“Populism, Conspiracy and Common Sense from Thomas Paine to Donald Trump”
Talk at CRASSH: The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities at Cambridge University - June 1, 2017
Populism is best understood as a style of politics rather than a specific doctrine. But ever since the eighteenth century, its appeal has depended upon a kind of built-in conspiracy theory: that the current crisis stems from the fact that the real people have been robbed of a power that they once naturally possessed, and the situation can only be rectified by a return to their unjustly neglected 'common' sense. In the age of Paine, this theory helped spur the development of a democratic political order. Yet already by the time of the French Revolution – and to this day, as the current Trump regime in the US demonstrates – a common sense populism threatens to undermine democracy at every turn in ways that this talk spells out.