevideo, was the first to include defence ministers along with foreign ministers among countries’ representatives. This is significant in seeking to address the growing security concerns of the ZOPACAS member-states. This sign of evolution indicates an explicit shift towards addressing defence concerns and signals an acknowledged need to move towards explicit military cooperation.
Brazil and the ZOPACAS
Looking across to South America, Brazil, a hegemon in the South Atlantic region, has been a leading member of the ZOPACAS since its inception. With a coastline of over 7,000 km, it is not surprising that the South Atlantic Ocean is a principal area of interest for the country. It is therefore beneficial for Brazil to maintain good if not strong diplomatic and defence relations with its neighbours, both in South America but also across the ocean in Africa. Brazil’s interests and aspirations in the South Atlantic are military, commercial, socio-economic, and diplomatic. Furthermore, its diplomatic and defence agenda in the South Atlantic was central to its role in the establishment of this zone of peace.
In fact, the ZOPACAS can be viewed as a Brazilian project, and indeed without Brazilian efforts the continuation of the ZOPACAS would not have been possible. Senior Brazilian diplomats frequently refer to ZOPACAS as “our initiative”, and in several diplomatic cables in the Itamaraty archives, the ZOPACAS has been explicitly described as an ‘iniciativa brasileira sobre a zona de paz e cooperação do Atlântico Sul’. Brazil has hosted two of the seven ministerial meetings and provides the momentum behind what can be referred to as a “new revitalisation” of the ZOPACAS. As mentioned earlier, the most recent ministerial meeting of the ZOPACAS was back in 2013; this has been the longest lull between ministerial meetings, the previous being between those in Buenos Aires in 1998 and Luanda in 2007. Brazil is currently taking steps to instigate another ministerial meeting and the importance of the ZOPACAS is apparent in both the 2020 Brazilian National Defence Plan and the Naval Strategy Plan 2040.
The National Defence Plan makes reference to the importance of the ZOPACAS and details how strengthening it will help consolidate Brazil’s position as a relevant regional actor, increase the country’s influence in its strategic environment, and reduce the possibility of military interference by extra-regional powers in the South Atlantic. The Naval Strategy Plan, which includes a twenty-year outlook, mentions the need to consolidate the ZOPACAS and avoid what it calls the interference of illegitimate interests. These steps, taken by the Brazilian Ministry of Defence, indicate a direction of travel towards a “new revitalisation” of the ZOPACAS—as signalled by the reference to the ZOPACAS made by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in his speech at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2020.
It would be fair to say that, until very recently during the populist Bolsonaro presidency, in terms of foreign policy Brazil has largely followed where the US led under Donald Trump. Yet the Bolsonaro government appearing to give its support to the ZOPACAS would nevertheless suggest some independent thinking, in relation to past US opposition to the organisation’s establishment. On the ideological front, Bolsonaro and his government stand as polar opposites of a number of the Brazilian presidents and governments that precede him, such as the social democrat Cardoso and the avowedly leftist Brazilian Worker’s Party (PT) governments of Lula da Silva and Rousseff; and yet despite this, Brazil continues to endorse the ZOPACAS. Even with a limited interest in multilateralism, Bolsonaro’s government appears to view the ZOPACAS as one route to maintaining relations with Brazil’s neighbours on both sides of the Atlantic.
ZOPACAS into the future
Brazil is not the only country paying renewed attention to this zone of peace. It is joined by most of the countries that make up what I would call the Big Five ZOPACAS member-states: South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Argentina, and Uruguay. Two countries, Argentina and South Africa, along with Brazil, are members of the G20 and have relatively sophisticated armed forces. Nigeria and Angola have some dominance in Africa and have significant natural resources, including abundant oil reserves. Uruguay, although a small country, maintains a visible and strong contribution to UN peace keeping operations (PKOs). All five have striven to be important actors in both their respective continents and the Global South, and along with Brazil, they are the six countries that have hosted ZOPACAS ministerial meetings. The Brazilian Navy hosted an online ‘ZOPACAS Symposium’ as recently as 27 October 2020, with the participation of rear-admirals from Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, and Angola, together with a number of academics. They discussed the ZOPACAS, wider South Atlantic security issues, current maritime security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea, such as the rise in piracy and drug-trafficking, and the presence of extra-regional actors in the South Atlantic, such as the UK and China. This was followed on the 9–10 November 2020 by the 6th Symposium on Regional Security, organised by the Brazilian Ministry of Defence, which featured a panel on the ZOPACAS and the Gulf of Guinea. It included opening remarks given by Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo and its Vice President, retired General Hamilton Mourão, in which they lauded the importance of the South Atlantic for Brazil. This recent activity reinforces the notion of a “new revitalisation” of the ZOPACAS. It also shows the continuing importance of the founding ideals of the ZOPACAS and incorporates its newer concerns, such as the need for greater collaboration in maritime security in the South Atlantic.
The concern regarding extra-regional actors is also a growing one. The UK, China, and the US are all nuclear powers and members of the P5. It is not unreasonable to assume that their presence in the South Atlantic is viewed as an additional security concern for the region and the ZOPACAS member states, as evidenced by Brazil in its National Defence Plan. The founding Declaration of the ZOPACAS clearly mentions ‘the need to preserve the region from measures of militarisation, the arms race, the presence of foreign military bases and, above all, nuclear weapons’. We know that the UK has a more permanent presence in the South Atlantic, in the form of British Overseas Territories, the Islands of the Falklands/Malvinas, South Georgia, South Sandwich, Ascension, Saint Helena, and Tristan da Cunha. It also lays claim to the British Antarctic Territory. Since the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War, there has also been a reinforced British garrison on the Islands. It is highly doubtful that the British presence in the South Atlantic will end or be reduced in the near future. The possibility of an increased military presence by nuclear powers further contravenes core ideals of the ZOPACAS. This is where projections of a possible institutionalisation of the ZOPACAS, albeit delayed by COVID-19, including the establishment of a formal structure, would aid the practical application of the ideals of the zone of peace. This would also be an important step in consolidating the ZOPACAS, and be useful in combatting these encroachments, giving the ZOPACAS an amplified voice and a presence as an international forum.
Although no direct risk of military conflict with extra-regional actors seems evident at present, the ZOPACAS features prominently in current discussions on maritime security and peace and cooperation in the South Atlantic. The most pressing concern is combatting current threats to peace in the Gulf of Guinea, first and foremost clamping down on piracy and drug trafficking. As one of the most developed instances so far of South-South or South American-African cooperation, the ZOPACAS can serve as an ideological laboratory to test the regions’ approach and means to tackling such regional threats. The member-states of the ZOPACAS are renewing their interest in this zone of peace and in the face of growing security concerns, are more likely to band together to protect their interests and promote peace in the South Atlantic. A shared desire remains to defend and uphold the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of the ZOPACAS, although updated with the end of Apartheid and the independence of Namibia. As a consequence, it is clear that although it was established in the last decade of the Cold War and for the conditions imposed by a very different geopolitical context, the ZOPACAS is still relevant to further peace and cooperation in the South Atlantic. A path to a “new revitalisation” suggests that we will be hearing much more about the ZOPACAS in coming years.
Angola, Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Namibia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, São Tomé and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Togo and Uruguay.
 Ramesh Thakur (ed.), Nuclear Weapons-Free Zones (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998), 7.
 United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/41/11: Declaration of a zone of peace and co-operation in the South Atlantic (1986).
 UNGA, A/41/PV.50, 1986.
 Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brazilian Mission to the United Nations (DELBRASONU) Collection, Diplomatic Cable Number: 1794 - XLI AGNU. Plenário. Item 139. Atlântico Sul. 24 October 1986.
 Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brazilian Foreign Ministry to Brazilian Mission to the United Nations (DELBRASONU), Diplomatic Cable Number: OF01613A – Retransmissão. ZOPACAS. Reunião em Pretoria. Relatorio e comentarios.
 ‘[T]he Brazilian initiative on the zone of peace and cooperation of the South Atlantic’. Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (1986). Brazilian Mission to the United Nations (DELBRASONU) Collection, Diplomatic Cable Number: 1640. XLI AGNU. Plenário. Item 139. Atlântico Sul. 10 October 1986.
 Ministério da Defesa, Plano Estratégico da Marinha (Brasília, 2020); Ministério da Defesa, Plano Nacional de Defesa (Brasília: Marinha do Brasil, 2020).
 Brazilian Navy, ZOPACAS Symposium. Online Event (27 October 2020), https://www.marinha.mil.br/simposiozopacas/.
 Brazilian Ministry of Defence, 6° Simpósio sobre Segurança Regional (9–10 November 2020), https://www.gov.br/defesa/pt-br/assuntos/noticias/6deg-simposio-sobre-seguranca-regional-europa-america-do-sul-tera-participacao-de-especialistas-internacionais-e-autoridades.
 UNGA, A/RES/41/11, 1986.
by Grigoris Markou
Recently, the emergence of populist parties, movements, and leaders around the world has sparked researchers’ interest on the phenomenon of populism, something that is reflected in the sheer volume of scientific publications, articles, and conferences held internationally on the subject. There are many researchers who try to define the notion of populism, to discover its secret and mystical essence, as well as analyse its effects on (liberal) democracy. However, only a few scholars examine populism in relation to its permanent opponent, anti-populism, and even fewer in number are those people who understand and analyse the strong conflict between populism and anti-populism, which in some cases looks like a mythological clash of titans. In this context, in my research I aim to highlight the internal features of anti-populism through two common paradigms (Greece and Argentina), and thereby contribute to an academic debate that has been timidly opened of late by a small subset of populism scholars.
So, what is anti-populism? Anti-populism is a phenomenon that appears over the course of its history as a form of strong criticism aimed at the rise of populist parties, launching a fierce attack on populism and sometimes on the popular subject. A short time ago, specifically after the outbreak of the global economic crisis (2007–8), anti-populism emerged as a forceful response by social-democratic and liberal parties against the rise of both left and right-wing populist radical cases. Anti-populist ideas have been expressed through the political discourse of mainstream parties, which felt that their semi-consolidated hegemony was threatened by populism, as well as through academic discourse and media. It is not difficult at all for someone to identify anti-populist elements inherent in the arguments of well-known scientists and journalists.
Most of the time, anti-populist discourse develops problematic theoretical formulations and reproduces stereotypical arguments on populism, equating it with irresponsibility, demagogy, immorality, corruption, destruction, and irrationalism. Moreover, as we have seen in the cases of Greece and Argentina, those anti-populists—who often claim to embrace liberal values—usually highlight the supposedly “undemocratic” and “dangerous” character of populism through modernising views and dualist schemes that divide society, politics, and culture between the forces of civilisation, modernisation, and rationalism and the forces of tradition, decadence, and irrationalism, placing populism in the second category. The stigmatisation of populism as a symptom of irrationalism is connected with the work of American historian Richard Hofstadter, which turned over the positive connotation of the term. In Greece, the devaluation of the populist phenomenon has been developed to a large extent through the utilisation of the concept of cultural dualism by Nikiforos Diamandouros and has been more intensely used by the anti-populist forces after the outbreak of the crisis. In Argentina, we can say that anti-populists relied, in a way, on Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s old dichotomy of “civilisation and barbarism” to attack left-wing populism, placing Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on the side of barbarism.
What if this kind of anti-populist criticism ultimately provokes more problems for democracy, society, and politics than some populist paradigms? At a time when most researchers turn their attention to populism and its implications, it is essential to underline the problem of anti-populism. The most common mistake of political, academic, and media anti-populism is that it often equate populism with demagogy, clientelism, authoritarianism, irrationality, and anti-pluralism, turning a blind eye to those non-populist and anti-populist cases that also present a demagogic and clientistic character, and rejecting the possibility of developing populist paradigms that are instead rational, pluralist, and democratic. Moreover, we can see that anti-populist discourse harshly criticises populism, populist leaders, and even the people who support populists, without undertaking any serious self-criticism on their own inadequate and problematic governance. Further, it is not uncommon for anti-populists to underestimate the popular subject and popular culture, viewing the people as an uneducated mass that blindly heads down the wrong path. Overall, the problem of anti-populism—all the more so today—is that it analyses populism in a stereotypical and simplistic way, without taking into consideration that populism is a multifaceted and complex discourse that presents different features and shades each time. However, in order to avoid falling into the same trap, it is necessary to emphasise that anti-populism (like populism) can be seen as a rationale that presents different tendencies, nuances, and tensions in each case—and that there are times when it exerts pressures that can improve the political situation.
Why is it crucial to turn our attention to the study of anti-populism? The study of anti-populism can help researchers fully understand and draw reliable conclusions about the elements that comprise the social-political scene of countries that present populist as well as anti-populist voices both in opposition and in power. How else can one analyse the motives, aspirations, and arguments of populism if one does not examine the anti-populist side, and vice versa? How can one understand the complex political scene of some countries and provide responses to paradoxical politico-social alliances and hostilities? How will one study fairly democracy and contemporary political issues by analysing only populist mobilisations and closing one’s eyes to the anti-populist side, which plays an equally important role as the populist one? The only answer is to study populism and anti-populism jointly.
Even though anti-populism is still an under-researched field, the discussion seems to be tentatively opening up through important scientific interventions, both from a political and a historical point of view, which help us to examine its principal characteristics and its genealogy. It is finally the time to talk openly about anti-populism, analysing the problems that arise today through the “anti-populist attack”, without cultivating criticisms that duplicate the anti-populist polemic arguments from the opposite side.
 Grigoris Markou, ‘Anti-populist discourse in Greece and Argentina in the 21st century’, Journal of Political Ideologies (forthcoming 2021).
 Yannis Stavrakakis, ‘The return of “the people”: Populism and anti-populism in the shadow of the European crisis’, Constellations 21(4) (2014).
 Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1955); Stavrakakis, ‘The return of “the people”’.
 Nikiforos Diamandouros, ‘Cultural dualism and political change in postauthoritarian Greece’, working paper, Madrid: Instituto Juan March, 50 (1994); Nikiforos Diamandouros, ‘Postscript: Cultural dualism revisited’ in Anna Triantafyllidou, Ruby Gropas, and Hara Kouki (eds.), Greek Crisis and European Modernity (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
 Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Facundo: Civilización y Barbarie (Santiago: Imprenta del Progreso, 1845).
 Thomas Frank, The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2020); Benjamin Moffitt, ‘The populism/anti-populism divide in Western Europe’, Democratic Theory 5(2) (2018); Stavrakakis, ‘The return of “the people”; Yannis Stavrakakis, ‘How did ‘Populism’ become a pejorative concept? And why is this important today? A genealogy of double hermeneutics’, Populismus, Working Paper 6 (2017).
by Eunice Goes
Political parties have a complex relationship with ideologies. If on the one hand they are their most visible embodiment and are active contributors to their production and contestation, on the other, they are not necessarily their most faithful followers. Indeed, political parties often seek to make ideologies fit their electoral strategies. To complicate matters further, the ability of political parties to reinvent themselves is constrained by ideologies as any attempt to change and revise their programmes must reflect their ideological trajectories across time and space.
In short, parties’ relationship with ideologies is both instrumental and constrained. These two understandings of parties’ relationships with ideologies dominate the academic literature on the subject. But there is a third dimension in this relationship that has been overlooked by the literature which shows that ideology is central to the activities of political parties.
Because ideology is central to their life, political parties are heavily involved in the production and contestation of ideologies not only because they want to win elections or are historically constrained by them, but also because ideology is what political parties ‘do’. As political institutions that are, as Sheri Berman reminds us, ‘shaped by the ideological projects they championed’, all activities, including power-seeking strategies, pursued by political parties are driven by ideological and ideational consideration.
To show how political parties engage in processes of ideological production, this article will use a new methodological approach, which combines V. A. Schmidt’s discursive institutionalism and Peter A. Hall’s historical institutionalism, to analyse how the Labour Party under Ed Miliband used the idea of ‘predistribution’ to drive ideological change. In particular, the article will show how Miliband used the idea of predistribution to develop and articulate an agenda that sought simultaneously to renew the socialist roots of the party, to address the political and policy challenges created by the 2007 global financial crisis and three decades of neoliberal politics, and to win a general election.
The Mechanics of Ideological Analysis
The methodological approach proposed here, which combines discursive institutionalism and historical institutionalism, places ideas at the centre of political action. As such, it does not disregard the role of interests in political decision however, it assumes that ‘ideas cause actors to make certain choices’. Each of the ‘new institutionalisms’ offer insights into how that process happens.
As an approach that focuses on ‘who talks to whom, where, and when’ discursive institutionalism maps how ‘ideas are generated among policy actors and diffused to the public by political actors through discourse’, and shows how ideologies are produced, renewed, and changed. Thus, the key contribution of discursive institutionalism is to propose a method to map the different stages of how ideas influence the behaviour of political actors from ‘thought to word to deed’.
To properly understand how ideas can influence or drive processes of ideological change, discourse needs to be contextualised and categorised by degree of generality (policies, programmes, and philosophies), and type of content (cognitive or normative). Moreover, Schmidt identified two types of discourse that need to be analysed: coordinative, among political actors; and communicative, between political actors and the public. This distinction is important because coordinative discourse signals the intentions of political actors as well as their thought-processes, but communicative discourse reveals the constraints they face.
Because discursive institutionalism focuses on explaining how ideas can lead to change it pays special attention to the ideational activities of the epistemic community which is responsible for the production of ideas within a party. This epistemic community, composed of professional intellectuals, think-tank experts, party intellectuals and activists from different factions, political advisers, and strategists, performs different but related roles: it prioritises issues; it offers causal explanations to problems; it links ideas and solutions to the morphologies of ideologies; and it devises strategies to make those ideas accessible and attractive to wider audiences.
But if discursive institutionalism allows us to map how political actors think, interpret, adopt, and adapt ideas in processes of ideological change, it does not explain why certain ideas gained currency whilst others were abandoned or diluted. The key element missing from discursive institutionalism is a consideration about the power of political actors to choose and impose their ideas on others. To address this weakness, this post proposes to complement discursive institutionalism with insights from historical institutionalism.
The key assumption of historical institutionalism is that to be transformative, ideas need to possess certain qualities. Peter A. Hall proposed three criteria to test the power of ideas in processes of third order change, though they can also be applied to processes of incremental change. The first criterion is about the persuasive capacity of ideas, a condition which is also required by discursive institutionalism. The idea in question needs to offer a plausible and persuasive response to a current policy puzzle.
But persuasiveness is not merely dependent on the intellectual coherence of an idea or its technical viability. Hence, in Hall’s model, to be successful ideas also need to be comprehensible. They need to resonate with the way the recipients of the idea understand the world. Third, to influence policy ‘an idea must come to the attention of those who make policy, generally with a favourable endorsement from the relevant authorities’.  In other words, to be influential ideas need to be sponsored by powerful actors.
The next section of the post will show how the methodological approach proposed here shows how the idea of predistribution drove Ed Miliband’s attempts to renew the socialist roots of the Labour Party in the period 2010-15 from thought, to word, to deed.
Predistribution and the Renewal of Social Democracy
The Labour leader Ed Miliband saw the global financial crisis as one of those critical juncture moments which opened the way for a ‘new centre-left moment’. Thus, when he was elected leader in 2010, he proposed to turn the page on New Labour and to renew the party’s socialist roots as a strategy to address the challenges and problems created (and revealed) by the global financial crisis. His blueprint prioritised the goals of reducing inequality and a reform of capitalism which was consistent with post-war social democracy.
Miliband’s search for solutions to tackle inequality, involved setting up a wide epistemic community which was given the task to lead and contribute to the party’s policy review. Several of his advisers were political scientists, philosophers, and public policy experts. Miliband also cultivated a diverse ideational network composed of academics, think-tanks researchers, senior media commentators, party strategists, influential Labour and centre-left groupings (for example, Compass), which benefited from the occasional contribution from famous public intellectual from Britain, the United States (Michael Sandel, for example) and Brazil (Roberto Unger).
The discussions between a cross-section of intellectuals, political strategists, and activists, resulted in a remarkable outpouring of new ideas and let to multiple dialogues and encounters between Miliband’s team and intellectuals, researchers, and activists from within and outside the Labour Party.
It was in one of these encounters that Miliband first heard about predistribution, a new and barely fleshed-out idea developed by the Yale political scientist Jacob S. Hacker. In 2011, Miliband attended a Policy Network event in Oslo, where Hacker spoke about predistribution for the first time. From that moment on a dialogue was established between the Yale academic, Miliband and his team, think-tanks associated with Labour, and party intellectuals from a variety of factions.
Roughly a year after this encounter, Miliband introduced the idea of predistribution in a speech delivered at a Policy Network event. Henceforth, the concept of predistribution made regular appearances in the political debates of the time and quickly gained the status of big idea in party and media discussions.
If the term became ubiquitous there was no settled interpretation for its meaning. To gain a better understanding of how Miliband used this idea it is useful to look first at how its author defined it. Hacker, proposed predistribution as an approach to ‘stop inequality before it starts.’ As a transformative idea, predistribution required a change in the relationship between the state and the market which recognised the role of the state in creating and shaping markets. As such, predistribution advocated the regulation of markets to serve the public good as well as a new role for the state as an investor in innovation and public infrastructures
Hacker was not overly prescriptive about what a predistribution agenda would entail. He argued, however, that it would touch upon three main planks of public policy. The first focused on market reforms that encouraged a more equal distribution of economic power and included proposals as varied as a stronger regulation of financial markets and executive pay, and the strengthening of trade unions. The second plank concentrated on what Hacker called expanding equality of opportunity, and included proposals like the expansion of pre-school education, investment in vocational training and in affordable housing, and improving working conditions by raising wages, introducing a living wage, and improving job security. The third plank was about organising what Hacker called a ‘countervailing power’ to the market which aimed to empower ‘new forms of work organisations’.
Miliband and his team were keen on the transformational potential of a predistribution agenda. This was, after all, an idea that sought to tackle the root-causes of inequality and to reform capitalism, two goals associated to the party’s ideology, but which sounded reassuringly technocratic. the political backlash that traditional redistributive strategies normally attracted.
The interest in a predistribution agenda extended beyond Miliband’s office. Different factions of the party showed interest in the idea. Several MPs and Labour-leaning think-tanks like Policy Network, the Resolution Foundation, the IPPR, and the Fabian Society were quite supportive. The think-tank Policy Network hosted Hacker several times and devoted a number of seminars and publications to its discussion and dissemination.
Unsurprisingly, the different Labour factions interpreted the concept in a variety of ways. Whilst figures associated with the Right presented it as an alternative to redistribution, others emphasised its potential either to promote ‘responsible capitalism,’ or to promote equality, or to strengthen an emancipatory agenda centred around ideas of economic democracy and mutualism.
Interestingly, Miliband’s engagement with the idea of predistribution evolved over time. In his first explicit reference to the idea, Miliband presented predistribution as a transformative idea:
Predistribution is about saying:
We cannot allow ourselves to be stuck with permanently being a low-wage economy.
It is neither just, nor does it enable us to pay our way in the world.
Our aim must be to transform our economy, so it is a much higher skill, higher wage economy.
Tellingly, predistribution would not replace redistribution, because redistributive measures would always be necessary. Thus, Miliband’s predistribution agenda was about tackling the causes of inequality by promoting what he called ‘a more responsible capitalism’. This would be achieved by changing the rules that ‘shape the ways markets work’, namely by ‘changing the relationship between finance and the real economy. To deliver this agenda, Miliband proposed the creation of a British Investment Bank, an active industrial policy which would focus on investments in infrastructure and skills. He also defended state intervention in markets to ensure they served the public good.
The political reaction to this speech was mixed. Whilst commentators on the left thought the idea was interesting and had potential, others resisted it because it was a nebulous concept that was difficult to sell on the doorstep. This reaction largely explains the fact that following this speech, Miliband rarely mentioned the word predistribution again and his press team banned him from using it in public. In a recent podcast devoted to the idea, Miliband said that predistribution was a ‘throwaway remark’ that was then presented in the media as his big idea. He also said that ‘the word was ugly’, though he recognised its importance.
In its place, Miliband developed other narratives—namely, the squeezed middle, the ‘producers versus predators’ narrative (which was also dropped very quickly), the power agenda, One Nation, the ‘cost of living’ crisis, the zero-zero economy—to promote a predistribution agenda that followed the three planks suggested by Hacker. For example, his senior policy adviser Stewart Wood explained that the ‘One Nation’ approach aimed ‘to change the rules of markets, so that we get to a more equal distribution of economic power and rewards even before government starts to collect taxes or paying benefits’.
Miliband was equally interested in the second plank of the predistribution agenda about expanding opportunity and he used a variety of narratives to promote it. For instance, his ‘power agenda’; his ‘producers vs predators’ agenda was used to defend a capitalism that protected the public good; and his ‘cost of living crisis’ narrative were used to address issues like low wages, job insecurity, and work-life balance. To this end, he proposed to widen the adoption of the Living Wage, the extension of free nursery provision, and the introduction of new apprenticeships.
The Labour leader was equally supportive of Hacker’s ideas about developing ‘countervailing power to the market’. To that effect he talked about extending power to individuals and grassroots organisations in several speeches. His ‘power agenda’ was the focus of lively discussions within Miliband’s circle and led to proposals like the devolution of power to local communities through mutualisation, participatory budgeting, and bringing workers into company boards.
Though rarely uttered in speeches, the idea predistribution informed several sections of Labour’s 2015 electoral manifesto which promised to reform the relationship between the market and the state. Labour’s manifesto promised, as well, a rise to the minimum wage, the promotion of the living wage and the expansion of free childcare, the banning of some zero-hours contracts, freezing energy prices, and investing in infrastructure and in the green economy. Finally, there were proposals to create a bank bonus tax, and to introduce workers’ representatives in the boards of companies.
The author of the idea was encouraged by Labour’s 2015 manifesto. For him, it was ‘the idea, not the label, that mattered’. However, Hacker was less encouraged by Labour’s approach to developing countervailing power. In his appraisal of Miliband’s take on predistribution he noticed the ‘notable lack of serious discussion of the alternative to unions that could provide some degree of representation for workers’. This omission was so glaring that Hacker even questioned whether ‘predistribution of the sort I have discussed is even possible given the decline of labor [sic] unions’. Hacker was not the only one to be disappointed by this omission. Jon Cruddas, one of the co-authors of the manifesto, admitted that Labour’s failure to strengthen trade unions undermined the idea of predistribution.
There were other problems with Miliband’s predistribution agenda. Some of the proposals to ‘widen opportunities’ were almost tokenistic. The promise of a Living Wage, an idea that had been at the centre of Miliband’s campaign to become Labour leader, was presented as an aspiration.
Assessing Miliband’s Take on Predistribution
The mapping of the idea of predistribution ‘from thought to word to deed’ showed us that Labour Party under Ed Miliband ‘thought’ and ‘discussed’ it as a transformational idea by Miliband however it was watered down when it reached the ‘deed’ stage. To understand why, the next section of the article will apply Peter A. Hall’s three criteria to explain why Miliband diluted his approach to predistribution.
The first difficulty Miliband encountered was presentational. Predistribution was a complex idea to present to voters on the doorstep. It was a term with an unclear meaning and was therefore not a persuasive concept. To overcome this constraint Miliband and his team developed different narratives to promote the predistributive agenda. But this approach was ineffective because the narratives kept changing from speech to speech, preventing voters from gaining a familiarity with it. As it challenged voters’ understanding of how a predistribution agenda could be compatible with the goal of reducing the public deficit, it was not a persuasive and comprehensible idea.
But the greatest obstacle to the success of Miliband’s predistribution agenda was his inability to attract the support of relevant actors both inside and outside the Labour Party. Private interviews with Miliband’s senior advisers, Labour MPs, activists, observers close to the Labour leader, as well as media and academic accounts suggest that Miliband was isolated in the party and shadow cabinet. In reality, the Shadow Cabinet was divided about the extent of Labour’s radicalism. Whilst one powerful group believed that a few retail offers would suffice for Labour to win the election, there were others who argued that Labour had to be more radical and transformative.
Miliband’s team also had reservations about giving more powers to trade unions in economic policy. Some of Miliband’s advisers thought that British trade unions were not ‘sufficiently responsible’ to be awarded co-determination powers. The party was equally divided about the scope of reforms to the regulation of the banking industry. Labour signalled a desire to introduce tighter regulation of the banking industry with the purpose of reducing risk and increasing competition, but the reforms to the banking industry it ended up proposing were modest in scope.
Miliband himself was ambivalent about the extent of his own radicalism in general and about these proposals to strengthen trade unions and devolve power to cities and local authorities in particular. His ambivalence was also manifested in the party’s policy development. The reality was that there were, as Stewart Wood explained, two Ed Milibands: ‘There’s Ed Miliband the son of Ralph Miliband, and there’s Ed Miliband the special advisor in Treasury for ten years’. Interestingly, in a recent interview Miliband admitted this problem and regretted not having been more radical in his approach. Miliband’s admission is telling. Though it is clear that he was constrained in his decisions by the lack of institutional support, ultimately he had the agency to decide on the direction of the party. His own interpretation of Labour’s challenges and possibilities led him to choose a more cautious policy and ideological path.
The party’s divisions and Miliband’s ambivalence impacted Labour’s predistribution agenda. That much was admitted by one of the authors of Labour’s manifesto. ‘Definition, energy, vitality, clarity’ were the price to pay for party unity, admitted Cruddas. These tensions led to the dilution of the most innovative and potentially transformative proposals, namely those that concerned the creation of greater countervailing power, the regulation of financial markets, the devolution of power to local authorities, the strengthening of workers’ rights and citizens’ voice. Instead of presenting ambitious ideas and a clear vision that renewed the socialist roots of the party, the 2015 manifesto and the party’s electoral campaign focused on modest retail offers that did not seem to cohere around a powerful message. This dilution resulted in a predistribution agenda that looked disjointed and far from transformative.
But if context, institutional and political pressures, and electoral considerations led to the dilution of Miliband’s predistributive agenda, there is no doubt that this idea drove his attempt to change the party’s ideological direction and develop an egalitarian programme that renewed Labour’s socialist roots, and sought to address voters’ concerns and aspirations.
If Miliband lost the 2015 general election, his attempt to renew Labour’s socialist roots with a predistributive agenda outlasted his efforts. His successor, Jeremy Corbyn, picked up on Miliband’s predistribution agenda and drove it into a more radical direction. The 2017 Labour Party manifesto, entitled For the Many not the Few, revisited all the themes associated with predistribution, and was seen by Guinan and O’Neill as a follow-up of that agenda. Tellingly, Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer has promised an agenda that builds on Labour’s 2017 manifesto. For an idea that was seen as ‘ugly’ and too complex, predistribution has surely demonstrated an impressive resilience.
 These accounts can be seen in J. Adams, M. Clark, L. Ezrow, G. Glasgow, ‘Understanding Change and Stability in Party Ideologies: Do Parties Respond to Public Opinion Or To Past Election Results, British Journal of Political Science, 34 (4) (2004), pp. 598-61, at p. 590. See also I. Budge, ‘A New Spatial Theory of Party Competition: Uncertainty, Ideology and Policy Equilibria Viewed Comparatively and Temporally’, British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 24 (4) (1994), pp. 443-467, at p. 446.
S. Berman, The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), at p. 11.
 C. Parsons, A Certain Idea of Europe (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006), at p. 6.
 V. A. Schmidt, ‘Taking Ideas Seriously: Explaining Change Through Discursive Institutionalism As The Fourth New Institutionalism’, European Political Science Review, 2010, 2:1, 1-25, at p. 16.
 V. A. Schmidt, ‘Reconciling Ideas and Institutions through Discursive Institutionalism’, D. Béland and R. Henry Cox (editors) Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), at p. 55.
 V. Schmidt, ‘Discursive Institutionalism: The Explanatory Power of Ideas and Discourse’, in Annual Review of Political Science Review, 2008, 11: 303-26, at p. 309.
 C. M. Radaelli, V.A. Schmidt, ‘Policy Change and Discourse in Europe: Conceptual and Methodological Issues’ in C. M. Radaelli and V. A. Schmidt, Policy Change and Discourse in Europe, (London: Routledge, 2015), at p. 15.
 V. A. Schmidt, ‘Bringing Ideas and Discourse Back Into The Explanation of Change in Varieties of Capitalism and Welfare States’ CGPE Working Paper Series, Working Paper No. 2, University of Sussex, May 2008, pp-305-307.
 P. A. Hall, ‘Conclusion: The Politics of Keynesian Ideas’, in P. A. Hall (editor) The Political Power of Economic Ideas: Keynesianism Across Nations, (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), at p. 370.
 Ed Miliband interviewed in Jason Cowley, ‘Ed Miliband: He’s Not For Turning’, New Statesman, 05 September 2012.
 E. Miliband, ‘Speech to Policy Network – Labour’s New Agenda’, 06 September 2012, http://www.labour.org.uk/labours-new-agenda, accessed on 22 August 2013.
 Hacker quoted in G. Easton, ‘Interview to Jacob Hacker: Ed Miliband’s Wonkish Pin-Up’, in New Statesman, 11 February 2013.
 J. S. Hacker, ‘The Institutional Foundations of Middle-Class Democracy’, Progressive Governance, Oslo, Policy Network, 06 May, http://www.policy-network.net/pno_detail.aspx?ID=3998&title=The+institutional+foundations+of+middle-class+democracy, accessed on 07 September 2012.
 See J. Hacker, “The Free Market Fantasy”, Policy Network, 23 April 2014, http://www.policy-network.net/pno_detail.aspx?ID=4628&title-The-Free-Market-Fantasy, on 28 August 2014.
 J. S. Hacker, ‘The Institutional Foundations of Middle-Class Democracy’,
 J. Hacker, B. Jackson, M. O’Neill ‘The Politics of Predistribution’, Renewal 21, 2-3, (2013), pp. 54-64, p. 56.
 E. Miliband, ‘Speech to Policy Network – Labour’s New Agenda’, op. cit.
 R. Behr, ‘The Making of Ed Miliband’, The Guardian, 15 April 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/15/the-making-of-ed-miliband, accessed on 24 July 2016.
 E. Miliband and G. Lloyd, ‘Predistribution: What the Hell Does It Mean?’, Reasons To Be Cheerful Podcast, 22 April 2019, https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/83-predistribution-what-the-hell-does-it-mean/id1287081706?i=1000436007357, accessed on 17 May 2019.
 E. Miliband, ‘The Inequality Problem’, London Review of Books, 38, 3, 4 February 2016, pp. 19-20.
 J. Atkins, ‘Ideology, Rhetoric and One Nation Labour’, Politics, 2015, 35, 1, 19-31, at p. 21
 S. Wood, ‘Explaining One Nation Labour’, The Political Quarterly, Vol. 84, No. 3, July-September 213, 317-320, at p. 318.
 E. Miliband, ‘The Hugo Young Lecture’, 10 February 2014, http://labourlist.org/2014/02/ed-milibands/hugo-young-lecture-full-text/, accessed on the 15 April 2014.
 M. Stears, Private Interview, 18.06.2013; J. Cruddas, Private Interview, 02 September 2013.
 J. Hacker ‘Miliband’s Not Talking About Predistribution But He Has Embraced My Big Idea’, op. cit., Ref. 80.
 J. Cruddas, Private Interview, 04 March 2015.
 Ed Miliband, ‘Speech to the CBI’, 25 October 2010, http://www.labour.org.uk/leader-of-the-labour-party-ed-milibands-speech-to-the-cbi,2010-10-25), accessed 10 January 2012.
 S. Wood interviewed by David Kogan, D. Kogan, Protest and Power: The Battle for the Labour Party, (London: Bloomsbury Reader, 2019), at p. 173.
 D. Kogan, Protest and Power: The Battle for the Labour Party, op. cit., Ref 123, at p. 173.
 J. Cruddas, Private Interview, 04 March 2015.
 Labour Party, For the Many Not the Few: The Labour Party Manifesto 2017, (London: Labour Party, 2017), p. 47.
 M. O’Neill and J. Guinan, ‘The Institutional Turn: Labour’s New Political Economy’, Renewal, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2018, pp. 5-16, p. 7.
by Dani Filc
The strengthening of populist movements worldwide since the 1990s, and especially following the 2008 crisis, has been mostly explained either as the reaction to the socio-economic consequences of neoliberal globalisation, or as a “cultural backlash”. For the former, the strengthening of populism results from increasing inequalities, from the weakening of traditional class identities, and from the growing insecurity, mostly resulting from the individualisation of risk following the privatisation of welfare. For the latter, it is a reaction to the spread of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. Populism, for both approaches, is a form of resistance. Before it reaches government, populism presents itself as the opposition to the elites, and this is a central reason for its blooming. Once in government, populist movements still present themselves as resisting the powers that be, by a narrative that argues that even though the elites lost government, they are still in power (whether in the economy, the media, the juridical system, or the academy).
Resistance may be defined as a set of plural and complex practices that oppose or contradict dominant ideologies, cultural codes, structures, or power relations. So, whichever approach we agree with, we may argue that populist movements are expressions of resistance either to the economic model or to cultural changes. But are populist movements only reactive resistance to change? Are they perhaps more ambitious? Maybe it could be claimed that populist movements are counter-hegemonic, that they are not only reactive, but put forward an alternative to the neoliberal model (mainly in its liberal-democratic version) that became hegemonic since the 1980s? A first, rather obvious answer, is that as posed, this question has no single reply. Since populism is not a single phenomenon, the only way to address the question of whether populism is counter-hegemonic is through empirical analysis of each particular case. This is obviously true, but is it the whole truth? If we concede the plurality and variety of populist cases, are we still able to say anything at a more general/theoretical level about its counter-hegemonic potential?
To answer this question, we need first to define hegemony—since without doing this it is impossible to decide whether a movement or a struggle are counter-hegemonic—and then, since practices of resistance may be understood as a continuum, consider whether there are parameters that help us to distinguish, within the resistance continuum, which movements, struggles, or practices can be considered counter-hegemonic.
I propose to understand hegemony as both a state of affairs and as a political process. As a state of affairs, it is the quasi-stable situation in which a certain model of society—which includes ways of producing, distributing, and consuming, as well as ways of thinking and understanding—becomes dominant. The hegemonic project penetrates society’s system of practices, meanings, and values, producing expectations, beliefs, and an understanding of reality, up to the level of “common sense”; creating a “national-popular will”. A certain model of society becomes hegemonic when its worldview pervades all spheres of society: its institutions, its private life, its morality, its customs, its religion, and the different aspects of its culture. Second, hegemony is also the process through which this dominance is attained, i.e., the struggle for hegemony with other projects or models of society. The hegemonic state of affairs is constantly threatened by counter-hegemonic forces. The attempt to stabilise the social around a certain hegemonic project is always in jeopardy. At any time, forms of alternative or directly oppositional politics and culture exist as significant forces in society.
Hegemonic struggle implies the constitution of a collective subject that advances a certain hegemonic project, what Antonio Gramsci called a historical bloc. In order to succeed, a hegemonic project can never reflect solely the interests and views of the core dominant social groups; it must take into account, at least partially, the interests of those subordinate groups that are part of the historical bloc. The building of consent that is always part of a successful hegemonic project necessitates an ongoing process of negotiation with the different groups that form the hegemonic historical bloc (which is not limited to the core dominant groups). Thus, hegemony is never a completely top-down process; it is always open and challenged from within and from outside the hegemonic historical bloc. It also should be taken into account that the conflict over and for hegemony cannot be reduced to an economic struggle, but always includes a challenge to the current model of material production and distribution. In sum, understanding hegemony as a state of affairs highlights the institutional aspects that produce and reproduce hegemony; understanding hegemony as a process stresses agency and the role of collective subjects.
Once we have defined hegemony, the second step in the attempt to answer the question whether populism, which currently can be considered as a form of resistance, is counter-hegemonic is asking whether there any ways to distinguish, within the resistance continuum, which practices and struggles put forward hegemonic alternatives. I propose three parameters in order to discriminate between which forms of resistance are counter-hegemonic.
The first refers to the potential of the particular practices of resistance to be incorporated by the hegemonic model. Does resistance challenge core elements of the hegemonic model, or only relatively marginal ones? May those practices of resistance be contained or coopted by the hegemonic model, for example by raising wages following a trade union strike, or incorporating into the administration members of environmental movements, or not?
The second parameter involves the interaction between the symbolic and the material dimensions. Hegemony, as argued above, combines both symbolic and material dimensions, so in order to distinguish whether a movement is counter-hegemonic, we must consider whether practices of resistance take place only at the symbolic level, or also challenge somehow the production or distribution of goods and services. For example, whether resistance is against a narrative that argues that a certain group, such as immigrants, does not belong to the political community, or whether it brings to actual allocation of resources to that group, for example, allowing access to health care services for undocumented migrants. This second parameter allows us to identify three types of practices: those that are clearly anti-capitalist, challenging not only the distribution of goods and services, but also the ways in which these are produced; those that put forward claims to modify the hegemonic distribution of material resources and the symbolic patterns of recognition that sustain them, without challenging the capitalist organisation of society; and those that confine themselves to advancing alternatives to the symbolic constructions that validate the hegemonic distribution of power and resources, but do not engage in practices or put forward policies that challenge the hegemonic model at the material dimension. Practices that oppose only symbolic aspects of the social model, that challenge only ideologies or cultural codes—for example the cultural construction of certain identities as “primitive”—do not really challenge hegemony, where symbolic and material dimensions are interrelated elements of a whole. Thus, while the first two types of practices may be considered counter-hegemonic, the third one cannot.
Finally, there is the question of unifying different practices of resistance and the creation of a collective political subject. Counter-hegemony, by definition, entails putting forward an alternative hegemonic project. Thus, it requires a certain level of unification through time, the amalgamation of different actors, interests, and practices. This involves some sort of ongoing political coordination. Counter-hegemony, therefore, includes a dimension where practices of resistance become at least partially consolidated and come together. This is the level at which counter-hegemonic practices coalesce into institutions that can put forward an alternative that may become hegemonic. Moreover, as we learn from the double character of the definition of hegemony, the latter implies the constitution of a collective subject. Following Gramsci, historical blocs should be considered as the subjects of hegemony. Thus, if the collective political subject is the historical bloc, then the construction of alternatives that may eventually become hegemonic requires the political unification of the agents of the different practices of resistance into a historical bloc.
So, after considering the parameters that allow us to discriminate between which practices of resistance can be considered counter-hegemonic, let us go back to our original question. Are we able to make some generalisations about populism and counter-hegemony, or can we only provide empirical, case-related answers to that question? It seems to me that, while the empirical analysis of specific cases is unavoidable, we may be able to provide some more general comments, based on the three parameters I propose.
Considering the first parameter, we could argue that some of the claims that populist movements put forward cannot be incorporated by the liberal-democratic/neoliberal hegemonic model. According either to Cas Mudde’s broadly accepted definition of populism as a thin ideology that considers democracy primarily as the non-mediated expression of the popular will, or Takis Pappas’s or Jan-Werner Müller’s analyses of populism as the negation of liberal democracy, populist movements deeply challenge liberal democracy’s emphasis on mediated representation, checks and balances, and the distribution of power. Populists will try to implement some form of direct democracy (such as plebiscites), or to severely limit or put an end to judicial review, an anti-majoritarian and elitist form of control over the people’s will. Populist movements thus comply with the first parameter, since their claims cannot be really incorporated by liberal-democratic neoliberalism.
At first sight, it could appear that our answer to the second parameter depends on which definition of populism we adopt. If we accept Mudde’s claim that socio-economic issues are marginal to what populism really is—as he famously puts it, “It’s not the economy stupid”—then populism does not meet the requirements of the second parameter, since material redistribution is not part of populism’s core claims. On the other side, according to scholars such as Rudiger Dornbusch and Sebastian Edwards (from an orthodox economic perspective), populism is a program that emphasises economic growth and income redistribution in the short term without taking into account long term consequences, such as inflation or external constraints. From a heterodox economic viewpoint, Adolfo Canitrot saw populism as an alliance between labor and the industrial bourgeoisie, in order to redistribute resources towards them from the traditional exports sector, such as happened during Juan Domingo Perón’s first government, when funds coming from agricultural exports were used to support industrial imports’ substitution; or, mutatis mutandis, during Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s presidency, when agricultural exports were highly taxed and at the same time the government implemented subsidies for the poor and the unemployed. Thus, from this perspective, populism—though not anti-capitalist in most cases—has a material redistributive significant facet, and meets the second parameter.
I think, however, that we can do better than arguing that our answer to the question whether populism is counter-hegemonic depends on how we define it. The literature on populism distinguishes between two main populist “families”: inclusionary and exclusionary populism. We distinguish between both families through three dimensions: symbolic, material, and political. At the material level, inclusionary populist movements put forward claims for redistribution of resources to previously excluded social groups, modifying the hegemonic distribution of material resources; and at the symbolic level, they challenge the patterns of recognition that sustain exclusion. Thus, we could argue that inclusionary populist movements meet the requirements of the second parameter.
The third parameter concerns the constitution of a political subject. In Laclau’s later analysis, populism is characterised by the building of a ‘chain of equivalence’ between particular demands, in such a way that the political field is split in two, opposing the people as a collective subject to the powers that be. According to Laclau, when the state is unable to provide solutions to particular claims—such as wage raises, diminishing unemployment, improving public education, allowing access to health care for all—there is a possibility that those different claims connect in such a way that all the “claimers” see themselves as “the people” opposing the detached elites, unwilling or unable to answer their claims. The political consequence of successfully building a ‘chain of equivalence’ between diverse particular claims is the constitution of a collective political subject, the people. Thus, populism also meets the third parameter. However, is this political subject stable through time? While there is an approach within the literature on populism that regards it as the combination of a charismatic leader and a loose organisation, the history of populism teaches us that there are several populist movements and parties that present strong organisations and firm practices of articulating different social groups into a historical bloc. Among a large sample of such cases, we can mention examples that are very different from one another; inclusionary populist movements such as Peronism and Chavism, and exclusionary ones, such as the French Front National (now Rassemblement National) or the Italian Lega (formerly Lega Nord).
In conclusion, while empirical study of the counter-hegemonic significance of populist movements is indispensable, we are able to see from the analysis above that at least inclusionary populist movements fit the three parameters, and can be considered not only forms of resistance, but counter-hegemonic as well.
 Hans-Georg Betz, ‘Exclusionary Populism in Austria, Italy, and Switzerland’, International Journal 3 (2001), 393–420; Dani Rodrik, ‘Populism and the Economics of Globalisation’, Journal of International Business Policy 1(1) (2018), 12–33.
 Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, ‘Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-nots and Cultural Backlash’, Faculty Research Working Papers Series (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Kennedy School, 2016).
 Jeffrey W. Rubin, ‘Defining Resistance: Contested Interpretations of Everyday Acts’, Studies in Law, Politics and Society 15 (1996), 237–60.
 James C. Scott, ‘Afterword to “Moral Economies, State Spaces and Categorical Violences”’, American Anthropologist 107(3) (2005), 395–402.
 Gwyn A. Williams, ‘The Concept of “Egemonia” in the Thought of Antonio Gramsci: Some Notes on Interpretation’, Journal of the History of Ideas 21(4) (1960), 586–99.
 Antonio Gramsci, The Antonio Gramsci Reader (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2000).
 William Roseberry, ‘Hegemony and the Language of Contention’, in Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniel Nugent (eds.), Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 355–65.
 Cas Mudde, Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Jan-Werner Müller, What is Populism? (London: Penguin, 2016); Takis Pappas, Populism and Liberal Democracy: A Comparative and Theoretical Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).
 Mudde, Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe.
 Rudiger Dornbusch and Sebastian Edwards, ‘Macroeconomic Populism’, Journal of Development Economics 32(2) (1990), 247–77.
 Adolfo Canitrot, ‘La Experiencia Populista de Redistribución de Ingresos’, Desarollo Económico 15(59) (1975), 331–51.
 Dani Filc, The Political Right in Israel: Different Faces of Jewish Populism (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010); Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
 Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason (London: Verso, 2005).