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ECPR 50th Anniversary Fund

Our Damned Weakness: Tensions between Reason and Emotion in Populist Political Actors

Political Participation
Political Theory
Political Sociology
Emmy Eklundh
Kings College London
Emmy Eklundh
Kings College London

This paper argues that the study of political identities has for more than a century been influenced by a Cartesian division between the mind and the body. This has given rise to a common assumption that rational actions are more valid or legitimate than emotional expressions. Such a perspective is particularly accentuated in the study of populist parties and movements. This paper begins by tracing how social theory has treated emotions over time, to arrive at the conclusion that the Cartesian division remains. In order to overcome this sharp distinction, which demands a clear hierarchy between political actors, the paper introduces the works of Ernesto Laclau. By using Lacanian psychoanalysis, a form of identity-making which accommodates for a co-constitutive character of the mind and the body, Laclau’s theory of populism possesses a higher explanatory power for contemporary populist movements. By way of example, the paper presents the case of Podemos, as to illustrate how the tension between emotion and reason can potentially be overcome, but also points to the practical implications in doing so. The paper concludes that the Cartesian division remains, even in the segments of society most eager to overcome it.
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