Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Affect, Right-Wing Populism and Education

Michalinos Zembylas

The electoral victory of Donald Trump in the United States in 2016, Brexit in the same year, and particularly the emergence of right-wing populist movements in Europe (e.g., France, Germany, Austria, Hungary) and other parts of the world (e.g., India, Turkey, the Philippines) during the last few years have revived academic and public discussions about the roots and consequences of populism, especially for the future of liberal democracy. Several scholars and political commentators have, in fact, expressed their concerns that the rise of right-wing populism and fascism in many countries around the world may jeopardize democracy as we know it. I think that after the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by Trump’s supporters and Trump’s repeated rhetorical attacks on fair election, there should be little doubt left that this is already happening.

As Adam Tooze has said very poignantly, paraphrasing T.S. Elliot, democracy is unlikely to die with a bang but all the more likely is the possibility that it will expire with a whimper. The ‘whimper’ may suggest that the suffocation of democracy does not happen by a single spectacular event, but as a result of our continuing inattention to numerous everyday habits and practices that consistently undermine democracy.

Here is precisely the crucial role of educators around the world: to provide critical resources to younger generations for cultivating an affirmative culture and process of democracy—one that transcends the negativity of mere critique of either right-wing populists (the likes of Trump) or inadequate forms of democracy in everyday life. Within an affirmative culture and process of democracy, educators and learners recognize the weaknesses of democracy, yet they cultivate everyday habits and actions that are committed to enriching and strengthening democracy on its every step—rather than undermining, subverting or mocking democracy’s missteps and its aberrant leaders, who will be hardly remembered for anything ‘good’ within several years after their term has ended.

My book, Affect and the Rise of Right-Wing Populism: Pedagogies for the Renewal of Democratic Education, suggests ideas about affective pedagogies for educators to use (along with recognizing the risks involved) to renew democratic education. The eleven chapters of the book lay out the importance of harnessing the power of affective experiences and adopting strategic pedagogical approaches to provide affirmative practices that move beyond simply criticizing right-wing populism. The book, then, not only recognizes the crucial impact of emotions and affects in the formation of right-wing populist movements, but also explores pedagogical practices that undermine the power of fascist and right-wing tendencies in public life and educational settings without stooping to methods of indoctrination. My main argument is that gaining a deeper understanding of the affective complexities involved in combating right-wing populism can be used to our advantage in education’s contribution to not only save but, more importantly, enrich democracy.

About The Author

Michalinos Zembylas

Michalinos Zembylas is Professor of Educational Theory and Curriculum Studies at the Open University of Cyprus as well as Honorary Professor and Chair for Critical Studies in Highe...

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