Putting the populist revolt in its place: economic have-nots & cultural backlash


In many Western democracies, this is a year of revolt against elites, notes Joseph S. Nye, Jr., University Professor at Harvard University. As Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens put it, “the present global order – the liberal rules-based system established in 1945 and expanded after the end of the Cold War – is under unprecedented strain. Globalization is in retreat.”

In fact, it may be premature to draw such broad conclusions, Nye writes for Project Syndicate, arguing that we should be wary of attributing populism solely to economic distress:

Ivan%20Krastev%20(2)(1)Polish voters elected a populist government despite benefiting from one of Europe’s highest rates of economic growth [as analyst Ivan Krastev observed at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO, this week – see above], while Canada seems to have been immune in 2016 to the anti-establishment mood roiling its large neighbor.

In a careful study of rising support for populist parties in Europe, the political scientists Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan and Pippa Norris of Harvard found that economic insecurity in the face of workforce changes in post-industrial societies explained less than cultural backlash. In other words, support for populism is a reaction by once predominant sectors of the population to changes in values that threaten their status.

“The silent revolution of the 1970s appears to have spawned an angry and resentful counter-revolutionary backlash today,” Inglehart and Norris conclude.



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