The sway of populism in the political life of Europe today is not new. It filled the socio-political scene between WW1 and 2 from Spain to Italy, Britain to Germany and Scandinavia. The populist speech and the hate speech are correlative. Quantitative logic, whose paradoxes Lacan elaborated in his later teaching, allow us to make the link. How to make someone in particular part of the movement for all? How does any voter become the one? By creating an elite that is for everyone. Populism is an elitism for the masses, as Umberto Eco concludes his study of Mussolini’s fascist political programme in the 1930s[1]. Everyone is an exception and a member of the mass movement. Fascism is clearly an umbrella for a gamut of phenomena of hatred, contempt, and exclusion to which Lacan added sadism and masochism as caused the objects gaze and voice in the constitution of perversions. We are touching here on the phenomena of the drive jouissance in the social community called discourse which have mortifying effects not only on the hated and excluded other but also on the life of discourse that we as analysts do not cease to construct uno per uno. The phenomena of populism and fascism arise chiefly in and through speech.

In his meticulous analysis of the birth of fascism in the modern era, Klaus Theweleit, who called his own father a “good fascist”, following Freud’s principle that it all starts at home, approached the fascist speech from the perspective of the use of the voice. He brought our attention to how volume, modulation, rhythm, intonation, punctuation, each contributes to the fascist speech in the making as practised by the media then and today[2]. The link is certainly interesting. The invention of the radio by Marconi in 1900 was a breakthrough that allows us to grasp this link. The emergence of the fascist propaganda between the wars coincided with a growing popularity of the radio as a transmitter of speech, amplifying the vocal dimension in the rise of fascism. Family afternoons would consist in gathering around the radio to listen to the speech of the Father. Today, political oratory of this kind, is perfectly in harmony with the law, as Gil Caroz recently[3]. This type of oratory is also well within the framework of the democratic freedom of speech. And since we are in the dimension of the audio broadcast, the boundaries constructed by and around the gaze, such as sex, gender, race, skin colour, are transcended.

In the political life, the vocal transmission has widened the appeal to the masses as elitism for all. The hate speech does not discriminate therefore against anyone as due to its insidious character it recognises only one difference, that between the leader and the people, one speaker and many listeners. Marked by the magnanimous character of the leader, their glib voice, monotonous and imposing mannerisms, the populist speech does not address anyone in particular or transmit anything specific. It aims instead at the monolith of all as one by including the singular recipients into the mass until there is no one left in the audience who did not receive the message. The message, if there is one, has to do with the glorious past of the ego, otherwise called nationalism, or the delusion of autarchy spiced with a yearning for imperial order in some cases. The hate speech draws its inspiration from the subject’s narcissistic nostalgia, accompanied by insistence to purify the land of immigrants, and by the “hostile environment” aiming to push foreigners out of the country, prove irresistible. Theweleit notes that in the mortifying speech the nostalgia takes on a particular form of the speaker repeating a sentence or a part of it several times with the view to muffling any experience of desire and rendering it numb. Resistance becomes the only way. There is only room for un uproar, or “for responding like a dog”, to use Lacan’s expression[4]. Notice how this oratorical device has been perfected by Donald Trump and other demagogues like Farage. Trump has shifted his communication from tweeter writing to a regular address of live audience which is then transmitted across the country. After uttering a sentence, he then repeats it once or twice, and follows by repeating its part, and again, as if it was a receding echo of the drive. It says nothing. Either you agree and immerse yourself in the audition of the echo or you gasp for air, drowned in the deadly meaning.

We can say that the hate speech divides the audience into either or, true or false, right or wrong. It is a speech that through the use of the voice does not support gradation and multiplicity. The recipients are reduced to frequencies attuned to react as one to the voice that is one. Either you are reduced to silence or… you are reduced to silence. This clearly is not without a connection to the famous tautology of Theresa May “Brexit means Brexit” that seems a poor parody of Godard’s “A woman is a woman”. In Brexit democracy, the tautology has served as another mark of the populist speech (“leave means leave”), holding in a hypnotic grip anyone even remotely interested in debate, until someone realised that no one knows what Brexit actually means because, in the words of Lacan, no signifier is identical to itself.

“How to respond to the speeches that kill without feeding their deadly meaning?”, Miquel Bassols asks[5]. How to recognise the traits of the regime of the fascist speech that arises from self-hatred, is fed by the agitated subject and his death drive? In his indiscriminate yet legitimate, politically-correct yet divisive, avuncular yet belligerent address to “the people”, the leader takes the liberty of interpreting them at will. “Them”, who contribute to our economy and society, in contrast to “us”. The populist leader today reminds the voters who lost track of what they originally meant to say when casting the vote, what they actually meant. The hate speech is a speech of the muffled desire and of mortifying jouissance that friezes the speaking body. In my early school days, we used to play a game we called “Dr Kildare”. It was based on an imitation of frame stills that appeared at the start of each episode in the popular 1960s Tv series. As soon as someone was called “Dr Kildare!”, he or she was supposed to stand still irrespective of the position they were in. While you can imagine the comic effect of being caught in the act, which was the purpose of the game, what it also produced was an inertia of the body. The mortifying speech supposes to frieze the desire of the speaking body and reduce it to a still. The only thing that is out of control and does not stand still is the object a. In the analytic experience the voice mobilises desire, allowing for the subject to slip, to trip over the excess of inertia, to forget the repeated, to remember the unsaid. In distinction to the analytic speech that fumbles every now and then, the fascist speech achieves the perversion effect.

From this perspective, the phenomena of fascism are first the phenomena of the speaking body from within which rises up the voice carried by jouissance that is not only not lost or subtracted but produces a surplus jouissance. The commanding voice in the fascist speech does not respond to anything in the dimension of the Other’s desire but kills it by rousing the demand for satisfaction in the Other. Lacan linked perversion to sadism as aiming at the Other’s jouissance. On the other hand, he attributed to the masochist a compulsion to complete the Other with the voice causing, and aiming at, the Other’s anxiety[6]. The more the Other is devalued, the more pronounced the function of the voice. The position of the populist speaker today oscillates between these two, between the desupposition of the Other and the call of the one. This brings me back to the father as a “good fascist” who, in the way in which Lacan wrote père-version, is a version of the suffering father. He stamps his children’s experience with a pain that is his own – often deafening it with his voice. There is also a version of a good doctor who turns out a bad fascist.


[1] Eco, U. Ur-Fascism in Five Moral Pieces, trans. A. McEwen, Vintage, London, 1997.

[2] Theweleit, K. Male Fantasies, Vol 2: Male Bodies: Psychoanalising the White Terror, trans. C. Turner, E. Carter, and S. Conway, Polity Press, Cambridge 1989, p. 129.

[3] Caroz, G. Discourses That Kill, Argument for European Forum, Zadig in Belgium, 8 July 2018, trans. Florencia Shanahan.

[4] Lacan, J. Le Séminaire, Livre XVI, D’un Autre à l’autre, 1968-1969, Ed. J.-A. Miller, Seuil, Paris, 2006, p. 257.

[5] Bassols, M. Killing Me Softly… European Forum, Zadig in Belgium, 11 November 2018, trans. L.-H. Davis.

[6] Lacan, J. ibid, p. 258-9.