Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

David Hingstman


This dissertation studies historical and contemporary conservative rhetoric to argue that the political right's variant of American populism defines the rhetorical figure of "the people" as ontologically opposed to the state. This state-phobic rhetoric poses a threat to democratic deliberation, I argue, because it presumptively cancels the very appeals to shared space that tend to make democracy thrive. By turns examining the new right, the 2008 financial crisis, the 2008 presidential campaign, and the rise of the Tea Party, this dissertation suggests American democracy is trapped in a populist feedback loop that creates tragic modes of melancholic democratic politics. This democratic melancholia contributes directly to contemporary political trends of hyper-partisanship.


American conservatism, political theory, populism, psychoanalysis, rhetoric, social movements


ix, 373 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 352-373).


Copyright 2013 Paul Johnson

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Communication Commons