Craig Calhoun Public Lecture at La Trobe University 2017.
Populism, Polarization, and Democracy
Populist messages have been basic to the most prominent political events of the last year, like Brexit in the UK and the election of Trump in the US. But populist politics have in fact shaped elections, social movements, and appeals for political legitimacy around the world. They are often combined with nationalism and discussed in each case as though special to that country. But the fact that they are so widespread reveals that each is not entirely idiosyncratic. They respond to common pressures from neoliberal globalization, intensified inequality, technological transformations, and cultural changes – but with specific national and local inflections. Populist politics have been recurrent throughout the modern era, channelling resentments and shaping reactionary movements. Populism can threaten democracy by giving power to illiberal demagogues. But populism can also express demands for wider sharing of the benefits of economic growth and encourage democratic renewal through better recognition of the importance of all citizens and not only elites.
Craig Calhoun is President of the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute, which works globally to advance cross-cultural understanding, improve governance, and deepen knowledge of great transformations shaping the human future. Calhoun was previously Director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he remains Centennial Professor and before that President of the New York-based Social Science Research Council (SSRC), and 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.
Professor Calhoun’s visit to La Trobe was part of the university’s 50th anniversary celebrations and was jointly sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor, The College for the Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, and the Thesis Eleven Centre.