VOL. 2, NO. 2, PGS. 9–21


Populism and Democracy
The Representation of the People in Latin America
Susana Villavicencio

Susana Villavicencio is a Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Buenos Aires and Associate Researcher at the Laboratoire d'études et de recherches sur les logiques contemporaines de la philosophie (LLCP) of the University of Paris 8.

This translation has been automatically generated and has not been verified for accuracy.

On both sides of the Atlantic we repeatedly hear the word populism, yet this term does not seem to designate a precise political force. On the contrary, if anything characterises populism, it is its ambiguity or the breadth of political phenomena that fall under its denotation. To this ambiguity we can add the residual nature of the term in politics. Decades ago, for the left, populism meant the erasure of social classes in the idea of the people or the nation. In turn, for liberalism, populism is disqualified as a regime and seen as a persistent threat to representative institutions. Today there is talk of a return of populism, and despite its widespread diffusion on the South American continent (at least five countries have been governed in the past decade by popular democratic regimes, the most representative being Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina), its meaning continues to be diffuse, especially if we consider the European experience or that of the North, where Donald Trump, a clear representative of economic power, is also pointed out as a populist, for his defence of economic protectionism or his anti-immigrant policy and his defence of the American white man.

The floating of meanings and the diverse phenomena that are alluded to with the term lead the French philosopher Jacques Rancière to maintain that populism only serves to designate the image of “a certain people”, because the people do not really exist, there are only diverse and antagonistic figures of the people: “the notion of populism itself constructs a people characterised by the mixture of a capacity —the brute force of the majority— and an incapacity —the ignorance attributed to that majority”1.

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