This is a timely intervention by Partha Chatterjee on the question of popular sovereignty in an era of populism and abounding authoritarianism. The book is based on the Ruth Benedict Lectures that Chatterjee delivered at Columbia University in April 2018 and as he admits candidly, is characterized by a gloomy pessimism. In characteristically Gramscian manner, Chatterjee at the very end of the book offers ‘words of optimism for the readers of this gloomy book’ (p. 152) in the form of the intellectuals’ ability to transform ideas into popular education that can become the basis of a counter-hegemonic transformation.
Chatterjee bases much of the discussions in this book on the writings of three prominent theorists, Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault and Ernesto Laclau. Each of these theorists provide the theoretical tools that allow Chatterjee to make sense of the tidal wave of populism sweeping away long prevailing political institutions and liberal-democratic certitudes. Chatterjee flags the underlying tectonic tensions that have spurred the massive disruptions that we are witnessing in our times.