Populism, Expertise, and Intellectual Autonomy

In M. Berhow, G. Petersen & G. Tsakiridis (eds.), Engaging Populism: Democracy and the Intellectual Virtues. Palgrave (forthcoming)
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Populism, as I shall understand the term here, is a style of political rhetoric that posits a Manichean conflict between the people and corrupt elites. In the present decade, populism has played a particularly salient role in the politics of the United States and Europe. Moreover, populism is commonly associated with a kind of skepticism about expertise, on which the opinions of non- experts are to be preferred to any expert consensus. In light of all this, populist expertise skepticism appears to be a kind of pathology of excessive intellectual autonomy. I shall argue, however, that this connection between populism and intellectual autonomy is mere appearance: populist expertise skepticism does not involve excessive intellectual autonomy, because it does not involve a disposition for non-deferential belief, but rather a disposition for deference to “alternative” sources of information.

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Allan Hazlett
Washington University in St. Louis


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