Left populism and the education of desire

Callum McGregor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

This paper mobilises the psychoanalytic concepts of desire and enjoyment to better understand how processes of education aimed at extending and defending democratic life might respond to and engage with populist politics. I approach this task by engaging with a particular vector of Mouffe and Laclau’s political philosophy, moving from a critique of liberal democracy’s rationalist pretensions to their insistence that left populism and its passionate construction of a ‘people’ is the central task facing radical politics. This attention to the libidinal basis of political identification locates them in a community of Left Lacanian thinkers who reframe the problems of democratic politics in terms of desire and enjoyment rather than miseducation or its lack. Whilst this position might suggest a binary choice between different analytical frames, I inquire into what insights are generated by theorising left populism as an ‘education of desire’. The paper is organised into four main parts: the opening discussion clarifies my understanding of education by engaging with the literature on educational agonism. The second section lays the groundwork for a critique of the way in which education is fetishized, in different ways, by liberals and radicals as a panacea for populist politics. The third section reframes democratic crisis as an enjoyment problem in order to better grasp the relationship between the liberal democratic disavowal of its own irrationality and the structure of right-wing populist enjoyment. The fourth section applies these insights to develop a critical analysis of what is at stake when we explicitly consider the left populist construction of a ‘people’ as an educational task. I conclude by drawing together and summarising the main features and considerations of left populism understood as an education of desire.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-90
JournalStudies in Philosophy and Education
Issue number1
Early online date16 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • democratic education
  • education for democracy
  • education of desire
  • enjoyment
  • Lacan
  • left populism
  • radical democracy


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