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Jean-Luc Nancy on Populism, Democracy, and Neofascism


The LA Review of Books has translated two recent short essays by French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, one called “Populism and Democracy” and the other “Neofascism.” Together, the essays strive to bring some much-needed clarity to the titular terms, which in recent years have been bandied about in public debates without much concern for their precise meanings. Here’s an excerpt from “Neofascism”:

In this sense, fascism is premised upon a rejection of the democratic postulate: it rejects democracy’s will to regulate itself in accordance with an idea of the people that itself responds to the visionary or ideal character of this idea and, in its place, substitutes its own decision to affirm the tangible reality of the people.

It is clear that the democratic postulate involves a fragility that is constitutive: in one sense, democracy itself declares that, in order to have a functional democracy, what it names is not, and must not, be made present. Conversely, fascism involves a force that is constitutive: it affirms itself as the only real, almost immediate, expression (be it in the immediacy of a figure or symbol).

Democracy nourishes a fundamental need of institutions, laws, and rules. On one side, the complexity of institutions and rules increases the fragility of democracy. So when the concrete material and spiritual situation of a country seems to expose that fragility as a serious or even pathological weakness (regardless of the actual causes), we can see how it is that the fascist reaction arises.

Image of Jean-Luc Nancy via the European Graduate School.