To defeat populism, must democrats embrace nationalism?


Political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa have been claiming for over two years that the world is facing an epidemic of populism and nationalism – or “illiberal democracy,” Haaretz reports:

Mounk warns against any warm, fuzzy nostalgia for late-20th-century social democracy. The first step toward finding a way out of the populist present and future is to recognize that things have changed. Nationalism, he says, is back and here to stay. The new Western economy has seen to that.  ..

The key, says Mounk with an ironic smile, is in the slogan often used by populists, also popular among Brexit supporters: “to give people a feeling they have a control over their lives and that your own nation has control over its destiny.” In order for people to feel that, they have to be convinced that they can live in a multi-ethnic and democratic society and still be better off materially and the liberal camp must learn how to embrace nationalism….. To do that, argues Mounk, liberals who like to think of their values as universal and therefore applicable in the same way to every country, must learn to appreciate national differences.

“The idea used to be that we can get away from nationalism and substitute it with other things like social justice, and somehow people will learn to live without it,” Mounk adds. “But when nationalism and democracy clash, nationalism wins. Therefore, we have to try and domesticate nationalism by filling it with our own meaning that makes it compatible with an open and liberal society and harnesses globalization.”

In a widely discussed article in the July 2016 issue of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy, Mounk (right) and Foa explored the concept of democratic deconsolidation. In the January 2017 issue, they further detailed “The Signs of Deconsolidation,” identifying the “early warning signs” that indicate democracy is in trouble.

“Today, we face a trilemma of nationalism, democracy and globalization,” notes Mounk, recently appointed head of the “anti-populism” program at the new, London-based Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. “You have to find a way to make those three work together because you can’t get away from nationalism and you don’t want to give up democracy and globalization.”


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