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Pitfalls of Discursive Depoliticisation in the Age of Populism

Democracy
Populism
Communication
Liberalism
Narratives
Political Ideology
Astrid Séville
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München – LMU
Astrid Séville
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München – LMU

Abstract

The case of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s rhetoric is remarkable: Amidst the Eurozone crisis, she deployed the slogan of “TINA” (There is no alternative), suggesting a lack of choice and a confined room for manoeuvre. Referring to economic necessity and European obligations, her government poorly explained the processes behind the Greek bailout (Schmidt 2014; Séville 2016). The government’s crisis management appeared as a technocratic style of governance and stimulated claims for more democratic participation, open debate, and for a priority of domestic interests. Consequently, the right-wing party “Alternative für Deutschland” (AfD) started out as a populist opposition against the project of a European currency. The party gradually transformed into a fierce opposition against cosmopolitan and emancipatory values (Franzmann 2017). Yet, the beginning of the AfD displays difficulties for a populist discourse seeking to formulate an alternative to policies once legitimized as rational, binding, and self-evident. Besides populist opposition, journalists, public intellectuals and politicians alike have denounced the prevalent political discourse and, in particular, Angela Merkel’s rhetorical shortcomings ever since 2010. In my paper, I argue that the public scandalization of TINA-discourse and the rise of a populist party on the right have triggered a change of discourse in Germany. Since the high tides of the Eurozone crisis, subsequent governments have tried to avoid TINA-rhetoric – depoliticisation itself has become a salient issue in the political debate. Strikingly, we witness a self-referential discourse on the intricacies of political discourse. The “threat” of right-wing populism has underpinned this politicised discursive constellation. But does it affect the political legitimation of elected policymakers so far or do we see new discursive alliances and antagonisms that menace to cut short democratic debates? In answering these questions, I will highlight the pitfalls of discursive depoliticisation in the age of populism.