The Politics of Frivolity: American Neopopulism and Decadence

Daniel R O'Keefe, Salve Regina University


Populism and decadence: What do these parallel sentiments in the US have to teach us? More specifically, how does a possible relationship between the two help us understand the source of the growing sense of fragility of our republican procedures and institutions? Both decadence and populism are slippery concepts. Both serve to amplify what they stand against rather than for. Therefore, identifying and unpacking what each “travels with” is helpful. In sum, by versing ourselves in the classical conceptions of decadence and populism, and then examining their postmodern counterparts, we arrive at a much-needed step towards a comprehensive theory of neopopulism. Such a theory would account for the cultural foundations of the US’s current populism that will continue at least a decade beyond that pinnacle moment with Trump’s election in 2016. This study argues the following: Contemporary right-wing populism in the US – that is, right neopopulism – is correlated with, and is the political expression of, decadence. Decadence is not the “cause” of populism. Rather, this recent populism-cum-decadence has been facilitated by two factors that share an interdependent relationship: Postmodern epistemology and postmodern communication technology.

Subject Area

Political science|American studies|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

O'Keefe, Daniel R, "The Politics of Frivolity: American Neopopulism and Decadence" (2024). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI31148953.

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