Democracy and Nihilism: denouncing contemporary populist rhetoric

9 November 2022

In this piece, I will use two memes to begin to unpack what I think is the common denominator of contemporary populist rhetoric. I will explain that the real substance of this rhetoric is the creation of a false moral equivalence, revealing a nihilism. Finally, I will suggest how this false moral equivalence has become a source of political power in the West today, as well as pointing at some other relevant questions that come with this version of nihilist populism.

Arthur Willemse

Since 2019 I teach in the Foundations and Methods of Law-group of the Maastricht Law Faculty. My book on Agamben and Derrida, The Motif of the Messianic, appeared in 2017. It was reviewed in Political Theology (, Reviews in Religion & Theology ( and The Heythrop Journal (

My research is structured along two lines: (1) the significance of the other for concepts of law, justice, and judgement in contemporary European philosophy (mainly in Benjamin, Levinas, Derrida, Rose, and Agamben); (2) the ways in which the law attains existential and ontological significance in modern European literature (mainly Gogol, Dostojevski, Kafka, and Krásznahorkai. Currently, I am setting up a new line of research on Democracy and Nihilism.

I teach and coordinate the UHasselt courses in Legal Philosophy and Logics. I also co-coordinate (with Agustín Parise) the MaRBLe-course Law in Historical Fiction. As a tutor I teach on various courses within the European Law School.