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Populism

Quote of the week: Fareed Zakaria

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"The world has been transformed by the globalization of goods, services, and information, all of which have produced their share of pain and rejection. But we are now witnessing the globalization of people, and public reaction to that is stronger, more visceral, and more emotional."  

- Fareed Zakaria - host of CNN's international affairs program Fareed Zakaria GPS.

Quoted in Foreign Affairs print edition November/December 2016 "Populism on the March."

Quote of the week: Daniel Hannan

Sina Odugbemi's picture

"The populists always fail in their own terms. Let me be more specific, the protectionists always fail. They always end up delivering the sharpest fall in living standards to the people who are their biggest supporters."

- Daniel Hannan - British politician, writer and journalist.
 
Quoted in Financial Times print edition January 28, 2017 "Lunch with the FT."

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Break it and see: norms of good governance and the wobbly protection of public opinion

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Events around the world (on this please see Freedom in the World 2017) are teaching us at least two astounding lessons. The first is that in liberal constitutional democracies good governance is far more dependent on norms, particularly constitutional conventions, than formal rules. This has serious implications. The second lesson is that when certain political actors choose to ignore the norms of good governance …and the details vary depending on the context…it is not at all clear that anything can stop them. Let’s take these two issues one by one.

Norms, conventions, formal rules

In his classic work, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution the great English jurist, A.V. Dicey, introduced a distinction between what he called constitutional laws and the conventions of the constitution. Constitutional law, he pointed out, consists of rules that the courts will enforce. But there are other constitutional rules:

The other set of rules consist of conventions, understandings, habits, or practices which, though they may regulate the conduct of other officials, are not in reality laws at all since they are not enforced by the Courts. This proportion of constitutional law may, for the sake of distinction, be termed the ‘conventions of the constitution’, or constitutional morality.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Darejani Markozashvili's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy
Freedom House
In 2016, populist and nationalist political forces made astonishing gains in democratic states, while authoritarian powers engaged in brazen acts of aggression, and grave atrocities went unanswered in war zones across two continents. All of these developments point to a growing danger that the international order of the past quarter-century— rooted in the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law—will give way to a world in which individual leaders and nations pursue their own narrow interests without meaningful constraints, and without regard for the shared benefits of global peace, freedom, and prosperity. The troubling impression created by the year’s headline events is supported by the latest findings of Freedom in the World. A total of 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains. This marked the 11th consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements.

Financial Flows and Tax Havens: Combining to Limit the Lives of Billions of People
Global Financial Integrity
Global Financial Integrity (GFI), the Norwegian School of Economics and a team of global experts released a study showing that since 1980 developing countries lost US$16.3 trillion dollars through broad leakages in the balance of payments, trade mis-invoicing, and recorded financial transfers. These resources represent immense social costs that have been borne by the citizens of developing countries around the globe. Funding for the report was provided by the Research Council of Norway and research assistance was provided by economists in Brazil, India, and Nigeria. Titled “Financial Flows and Tax Havens: Combining to Limit the Lives of Billions of People,” the report demonstrates that developing countries have effectively served as net-creditors to the rest of the world with tax havens playing a major role in the flight of unrecorded capital. For example, in 2011 tax haven holdings of total developing country wealth were valued at US$4.4 trillion, which exacerbated inequality and undermined good governance and economic growth.

What is this thing called ‘populism’? : Jan-Werner Müller hoes the weeds

Sina Odugbemi's picture

One of the most astounding features of public debate and discussion is how many times this occurs: a word acquires wide currency, even notoriety, yet its boundaries remain limitless and, very often, nobody really knows what it means. Because of current events around the world, right now the best example of such a word is “populism”. For instance, I read a special section in Foreign Affairs recently titled ‘The Power of Populism’ and after reading several of the essays I still could not make out the precise  meaning of the concept. Right now, what seems clear is that being called a ‘populist’ is not a good thing. It suggests that you are somehow a demagogue, and that you have something to do with getting large numbers of people worked up, and that you are generally up to no good.

In search of conceptual clarity, I recently acquired and read a new book by Jan-Werner Müller, a professor of politics at Princeton University. The book is titled simply: What is Populism? (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). It is a short, lucid, and exceedingly intelligent book.  Müller starts the book by demonstrating the ‘conceptual chaos’ around ‘populism’. The concept, he shows, is deployed fairly carelessly. It is a contested concept. He goes on to demolish what he calls definitional dead ends, that is, suggestions in public debate and discussion that populism means one or all of the following things:
  • A particular psychological cast (you can fill in the terms of abuse you have heard!);
  • A particular class of citizens (like those famous non-college educated voters!);
  • A particular set of daft or simplistic policies; or
  • A particular style of politics (boorishness, incivility or the famous paranoid style etc.).

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Even in Era of Disillusionment, Many Around the World Say Ordinary Citizens Can Influence Government
Pew Global

Signs of political discontent are increasingly common in many Western nations, with anti-establishment parties and candidates drawing significant attention and support across the European Union and in the United States. Meanwhile, as previous Pew Research Center surveys have shown, in emerging and developing economies there is widespread dissatisfaction with the way the political system is working. As a new nine-country Pew Research Center survey on the strengths and limitations of civic engagement illustrates, there is a common perception that government is run for the benefit of the few, rather than the many in both emerging democracies and more mature democracies that have faced economic challenges in recent years. In eight of nine nations surveyed, more than half say government is run for the benefit of only a few groups in society, not for all people.

Media Development and Countering Violent Extremism: An Uneasy Relationship, a Need for Dialogue
CIMA

This report looks at how media development practitioners are reacting to the rise of the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) agenda, and its growing influence on their field. This influence is the cause of concern, not only because practitioners of CVE and media development have fundamentally different worldviews, but because the CVE agenda is seen to pose serious risks for southern media houses and the organizations that support them. Still, these risks are unlikely to be addressed without coordinated efforts from both sides. However uneasy the relationship, a dialogue between CVE and media development is needed.

The tribulations of wishy-washy Liberalism

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Liberalism, perhaps the dominant political ideology in the modern world, is under attack everywhere these days. Its core ideas – namely, constituting the political community in a manner that protects fundamental human rights, liberty and equal opportunities for all citizens – are being rudely dismissed. The norms that it cherishes and promotes – for instance, a public sphere that promotes free and open debate and discussion of the great issues of the day in a manner that is respectful of all participants – are being ridiculed by sundry boors, thugs, and loudmouths with megaphones. Within liberal constitutional democracies, the challenge is coming from populists and nativists. Outside these democracies, the challenge is coming from autocracies… a growing band of hard men and maximum rulers. In Africa, for instance, rather than the building of vital and strong institutions we have the saddening return of the Big Men. They win power and refuse to leave, even when they become doddering old fools.

I submit that all this would not matter that much if Liberalism itself were in rude health. But it is in a bad way. The following are some of the reasons why this is the case.
 

The “voice of the people” is a fearsome thing

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The form of rule known as liberal constitutional democracy – the high achievement of the Enlightenment – is under attack almost everywhere these days by people claiming to represent that most fearsome of things: the voice of the people. This claim is made in a self-justificatory, there-is-no-arguing-with-that manner. All that opponents have to do is bow to the force, the power, and the majesty of, you guessed it, the voice of the people.

This is no ideological divide here. Populists on the right are making the claim as they push for the unchallenged sway of the genuine interests but also the grievances and prejudices of a portion of “the people” which they claim is “all the people”. Spot the slick rhetorical move. Populists on the left make the same claim as they agitate for the genuine interests but also the grievances and prejudices of another (but sometimes overlapping) portion of “the people” which they too claim is “all the people”. The same slick rhetorical move. What is left unsaid is a blunt claim: “The people I represent are the only ones that matter in this political community, and what they want takes priority over all else.”

There is a second rhetorical move that these populist leaders make, especially if, as often happens, they have acquired charismatic authority. It is the elegant dance from the “we” to the “I”. When these populist movements erupt the leaders say “we” a lot, but after a while they become the embodiment (or so they claim) of the “will of the people” and to oppose them is, they suggest, to oppose “the people”. The leaders of nationalist movements make this move easily. Once the “we” becomes the “I” these leaders become truly powerful and dangerous. If you oppose them they can unleash a mob on you, even if the mob is only online. And if they win power, to oppose them is treason. Mere criticism of the leader can land you in jail, and this is happening in some contexts as we speak.

Quote of the Week: Simon Schama

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Simon Schama"But populism is not the monopoly of the left. Its common thread is a loathing for politics as a corporate affair: relentlessly managed, image-calibrated, bankrolled and focus-tested."

-Simon Schama, an English historian specialising in art history, Dutch history, and French history. He is a University Professor of History and Art History at Columbia University, New York and a contributing editor to the Financial Times.

Quoted in the Financial Times on August 29, 2015, "Beware the passionate preachers of populism".

Quote of the Week: Niall Ferguson

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Niall Ferguson at a Chatham House event on 9 May 2011"Politically, most of the world has never been more boring. Instead of the alarms and excursions of the past, we now have technocrats versus populists. Any violence is verbal and the technocrats nearly always win."

Niall Ferguson, a British historian from Scotland, who specializes in international history; economic history, particularly hyperinflation and the bond markets; and British and American imperialism. Ferguson's books include Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World and Civilization: The West and the Rest. He is also the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University; Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, University of Oxford; a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution of Stanford University; and visiting professor at the New College of the Humanities.


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