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  • The Persistence of the Authoritarian Appeal: On Critical Theory as a Framework for Studying Populist Actors in European Democracies

    Lars Rensmann

    Chapter from the book: Morelock, J. 2018. Critical Theory and Authoritarian Populism.

    This chapter argues that the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory provides a significant resource for the study of contemporary populism. Three theoretical paths are particularly relevant: First, the Frankfurt School helps generate a critical understanding of the ‘authoritarian syndrome’ and offers several directions for theorizing of socio-psychological dispositions. Second, original Critical Theory presents insights into a several standardized features, mechanisms, and dynamics that help to effectively mobilize and actualize persistent authoritarian wishes in political demagoguery among current authoritarian-nationalist populists in post-Holocaust Europe and beyond. Such propaganda functions as a kind of ‘psychonalysis in reverse’ (Leo Lowenthal), obscuring rather than advancing self-reflection and understanding of political problems. Third, the Frankfurt School offers social theory models conceptualizing societal conditions favorable to authoritarian revolts. They point to particular dialectics of objectification, fetishization, and social domination. Revisiting and reflecting on the Frankfurt School's work has implications for critically examining current forms of authoritarian politics and right-wing populism under conditions of contemporary European democracies, and for advancing a critical theory of politics of unreason in our time.

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    Rensmann, L. 2018. The Persistence of the Authoritarian Appeal: On Critical Theory as a Framework for Studying Populist Actors in European Democracies. In: Morelock, J (ed.), Critical Theory and Authoritarian Populism. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book30.c

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    Published on Dec. 17, 2018