This article argues that the advent of the celebrity politician can be understood as a consequence of the rise of neoliberalism, a political and economic project that foregrounds the importance of individual autonomy as a means of enhancing one’s position in the competitive marketplace. At the same time, the displacements and upheavals occasioned by macroeconomic forces outside the control of any individual undermine autonomy and thus lead to a sense of powerlessness. Celebrity politicians, by contrast, leverage their origins outside the political sphere in support of claims to independence foreclosed to neoliberal subjects. By enabling a sense of vicariously restored power, the celebrity politician achieves credibility among followers through processes of psychic identification. That credibility, however, is secured at the expense of a rejection of the feminine, the state, and the commons, each of which is construed as a form of dependence that vitiates the neoliberal dream of autonomy. The article situates these rejections within the conditions required for democratic politics as a means of suggesting both the attraction and the danger of celebrity politics in the neoliberal age.
Keywords: neoliberalism, celebrity, politicians, politics, autonomy, psychic identification, democratic politics