Transcript: Future of Democracy Series: The Emergence of Populism in Democracies
[Text appears onscreen that reads "Canada School of Public Service And University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy Present Future of Democracy Series – The Emergence of Populism in Democracies". « École de la function publique du Canada Et l'École Munk des affaires internationals et des politiques publiques à l'Université de Toronto Présente la série L'avenir de la démocratie – L'émergence du populisme dans les démocraties ».]
[The screen fades to Ayesha Malette in a video chat panel.]
Ayesha Malette: Good day. My name is Ayesha Malette. I'm the Director of a task force at Global Affairs to establish a centre for democracy. It's my pleasure to moderate today's event. I'd like to begin, of course, by acknowledging that the land on which we are gathering here is the unceded traditional territory, of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people. I recognize that participants may be enjoying this event from different parts of the country, and therefore you may be working on a different Indigenous territory. I encourage you to take a moment to think about how you are living reconciliation in your life. For myself particularly, I like to think about reading to learn more, supporting Indigenous led businesses and using my position within my institution to advocate for justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and I hope you all take the time to do that as well and make our acknowledgments in living reality.
For those of you with accessibility challenges, I will just note that I am an Indian woman, I have brown hair, I wear glasses, and I am wearing a teal dress with a colourful necklace. I am pleased to introduce today's event entitled The Emergence of Populism in Democracies, which is the fourth event in the series of Future of Democracy put on by the Canada School of Public Service. Over the past 20 years, we have seen a significant rise of populist parties across the political spectrum. I'm happy to be here today to moderate this very timely topic and contribute to better understanding the policy challenges that currently face our democracy. We have a great discussion planned today and want therefore to make sure you have the best possible experience.
I'll start with a quick couple of housekeeping points to go over. Today's event will be in English with some French portions, simultaneous interpretation, SI as well as CART, which is real time captioning services are available to you to enjoy this event in the language of your choice. So, to access these features, please click on the respective icons directly from your webcast interface and if you are on the English interface and realize that at some point you might need some simultaneous interpretation support, please return to the homepage of this webcasting platform to re-access the event with SI or simultaneous interpretation. You may refer to the reminder email at any time if you need any further support. To optimize your viewing experience, we would recommend you disconnect from your VPN or use a personal device to watch the session when possible. If you're experiencing any technical issues, it is recommended that you relaunch the webcast link, relaunch the webcast using the link provided to you.
Now, without further ado, it's my pleasure to introduce Professor Bart Bonikowski, who's going to lead us off with a brief presentation. Professor Bonikowski is an associate professor of Sociology and Politics at New York University and using relational survey methods, computational text analysis and experimental research, his work applies insights from cultural sociology and study of politics in the United States and Europe, with a particular focus on nationalism, populism and right-wing parties. Professor Bonikowski, over to you. Can't wait to hear you what you have to say.
[Bart Bonikowski appears in a separate video chat panel.]
Bart Bonikowski: Hello, it's a pleasure to be here today and speak with you about a topic that I find particularly interesting and important in the current historical moment and that is the rise of radical right parties across contemporary democracies. The themes I'll cover are how we should think about what radical right politics is. That is, what are its core components. I also talk about how we might explain the rise of these parties that're mainstreaming across a wide range of countries today in the last 20, 30 years and then I'll point to some potential dangers associated with this form of politics with respect to the integrity of liberal, democratic institutions.
[Text appears onscreen that reads "Radical right on the rise".]
So, that talk really begins with an observation with which many of you are, of course, familiar that the number of radical right parties, number of radical right actors, has been multiplying across a wide range of contemporary democracies over the last 20, 30 years. In Western Europe, countries such as the Netherlands, Austria, France, the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe, Poland, Hungary, but of course, closer to home in North America as well, we've seen the rise of radical right politics in the United States with Donald Trump's capture of the Republican Party and his election to the presidency.
And so, this proliferation and mainstreaming of radical right actors and parties raises three fundamental questions that I would like to discuss with you today.
The first is what is the radical right? How do we think about this form of politics? What are its core components? And then that directly leads to the second question and that is why has this form of politics been surging? Why has it become mainstream in the current historical moment? And I hope to provide you with a at least a tentative answer in the form of a theoretical model that I've been working on and addressing with empirical evidence for the last ten years or so. And the final question, of course is what are the consequences of the entry of these parties into the political mainstream? What impact might these parties have on democratic governance, on liberal rights regimes, and on the future of politics across Europe, in the United States and beyond?
So, let me begin with the first question and that is what is the radical right? How do we think about this form of politics? And I would argue that the radical right really has three core components. The first is populism. Populism is a term that's frequently used in the media in scholarship and it's typically defined as the way of doing politics that's predicated on a moral binary or a moral distinction between some sort of a vilified elite and a virtuous people and the argument is that the elites are essentially compromised. They no longer represent the people's interests and therefore they should be removed from power and in turn, the people should gain unmediated access to political institutions.
[Text appears onscreen that reads "Who the elites are varies based on the political spectrum".]
Now, populism takes on a variety of forms and which elites are vilified itself varies. So, on the left, for example, in radical left discourse, populism typically vilifies economic elites, right? So, business leaders, Wall Street fat cats and so forth. On the right, populists typically vilifies politicians, bureaucrats and sometimes claims that that these political elites are in cahoots with various minority groups. So, this is the first component of radical right politics that is quite prevalent across radical right parties from a variety of countries.
The second component I want to turn your attention to is authoritarianism and by authoritarianism, we really mean a form of governance, a way of doing politics once a party is in power and typically this involves a persistent violation of liberal democratic norms and practices. Anything from threatening to jail your political opponents through the using of the full power of the government against minorities, also scaling back the independence of the media, of the judiciary and so forth. Now, this is a form of governance that is how political parties rule once in power, radical right parties in particular. But these institutional measures are often communicated in electoral discourse as well. So, radical right parties will try to assure their constituents, their supporters, that once in power, if elected, they will be willing to do anything to pursue their supporters interests, including violating the norms and standard practices of liberal democracy.
There's also a third element, which I think is actually quite central to our understanding and explaining the rise of radical right politics and that is nationalism. What I mean by this is a little more complex, so I want to spend a couple of minutes on it.
So, nationalism means many things to many people. In the way I'm using the term, I'm really referring to the way in which citizens of countries, residents of countries, understand their nation. That is when one thinks Canada or America or Germany, what comes to mind? And these understandings of the nation are composed of a variety of beliefs and attitudes. Some of these have to do with national membership, that is, who gets to be a legitimate, legitimate member of the nation.
[Text appears onscreen that reads "Does religion, language, ethnic or racial background compose a nationality?".]
Do we care about things like religion, like language, like ethnic or racial background when deeming someone legitimately Canadian or American or German or whatever?
[Text appears onscreen that reads "Or is it open to anyone who identifies with common values?".]
Or is membership in a nation open to anyone who feels a subjective identification with a nation? So, some scholars have referred to this distinction as ethnic nationalism versus civic nationalism. Ethnic nationalism based on ascriptive of criteria of belonging, civic nationalism based on elective criteria of belonging. So, that's one set of beliefs and attitudes and preferences that shape how people understand their nation, but that's not all. It does not exhaust the range of nationalist beliefs. There are also questions of how people understand their state, whether they're proud of the state, the government, or whether they view it with skepticism.
So, in the United States, there's a long tradition of anti-statist ideology, anti-statist beliefs, this kind of a view that the government does not represent us, the government doesn't understand us, that the government should be critiqued and it should not be allowed to expand in terms of its scope of governance. So, that's one set of beliefs. On the other hand, there are others who are proud of the state and believe that it's sort of a core component of what the American nation is all about and there are other domains of national pride or lack thereof, ranging from accomplishments in the arts, the literature, economic accomplishments, the state of the democracy and democratic institutions in general. So, the point here is that along with criteria of national belonging, legitimate national belonging, conceptions of nationhood also involve these domain specific feelings of pride.
In addition to that, there are also beliefs about the nation's place in the global community. So, for instance, should we think of the military as a policeman of the world or as a humanitarian force that offers aid to other countries in need? How do we think about our nation's, our country's place in kind of a global hierarchy, economic hierarchy or otherwise?
[Text appears onscreen that reads:
So, all of these ideas about legitimate membership, about domain specific national pride, or lack thereof, and about the nations place in the world and sometimes nation superiority to other countries referred to as chauvinism, all of these attitudes cohere into these cultural models of the nation, right? When one thinks Canada, all these different ideas come together into a model of what the nation means to a person and in past work, I have shown that actually these cultural models of the nation, these types of nationalism, are heterogeneous within countries. That is, people disagree fundamentally about what their country means to them. Canadians disagree about what Canada means to them. Americans disagree internally about what America means to them and these disagreements about different conceptions, understandings of the nation constitute really important cleavages, cultural cleavages in the population.
[Text appears onscreen that reads "Patterned, stable, correlated with sociodemographic attributes, and rooted in everyday experiences -> latent cleavages that can be activated and mobilized for political ends".]
These tend to be sort of tacit and not activated for most historical periods. But once in a while, these cultural cleavages of nationhood become politically powerful. They become manifest not just latent. That is politicians invoke them and the population starts thinking in terms of their nationhood, in terms of these nationalist beliefs about other identities and other concerns. That is, the salience of nationalism increases in people's political behavior, for instance, in the voting booth and I would argue that we are in precisely such a political, historical period right now, not just in the United States, but across a wide range of democratic polities. That is, that people are increasingly disagreeing about what the nation means and that disagreement is increasingly shaping their political decisions and furthermore, I would say that this disagreement, this activation of these national cleavages, is really at the heart of the rise of radical right politics. So, coming back again to these three components, the radical right, in my view, is about populism, right? About anti-elite discourse. It's about nationalism that is these deep cleavages around the meaning of the nation and authoritarianism, which is the willingness to go to extreme lengths to deliver on certain electoral promises.
These three components populism, nationalism and authoritarianism function both at the level of attitude, that is beliefs that people hold as well as at the level of political claims, that is they are referenced in political campaigns, they are used for mobilizing support for political projects and they actually cohere together because what politicians often do, especially in the current period, is they essentially offer a narrative whereby the nation, as it is today, has lost its way, that it is essentially on a downward decline and what that specifically means varies, but often it means that the ethno-racial majority has lost its status or its status is being threatened and what we need to do is essentially reverse history and go back to a lost kind of glory day, right? So, there's a nostalgic dimension to this.
Who's to blame for this? Well, elites, that's the populist piece, as well as minorities, that's the nationalist piece and to regain that lost nation, we need to go to extreme measures and that is the authoritarianism piece. So, that's roughly how we can think of the concept of radical right politics and already in that conception, there's some hints as to why it's been working particularly powerfully and that narrative has been working particularly powerfully in recent years. So, let's focus on that question in particular specifically.
Why has the radical right been surging? And here, I would offer an explanation in a nutshell that essentially states that the national cleavages that I have described to you are the fuel behind the rise of radical right politics. The anti-elitism and low levels of institutional trust that are part and parcel of populism stoke the fire that's sort of fueled initially by these nationalist disagreements and then tolerance for authoritarian rule is essentially the consequence of this confluence of populism and nationalism, so nationalist cleavages are at the heart of the political conflict, populism increases their salience and authoritarianism and tolerance for authoritarian rule is the consequence.
So, that's sort of the explanation, really in brief. One important caveat is that if one looks at the distribution of attitudes in the population over a long time across most democratic countries, these nationalist beliefs and populist, anti-elite beliefs have not really increased in the aggregate, they're actually quite stable over time. Same with authoritarianism in terms of people's beliefs and the corresponding frames, political frames have also been around for a long time, which makes this explanation a little tricky. How do we explain the change, that is the rise of radical right politics is something that seems stable over time, both on the supply and demand side of politics.
[Text appears onscreen that reads "Contextual resonance: pre-existing beliefs and frames more likely to resonate in times of perceived collective status threat".]
And what I would argue is actually what's happened is that the pre-existing nationalist, populist, authoritarian frames as well as the pre-existing beliefs, have come to resonate in new ways in recent years.
Now, why? Why would the resonance of these frames and beliefs change over time?
[A diagram appears onscreen with text at the top that reads "Supply side – Nationalist, populist, authoritarian discourse –> Creative recombination, fusion -> Resonance".
Text at the bottom reads "Demand side – Nationalist cleavages, low institutional trust, anti-elitism –> Erosion of other identities (e.g., labour) –> Aggregate stability, partisan sorting -> Resonance".
Text in the middle reads "Elite manipulation – Structural shocks <-> Perceived shocks – Fear -> Resentment -> Perceived collective status threat -> Mobilization of nationalist cleavages -> Radical-right success -> Model diffusion".]
So, here, I want to give you an outline of a theoretical model that gives you some insight as to what might be happening. So, in the image that you see here on the screen at the top, I'm pointing out some supply side phenomena. That is the kinds of frames, the kinds of messages that are offered by political elites running elections, by media elites trying to pursue certain political projects. That's the supply side at the top. On the bottom of the image, you see the demand side that is popular beliefs, attitudes held by the public. On both sides, you have these three features: nationalism, populism, authoritarianism. And then what happens over time, as I've already pointed out, for most part, there is stability. These frames have been around, these attitudes are roughly stable in the aggregate, but once you look under the surface, there is actually change.
So, the first thing that we can talk about is the fact that these nationalist, populist and authoritarian frames have been recombined in new ways by political elites. So, even if they've been around for a long time, what political elites have arrived at, especially radical right elites have arrived at is kind of a winning formula. If you combine populism, nationalism and authoritarianism into this particular bundle of narratives and ideas, kind of what I describe to you earlier, it works really well and I've arrived at this winning formula largely through a trial-and-error process. Some parties in Europe, for instance, would start with some populist rhetoric that would gain purchase. Others would start with some nationalist rhetoric that would gain purchase.
Another political entrepreneur would come along and combine these frames and see that actually works quite well and over time, these three frames have been fused essentially into a single narrative. At the same time as that's happened, these ideas have started to stand in for one another. So, I've got some research that shows that if you expose American voters to just populist, anti-elite claims with nothing else in them, just a critique of elites, those on the right, Republicans in particular and Trump supporters all the more so exhibit greater antipathy towards minorities. That is, populism has become essentially a stand in for ethno-nationalism, it's become a dog whistle for exclusionary beliefs and so these frames have been brought together. They've been fused in many ways in terms of standing in for one another and these are all signs of change in terms of the supply side of politics.
On the demand side of politics, that is popular attitudes, beliefs, there's also big change underneath that aggregate stability that I referenced earlier. For instance, older identities such as labour identities, union identities have eroded with the decline of unions especially in the United States, but also in Western Europe, also in Canada and elsewhere and as labour identities used to give people a sense of meaning, a sense of worth have declined, I would argue nationalist identities have filled in the gap, they've become more salient as a result, another feature of demand side attitudes that has changed over time. This is particularly to the United States, but it's an empirical question to a degree, it also occurs elsewhere. These conceptions of nationhood, these different models of the nation, these nationalist beliefs have become sorted by party over time so that back in the 1990s you couldn't predict whether someone is a Republican or Democrat based on their nationalist beliefs and similarly, you couldn't predict somebody's nationalist beliefs based on their partisan identity. That has changed radically over a matter of 20 years, essentially so that at this point and I have some empirical research that demonstrates this, at this point, Republicans and Democrats fundamentally disagree about what America is, what America means, what aspects of its past should be should be celebrated and what future America ought to pursue. So, the two parties are essentially operating based on two completely different understandings of nationhood, based on two sides of this nationalist cleavage. So, again, in the aggregate, not much change, but underneath sorting by party erosion of old identities, greater salience of nationalist identities.
At the same time, there's a wide range of contextual structural changes in society and I say a wide range because there's a wide range within countries, but also there's a lot of variation across countries and what kinds of cultural structural changes that have occurred in the last while, in the last 30, 40 years. So, these changes range from economic shocks, recessions, deindustrialization, capital mobility, trade shocks, a slew of economic phenomena, demographic changes, immigration flows, refugee flows, as well as cultural changes, changes in terms of whose culture is celebrated and glorified. A shift from in the United States, for instance, a shift from the glorification of Middle America, of white working class America, to a much more cosmopolitan, diverse depiction of American culture over time. In addition to that, you've got security threats and security shocks such as terrorist attacks, obviously 9/11 being a particularly salient one in the US, but you have similar types of attacks in other countries.
So, there's a whole slew of contextual changes which are important, which country varies, which are important to which faction, political faction within each country varies, but they create a sense of general insecurity and fear, kind of an inchoate insecurity and fear among certain segments of national populations and I would argue in particular among ethno-racial majorities who are starting to sort of fear that their status in society is being threatened from a variety of directions. But these fears are inchoate, they're not entirely articulated and this is when in the theoretical model I'm describing to you, this is when opportunistic political elites step in and what they do is essentially they rhetorically amplify these fears and they bundle them together into an overall sense of crisis. They say you're scared of terrorist attacks, you're threatened by economic shocks, you worry about changes in the demographic composition of the nation or in the nation's dominant culture. You should be, these are all things to be scared of and they're all a symptom of a deep crisis of the nation and once they activate this fear and bundle it in this way, they also point a finger, the opportunistic political elites, point a finger typically toward political mainstream elites, right? They say the political establishment is to blame and they also point a finger towards minorities and they say the political establishment is actually in cahoots with immigrants, with ethnic and racial minorities, with the religious minorities and these folks are getting essentially a leg up. They have the ear of the establishment in a way that people like you don't.
Now, what do they mean by people like you? They typically are referencing, again, ethno-racial majorities in the United States, in Canada, in Western European countries that's typically white, often Christian, although that varies across countries, segments of the population. Essentially, what this bundling of these fears and anxieties together and the pointing fingers and attributing blame for them, what that does is it creates a sense of perceived collective status threat that is, these in most cases, white majorities are starting to feel threatened from a variety of angles in terms of their place in society, that they're losing the nation as they understand it, that they think their conception of nation belongs to them primarily and they're losing their grasp on the nation and that their place in the ethno-racial hierarchy of their country is either declining or is about to decline. Again, this is not just purely demographic in terms of numbers, it's also economic, it's also cultural and so forth. Once this sense of status threat is powerfully activated politically, then that leads to a potentially successful mobilization of these pre-existing nationalist cleavages that I told you about, right?
A lot of the people I'm describing as ethno-racial majorities have a very particular conception of what the nation means to them and once they are threatened or they feel threatened from these diverse directions, then these conceptions of nation have become much more salient in their minds as in need of actual political action and they start voting based on these nationalist beliefs in powerful ways. That then, of course, leads to the mainstreaming and the electoral successes of radical right parties and so the idea here is that you've got these deep cleavages and understandings of the nation that are typically latent. But in the context of these rapid changes that are amplified both by political elites, they become manifest and people start acting on them and making electoral decisions based on them.
Once this model starts working, that is once these radical right parties and candidates start winning elections, others in other countries are observing this and recognizing this as a potentially useful model for themselves and the entire thing essentially diffuses across countries. That is, political actors, even if they disagree fundamentally about ideology, about policy across countries, they start drawing on the same toolkit of political rhetoric, of political mobilization and eventually also of governance and so the model of political mobilization starts spreading across countries and the model of authoritarian nationalist governance also spreading across countries and that's how you get where we are today, which is the number of cases, of country cases without a presence of a radical right party is decreasing over time. So, people used to write doctoral dissertations on the fact that there is no radical right in Sweden, this is an exceptional case. A couple of years later, Sweden gets a radical right party and the number of cases like that multiplies over time, so now we're in a position where there are very few contemporary democracies that don't have some sort of presence of a federal level, radical right party and so obviously what a lot of journalists, a lot of scholars, a lot of everyday people are worried about is the erosion of democracy. There is a real risk of liberal democracy backsliding.
A lot of really terrific books have been written about this topic, most notably by Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, 'How Democracies Die' and so the process here is basically one of death by a thousand cuts. So, essentially, once these radical right parties are elected to gain power or become part of governing coalitions or themselves form government, there is a dual danger of a gradual transition to competitive authoritarianism away from liberal democracy towards competitive authoritarianism and also a danger of geopolitical instability, as we've seen with the war in the Ukraine, as we've seen with other military endeavors abroad.
Let me talk about the first one, about the erosion of democracy. There's a wide range of threats to core norms and institutions of liberal, democratic governance, threats of judicial autonomy, threats of the independence of media organizations, threats to the peaceful transfer of power to the maintenance of civil liberties and also of procedural forbearance. A threat to elites, governing elites, not using the full force of law essentially against their enemies, perceived domestic enemies, against minorities, but also against their political opposition. All of these are core features, a liberal democracy. Once these features start eroding, we get into trouble. We start on a slippery slope towards potential authoritarianism. In addition to, of course, the backsliding of democratic institutions, there's also the danger of nationalism itself being fomented and leading to all kinds of consequences for group relations in a cosmopolitan, multicultural state.
So, after the election of Trump in the United States, we saw a lot of harassment, everyday violence, domestic terrorism against minorities. With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, as Trump vilified China for the rise of this of this virus, the frequency and severity of Asian hate crimes increased considerably, especially in U.S. urban centres. So, the threat is, so the danger is both to the democratic institutions themselves, as we've seen with Trump's refusal to honor the results of the 2020 election and the January 6th insurrection that followed, there's also a danger to peaceful group relations and coexistence within a multicultural society.
I will end on, I suppose, not an optimistic note is that I think that we still don't have a clear set of solutions to the current crisis. The solutions that do come to mind are often unrealistic and so I think we're in a quite a precarious situation where the radical right is going to continue being present on the political scene, it's going to continue winning elections, although obviously its fortunes will ebb and flow and liberal democracy will continue being threatened in powerful and fundamental ways. So, I suppose the next few years will determine the course of history for the next few decades and very, very important in the United States, the 2024 election, in particular, presidential election, I think will truly be a watershed in terms of the future of liberal democracy in the United States.
Thank you very much.
Ayesha Malette: Thank you very much. That's a really interesting presentation. We're so thrilled to have had the opportunity to hear what you've had to say. A lot of thought provoking material in there.
[Frédérick-Guillaume Dufour appears in a separate video chat panel.]
We're going to turn to our panel discussion now and I'll turn it over to our guests to introduce themselves with a little bit more detail.
First of all, I would invite Professor Frédérick-Guillaume Dufour to tell us a little bit more about himself. He's a professor in the Department of Sociology at the Université du Québec à Montréal, excusez-moi and has been recognized for his excellence in teaching and his significant contributions to the Faculty of Humanities at his university. His areas of research include comparative studies on nationalism and population, populism excuse me and he has published several books on the topic.
Professor Frédérick-Guillaume Dufour, bon après-midi. Welcome.
Frédérick-Guillaume Dufour: Bonjour. Thanks very much.
Well, that's a very good introduction, Ayesha. What can I add? Among the nationalism that I'm looking at in particular is the transformation of nationalism in Quebec and Canada and Western Europe in general. So, most of my comparative work is on Canada and Germany in particular.
Ayesha Malette: Welcome.
Thank you, and Professor Bonikowski, perhaps I'll ask you to just add a little bit more to the introduction I provided about you earlier.
Bart Bonikowski: Thank you so much. It's great to be here, particularly in such distinguished company. I appreciate the introduction.
You've heard a lot about what I do. I study politics and culture from a sociological perspective, but I also, for a long time now have collaborated with political scientists and published a book of science journals as well. So, I'm sort of in between those two disciplines and what I try to do is bring a deeper understanding of culture to research on politics and political science, to try to understand under what circumstances do people mobilize in support of specific political projects?
And in the case of what you just heard, I really specifically focus on the rise of the kind of politics that challenge liberal democratic norms and institutions, and threaten the stability of democracies around the world.
Ayesha Malette: Wonderful.
Well, I think we should get right into it. We have a lot of questions and a lot of things to get into. So, perhaps I'll start, Professor Bonikowski with you. We've heard what you said and you've presented a very broad framework but I wonder, does that same framework apply on the left?
Bart Bonikowski: That's a great question.
The talk, as you heard, is really about radical right politics but the elements that comprise the radical right are present on both sides of the political spectrum, really, at least some of them.
So, if we think about populism, as I mentioned earlier, you see both on the right and the left, and if you think about the history of Latin American politics, left-wing populism was a very prominent feature of those countries' political culture. And we see left-wing populism also in Europe, although not quite as prominently as on the right, in the sense that radical right parties have just had a lot more success than populist left parties. In fact, some theorists, and Mr. Laclau in particular, would claim that there is a seed of populism in all of socialism. So, in some ways, the far left and populism are closely aligned. So, that's one element.
The second element, authoritarianism, the left is no stranger to authoritarianism either. So, going back through history, there's plenty of evidence of radical left movements pursuing authoritarian measures to carry out their political projects. And certainly, there are elements of authoritarianism in politics in Latin America but also throughout European history and beyond. So, I think, to the degree that there is one distinguishing feature, it is exclusionary nationalism, ethno-nationalism. That is a phenomenon that's more often found on the extreme right than on the extreme left and so that juxtaposition of populism with authoritarianism, with ethno-nationalism, is rather uniquely radical right-wing.
But I will say one thing about that. There is a bit of a potential slight of hand here, in the sense that you can have parties that offer left-wing policies that pursue kind of what may appear as left-wing populism. As soon as they start evoking ethno-religious exclusion, we re-label them as right-wing. So, for example, the Law and Justice Party in Poland, PiS, they're in favour of redistribution and they're very much populist but because of their strong Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and anti-minority politics, they tend to be labeled as the radical right.
So, how do we square that? I think one way to think about it is that the political continuum that we tend to operate with left, right, these are short-hands, is not just about left versus right economic policy. It's also about liberal versus conservative cultural ideology. And so, the right, quote unquote, is often identified with conservatism with the desire to maintain traditions, with a desire to maintain traditional group hierarchies as well. And to the degree that that has racial, ethnic and religious content, it becomes sort of a right-wing phenomenon to try to preserve, let's say, the status of white majorities in a country.
So, I think that's why, quite often, the parties that we're describing are viewed as radical right, even if their economic policies may actually be more redistributive.
Ayesha Malette: Professor Dufour, I'd love to have you weigh in on that as well, specifically around what's driving this rise of populism, not only on the far right but also across the political spectrum. And what are some of the common characteristics, perhaps, and how do they differ?
Frédérick-Guillaume Dufour: Well, I'd like to insist on one element that Bart talked about, which I think is very important to keep in mind when we talk about left-wing populism, is that populists see the elite as inherently corrupted. So, it's not only- someone who says that there's too much inequalities, for instance, is not necessarily a populist or someone who says there's too much corruption is not necessarily a populist. It has to be something more. The elite have to be inherently corrupted because they take part in the liberal political process.
And this is a very important distinction between a traditional social democrat and a left-wing populist who is doing something quite different and they have a very different understanding of what we do about this, because for a traditional social democrat, for instance, who sees a corruption scandal, the normal reaction would be, that's good, we have good journalists, we have a great public sphere, and these people are bringing about news that we should hear about. It's not about, the elites are all corrupt so we need to shift to an authoritarian regime. So, it's a very different mindset.
So, what are the general components? Unfortunately, I agree with a lot of what Bart said, okay? So, I just want to maybe bring some complementary information. I think that most of the people who adhere to populist ideology have lost faith in pluralism, and this is something that we can- when Bart was talking about nationalism, we're not talking here about state seeking nationalism. We're not talking about Catalonia, about Scotland. We're talking about a form of nationalism which believes that pluralism has gone too far. So, we have a group of people who believe that they are entitled to the state, that they are the heartland of this state, and that they are the ones who are in charge of restoring the correct balance between ethnic order and institutional order.
So, they've lost faith to form of pluralism, ethnic pluralism, and this is something that has been going on for a long time in Western Europe, for instance. We know that in several surveys, people are mostly opposed to immigration than the electoral turnout for anti-immigration parties. Now, it's more in line with- both are more in line but it has been a long trend, and they are opposed to institutional pluralism as well. So, all the counter power that we have in a liberal democracy, they see this as inefficient, as too slow, as serving only the elite, not serving the ordinary people. And therefore, there's a need to shift to something else.
They see, also, liberal institutions as serving sometimes hidden interests and this is where conspiracy theory kicks in, liberal institutions are serving big pharma, the World Trade Organization, or the Jews. It can goes that far in some cases. So, this is the first aspect, lost of trust in pluralism. Then, there is a loss of trust in life trajectory. When we ask people the question, do you think your country is going in the right direction? Most populists are saying no and there is an increase of people who think and believe that their country is not going in the right direction.
Then, there's another very interesting question, do you believe that life will be easier for your children, or is life easier for you than it was for your parents? And a lot of people, an increasing number of people, answer no to this question. So, they believe that their life is not going to be as easy as their parents' life. So, that's another signal that we need to look at, and this is especially true, as Bart emphasized, among a certain status group, not necessarily class.
So, it's not necessarily people who have low income who believe that life is not going in the right direction. It's people who have a social status which is not very prestigious. So, they don't have a college education, they don't have a university degree, and they feel that they could be replaced by a labour market transformation or a transformation because of positive affirmation policy, for instance. So, these people are, like most of them, the people who will adhere to populist formation.
And of course, there are regional variations. When we talk about Eastern and Central Europe, the transition from a communist to post-communist society has created a lot of losers and winners. So, this is a peculiar regional variation. Canada is another interesting case where, so far, it's not so bad but there's other cases like Brazil, India, where we see this phenomenon growing also and we really need to look at what's the specificity of the local politics in this country.
Ayesha Malette: That's absolutely fascinating.
And perhaps what I'll do is I'll turn my next question to both of you, and Professor Dufour, perhaps I'll ask you to start us off. Are there different thresholds of populism that are less consequential, and what kind of warning signs should we be looking for? I think you've hinted at some of them. You're seeing a lot of the wedge issues that are starting on the rise or the economic disparity, but what are some of those warning signs that we should be looking for?
Frédérick-Guillaume Dufour: Okay, well, the different threshold (inaudible) Bart and I both agree to define populism as an ideology. Some people define populism just as a style and when we look at populism as a style, it's not necessarily a bad thing. For instance, a politician which goes to a Tim Horton's in order to look more popular or who goes to a hockey game, this is political marketing. We can see that this is populism as a style but this is not a trap necessarily to democracy. Where we start to see danger is these very vague accusations that the elites are inherently corrupt, that the people are inherently virtuous. And when we start to leave the realm of politics for the realm of morality, this is a dangerous shift. When we start to denounce counter power, a judge, the media, a scientist, a public health officer, this is dangerous. This is the beginning of something else where we don't want to go.
Ayesha Malette: Professor Bonikowski, perhaps I'll ask you to weigh in on that as well, just I'll ask you to turn on your mic though. It always happens.
Bart Bonikowski: My apologies. It was inevitable.
Frédérick, thank you for these terrific comments. I agree with much of what you just said. I think one way to think... there are two ways to think about this threshold question. The first is really about the degree to which the phenomena that we see on the radical right appear in mainstream politics as well, and I think there are echoes.
So, for instance, populist claims, a way of sort of vilifying elites and juxtaposing them with the virtuous people, this kind of moral binary, it does exist in mainstream politics. In my own work, I've seen evidence of it in mainstream U.S. presidential discourse, for example, both on the left and the right, actually. So, again, this is not just something in the Republican Party. Democrats rely on it quite often, especially when running for elections and particularly among candidates who are challengers from outside of that kind of centre of power. They quite often will vilify the political establishment and other elites and argue that people should regain power.
And those attempts are often reductive in various ways. They kind of simplify the actual complexity of politics but they do quite often reflect real grievances in the public and also the juxtaposition of the candidate in the political system without undermining necessarily the legitimacy of the opposition and thereby liberal democratic institutions. So, there is a difference in the way that populism is used by mainstream candidates versus radical candidates and I think that's consistent with what Frédérick was just saying.
If we think about the other two components of radical right politics, so authoritarianism, well, this gets a little dicier in the sense that there's plenty of evidence of the use of authoritarian claims and the pursuit of authoritarian policies by, quote unquote, mainstream politicians. And so, this is a bit problematic over the course of democratic history, right? So, I think few would claim that we should favourably look back on Japanese internment or on kind of the federal government in Canada sort of turning a blind eye to residential schools or to McCarthyism in the United States, the war on drugs, or the punitive movement toward mass incarceration in the United States has been absolutely damaging to the social fabric of this country and is deeply racialized, or for that matter, the Muslim travel ban that Donald Trump put forward.
So, these policies have- these are authoritarian policies. These are policies that were, for most part, put in place by politicians whom we would otherwise think of as mainstream but I guess one way to draw the line is these policies, as awful and objectionable as they were, stopped short of dismantling democracy as a whole. So, they eroded democracy, they often involved things like voter disenfranchisement, but they did not necessarily directly challenge the results of democratic elections, for instance. And so, there is a slippery slope here. It's not exactly a sharp line between the mainstream use of authoritarianism and its radical dimensions.
And then the last aspect of these politics that I mentioned earlier is kind of ethno-nationalism. Here, again, mainstream politicians are not completely off the hook. Quite often, we've seen campaigns by politicians who try to stir up racial resentments, ethno-nationalist resentments, and sometimes they instill policies of that sort once in power but quite often these are just electoral strategies. And so, they talk the talk but they don't necessarily walk the walk, at least not as fully as more radical politicians.
And so, I think the difference between these mainstream candidates and politicians using these kinds of frames and policies versus radical parties is that what radical candidates do is combine all of this. They bring together the populism, the authoritarianism, the ethno-nationalism, they turn up the volume, and they really mean what they say, that is once in power, they actually pursue, in the policy domain, all of these promises. And so, that, I think, is an important difference between the radical right and the mainstream. And so, when the radical right is pursuing these policies, it actually damages liberal democratic institutions in a direct way.
But there is one thing to say about this that, again, does not let the mainstream politicians off the hook. Even if their use of populism, nationalism, and authoritarianism isn't quite as extreme as that the radical right, or sometimes radical left, it has a secondary danger of legitimating these frames. So, once you start doing populist talk, if you're a mainstream politician, you're now making that part of the repertoire, available repertoire, of political frames, same with nationalism and authoritarianism. And later on, somebody who's much more radical can come along and make use of these existing cultural materials to very different ends, and those cultural frames that already have a resonance because they've been heard before and they've been successful before.
So, that's the main answer. I'll say one last very brief thing about this kind of question about the threshold of populism. So, beyond threshold in terms of elections that we worry about, say, radical right parties or in some other countries maybe radical left parties, and I think, here, we should be thinking about institutional differences between different democratic systems in different countries.
So, in multi-party parliamentary systems like in Western Europe, there is kind of a safety valve built in by virtue of new parties being able to stand on their own, get their own electoral support. And quite often, these are small radical parties that get somewhere between five, 15% of the vote- 15, obviously no longer that small, but it's not 50, right? And in those electoral systems, these parties must enter coalitions in order to govern and these coalitions can sometimes have a dampening effect on the kind of radicalism of these smaller, more extremist parties whereas in countries like the United States, where you've got a two-party system, the stakes are much higher. One of these two parties was actually captured by the extremist wing, by Donald Trump and by other candidates before and after him who supported his policies.
And the result is that more moderate Republicans kind of had to line up behind Trump because he delivered them a victory- I mean, had to, they chose to, but the incentives were clearly pointing in that direction. And so, here, we can think of your threshold question as sort of, beyond what threshold does the representation of more extremist views in the population become a challenge to liberal democratic institutions? And I think, again, the difference there is institutional between different countries.
Ayesha Malette: I really appreciate your point about socializing, over time, these polarizing policies. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it really is hard to push it back in. I think that's a really interesting point of view. And certainly, for someone who works on democracy as part of my job, we think about statistics like Freedom House and 16 years of backsliding in terms of liberal democratic backsliding. And so, I'm always keen to think about the indicators and what we can keep an eye on from a policy perspective as well. So, thanks for that.
And I guess the next question is sort of linked to that. What lessons can we learn from the past or from the contemporary examples you've given, particularly when we're thinking about the times of economic insecurity in which we live or the lower levels of democratic participation that have sort of plagued many elections around the world, including in our own country here? What kind of the lessons can we learn and are there best practices for us to think about?
I'll start with you, Professor Bonikowski.
Bart Bonikowski: Great.
There are many lessons, although it's always difficult to draw a direct line from historical cases to the present, and one can oversimplify, but one thing we know is that times of crisis can breed extremism. And so, precarious economic conditions often lend themselves to scapegoating, and when things are bad, there's a lot of incentive for political entrepreneurs to point the finger at the existing political elites and the populist (inaudible), but also at minorities.
And so, when there are economic recessions, quite often, ethno-nationalist resentments get a boost in the sense that people want to blame somebody. And it is often convenient for political elites to say, well, it's not us, it's the immigrants that are stealing your jobs or it's the other party that has created the problem, elect us and we'll solve your issues.
But it's not just about economically precarious times. It's also, as I mentioned in the talk earlier, about perceptions of other kinds of change, cultural change, demographic change, anything that alters the social hierarchies that people are used to. So, all of these kinds of perceptions of change can again breed extremism and they can give rise to the support for ethno-nationalist, populist, radical politics.
Another feature that sometimes we tend to forget about is security crises. So, there's a long history of people turning inward and constructing domestic enemies when there is a threat from without. So, if we think about, Interwar Germany would give rise to fascism ideas about economic crises, about political crises, it's also about perceptions of international military conflict after the First World War. If you think about Japanese internment in the United States and it's- again, Japan is an enemy, therefore, Japanese Americans are an enemy. It's a pretty short line between those two kinds of vilifications, McCarthyism and the Red Scare and kind of hunting for communists within, and the government and entertainment institutions and the entertainment industry and so forth, or more recently, post-9/11, you know, a wave of Islamophobia that I would argue shaped much of the politics with which we're living today, actually.
So, even though the George W. Bush administration actually tried to put the brakes on kind of unmasked Islamophobia and a kind of reactionary turn against minorities after 9/11, those currents, I think, changed the nature of Republican politics, actually, and shaped, to some degree, the trajectory that points to today's politics.
The other thing that I think we- maybe two things that we know from history, one is that quite often, the scapegoating, the vilification of minorities, slides very quickly into the abuse of state power against vulnerable groups as well as toward quotidian and political violence. So, it's not just about saying, blame those people, and that's where it ends. Quite often, there is a direct set of policies that infringe upon the rights and the freedoms of minority group members. And then also, again, this violence by the majority against the minority is something that follows quite quickly. So, I think that one set of lessons has to do sort of with scapegoating and grievances.
Another set of lessons has to do with the guardrails of democracy. Who can stop this backsliding from continuing and who's sort of responsible for fanning the flames? And here, I want to say that one thing, obviously, that we should care about is just the robustness of democratic institutions, to what degree are democratic institutions based on norms that are easily violated versus laws that require a more concerted effort to be overturned.
And we've learned in the United States in the last, I guess, at this point, six years, that actually a lot of what we thought were institutions in the sense of having a legal founding to them are just norms, and if somebody like Trump comes along and just decides to violate them, he can actually get away with it and there isn't much legally that can be done about it.
So, we can get to solutions later but as a hint, shoring up democratic institutions and protecting them through legal measures is really important. It's not foolproof in a sense, that- you know, with Hungary, Orbán just changed the constitution. But it takes a lot more to get there than to just sort of violate the norms themselves.
And the other mechanism is the role of mainstream parties in preventing us from getting to the point of democratic backsliding and then slowing down or stopping the backsliding once we're there. And here, I think the blame can go both to the left and the right. So, there's plenty of work in political science that suggests that part of the reason why we got here is that the centre left, at some point, essentially abdicated their responsibility for the working class and for the economically vulnerable, that from the eighties onward, really in the nineties, kind of third-wave politics meant that the centre left became neo-liberal, started favouring urban elites over the interests of the working class, and part of that left the unmooring of people from the existing political commitments and kind of left them in some ways open to the mobilization by more radical extremism.
Alongside the crisis of social democracy, we also have the erosion of labour unions that used to give people a sense of- I mentioned this during the talk. They used to give people a sense of meaning. Once that goes away, again, people are much more susceptible to radicalization. But the blame also goes to the centre left in the sense that the past work by scholars like Daniel Ziblatt, for instance, have shown that in historical moments like the rise of fascism in Germany, the final bulwark of democracy is the centre right, in the sense that the centre right has a choice to make. Do we stand for democratic institutions and oppose the radical extremism to the right of us, or do we get into a political competition where we try to poach some of the voters that are now favouring the radical extremist right and essentially jump on the radical bandwagon? And that is a choice that is extremely important.
And disappointingly, in many countries, the centre right has shifted toward the radical right because the incentives, again, are lined up in a way where they want to play the game of anti-immigrant politics in order to gain the voters that are drifting rightward more toward the extreme, but the cost of that is quite often the stability of liberal democratic institutions.
Ayesha Malette: Thanks very much.
Professor Dufour, perhaps I'll ask you to add something to that.
Frédérick-Guillaume Dufour: Yeah, well, again, I agree with much of what Bart said, but there is a tricky element to that question because there are historians, sociologists, and political scientists who are trying to look at, okay, are we noticing the rise of fascism again? And I think that that's the danger when we- there's a danger to look at the question this way because if we end up with the answer, okay, no, this is not exactly fascism. I mean, these people still want to play inside a party system and their not necessarily pro-military and so on. What do we do about it? Does that mean that it's not a big deal? Yes, it is. It is a big deal.
So, we have to be careful with this way of framing the question and of what we can learn from the past because so far, when we look at the result of what happened during the Trump mandate and during Bolsonaro in Brazil, we can say that some things that happened were very bad. I'm not talking only about democratic institutions but also life expectancy.
The way they've closed blind eyes on a public health issue, a public health crisis, this is something completely new. It's something we cannot learn necessarily from the past, but it is something that is completely in line with negating advice from the bureaucrats, the academia, the researchers, and so on, same thing with the environmental crisis. I mean, they don't look at it. They don't think it's important. It's not an issue and this is also a problem. So, I think what we can learn from the past, as Bart said, that things can always get worse.
So, when we have- there's fans of Bernie Sanders who are saying, okay, I'm not voting for Hillary because she doesn't represent me, I mean, no, you have to vote. I mean, even if you don't agree with everything, it can get much worse all the time and this is something we need to keep in mind. It's not about just the old traditional Republican Party we're talking about. We're talking about the rule of the game we can completely change now with this type of formation and there's no easy way to go back once the rules have changed.
Ayesha Malette: Well, I don't want us to stay on too bleak of a note but perhaps we'll turn towards more of the solutions-oriented kind of frame for the last part of our conversation.
Professor Dufour, perhaps I'll ask you to start on this one. What are the broad implications for policymakers and public institutions when we think about increasing populist movements? We've talked about the robust guardrails that we require and the need for formalizing some of the norms that we've perhaps taken for granted but what are the implications for policymakers who are listening in or watching this webcast?
Frédérick-Guillaume Dufour: Well, there's implication in terms that things are not going to get better soon and that there will still be a target of prejudice, actually, like we've seen last February in Canada, but let's go back to the main message here. It's that we need to go back to the idea that liberal democracies are not perfect, that everyone's trying to do their best, but that democracy is messy and that there's no easy solution to anything.
So, even when Bart was talking about the fact that the mainstream also has to be careful, the mainstream has to be careful when they use the repertoire of the far right but also when they present politics as an easy process and solution as something which everything can be done. It's not the case. Inequalities are part of a process of globalization which is not going to go away tomorrow, and no nation state can just pull out of the process easily. What could be done in terms of public policy? I think emphasizing public education, civic education is something that should be on the agenda. Continuing education, this is also something that should be on the agenda and I'm talking about this (inaudible) group.
So, this group of people who are earning middle class or higher middle class wage, like around 80,000, 70,000 thousand in Canada and have a high school degree. We need to make sure that these people have access to continuing education to make sure that they keep a sense that they control their future, that if something bad happened, if there's a recession, at least they're going to have the tools to rebuild their lives. So, this is something that I would put an emphasis on, and reducing inequality, of course. We see less of these movements in societies where there's less inequalities.
Ayesha Malette: Professor Bonikowski, I'll ask you to weigh in there but right before I do, I'll say, you know, one of the things that I spend a lot of time thinking about is about the importance of teaching debate at a young age, critical thinking, absolutely, civic education, so important, but the teaching of how to bring diverse perspectives together, how to find common ground, which is so critical. And from a debate nerd like myself, I think it's just such an interesting mechanism for us to think about in trying to bridge these gaps.
But Professor Bonikowski, over to you.
Bart Bonikowski: Yeah, as usual, I agree with what Frédérick said. I think one thing I just want to mention is this idea that democracy is not easy. I think that's really important, and in fact, it's part of the explanation for the rise of radicals, let's say, in Eastern Europe, countries that- in 1990, post-communist countries all of a sudden became democratic and part of the reason why they turned towards populist, radical right parties is that they found democracy to be hard, right? In a lot of Eastern European countries, no party would remain in power for longer than one term. There was kind of this anti-incumbent sentiment because it turned out that they didn't offer all the solutions very quickly. There was a lot of kind of lingering also, post-Soviet, post-communist, you know, complication there.
But the other thing is that it turned out that neo-liberal democracy is particularly difficult and I think that also gets to Frédérick's point, that neo-liberalism breeds inequality. It breeds, you know, not all boats are rising, and so I think in countries like Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe, people realized this is not just paradise. It's actually hard. It's hard to do good policy. It's hard to realize that democratic elections don't solve all problems immediately. And I think to the degree that we can remind people of this on a regular basis and prevent them from turning against democratic institutions, that's important, but again, easier said than done.
And a couple of other things to react to, Frédérick. This notion that this is not about partisanship, I want to really repeat this. It's not about left versus right. Actually, the solution is to get back to meaningful partisanship, to have meaningful debate between centre left and centre right parties, but a debate that does not call into question democratic institutions themselves. There can be strong disagreements about the right course for the country, there can be strong disagreements, certainly, about policy, but there should be no disagreement about whether democratic institutions are worth saving.
And I think, quite often, these debates around radical right politics can be misunderstood as sort of left-wing kind of liberal critiques of just regular centre right parties. That's not the case. I think that what we need to get to is a point where both Conservatives and Liberals are on the same side of the fight when it comes to protecting democratic institutions.
And part of that, actually, given our setting here in this discussion, is about protecting the independence of public servants. This is a huge challenge. When extremist candidates and extremist parties come to power, one of the first things they do is try to co-opt civil servants, the public service, and turn who are otherwise independent employees of the state who are working to continue providing government services to the population, they try to co-opt them and turn them into political operatives and that is something that's very dangerous. So, I think one of the things we want to do is try to, in some ways, shore up our democratic institutions so that they're resistant to potential inroads made by more authoritarian candidates.
So, when somebody like Trump comes along, let's say, sure, okay, he gets elected because that's what the people want, fine, but the danger that he poses should be, in some way, circumvented by the strength of the democratic institutions themselves, again, easier said than done. There was an attempt to do that but of, course, the party that was Trump's party at the time resisted the passing of policies that would protect elections, that would protect the peaceful turnover of power.
Frédérick, I think you wanted to jump in there, so maybe I'll send it back to you.
Frédérick-Guillaume Dufour: I just wanted (inaudible) on what Ayesha said as well, that the art of the debate is that we agree to disagree, and this is very easy when polarization do not overlap. In a civil society where there's multiple polarization, it's very good because they don't necessarily overlap. So, one day, on this type of policy, this person is your opponent, but on another issue, this person can be on your side.
What we see in the U.S. right now is that all these polarization are overlapping and people cease to see their antagonist as an opponent but they see them as an enemy, and as an enemy which is not legitimate anymore. And if you have to choose between this enemy which is not legitimate or an authoritarian ruler, people prefer to go on the authoritarian rule. So, this is what is very tricky. Polarization is the essence of democracy. So, we should not try to avoid debate or avoid polarization but we need to make sure that the change- they don't overlap.
Bart Bonikowski: That's absolutely right. Yeah, absolutely. I agree.
Ayesha Malette: Perhaps then, I'll turn to sort of our next question and it's related to this last one, but as I think about the types of policy responses or best practices or promising practices that you've seen, well, what kind of policy responses could be implemented to help bridge those gaps and to bridge the different divides that are feeding populism? Have you seen anything through your research that Canadian policymakers should be thinking about?
Professor Bonikowski, I'll start with you on this one.
Bart Bonikowski: You ended with the hardest question, and I've got to say, I don't study policy per se, and quite often, social scientists are really bad at offering policy solutions, right? So, we write our books and then somebody says, you should write that last chapter about policy recommendations, and that's sort of an afterthought. Not everyone's like this but I certainly am guilty of it.
So, I would just say that, again, this is all very hard, but I think in addition to shoring up democratic institutions, I think our mainstream parties need to start offering meaningful solutions to real everyday problems that voters experience. And that's easier said than done but voters have real grievances, including voters who are supporting populist, radical right politicians. I mentioned these are sometimes economic grievances, sometimes they're cultural grievances. There are a whole slew of them but they get channeled into outgroup resentments.
And if there would be some way of essentially stopping that process from going from what are material and real everyday grievances into outgroup vilification, that would help, right? And so, one way to do that is to propose policies that help people address those everyday problems. This is partly about inequalities, Frédérick was saying, but offering a vision, and a vision that's powerful, a vision that allows people to imagine a better future for themselves, for their children.
And it kind of brings us back to other topics of conversation. I mean, essentially what we want to do, ideally, in elections is to argue about policies that have to do with solving problems, not argue about nationalism, not argue about, is the United States the country that belongs to white Christians or is it the country that belongs to a pluralistic, multicultural mosaic? I think those are important conversations to have but I think when they're the only thing we're talking about, they just lead us down the same path that we're on right now and it becomes very difficult to turn back.
I think the difficulty here is that this kind of recommendation can be misunderstood. Some people argue we shouldn't talk about culture, we shouldn't talk about minority rights, we should just talk about economic issues. I think that's actually not what I'm saying. I think it's really important to have it both ways and to understand that economic justice is also racial justice, is also justice when it comes to religious difference, and that parties of the left should not be ceding territory in terms of protecting the rights and liberties of minorities but they should combine those protections with a meaningful economic vision and a meaningful policy vision, and more broadly speaking, that can offer a different future.
So, I think, again, in a world of mass polarization, all of this is easier said than done, because no matter how reasonable a proposal from one side is, the other side often opposes it just by virtue of it being kind of the policy of the enemy. And so, I think, in some ways, what Frédérick's point suggests is that a solution to the policy problem has to go- somehow has to also be a solution to the polarization problem, the fact that we have all of these different identities, policy areas kind of lining up in place in the United States on two sides where there's just very little room for bipartisanship and very little room for meaningful debate, and I'm afraid that there isn't an obvious solution to that.
Ayesha Malette: Professor Dufour, any remarks you'd like to add to that? Any points you're thinking about?
Frédérick-Guillaume Dufour: Yeah, again, I agree. I mean, if there was a solution, we would see it. I mean, we would see social democratic formation coming back, and actually, the Social Democratic Party did manage to come back in power in Germany and this is one of the cases that we could look at. And it did come back to power with a leader which is not charismatic at all, on top of that. So, that's interesting.
And one of the things he did is exactly what Bart was talking about. He started talking about a return to more social democratic policy which were- and he managed to get back to working class to the party, which is something that has been- that the left has lost for a long time. Most workers now vote for their right, so that's something that is interesting.
One of the mistakes that the people should stop doing is- what I'm teaching about this, I call it the basket of deplorables mistake. We should stop talking like, I don't know how you say that in English, but taking a higher moral ground when we talk to populists. I mean, we need to really take their fears seriously, their desire to belong, to be recognized seriously. We need to stop to just laugh at this. This is something that we need to change, or the way we talk to these people.
Other solutions that aren't easy- but I would like to see more dialogue between people from urban and rural areas. I mean, I don't know if we could send school programs to rural areas to talk, to bridge this divide. I mean, people from urban areas need to understand what kind of social problems people in rural areas are facing, and I would say the same for our intergenerational problem. Most younger people don't understand how older people see the world and vice versa, and we need to have more dialogue also on this axis.
So, yeah, it's no easy solution but it is still related to public policy in education that we can bring about on the short term.
Ayesha Malette: So, what I'm hearing is that closer level of engagement, some intercultural or diversity or bringing diverse points of view together for dialogue, dialogue really seeming to form the basis of how to make progress in bringing and bridging some of those differing perspectives together, hopefully with some constructive and positive outcomes.
Perhaps to end, I'll ask each of you to provide us some closing thoughts about where we've come from and where we should be thinking about going, and of course highlighting some of the key points that you've made today for each of us.
Professor Bonikowski, perhaps I'll ask you to start on this one.
Bart Bonikowski: Sure. I mean, I've said a lot so I'm not going to summarize it all but I think- just to say that we're in a precarious moment, and when I say we, I don't mean Canadians, Americans, I really mean citizens of democratic countries. I think there was a sense that history was moving in a linear fashion in the second half of the 20th century, this kind of narrative, teleological narrative, of progress that everything's trending toward democracy, towards greater pluralism, greater kind of political harmony.
And I think the post-Soviet moment when the world changed from a bilateral one to initially unilateral and then multilateral kind of just perpetuated people to sense that things are getting better and better, and it turns out, actually, that it's a lot more complicated than that.
And I think one thing that time will tell is whether the current moment is sort of a moment of maybe correction, reckoning, but a detour, and then we're going to return back to a trajectory that is more hopeful, or whether the postwar period was actually an aberration, and maybe, the kind of chaos that we're seeing, starting to see, today, maybe that's the norm.
And so, I have no prognostication on this front. I hope for the former and hope against the latter. Democracies have dealt with all kinds of difficult problems in the past and perhaps this is just one kind of growing pain, and maybe, as Frédérick was saying, this is partly about the fact that maybe the left has gotten a little too elitist and maybe a little bit too bounded off from parts of the population that have real grievances. And maybe this is the corrective and once we get back on the same page, maybe we can move forward on a more concerted matter together. So, I think there is some possible hope there.
The other final thing to say is we were- very briefly, I think this came up, but the problem of climate change. This is a existential problem for humanity and one would hope that when humanity faces existential problems, we can set some differences aside both internally within countries and internationally, geopolitically between countries, and start thinking about common solutions. And maybe the hopeful possibility is that as the climate gets worse, which it will- coming together around these kind of solutions.
But on the other hand, again, we've seen with COVID, which was a pretty big crisis, that that didn't happen necessarily everywhere. And the problem with climate change is that it leads to scarcity, leads to greater inequality. It leads to potential turmoil on the ground that could reverberate through the global system of nation states. So, again, we'll see, but I think the crises that are facing us are dire enough that we should be thinking about how to how to move forward together and how to shore up the institutions that seem to work well, liberal democratic institutions.
Ayesha Malette: Professor Dufour, over to you for some closing thoughts.
Frédérick-Guillaume Dufour: Yeah, well, I can end on something a little bit more hopeful. It's that when we look at survey and support for liberal values and so on, in many countries who are facing radical right movement, the younger generation do support liberal values and norms. I mean, it's not a big issue. The problem is that they don't vote. So, we should not use too much time trying to convince them that it's important to save democracy. I mean, usually they agree with that. It's the level of cynicism that we need to fight among this generation to bring them to the poll station and to vote and then to get involved and to agree that they're going to lose sometimes and that this is part of the game. They're going to lose but we have to, as we said earlier, agree to disagree on some key issues, but vote.
Ayesha Malette: That is an extremely helpful message, I think, for us to close out on for today.
I'd like to start by thanking you both for participating in the session today. Professor Bonikowski, I thought the framework that you laid out at the front end was deeply thought-provoking, a really clear sort of framework that we can think about and see different elements as they're playing out in reality. And I thought your point around the fundamental disagreement about what a national identity is, is something that we really need to think about as policymakers because we have a role in trying to form that and our actions, especially from the government side, help to either build support for a national identity or pull away from it. And I like the way that you were talking about shoring up institutions as one of our core ways of being able to protect against some of the radical elements that we're seeing more and more of today.
And Professor Dufour, I was reflecting on your points around the loss of support for pluralism and that democracy work is really hard. It's not something that we're going to be able to solve overnight which certainly gives me comfort as someone working on a democracy because we certainly have not solved that yet, but that more collective action, particularly by youth, if you're seeing that element show up, is how we're going to- and bringing more voices to the table is really how we're going come out in a better place.
So, I'd like to thank you both for participating in today's discussion. Thank you. Merci. Megweech.
Of course, I'd also just very quickly like to thank our technical support and the tech team at the Canada School of Public Service for putting on this dialogue. And for all of our participants for tuning in today, thank you for participating and for listening in.
Please keep a close eye on the website of the Canada School of Public Service in the New Year for future elements of this series around the future of democracy. Hopefully, there will be lots more interesting discussions to come.
So, thank you both again and have a wonderful afternoon.
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