This works aims to investigate the relationship between the rising wave of populism observed internationally in the last years and a specific stage of capitalism defined as“emotional capitalism”or“capitalism of emotions”and how this particular form of populism that we are experiencing today is in relation with this stage of society organization, especially concerning the distribution of information and new forms of political propaganda. To this aim, this work analyses the crisis of the traditional political parties and the particular shape of contemporary populism and its connection with the actual economic and political organization of western societies. Individualization of society, attributed economic value to the individual personal sphere, and social media created a humus that, along with other factors, opened the road to an increased individualization of political parties and to a tendency towards leaderism. In conclusion, it will also offer some elements for the study of the current political propaganda.
§ 1. Introduction In the last years, the world assisted to a more and more widespread phenomenon of rising of populistic tendencies in several countries, and especially in liberal-democracies. From the Trumppresidency, to Brexit and the rising of populistic candidates in Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and everywhere in Europe, the last few years showed an extremely clear and relatively homogeneous tendency toward populism. Some of the causes of this tendency are clear, others will need to be investigated further in the following years. This work is aimed at investigating especially the relation of this populistic wave, that some have called a true “populistic zeitgeist” with the crisis of the political parties as primary political structure 1 Cas Mudde, The Populist Zeitgeist, in Government and Opposition, Volume 39, Issue 4 Autumn 2004, Pages 541–563.
organizations, and how these factors are connected with the particular social- economical configuration of late neo-liberalism, that we will call “capitalism of emotions” or “emotional capitalism” following the original definition introduced by sociologist Eva Illouz2 and further elaborated by philosopher Byung-Chul Han.3 Eva Illouz’s defines emotional capitalism as a stage of capitalism in which emotions are detached from the subject for control and clarification and assume economic value. Such emotional ontology has deprived human relationships of intrinsic value and substituted it with market value. Relationships have then been transformed into cognitive objects that can be compared with each other and are susceptible to cost-benefit analysis4. Terminally disjointed from the social, material, cultural and human context responsible for their emergence, emotions become then quantifiable, countable, and discrete – objects that can be traded and exchanged. In this particular stage of the capitalistic system, the individual has become a product, and his human capital, included in terms of feelings, emotions, and preferences, has assumed higheconomic value. It is the so-called “capitalism of likes5,” in which personal data are unceasingly monetized and commercialized. Emotional capitalism differs from 19th century capitalism in that the main tool of production is not the body of the worker, but its psyche; immaterial and non-physical forms of production are what characterizes this form of capitalism and the citizen-consumer has become both producer and selector of such products. The user, the individual, exploited not only as a worker, like in the early stages of industrial capitalism, or as a consumer, like in the typical free market capitalism of the 90’s, but as a product in himself, interiorizes the class struggle and blames himself if unsuccessful. In this sense, he is the absolute slave because it doesn’t need a master to exploit himself, but has introjected the master-slave struggle. 2 “Emotional capitalism›” describes “a culture in which emotional and economic discourses and practices mutually shape each other, thus producing […] a broad, sweeping movement in which affect is made an essential aspect of economic behavior and in which emotional life – especially that of the middle classes – follows the logic of economic relations and exchange” Eva Illouz, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism. Oxford, and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2007 p. 5 3 Byung-Chul Han, Psycho-politics, London/New York: Verso, 2017. 4 Eva Illouz, Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism. Oxford, and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2007 p. 36. 5 Byung-Chul Han, Psycho-politics, London/New York: Verso, 2017, p.
He becomes entrepreneurs of itself, he is his own enterprise, his own project, thus losing thepossibility to have relationships with others that are free of purpose. Is this the fundamental reason that brings the neoliberal individual towards extreme individualization; the subject is both entrepreneur and enterprise and as such relates with the other subjects. Through this process, eachindividual becomes his own master and society is therefore individualized to the maximum. Because he is his own slave, the subject doesn’t recognize himself anymore in a social group, social unity is not possible, because the social struggle is of the individual against oneself. Because the individual is enterprise in itself, in direct competition with the other individual- enterprises, there can’t be class identification or class solidarity. In the sense of the intellectual and emotional capital, everyone already owns the means of production6. The exploitation of emotions as source of revenues is not new but has its roots in the commercialization of human feelings that the mass capitalism started exploring since the post war era. As noted by Aarlie Russell Hochschild7, in 1983 roughly one-third of American workers werealready subjected to substantial demands of emotional labor (a half of the working female population), and therefore requested by contract to fabricate a particular set of wanted emotions and to repress a different set of unwanted emotions. At this stage, the individual starts to familiarize with the economic value represented by his emotional representations and with his capability to create it in order to achieve economic value. The exploitation of human emotions as an economic value, has required a transmutation of the way we express private feelings, and put an economic value on human exchanges. We can assume that request for emotional labor, typical of the service industry, has widespread with the growth of service jobs. §2. Neoliberalism crisis and rising of populism The elimination of the class struggle supported for a long time the stability of the neoliberal system, but is has been based mostly on the existence of wide middle- 6 Because of this, the neoliberal individual blames himself if unsuccessful and directs his aggression not in the out world, but against himself. 7 Aarlie Russell Hochschild, The Managed Hearth, commercialization of human feelings, Berkley, CA: 1983, pp. 11-12.
And they can do this thanks to big data and google analytics. class. With the economic crisis, and the shrinking of that middle-class, this stability has been lost and it opened the road to new form of political organization. Both in developed and developing states, the liberal order has been challenged by a main competitor, represented by populist nationalism. A reaction to the tensions created by a democratic political system and an individualized society, populist nationalism is irreducible to social classes or groups and has been caused by several factors, including a prolonged deflationary economic period followed by economic stagnation, a polarization of the social classes with a progressive disappearance of middle class in favor of an increase of the lower class and of the population living under the poverty line and an increased concentration of wealth at the top. Despite the fact that many characteristics typical of classical populism are still evident in this new rising wave,the emotional stage of capitalism has worked to shape contemporary populism in a way that is peculiar to this historic time. New political actors have taken the lead from the economic market, leveraging the individual’s emotions and preferences in a similar fashion. Deprived of the affiliation with a social group, the voter doesn’t recognize himself in a specific political party and is more likely to shift his vote according to the political offer on the market. Parties progressively lost their role of representation of social class issues and political actors increasingly needed to appeal almost to every single candidate as an individual. As a consequence, political communication has experienced radical transformations and the movements that have been able to capitalize these new ways to conduct a political propaganda that is tailored towards every voter as an individual have been able to capitalize an impressive advantage over the traditional parties. As noted by Peter Meier already in 2002, political parties increasingly shared electors. With the decline in thestrength of affective loyalties, voters could move much more quickly from one to the opposite part of the political spectrum, following the political personality that they found more appealing or close to their ideas or tendencies. Naturally, overtime, this brought political parties to develop less specific platforms that could include a larger part of the population.
The notion of politics as social conflict, where parties represented the political interest ofdifferent social groups has become less relevant and every voter is, in theory, available to many political forces.8 While before the 1970s, political preference could be explained by the social, economic, andcultural characteristics of the voters, that is no longer the case. Election results vary significantly from one election to the next even when the socio-economic and cultural backgrounds of the voters remain unchanged9. This has been explained with the increasing tendency of the electors to vote fora personality, for an individual, more than for a political party. Analyzing Trump’s presidential campaign, for instance, it is clear that it has been based moreon his persona than on specific policies. His campaign was based on a few key topics not extremely developed, while his position on most issues remained (and remains) voluntarily contradictory. The leader, not the platform is what appeals primarily to the voters10. Political opponents are not anymore defined by their political affiliation with an ideology or a political side, but more from their opposition to one another. It is therefore increasingly important for the candidates to develop a quasi-personal relationship with his electorate, helped in this by the availability of tools of “direct democracy,” like social media, or other propaganda strategies. Used to express his preferences continuously and to have immediate feedbacks, the voter is disconnected from the experience of the vote in a general election and doesn’t accept to have to wait for the outcomes of his choice. The voter is used to have an immediate relation with his preferences and this is what he is researching in the political arena, an immediate relation with the candidate and an immediate result. Neoliberal economic system based on liberal democratic political organization has been considered for decades the end of history and the only possible political and 8 Peter Mair, Populist Democracy vs. Party Democracy, in Yves Meni/Yves Surel, Democracies and the populist challenge, Palgrave, New York 2002 https://ecpr.eu/Filestore/PaperProposal/56283bba-0e9f-4798-81bf-3a51470ff970.pdf 9 Bernard Manin, The Principles of Representative Government, Cambridge MA, Cambridge University Press 1997, p. 218. 10 Is this the meaning of Trump’s infamous remarks of 23 January 2016 in Iowa: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Loyalty is to the leader, not the party or its platform.
economic system. For decades, a true opposition to the existent economic and political system has been considered heretic, but due to the economic crisis that reduced the middle class, essential forthe balance of neoliberal societies, the consequence has been that the part of population that stopped benefitting from the system has found a representation in the rising populism that is using liberal democratic tools to subvert the existing system. As described by Weber first and subsequently by Benjamin and others, the capitalistic society based his morality on Protestantism and included a strong sense of guilt towards the unsuccessful individuals. The subject who are not successful in the neoliberal society of achievement weren’t allowed to question the system, but felt shame for not being correspondent to it. They turned social aggression against themselves. Following the same principle, neoliberal societies used public debt to shame their electors in to accepting decreased welfare state, austerity, worsened life conditions. In this context, the populistic leader appeared as a Messiah, turning over this feeling of shame and guilt, saving his electors from their repressed emotions and blaming the very system that told them they were wrong. Populism managed to address these emotions in an immediate fashion, inspiring a visceral reaction that creates emotional attachment to the leader. Now the second phase of emotional capitalism is complete, following the capitalization of emotions in the workplace and then in the society at large, it created new forms of political organization appealing to that same emotional capital. A good example of this appeal to immediate emotions can be traced for example in Trump’s inaugural address11 in his dark tones and references to the pain of the “forgotten Americans” and to the “American carnage12” § 3. Crisis of the neoliberal society and behind political parties 11 Remarks of President Donald J. Trump, Inaugural Address, Friday January 20, 2017, Washington D.C., https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/the-inaugural-address/ 12 “But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered liketombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
For decades, liberal democracies have been considered as the last stage of the political organization of human societies, a grade 0 of civilization13. This fallacy has been proven wrong by the overpowering emergence of populism, that shed light on the disappearing of what determined the sturdiness of the liberal-democracy, naming the balancing between procedural component and social component; between legal citizenship and social citizenship.14 Despite not being the cause for the crisis of the political parties’ system, populism is a good indicator of the process of disappearing of the classical forms of political configuration of the 1900’. Large, traditional parties are disappearing, not because of populism per-se but because of mutating social balances and societal configurations. As Nadia Urbinati underlined in her recent work15, populism presents strong resistance to the tools of democratic representation, favoring the direct expression of the “people’s will”. Forthese reasons, the identification with a political leader presents elements of major gratification. Populists exalt the personalization of politics, initially without renouncing to the tools ofdirect representation. They don’t represent the instances of a social group, along with other representatives of different groups, but have the ambition to govern alone, to incarnate the absolute representation of the people as a whole. The democratic game is founded on the acceptance from a political party or a politician of the renounce to the absolute, to represent the interests of a part over the whole. It presumes the existence of other partial representatives. The populist at the same times accepts the democratic tools, but without accepting this fundamental characteristic of democratic governments; it has the ambition to represent the whole and for this it can’t accept any compromise. It is the tension between absolute representation through direct democracy and the increase importance of the figure of the leader, between pluralism and unity. 13 La sfida populista, Nadia Urbinati, Paul Blokker, Manuel Anselmi, Milano, Feltrinelli 2018. 14 Idem p. 4. “L’emergere prepotente del populismo mette in luce il venir meno di quello che ha determinato la robustezza della liberal- democrazia, ovvero l’equilibrio fra componente strutturale e componente sociale; fra cittadinanza legale e cittadinanza sociale. 15 Maggioranza e maggioritarismo, ibidem.
Populism aspires to a more direct identification than that consented by elected representative government because it considers representation primarily as form and strategy of incorporation ofthe people in a leader, rather than a strategy that animates and regulates dialectic and the political debate16. Where the traditional parties worked in a logic of accountability to their electors, evenneeded to “deliver results”, in a logic borrowed by the corporate world, the populist representative thus places himself as an indivisible leader that needs its people’s faith, in an identification that is primarily emotional with his electorate17.” It is this the central point of connection between emotional capitalism and populism, the one social and economic structure poses the pre-conditions apt for the creation and the strengthening of populistic political movements. In this context, elections become a strategy for the leader’s celebration and through him forthe celebration of the body of the people. For this reason, the populist leader is himself a contradiction of the pluralistic democratic representation represented by the existence of multiple political parties. The populist movement is ontologically opposed to the plurality of parties that mirrored the different instances of the population, diversity of thought, of class, regional and cultural. On the contrary, it flourishes in the idea of the whole, the movement, the leader is one because the people is one. Populist democracy therefore ontologically tends to a democracy without parties. It is obvious then that the political platform itself loses significance and this is particularly evident when observing Trump’s behavior and language. His policies are famously contradictory, his platform travels on a few key points repeated ad libitum, his statements often baseless, but this does not matter to his electorate. The platform is not really relevant, the leader is, and his role as representative of the whole. For instance, it is very interesting to observe Trump’s behavior in this video by CNN at a rally in Pennsylvania18 where he mocks being “presidential”; by jokingly acting as the stereotype of a classic US president, he is reaffirming his irreducible otherness, his 16 Urbinati (2018) p. 6 17 Urbinati (2018) p. 7. 18 https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2018/03/10/trump-pennsylvania-speech-mocking-presidential-sot.cnn
being other from the democratic arena, his being a man of the people. This communication is sufficient and central for the populist, it reaffirms his role of corpus populi,19 without any need to express policies.20 Also, it is important to notice his reference to the audience’s emotions, “[if I was “presidential”] you would be out of here, you would be so bored.” Trump’s knows that his role is not that of carrying on specific policies or representing the population’s instances as much as it is togive them back their repressed emotions. Because the leader needs to be direct expression of the people as a whole, populism requiresthe creation of a defined group that is the people in opposition with other groups. This requires that his electoral base is strongly defined as in-group, in opposition to other social groups that are not only otherness, but enemies of the people. For this reason, populism always tend to be the only party and rejects the democratic arena and for this same reason populism is naturally connected with nationalistic instances. Nationalism in fact presents the perfect conditions for the creation of an in-group that is irreducibly “other” from other groups but that at the same time comprehend all the electorate. The opposition to an external group reinforces the feelings of belonging andacceptance inside the in-group and the loyalty towards the leader that represents it21. It is a classic example of collective narcissism. Several characteristics that are unavoidable in the creation of a populistic party including otherness, collective narcissism (and individual narcissism of the elector), vague political platform, and creation of a leader representative of the collective corpus of the people. The electorate is then reunited under a single leader who receives the political support not through an institutional tool like the State, but directly form the people. 19 Body of the people. 20 It is very interesting, in this regard, the observation by David Ragazzoni in “Alle origini del partitismo antipartitico: La teoria politica di Roberto Lucifero” in La sfida populista, Nadia Urbinati, Paul Blokker, Manuel Anselmi, Milano, Feltrinelli 2018, p. 30 about Emmanuel Macron’s political campaign not only built without a party but completely personalized to the point that the campaign’s slogan “En Marche,” is developed on the initials of the candidate. 21 On this see for example studies on Social Identity Theory, such as Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). "An integrative theory of intergroup conflict". In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel. The social psychology of intergroup relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole. pp. 33–47.
It is a rupture of the social equilibrium opens the doors to politics of concentration ofpower, erodes democracy and pluralism, to create new social policies not necessarily positives. § 4. New propaganda strategies The crisis of liberal democracy and of traditional parties, along with the increased relevanceof social media and non-traditional media, opened the road to new techniques of political communication. Online, and especially on social media, the subject is subjected to a voluntary self-exposure of its own emotions and preferences, in exchange for being part of a community, and for acquiring the same information on the other members of the community itself. However, faster communication has also meant a simplified communication. The subject can’t communicate himself as a whole or in his complexity but to participate to the social media community has had to strip himself of this complexity and to translate himself into simple, consumable information. Total communication therefore, to its extreme, promotes total conformity, and suppresses deviation. A real political debate is therefore not really possible, and the subject behaves as consumer towards the political choice reacting, passively to the available offers, with no real interest into shaping thecommunity. Free choice is replaced by free selection. Being accustomed to and consumable language, the voter seeks in the political language the same language. Along with an extreme personalization and centrality of the leader’s persona, and reducedattention to the political platform, simple and universal language becomes therefore a staple of contemporary propaganda, assuming its language from social media. By using a simple language comprehensible by the most part of the population, the political becomes a real man of the people, to which he speaks immediately, not appealing to theirrationality, but directly to their emotions. Through directly acting on his emotions electorate’semotions, the populist is able to create with them an immediate relationship that comes before the moment of rational reflection. This way, the populist is one with his people, can’t be contradictedthrough rational
analysis or logic, and creates the maximum possible identification between himself and the corpus populi. § 5. False news as main toll of political propaganda Another key feature of contemporary populism is represented by the creation and spread of false news; this is not a new technique, but is one that has benefitted extremely by the role of internet and of social media. As shown by the recent study by MIT appeared on Science22 The spread of true and false newsonline, so-called fake news (here redefined as false news) spread faster and wider than real news andappeal to more right-wing ideas because, like populism appeal to the idea of novelty in the political arena. Both populists and false news create an immediate relationship with their interlocutor that is perceived as “special” because distant from the norm. The article analyzed a data set of rumor cascades on Twitter from 2006 to 2017 and found that the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people23. Not only falsehood diffused more widely, but also faster than the truth. The researchers have attributed this phenomenon to the degree of novelty and the emotional reactions of recipients. False information outperforms real information because it is more emotionally engaging, more surprising, and it gives the individual a perceived increased sense of self as someone who is “in-the-know.” Interestingly, these effects are more pronounced in the spread of political news, comparedwith false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information24. It is the same tactic used by populists’ leaders and political newcomers when challenging basic democratic norms: whenever populists break such norms, they attract the univocal condemnation of the political establishment. “As advertised, the 22 Soroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, Sinan Aral, Science 09 Mar 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6380, pp. 1146-1151. 23 Ibid. “Falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were morepronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends, or financial information.” 24 Ibid. “False political news traveled deeper and more broadly, reached more people, and was more viral than any other category of false information.False political news also diffused deeper more quickly and reached more than 20,000 people nearly three times faster than all other types of false news reached 10,000 people.”
populists really do represent a clean break from the status quo. There is thus something performative about populists’ tendency to break democratic norms: while their most provocative statements are often considered gaffes by political observers, their very willingness to commit such gaffes is a big part of their appeal25.” The same is true for false news: by continuously undermining traditionaland/or reliable media, the populist creates a break in the democratic norms and opens to the possibility of creating false news. When those news appear, their opposition to the traditional media is part of their credibility, in that they opposed the “rigged” and “fake” status quo. The crisis of pluralism in liberal democracies that we have seen founds its perfect representation in the crisis of traditional media. With the rise of internet and social media and the individualization of society, the subject doesn’t feel bonded to any particular source of information,just like it doesn’t feel bonded to a specific social group or political party. The individual perceive himself in this sense as free, but is in reality easily subjected not only to political propaganda in general, but also to a form of self-propaganda that is specific of social media and that increases the individualization of society. Thanks to the contemporary principal social media’s algorithms, in fact, targeting personalpreferences and appealing to emotions for commercial exploitation, the individual is subjected to a“social bubble” in which he is presented primarily with political ideas, people, and products that are in line with his expressed preferences. The more he expresses preferences and emotions online, the more he is trapped in this bubble. It is not difficult to imagine how this process contributes andstrengthens the individualization of society, also taking to extremes the perception of political opponents as enemies and making increasingly challenging to understand other political positions. The subject interprets the reality through the information that is available to him and has virtually noaccess to the information presented to his political opponents. He believes his reality to be the reality and cannot understand how from the same premises other social groups can infer such distantconclusions. 25 Yascha Mounk, How populist uprisings could bring down liberal democracy, The Guardian, March 4, 2018 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/04/shock-system-liberal-democracy-populism
Thus, we observe a new common political strategy based on the definition of what is true and false, shifting from the liberal democracy strategy of debating basing on a mutually agreed set of facts. False news on the other side appeal to visceral emotions of the reader and voter, inspiring “fear, disgust, and surprise” whereas true stories inspired more milder emotions like “anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust”. Somehow surprising, the study has found also that humans are more efficient than robots in the spreading of false news. This is also linked to the emotional connection humans are capable ofdeveloping in relation to the false news and counts as motive for the sharing of the information. Analyzing the behavioral aspect of the false news spread, we can observe that humans engage more with false news in response to several factors. First, they are more interesting because of their novelty and this not only creates a stronger initial reaction in the reader, but it also made him acquire more “prestige” in his eyes due to the higher perceived value of the information he possesses.Therefore, the reader is more engaged and more inclined to sharing the information and this effect perpetuates along his or her network. If neoliberalism is the “capitalism of likes” then this study perfectly explains how this social-economic organization is being reflected in the contemporary political system with the rise of populism and through its specific political communication, based on the trade of emotions. There is a marketing of news that has created a public that will react more and more to breaking or excessive news and this is one of the reasons that could explain why false news spread more easily and faster than true news. “Novelty attracts human attention, contributes to productive decision- making, and encourages information sharing because novelty updates our understanding of the world. When information is novel, it is not only surprising, but also more valuable, both from an informationtheoretic perspective [in that it provides the greatest aid to decision-making and from a socialperspective [in that it conveys
social status on one that is “in the know” or has access to unique “inside” information.26” The crisis of neoliberalism and the disappearance of political parties and ideology, united with increased individualization of society based on monetization of emotional value, has openedthe path to rising populism, and it has equipped populistic leaders with a new set of tools for politicalpropaganda. Despite being still in the early stages of this political shift, some elements of continuity appear already evident and could be used for an analysis of the current structure of political organization and of political communication. 26 Ibid. “false rumors inspired replies expressing greater surprise (K-S test = 0.205, P ~ 0.0), corroborating the novelty hypothesis, and greater disgust (K-S test = 0.102, P ~ 0.0), whereas the truth inspired replies that expressed greater sadness (K-S test = 0.037, P ~ 0.0), anticipation (K-S test = 0.038, P ~ 0.0), joy (K-S test = 0.061, P ~ 0.0), and trust (K-S test = 0.060, P ~ 0.0)”
Nadia Urbinati, Paul Blokker, Manuel Anselmi, La sfida populista, Milano, Feltrinelli 2018
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Mounk, Yasha, America Is Not a Democracy How the United States lost the faith of its citizens—and what it can do to win them back, The Atlantic, March 2018 https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/03/america-is-not-a-democracy/550931/
Silverman, Craig, This Analysis Shows How Viral Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook, Buzzfeed, November 16, 2016 https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/viral-fake-election- news-outperformed-real-news-on-facebook?utm_term=.wmo5o8AAB2#.hc52lb33Bg