Authoritarian Populism: Viewing Trump, Reviewing Thatcher

Photo by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann | CC BY 2.0

There has been much said in the media about Donald Trump’s “populism”, alleged by some to be the primary tool enabling him to do an end-run round both the Democrats and the establishment of his own party in the recent presidential election.

The combination of this populism with an anti-establishment stance during Trump’s campaign–the latter has so far not been translated into reality, witness Trump’s cabinet of billionaires, his planned abolition of the Dodd-Frank regulation of Wall Street, and so forth– recalls a figure from a different time and political context, namely, Margaret Thatcher.

The cultural theorist Stuart Hall coined the term “authoritarian populism” to define Thatcherism as the project of undermining the British post-war settlement between labour and capital, by mobilizing a right-wing popular movement aimed at strengthening the state.  This fusion of the popular and the authoritarian state would then be turned against the post-war settlement.

Hall had his critics, most notably Bob Jessop, a social theorist influenced by Nicos Poulantzas, who said that “Thatcherism must be seen less as a monolithic monstrosity and more as an alliance of disparate forces around a self-contradictory programme”.

To an extent both Hall and Jessop are right (which is not to say that their positions can be reconciled).  Thatcher did aim to destroy the post-war settlement and to strengthen the state, and this…

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