Right-wing populism and the Real (part 1)

The following is definitely a ‘work in progress’ and a working hypothesis, and its main aim is to try and formulate a relationship between right-wing populism (RWP) and the Real.  My basic contention is that RWP is founded on an ‘ideology of the Real’, which although posing a number of serious conceptual problems regarding the nature of ideology itself, can be a useful way to ‘bridge’ the everyday reality of people who support political parties and movements which can broadly be described as right-wing populist, and their relationship with the Real or what we might describe as the ‘trauma of everyday life’.  In fact, I would argue that in many ways the ideology is what enables them to bear the trauma of everyday life and live it as a practical, functioning reality.

One of the key functions of ideology, especially if we adhere to the positions of Laclau and Žižek, is to make the Real bearable, to reconcile the irreconcilable.  In this sense, ideology seems to function very much as the Lacanian sinthome, a way to ‘knot’ together the Real, Symbolic and Imaginary.  It gives meaning and structure to an otherwise meaningless and chaotic existence.  It is also a way to manage the contradictions and tensions of life. However, I would argue that unlike many other ideologies and systems of meaning, the ideology of RWP, the ideology of the Real, has a rather peculiar structure.  In fact, strictly speaking it is not an ideology at all but rather a ‘post-ideology’, in the sense that Jean-François Lyotard describes the post-modern condition.   For Lyotard, the ‘post’ in post-modernism does not mean ‘after’ modernism but rather a nascent modernism, a state of being perpetually born,  but never quite stabilising or ‘solidifying’.  Rather, the post- modern is a perpetual state of flux and discontinuity, of rupture and fracture.

And the same goes, I would argue, with the (post) ideology of the Real.  Although it can provide a semblance of structure and meaning, a form of anchorage, it is always essentially unstable, in a state of flux.  In one sense, of course, all ideologies could be described in this way, but the ideology of the Real is, in my view, the most extreme version of this.  Essentially it engages with the fundamental questions of existence, but at the level of the drive, of jouissance.  These are questions of life, death, sex and power, but articulated in a very particular way which is very different from a more ‘mature’, fully formed ideology.  These are the kinds of ideologies that utilise the discourse of the university (to use Lacan’s term) and often form the basis of what might be best described as ‘liberal left’ discourse, which has also become the dominant cultural and political discourse of liberal democratic societies.

Although such ideologies and the discourses they underpin can be very sophisticated they can also be very ossified and stale, which might help explain the current moribund state of the liberal democratic project across Europe and the United States.  The ideology of the Real, on the other hand, is much less sophisticated, and in many ways, quite crude – and yet extremely powerful with its ideas of nationhood, the family, the will to power, the master race, xenophobia, anti-immigration, and so on.  Unlike the more sophisticated and yet ossified ideologies of the liberal left, these ideologies are far more ‘fluid’ and adaptable to particular conditions.