Emotions in Politics: Populism’s Win?

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The essay critically engages a political newsletter which problematically invokes rhetoric in a populist project by making the argument that emotions are a legitimate and sufficient guide to settling political questions, and by implication that facts often are unnecessary in political decision making. Arguing at the meta level--less about political issues and more about the way to reach and justify political positions--the text is a rhetorically adept defence of a populist approach to politics. The analyzed text is an illustration of populist-inflected rhetoric and, in virtue of its “theoretical” nature, also a blueprint for a particular kind of political culture informed by a populist epistemology which on central points is at odds with ideals of deliberative democracy. Analysis of the text reveals that it sets up its argument in a way that perpetuates the reason/emotion dichotomy that has marred the Western tradition and rhetorical studies for centuries; only it does so in an inverted version that promotes the role of emotions at the expense of knowledge. “People vs. elite” appeals recognizable from populism inform this move in an “emotions vs. academic/technocratic knowledge” version, and the newsletter’s disarming tone and its implicit appeals to notions of “common sense” are discussed. The analysis in this essay suggests that populist ideas can be presented in ways that mimic mainstream or “high” political discourse. It is argued that the adoption of populist rhetoric in mainstream politics calls for critical attention by rhetorical theorists and critics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

ISSN online 2724-0606

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Humanities - populism, high/low style, political judgment, emotion, reason, demagoguery, rhetoric

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