In the Superstate

Review of Christopher J. Bickerton and Carlo Invernizzi Accetti (2021), Technopopulism: The New Logic of Democratic Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Appeared in London Review of Books, 44 (2), January 2022.

By and large,​ we know what we mean by technocracy: the delegation of public authority to an elite cadre with some sort of scientific expertise, their legitimacy derived from their superior knowledge. In a technocracy, decisions can be challenged only by other experts. Everyone else must sit back and watch.

It’s less clear what we mean by populism, since the term is used for so many different things. Most current definitions share the idea of a ‘people’ divided and short-changed by an ‘elite’, and who come to consciousness by pushing that elite aside, replacing it with a new leadership that has a relationship of something like mystical unity with ‘the people’. Populism, on the left and the right, promises a social unity achieved through politics and the state, overcoming division by eliminating the enemies of the common people – the capitalists in left populism, non-nationals of various sorts in the populism of the right. While elite rule divides the people into self-seeking factions, populism unites them, in a struggle against those who claim to know better than the masses what the masses need. (…)

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