Why Populism and Nationalism Now?
Why is there a global wave of populism and nationalism at this specific conjuncture? And why is this taking a largely negative form, and could that be changed? Populism gives voice to ‘the people’ as basic source of value and legitimacy—crucial to democracy though easily manipulated by demagogues and distorted by racism or other biased representations of the people. Populist movements that ‘short-circuit’ normal democratic procedures are responses to failures of large scale systems of societal integration, and failures of elites to lead with full consideration of implications for all citizens. Action needs to address these issues, not attempt a return to the status quo ante. Building more effective and fairer globalization may depend on working through nation-states and literally international structures rather than attempting to minimize their role.
Craig Calhoun is President of the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute, which works globally to advance knowledge of great transformations shaping the human future. These range from AI and gene-editing to renewed nationalism and weakened international cooperation and the possible transformation of capitalism. Calhoun was previously Director of the London School of Economics, where he remains Centennial Professor and before that President of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). He was also University Professor of Social Sciences and Director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU. His books have been translated into 18 languages and include Does Capitalism Have a Future? (2013), The Roots of Radicalism (2012), and Nations Matter (2007), which predicted rising nationalist and populist challenges to cosmopolitanism, grounded in a highly unequal global economy.