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 MPIfG Podcasts



Armin Schäfer
The Populist Revolt
Scholar in Residence Lectures Series 2019
"In Defense of Democracy"

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In his series of three lectures, Armin Schäfer wants to assess and explain why there is a crisis of democracy. Following the rise of populist parties, many observers have painted a dark picture of the state of democracy. Not a few of them recommend less democracy as a reaction to these trends. If voters turn towards parties that challenge liberal democracy, so the logic goes, then one has to minimize their influence on political decisions. Against these claims to save democracy from its citizens, he aims to defend democracy and democratic equality. If democracy does not work the way it is supposed to, one should seek ways to improve it rather than blaming those who are disappointed and feel poorly represented. Doing so means asking how substantive and descriptive representation are linked and how many decisions can be delegated to non-majoritarian institutions without hollowing out democracy itself.
Lecture 3
Many rich democracies have been experiencing a rising tide of populism. Most explanations of populist success focus on economic or cultural reasons. Globalization, as proponents of the former perspective argue, threatens those with lower skill levels because either their jobs can be done elsewhere or cheaper workers (or robots) will be available to do the same task for less (or no) money. Therefore, "globalization losers" turn towards populist parties to protest against (future) welfare losses. In contrast, the cultural explanation argues that value change is the driver of populism. As societies increasingly adopt postmaterial and multicultural values, those who cling to more traditional worldviews feel marginalized and excluded. These "modernization losers" turn to populist parties as they seek to preserve or restore a society that putatively existed in the past. Despite their differences, both of these explanations understand social change as an almost inevitable, automatic process. Yet, governments could react in many different ways to globalization and value change — accelerating either of them is just one option. In contrast to these predominant explanations, this final lecture offers a third view that focuses on "representation losers" to explain the rise of populism. Those who feel poorly represented turn towards populist parties to voice their protest against political exclusion and unresponsive decisions.
Selected publications
  • Schäfer, A. and H. Schwander: Don't play if you can't win - Does economic inequality undermine political equality? In: European Political Science Review, (2019), forthcoming.

  • Schäfer, A., L. Elsässer, and S. Hense: "Dem Deutschen Volke"? Die ungleiche Responsivität des Bundestags. In: Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft 27, 161-180 (2017).

  • Schäfer, A.: Der Verlust politischer Gleichheit: Warum die sinkende Wahlbeteiligung der Demokratie schadet. Campus, Frankfurt a.M., 2015.

  • Schäfer, A.: Liberalization, Inequality and Democracy's Discontents. In: A. Schäfer and W. Streeck, eds., Politics in the Age of Austerity. Polity Press, Cambridge 2013, 169-195.

    Armin Schäfer is MPIfG Scholar in Residence 2019. Schäfer is Professor of Political Science with a focus on Comparative Politics at the University of Münster. His research interests are located at the intersection of comparative political economy, democracy research, and political theory. Over the last years, he has mainly dealt with the interplay of social and political inequality.
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