Henry A. Giroux on How Populism Aids Fascism

In this interview, Henry A. Giroux argues against both right and left populism. He argues that populism contains a number of pathologies, including its reliance on leaders at the expense of social movements — a dangerous tactic that depoliticizes people and turns power over in many cases to demagogues or alleged progressives who personalize politics. In addition, Giroux argues populism’s use of simplistic rhetoric avoids complexity, honest dialogue, multifaceted struggles, and the hard work of power-sharing modes of governance. This spirit of populism is at odds with a language that is troubling, calls power into question, disturbs machineries of class, gender, sexual and racial oppression, and uses language to sharpen the moral imagination and bear witness to state and corporate violence. Another crucial issue is populism’s definition of “the people,” which serves to homogenize differences among different groups and creates a greatly simplified understanding of social movements. In short, the notion of an all-encompassing “people” is an abstraction and crude generalization that ignores the multiple political, ideological and social differences at work in any society. Moreover its notion of unity is dangerous because it often operates from a friend/enemy distinction. Finally, Giroux argues that populist discourse make a false claim to a homogenous notion of “the people” conveniently aimed at erasing the varied identities, interests, and modes of resistance that characterize multiple social groups. Consequently, matters of resistance and social change are packaged into simpleminded calls for unity. Throughout this interview, Giroux talks about the relationship between populism and what he calls “neoliberal fascism.”