The Rise of Populism in Europe and the United States

IES welcomed Paul Nolte, Professor at the Freie Universität Berlin and current Visiting Professor at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, for a lecture on the new wave of populism that is currently sweeping Europe and the United States, focusing specifically on the challenges posed to liberal democracy. Nolte stated that he sought to understand this phenomenon within a broader historical perspective, paying particular attention to moments in the '60s and '70s, which were marked by a culture of anti-elitism as well as significant shifts in political parties. One of his aims, he explained, was to identify the followers and voters of populist parties and seek to understand the social origins of populism as a cultural backlash against liberalization in an age of globalization.

Nolte divided the talk into five components to address these issues: 1. anti-elitism, 2. political culture and party system, 3. socio-economic change, 4. cultural change, and 5. concluding remarks on populism in an age of ambiguity. In this intriguing lecture, Nolte discussed our modern definition of democracy, calling into question the notion that it is purely about participation and majority votes. Ultimately, he suggested that the recent rise in populism arose from anxieties over the increase globalization, the disappearance of boundaries both concrete and symbolic, and the subsequent lack of control that people feel in this “age of paradox and fuzzy realities.” The lecture ended with a lively discussion among the twenty people in the audience on parallels between populism in the US and Europe. You can watch the lecture here.