Towards a Critical Hermeneutics of Populism

Gonçalo Marcelo


This paper aims to define and set the goals of what it calls a ‘Critical Hermeneutics of Populism’. Starting with the diagnosis of the ascent of rightwing populism being directly tied with the democratic legitimation deficit and the social problems caused by neoliberal policies, it assesses populist phenomena through the lens of hermeneutics. It argues that populism is not an entirely irrational phenomenon and that in spite of some common features of its intrinsic logic, substantive differences exist between left (or progressive) political proposals and their rightwing, exclusionary counterparts. The paper claims that only an assessment of the discourses, values, and practices put forward by each political proposal that can be dubbed ‘populist’ will reveal its perils and promises, and help distinguish which types of populism are lethal to liberal democracy, and which can actually help to deepen it. Finally, it argues that given the interpretative and potentially transformative features of Hermeneutics, a Critical Hermeneutics of populism might be the approach providing us with the best tools to operate such distinctions.

Full Text:



Adorno, T. H., Frenkel-Brunswik, W., Levinson, D. and Sanford, N. (1950). The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Boltanski, L. and Chiapello E. (2007). The New Spirit of Capitalism. London: Verso.

Boltanski, L. and Thévenot, L. (2006). On Justification: Economies of Worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Foessel, M. (2019). Récidive. 1938. Paris: PUF.

Horkheimer, M. (1947). Eclipse of Reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jay, M. (1973). The Dialectical Imagination. A History of the Frank-furt School and the Institute of Social Research 1923-1950. London: Heinemann.

Laclau, E. (2005). On Populist Reason. London and New York: Verso.

Marcelo, G. (2018). Crítica da Razão Populista. Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, 117, 73–88.

Marcelo, G. (2012). Making Sense of the Social. Hermeneutics and Social Philosophy. Études Ricœuriennes / Ricoeur Studies, 3(1): 67–85.

Marcelo, G. (2017). Narrative and Recognition in the Flesh. An Interview with Richard Kearney. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 43(8), 777–792.

Michel, J. (2012). Sociologie du soi. Essai d’herméneutique apliquée. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

Mouffe, C. (2018). For a Left Populism. London and New York: Verso.

Ricoeur, P. (1970). Freud and Philosophy. An Essay on Interpretation. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ricoeur, P. (2005). The Course of Recognition. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Taylor, C. (1994). Multiculturalism: examining the politics of recogni-tion. Ed. A. Gutmann. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Thompson, J. B. (1981). Critical Hermeneutics. A Study in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur and Jürgen Habermas. Cambridge: Cam-bridge University Press.

Vattimo, G. and Zabala (2011). Hermeneutic Communism. From Heidegger to Marx. New York: Columbia University Press.

Walzer, M. (1987). Interpretation and Social Criticism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.



Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2019 Gonçalo Marcelo

License URL:

Creative Commons License ISSN 2533-1825

Critical Hermeneutics is published by the University of Cagliari - Maintenance for this OJS installation is provided by UniCA Open Journals, hosted by Sistema Bibliotecario di Ateneo.