Republican perspectives on populism and hope

My PhD thesis discusses a wide range of thinkers including Aristotle, Plato, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt, Christopher Lasch, and so on. This is a work that spans Political Philosophy, History, and Social Movements (particularly the American and the French Revolution, and more importantly American Populism). Drawing on Arendt and Lasch, the thesis invites us to think about populism as ideology and praxis of and for the people, which is a refreshing departure from the admittedly necessary path that analyses of populist movements have taken in recent years, focused (almost exclusively) on the rise of left and right-wing nationalist parties in Europe and north America as a reaction to modernisation. It invites us to rethink populism, beyond these mainstream trends of right-wing nationalism. More to the point, this thesis questions the Western liberal idea of progress, the optimism of the eighteenth century, which assumed that humanity and history are on a steady trajectory towards endless betterment and well-being. The thesis casts a critical eye on the philosophical and ideological roots of this worldview, and highlights the contribution of a moderate democracy to an ethical life. This modest approach on democracy is anchored to a hopeful (rather than optimistic) view of humanity, history, and society. It values the potential of human beings to promote common decency through dialogue and common interaction, without placing unlimited trust on human reason. The philosophical foundations of this ‘hopeful’ democracy are identified in the ancient Athenian system of government, as well as in classical republican currents of early American populism. This democratic paradigm is coextensive to an engaged and inclusive form of patriotism.  

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Department of Politics and International Relations, Goldsmiths, University of London

Supervised by Professor Carl Levy