Theme: Society & Culture | Content Type: Journal article

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The Politics of Unpolitics

Emily Robinson


Ian S

| 1 min read

Scholars of populism have suggested that it might best be described as ‘unpolitical’, rather than apolitical or anti-political. This term captures the populist claim to stand morally above the sphere of politics (which it deems inherently corrupting), while being simultaneously drawn to engage in it. But such ambivalence towards politics is not limited to populist actors; indeed, ‘unpolitics’ might be considered intrinsic to British political culture. Most obviously, Conservatives historically portrayed themselves as unsullied by ideology, above party competition, and deriving their values from embodied experience rather than political reasoning. But, while traditional Conservative unpolitics emphasised hierarchy, new anti-deferential forms of unpolitics emerged in the postwar period. These were based on claims to be ‘ordinary’, which was defined in opposition to the ‘political’ in ways that made the latter seem necessarily illegitimate. Focussing on unpolitics shows that populism grew out of mainstream British political culture, as well as in opposition to it.

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