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30 September 2019

Populism and the yearning for closure: From economic to cultural fragility

by Sibylle van der Walt

Since the Brexit-vote and the election of a far-right businessman as President of the United States, the social sciences have been struggling to explain the societal conditions that nourish the increasing appeal of far-right parties and leaders in the Western world. The article’s main thesis is that the currently leading sociological paradigm, the theory of globalization losers, is not sufficient to understand the social dynamics in question. Starting from a discussion of the recent work of German sociologist Wilhelm Heitmeyer, it is argued that the best insight in far-right voter’s motivations and emotions can be found in the work of Margaret Canovan. The article shows further that a sociological investigation into the socio-psychological dynamics of the rise of the far-right should take into account broader cultural transformations that have been weakening the social world of Western democracies in the past 30 years, namely individualization, acceleration and demographic decline. In times of crisis (the ‘modernization’ of Eastern Europe and the financial crisis of 2007), these transformations become manifest as a general crisis of advanced capitalism.

Keywords: Emotions, Margaret Canovan, political theory, populism, social movements

Article Information: Article first published online: August 1, 2019

Populism and the yearning for closure: From economic to cultural fragility
Dr. phil. Sibylle VAN DER WALT sibylle.vanderwalt

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