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Adele Webb

Public ambivalence towards democracy has come under increasing scrutiny. It is a mood registered perhaps most clearly in the fact populist figures, from Trump to Orbàn to Duterte, appear to carry strong appeal despite the fact, or perhaps because of the fact, they pose a threat to democratic institutions and processes of governance. Are ambivalent citizens the grave threat to democracy they are often portrayed to be in media and academic discourse on populism? In this article, I contend that citizens’ ambivalence about democracy is a more complex, spirited and volitional idea than is acknowledged in the current discussion of populism. Drawing on psychoanalysis and critical social thought, I embrace a conception of citizens’ ambivalence in a democracy as both immanent and desirable. I argue ambivalence can be a form of participation in democracy that is crucial to safeguarding its future.