Tag Archives: Democracy

SOME WEIRD SHIT. THE CARTOON VERSION OF FASCISM. How democracy ends – David Runciman.

If Trump is the answer, we are no longer asking the right question.

Here we are, barely two decades into the twenty-first century, and almost from nowhere the question is upon us: is this how democracy ends?

Trump’s arrival in the White House poses a direct challenge: What would democratic failure in a country like the United States actually involve? What are the things that an established democracy could not survive? We now know we ought to start asking these questions. But we don’t know how to answer them.

When democracy ends, we are likely to be surprised by the form it takes. We may not even notice that it is happening because we are looking in the wrong places.

The inauguration of President Trump was not the moment at which democracy came to an end. But it was a good moment to start thinking about what the end of democracy might mean.

Democracy has died hundreds of times, all over the world. We think we know what that looks like: chaos descends and the military arrives to restore order, until the people can be trusted to look after their own affairs again. However, there is a danger that this picture is out of date.

Until very recently, most citizens of Western democracies would have imagined that the end was a long way off, and very few would have thought it might be happening before their eyes as Trump, Brexit and paranoid populism have become a reality.

David Runciman, one of the UK’s leading professors of politics, answers all this and more as he surveys the political landscape of the West, helping us to spot the new signs of a collapsing democracy and advising us on what could come next.

David Runciman is Professor of Politics at Cambridge University and Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies.

Thinking the unthinkable

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER. At some point democracy was always going to pass into the pages of history. No one, not even Francis Fukuyama who announced the end of history back in 1989 has believed that its virtues make it immortal. But until very recently, most citizens of Western democracies would have imagined that the end was a long way off. They would not have expected it to happen in their lifetimes. Very few would have thought it might be taking place before their eyes. Yet here we are, barely two decades into the twenty-first century, and almost from nowhere the question is upon us: is this how democracy ends?

Like many people, I first found myself confronting this question after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. To borrow a phrase from philosophy, it looked like the reductio ad absurdum of democratic politics: any process that produces such a ridiculous conclusion must have gone seriously wrong somewhere along the way. If Trump is the answer, we are no longer asking the right question. But it’s not just Trump. His election is symptomatic of an overheated political climate that appears increasingly unstable, riven with mistrust and mutual intolerance, fuelled by wild accusations and online bullying, a dialogue of the deaf drowning each other out with noise. In many places, not just the United States, democracy is starting to look unhinged.

Let me make it clear at the outset: I don’t believe that Trump’s arrival in the White House spells the end of democracy. America’s democratic institutions are designed to withstand all kinds of bumps along the road and Trump’s strange, erratic presidency is not outside the bounds of what can be survived. It is more likely that his administration will be followed by something relatively routine than by something even more outlandish. However, Trump’s arrival in the White House poses a direct challenge: What would democratic failure in a country like the United States actually involve? What are the things that an established democracy could not survive? We now know we ought to start asking these questions. But we don’t know how to answer them.

Our political imaginations are stuck with outdated images of what democratic failure looks like. We are trapped in the landscape of the twentieth century. We reach back to the 1930s or to the 1970s for pictures of what happens when democracy falls apart: tanks in the streets; tin-pot dictators barking out messages of national unity, violence and repression in tow. Trump’s presidency has drawn widespread comparison with tyrannies of the past. We have been warned not to be complacent in thinking it couldn’t happen again.

But what of the other danger: that while we are looking out for the familiar signs of failure, our democracies are going wrong in ways with which we are unfamiliar? This strikes me as the greater threat. I do not think there is much chance that we are going back to the 1930s. We are not at a second pre-dawn of fascism, violence and world war. Our societies are too different too affluent, too elderly, too networked and our collective historical knowledge of what went wrong then is too entrenched. When democracy ends, we are likely to be surprised by the form it takes. We may not even notice that it is happening because we are looking in the wrong places.

Contemporary political science has little to say about new ways that democracy might fail because it is preoccupied with a different question: how democracy gets going in the first place. This is understandable. During the period that democracy has spread around the world the process has often been two steps forward, one step back. Democracy might get tentatively established in parts of Africa or Latin America or Asia and then a coup or military takeover would snuff it out, before someone tried again. This has happened in places from Chile to South Korea to Kenya. One of the central puzzles of political science is what causes democracy to stick. It is fundamentally a question of trust: people with something to lose from the results of an election have to believe it is worth persevering until the next time. The rich need to trust that the poor won’t take their money. The soldiers need to trust that the civilians won’t take their guns. Often, that trust breaks down. Then democracy falls apart.

As a result, political scientists tend to think of democratic failure in terms of what they call ‘backsliding’. A democracy reverts back to the point before lasting confidence in its institutions could be established. This is why we look for earlier examples of democratic failure to illuminate what might go wrong in the present. We assume that the end of democracy takes us back to the beginning. The process of creation goes into reverse.

In this book I want to offer a different perspective. What would political failure look like in societies where confidence in democracy is so firmly established that it is hard to shake? The question for the twenty-first century is how long we can persist with institutional arrangements we have grown so used to trusting, that we no longer notice when they have ceased to work. These arrangements include regular elections, which remain the bedrock of democratic politics. But they also encompass democratic legislatures, independent law courts and a free press. All can continue to function as they ought while failing to deliver what they should. A hollowed-out version of democracy risks lulling us into a false sense of security. We might continue to trust in it and to look to it for rescue, even as we seethe with irritation at its inability to answer the call. Democracy could fail while remaining intact.

This analysis might seem at odds with the frequent talk about the loss of trust in democratic politics and politicians across Western societies. It is true that many voters dislike and distrust their elected representatives now more than ever. But it is not the kind of loss of trust that leads people to take up arms against democracy. Instead, it is the kind that leads them to throw up their arms in despair. Democracy can survive that sort of behaviour for a long time. Where it ends up is an open question and one I will try to answer. But it does not end up in the 1930s.

We should try to avoid the Benjamin Button view of history, which imagines that old things become young again, even as they acquire more experience. History does not go into reverse. It is true that contemporary Western democracy is behaving in ways that seem to echo some of the darkest moments in our past, anyone who watched protestors with swastikas demonstrating on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and then heard the president of the United States managing to find fault on both sides, could be forgiven for fearing the worst. However, grim though these events are, they are not the precursors of a return to something we thought we’d left behind. We really have left the twentieth century behind. We need another frame of reference.

So let me offer a different analogy. It is not perfect, but I hope it helps make sense of the argument of this book. Western democracy is going through a mid-life crisis. That is not to trivialise what’s happening: mid-life crises can be disastrous and even fatal. And this is a full-blown crisis. But it needs to be understood in relation to the exhaustion of democracy as well as to its volatility, and to the complacency that is currently on display as well as to the anger. The symptoms of a mid-life crisis include behaviour we might associate with someone much younger. But it would be a mistake to assume that the way to understand what’s going on is to study how young people behave.

When a miserable middle-aged man buys a motorbike on impulse, it can be dangerous. If he is really unlucky it all ends in a fireball. But it is nothing like as dangerous as when a seventeen-year-old buys a motorbike. More often, it is simply embarrassing. The mid-life motorbike gets ridden a few times and ends up parked in the street. Maybe it gets sold. The crisis will need to be resolved in some other way, if it can be resolved at all.

American democracy is in miserable middle age. Donald Trump is its motorbike. It could still end in a fireball. More likely, the crisis will continue and it will need to be resolved in some other way, if it can be resolved at all.

I am conscious that talking about the crisis of democracy in these terms might sound selfindulgent, especially coming from a privileged, middle-aged white man. Acting out like this is a luxury many people around the world cannot afford. These are first world problems. The crisis is real but it is also a bit of a joke. That’s what makes it so hard to know how it might end.

To suffer a crisis that comes neither at the beginning nor at the end but somewhere in the middle of a life is to be pulled forwards and backwards at the same time. What pulls us forwards is our wish for something better. What pulls us back is our reluctance to let go of something that has got us this far. The reluctance is understandable: democracy has served us well. The appeal of modern democracy lies in its ability to deliver long-term benefits for societies while providing their individual citizens with a voice. This is a formidable combination. It is easy to see why we don’t want to give up on it, at least not yet. However, the choice might not simply be between the whole democratic package and some alternative, anti-democratic package. It may be that the elements that make democracy so attractive continue to operate but that they no longer work together. The package starts to come apart. When an individual starts to unravel, we sometimes say that he or she is in pieces. At present democracy looks like it is in pieces. That does not mean it is unmendable. Not yet.

So what are the factors that make the current crisis in democracy unlike those it has faced in the past, when it was younger? I believe there are three fundamental differences.

First, political violence is not what it was for earlier generations, either in scale or in character. Western democracies are fundamentally peaceful societies, which means that our most destructive impulses manifest themselves in other ways. There is still violence, of course. But it stalks the fringes of our politics and the recesses of our imaginations, without ever arriving centre stage. It is the ghost in this story.

Second, the threat of catastrophe has changed. Where the prospect of disaster once had a galvanising effect, now it tends to be stultifying. We freeze in the face of our fears.

Third, the information technology revolution has completely altered the terms on which democracy must operate. We have become dependent on forms of communication and information-sharing that we neither control nor fully understand. All of these features of our democracy are consistent with its getting older.

I have organised this book around these three themes: coup; catastrophe; technological takeover. I start with coups the standard markers of democratic failure to ask whether an armed takeover of democratic institutions is still a realistic possibility. If not, how could democracy be subverted without the use of force being required? Would we even know it was happening? The spread of conspiracy theories is a symptom of our growing uncertainty about where the threat really lies. Coups require conspiracies because they need to be plotted by small groups in secret, or else they don’t work. Without them, we are just left with the conspiracy theories, which settle nothing.

Next I explore the risk of catastrophe. Democracy will fail if everything else falls apart: nuclear war, calamitous climate change, bioterrorism, the rise of the killer robots could all finish off democratic politics, though that would be the least of our worries. If something goes truly, terribly wrong, the people who are left will be too busy scrabbling for survival to care much about voting for change. But how big is the risk that, if confronted with these threats, the life drains out of democracy anyway, as we find ourselves paralysed by indecision?

Then I discuss the possibility of technological takeover. Intelligent robots are still some way off. But low-level, semi-intelligent machines that mine data for us and stealthily take the decisions we are too busy to make are gradually infiltrating much of our lives. We now have technology that promises greater efficiency than anything we’ve ever seen before, controlled by corporations that are less accountable than any in modern political history. Will we abdicate democratic responsibility to these new forces without even saying goodbye?

Finally, I ask whether it makes sense to look to replace democracy with something better. A midlife crisis can be a sign that we really do need to change. If we are stuck in a rut, why don’t we make a clean break from what’s making us so miserable? Churchill famously called democracy the worst system of government apart from all the others that have been tried from time to time. He said it back in 1947. That was a long time ago. Has there really been nothing better to try since then? I review some of the alternatives, from twenty-first century authoritarianism to twenty-first century anarchism.

To conclude, I consider how the story of democracy might actually wind up. In my view, it will not have a single endpoint. Given their very different life experiences, democracies will continue to follow different paths in different parts of the world. Just because American democracy can survive Trump doesn’t mean that Turkish democracy can survive Erdogan. Democracy could thrive in Africa even as it starts to fail in parts of Europe. What happens to democracy in the West is not necessarily going to determine the fate of democracy everywhere. But Western democracy is still the flagship model for democratic progress. Its failure would have enormous implications for the future of politics.

Whatever happens, unless the end of the world comes first, this will be a drawn-out demise. The current American experience of democracy is at the heart of the story that I tell, but it needs to be understood against the wider experience of democracy in other times and other places. In arguing that we ought to get away from our current fixation with the 1930s, I am not suggesting that history is unimportant. Quite the opposite: our obsession with a few traumatic moments in our past can blind us to the many lessons to be drawn from other points in time. For there is as much to learn from the 1890s as from the 1930s. I go further back: to the 1650s and to the democracy of the ancient world. We need history to help us break free from our unhealthy fixations with our own immediate back story. It is therapy for the middle-aged.

The future will be different from the past. The past is longer than we think. America is not the whole world. Nevertheless, the immediate American past is where I begin, with the inauguration of President Trump. That was not the moment at which democracy came to an end. But it was a good moment to start thinking about what the end of democracy might mean.


20 January 2017

l WATCHED THE INAUGURATION of Donald Trump as president of the United States on a large screen in a lecture hall in Cambridge, England. The room was full of international students, wrapped up against the cold, public rooms in Cambridge are not always well heated and there were as many people in coats and scarves inside the hall as there were on the podium in Washington, DC. But the atmosphere among the students was not chilly. Many were laughing and joking. The mood felt quite festive, like at any public funeral.

When Trump began to speak, the laughing soon stopped. Up on the big screen, against a backdrop of pillars and draped American flags, he looked forbidding and strange. We were scared. Trump’s barking delivery and his crudely effective hand gestures slicing the thin air with his stubby fingers, raising a clenched fist at the climax of his address had many of us thinking the same thing: this is what the cartoon version of fascism looks like. The resemblance to a scene in a Batman movie the Joker addressing the cowed citizens of Gotham was so strong it seemed like a cliché. That doesn’t make it the wrong analogy. Clichés are where the truth goes to die.

The speech Trump gave was shocking. He used apocalyptic turns of phrase that echoed the wild, angry fringes of democratic politics where democracy can start to turn into its opposite. He bemoaned ‘the rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation the crime and gangs and drugs’. In calling for a rebirth of national pride, he reminded his audience that ‘we all bleed the same red blood of patriots’. It sounded like a thinly veiled threat. Above all, he cast doubt on the basic idea of representative government, which is that the citizens entrust elected politicians to take decisions on their behalf. Trump lambasted professional politicians for having betrayed the American people and forfeited their trust:

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.

Washington flourished but the people did not share its wealth.

Politicians prospered but the jobs left, and the factories closed.”

He insisted that his election marked the moment when power passed not just from president to president or from party to party, but from Washington, DC back to the people. Was he going to mobilise popular anger against any professionals who now stood in his way? Who would be able to stop him? When he had finished speaking, he was greeted in our lecture hall back in Cambridge by a stunned silence. We weren’t the only ones taken aback. Trump’s predecessor but one in the presidency, George W. Bush, was heard to mutter as he left the stage: ‘That was some weird shit.’

Then, because we live in an age when everything that’s been consumed can be instantly reconsumed, we decided to watch it again. Second time around was different. I found the speech less shocking, once I knew what was coming. I felt that I had overreacted. Just because Trump said all these things didn’t make them true. His fearsome talk was at odds with the basic civility of the scene. Wouldn’t a country that was as fractured as he said have found it hard to sit politely through his inauguration? It was also at odds with what I knew about America. It is not a broken society, certainly not by any historical standards.

Notwithstanding some recent blips, violence is in overall decline. Prosperity is rising, though it remains very unequally distributed. If people had really believed what Trump said, would they have voted for him? That would have been a very brave act, given the risks of total civil breakdown. Maybe they voted for him because they didn’t really believe him?

It took me about fifteen minutes to acclimatise to the idea that this rhetoric was the new normal. Trump’s speechwriters, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, had put no words in his mouth that were explicitly anti-democratic. It was a populist speech, but populism does not oppose democracy. Rather, it tries to reclaim it from the elites who have betrayed it. Nothing Trump said disputed the fundamental premise of representative democracy, which is that at the allotted time the people get to say when they have had enough of the politicians who have been making decisions for them. Trump was echoing what those who voted for him clearly believed: enough was enough.

Watching the speech over again, I found myself focusing less on Trump and more on the people arrayed alongside him. Melania Trump looked alarmed to be on the stage with her husband. President Obama merely looked uncomfortable. Hillary Clinton, off to the side, looked dazed. The joint chiefs were stony-faced and stoical. The truth is that there is little Trump could have said after taking the oath of office that would have posed a direct threat to American democracy. These were just words. What matters in politics is when words become deeds. The only people with the power to end American democracy on 20 January 2017 were the ones sitting beside him. And they were doing nothing.

How might it have been different? The minimal definition of democracy says simply that the losers of an election accept that they have lost. They hand over power without resort to violence. In other words, they grin and bear it. If that happens once, you have the makings of a democracy. If it happens twice, you have a democracy that’s built to last. In America, it has happened fifty-seven times that the losers in a presidential election have accepted the result, though occasionally it has been touch and go (notably in the much-disputed 1876 election and in 2000, when the loser of the popular vote, as with Trump, went on to win the presidency). On twentyone occasions the US has seen a peaceful transfer of power from one party to another. Only once, in 1861, has American democracy failed this test when a group of Southern states could not endure the idea of Abraham Lincoln as their legitimate president, and fought against it for four years.

To put it another way: democracy is civil war without the fighting. Failure comes when proxy battles turn into real ones. The biggest single danger to American democracy following Trump’s victory was if either President Obama or Hillary Clinton had refused to accept the result. Clinton won the popular vote by a large margin, 2.9 million votes, more than any defeated candidate in US history and she ended up the loser thanks to the archaic rules of the Electoral College. On the night of the election, Clinton was having difficulty accepting that she had been beaten, as defeated candidates often do. Obama called her to insist that she acknowledge the outcome as soon as possible. The future of American democracy depended on it.

In that respect, a more significant speech than Trump’s inaugural was the one Obama gave on the lawn of the White House on 9 November, the day after the election. He had arrived to find many of his staffers in tears, aghast at the thought that eight years of hard work were about to be undone by a man who seemed completely unqualified for the office to which he had been elected. It was only hours after the result had been declared and angry Democrats were already questioning Trump’s legitimacy. Obama took the opposite tack:

“You know, the path this country has taken has never been a straight line. We zig and zag and sometimes we move in ways that some people think is forwards and others think is moving back and that’s OK. The point is that we all go forward with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens because that presumption of good faith is essential to a vibrant and functioning democracy And that’s why I’m confident that this incredible journey that we’re on as Americans will go on. And I’m looking forward to doing everything I can to make sure the next president is successful in that.”

It is easy to see why Obama felt he had no choice except to say what he did. Anything else would have thrown the workings of democracy into doubt. But it is worth asking: What are the circumstances in which a sitting president might feel compelled to say something different? When does faith in the zig and zag of democratic politics stop being a precondition of progress and start to become a hostage to fortune?

Had Clinton won the 2016 election, especially if she had somehow contrived to win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote, it is unlikely Trump would have been so magnanimous. He made it clear throughout the campaign that his willingness to accept the result depended on whether or not he was the winner. A defeated Trump could well have challenged the core premise of democratic politics that, as Obama put it, ‘if we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflection, we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena’. Licking his wounds is not Trump’s style. If the worst-case scenario for a democracy is an election in which the two sides disagree about whether the result holds, then American democracy dodged a bullet in 2016.

It is easy to imagine that Trump might have chosen to boycott the inauguration of Hillary Clinton, had he lost. That scenario would have been ugly, and petty, and it could have turned violent, but it need not have been fatal to constitutional government. The republic could have muddled through. On the other hand, had Obama refused to permit Trump’s inauguration, on the grounds that he was still occupying the White House, or that he was planning to install Clinton there, then democracy in America would have been done for, at least for now.

There is another shorthand for the minimal definition of a functioning democracy: the people with guns don’t use them. Trump’s supporters have plenty of guns and, had he lost, some of these people might have been tempted to use them. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between an opposition candidate refusing to accept defeat and an incumbent refusing to leave office. No matter how much firepower the supporters of the aggrieved loser might have at their disposal, the state always has more. If it doesn’t, it is no longer a functioning state. The ‘people with guns’ in the minimal definition of democracy refers to the politicians who control the armed forces. Democracy fails when elected officials who have the authority to tell the generals what to do refuse to give it up. Or when the generals refuse to listen.

This means that the other players who had the capacity to deal democracy a fatal blow on 20 January were also sitting beside Trump: America’s military chiefs. If they had declined to accept the orders of their new commander-in-chief for instance, if they had decided he could not be trusted with the nuclear codes then no amount of ceremony would have hidden the fact that the inauguration was an empty Charade. One reason for the air of mild hilarity in our lecture hall in Cambridge was that the rumour quickly passed around that Trump had been in possession of the nuclear football since breakfast time. The joke was that we were lucky still to be here. But none of us would have been smiling if the joint chiefs had decided that the new president was best kept in the dark. Even more alarming than an erratic new president in possession of the power to unleash destruction is the prospect of the generals deciding to keep that power for themselves.

Yet it is worth asking the same questions of the generals as of the sitting president: When is it appropriate to refuse to obey the orders of a duly elected commander-in-chief? Trump came into office surrounded by rumours that he was under the influence of a foreign power. He was certainly inexperienced, likely irresponsible and possibly compromised. American democracy has survived worse if inexperience and irresponsibility in international affairs were a barrier to the highest office, then the history of the presidency would be very different. It is the knowledge that American democracy has survived worse that makes it so hard to know how to respond now. In Cambridge, we laughed for a bit, and then we sat in glum silence. In Washington, they did the same.

. . .


How Democracy Ends

by David Runciman

get it at Amazon.com


Like Voting Rights? Thank a Socialist – Adam J Sacks.

As voting rights increasingly come under attack, we shouldn’t forget the crucial role that early socialists played in fighting for universal suffrage.

Stolen elections, decrepit voting infrastructure, draconian ID laws. The recent attacks on voting rights in the US might seem like an outgrowth of pure partisanship, the desperation of a minoritarian party using any means necessary to hold onto political power. But the GOP’s brazen attempts to restrict voting access (particularly for African Americans) should also be viewed as symptoms of a disease that has long afflicted elites: recalcitrant opposition to democracy, including the right to vote.

Since the advent of the modern state, ruling classes have tried to restrain the voting power of workers and those not “well born.” Contrary to the mainstream story that capitalism naturally gave rise to democracy, establishment powers in nineteenth-century Europe restricted the vote for as long as they possibly could. Only when faced with mass mobilization, or when continent-wide war wiped out working-class males en masse, was it clear that the franchise could no longer be withheld.

The particulars of individual European countries varied. In some nations, following intense struggles, workers won limited forms of universal male suffrage before World War I. More commonly, broad suffrage rights appeared only after the war.

But what was consistent were the actors pushing for universal suffrage: trade unions and, crucially, socialist parties. In fact, what has been called the “democratic breakthrough” of the nineteenth century could easily be called the “socialist breakthrough.”


On August 10, 1890, seventy-five thousand men and women took to the streets of Brussels to demonstrate for universal suffrage. Like all other putatively democratic nations of the time, Belgium limited the right to vote to male property owners. Workers were entirely shut out of the country’s political life. Over the next twenty-five years, that would change, but not until a series of general strikes convulsed the country and World War I ripped the country to shreds.

In 1890, the year of the first general strike, ruling elites worried that conferring the vote on the working class would give the ascendant socialist movement a batting ram to bludgeon their autocratic citadel. Though founded just five years earlier, the Parti Ouvrier, like its sister parties in the Second International, was steadily growing, fusing workers together into a powerful, coherent political bloc. Party leaders hoped they could pursue a patient reformist course, winning trade union and suffrage rights without resorting to a revolutionary strategy of mass strikes.

But the stubbornness of reality, the powers that be resolutely blocked pro-worker measures in parliament, and the militancy of workers forced the party’s leaders to concede that more radical action was necessary.

In 1893, following up on the mass action three years earlier, the Council of Workers declared a general strike. Mass demonstrations broke out in multiple cities, miners cut telegraph and telephone lines, and soldiers chased party leaders through the streets with bayonets drawn. Women chucked rocks and broken pottery at the police behind barricades built by miners.

Leopold II, who reigned as the king of Belgium from 1865 to 1909.

The militant action worked. Property restrictions were abolished. The leaders of the Parti Ouvrier, including a marble worker named Louis Bertrand who helped found the party, were invited into parliament.

But progress would not occur in a straight line. The elections the next year sent shock waves through Europe when dozens of socialist deputies were elected to parliament rather than the expected handful. The party immediately went to work, drafting laws to support unions and set up disability insurance and pensions. Ruling elites, realizing their mistake, pushed through a system of “plural voting” that gave additional weight to citizens living in strongholds of the conservative Catholic Party.

So workers, often over the objections of party leaders, kept up the pressure. When the government tried to deepen inequalities in voting rights, the socialist movement again declared a strike, in 1902. This time over three hundred thousand flooded the streets.
The thrust and parry continued in the subsequent years. Catholic parties, still aided by plural voting, strengthened their majority in 1912 and attacked full universal suffrage in the legislature the following year. Socialist leaders, trying to balance the competing politics of rural miners and urban social-democratic politicians, still held out hope parliament would enact universal suffrage.

Instead, 1913 brought another general strike, the largest in Western European history. Strike funds were set up via a system of coupons, and co-ops and childcare were organized. Le Peuple, a socialist daily, published recipes for soupes communistes to cook in the communal kitchens. Art exhibitions, museum visits, and country hikes drew working-class families together, offering not just respite but cultural nourishment.
The strike didn’t achieve its aim of full and equal universal suffrage. It was only after World War I, in 1919, that plural voting finally fell, and women wouldn’t receive the right to vote until 1948.
Yet those early battles for the franchise had an enormous impact on the consciousness of other socialists around the continent, the Parti Ouvrier, Rosa Luxemburg said, had inspired the entire Second International to “speak Belgian.”

The Russian Empire

During Belgium’s 1902 general strike, the city of Louvain was the site of a frightful massacre: twelve workers eventually died after state officers opened fire. Further east, another government-led mass murder triggered a seminal general strike, the 1905 Russian Revolution.
While in late 1904 liberals and progressives had successfully pressed for workers insurance, the abolition of censorship, and expanded local representative government, the Russian Empire still lacked a federal parliament. In January 1905, strikes erupted in multiple cities, culminating in a peaceful march in St Petersburg of men, women, and children, singing hymns and brandishing a petition demanding an elected parliament. Troops fired on the marchers before they could reach the Winter Palace, killing upwards of one thousand.

An artistic impression of “Bloody Sunday” in St Petersburg, Russia, when unarmed demonstrators marching to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II were shot at by the Imperial Guard in front of the Winter Palace on January 22, 1905.

Theatrical performances were spontaneously interrupted, and thousands of students and professionals struck in solidarity with the workers. The merchants club, hardly a redoubt of radicalism, barred its doors to guards for their involvement in the massacre.

Within a couple of weeks, half of European Russian workers and 93 percent of all workers in Russian-occupied Poland were out on strike. In Lodz, strikers held the provincial governor hostage in a hotel. Throughout the entire empire, the rail network ground to a halt.

Revolution was in the air. The next few months would witness the country’s first open celebration of May Day and the legendary Potemkin Mutiny off the shores of Odessa, later immortalized by filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. And by the end of October, the tsar had reluctantly signed the manifesto that established the Duma, and extended the franchise toward universal male suffrage.

Elsewhere in the Russian Empire, radical actions for the vote had even more far-reaching consequences. A general strike in Finland in 1905 led not only to the adoption of universal male suffrage and a unicameral parliamentary system, but also the granting of women the right to vote and to stand for elections the first country in Europe to do so. Over the coming decade, the country’s workers would use these expanded rights, before the strike, only 8 percent of the population could vote, to press for increasingly revolutionary reforms.


Among American liberals, it’s popular to imagine Sweden as a social-democratic utopia, a nation where enlightened values have won out over rank selfishness. But the history of the Swedish workers movement is a testament to the tenaciousness of the country’s ruling class, including its dogged resistance to voting rights.

The political expression of the labor movement, the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP), formed in 1889 amid a broader surge in worker organizing. As elsewhere, those without property lacked basic political rights. The Swedish socialist movement’s goal was to first win political democracy.

In 1902, a two-day general strike for universal suffrage served as a warning shot at the stridently right-wing government. Called by the political parties and never intended to last longer than a couple days, the strike made a strong impression on the government due to its impressive level of mass support. Still, the strike lacked the crucial participation of the trade unions.

This would come in part with the 1909 general strike, which lasted a month and convened almost half a million workers. The initial aim was to combat worker lockouts and wage freezes. But as chairman of the transport workers, Charles Lindley, recalled, “In that time there was an almost unlimited faith in the general strike as the decisive means to get universal suffrage.” The economically inspired strike increasingly reflected workers’ democratic political aspirations.

The Swedish socialist movement’s goal was to first win political democracy.

Swedish policemen guard empty trams during the 1909 general strike. Wikimedia Common.

The strike shut down all core export industries in the country, and workers attempted to spread it further. Employers responded with a standard tactic: importing striker breakers. In one case, three unemployed Swedish workers independently organized to bomb a ship that housed strikebreakers coming from Great Britain.

As days turned into weeks, however, strike leaders were forced to retreat, faced with meager strike funds and the prospect of having to divert relief from other workers in an economic recession. Liberals began to turn on the strikers when typographers joined, seeing their participation as an attack on “freedom of speech.” Workers’ families struggled mightily with the mounting deprivation. The Swedish Employer’s Association was therefore in a position by the end to dictate terms, and they did.

But while the strike was in many ways a setback, it is universally recognized today as laying the groundwork for the democratization of Swedish society. Later that year all men in the country, regardless of their property holdings, gained the right to vote in at least one chamber of federal government. Full political democracy, while distant, was now on the horizon.

The Riksdag, the Swedish parliament.


Almost two-thirds of late-nineteenth century Germany lay within the Kingdom of Prussia, which had enforced the unification of the German states in 1871. Despite the passage that year of the general, equal, and secret right to vote for all males over age twenty-five, Prussia maintained a system from 1849 that divided voters into three classes based on their tax bracket.

The obviously unequal arrangement, early socialist leader Wilhelm Liebknecht referred to the Reichstag as the “fig leaf of absolutism”, created a situation where 4 percent of the first class held as many voters as the third class, who made up 82 percent of the eligible voting population. And there was another anti-democratic check on workers’ power: the upper chamber, the Reichsrat, could block any constitutional changes passed by the directly elected representatives of the Reichstag. The Second Reich, Marx declared, was a “police-guarded military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms.”

Somehow, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) flourished in spite of these adverse conditions. It was the largest socialist party on the continent, the Second International party par excellence. The SPD’s Erfurt Program, ratified in 1891, declared: “The struggle of the working class against capitalistic exploitation is of necessity a political struggle. The working class cannot carry out its economic struggle and cannot develop its economic organization without political rights.” At the top of the party’s demands: “universal, equal, and direct voting rights via secret vote for all citizens over twenty years of age, regardless of sex.”

A printing of the SPD’s seminal 1891 manifesto “The Erfurt Program.”
The working class cannot carry out its economic struggle and cannot develop its economic organization without political rights.

The country’s elites were not amused. Following the development of a country-wide strike movement, employers insisted that the kaiser both rescind the vote from all those affiliated with Social Democracy and legally limit strikes. The kaiser, showing no aversion to despotic rhetoric himself, told a group of new military recruits in Potsdam in November 1891:

“the current socialist machinations could result that I order you to shoot down your own relatives, brothers, even parents . . . but even then you must follow my orders without any grumbling.”

The SPD patiently agitated and organized to become the largest party in the Prussian parliament by 1908. They led repeated mass demonstrations for full suffrage, which were inexorably met with brutal repression.

On the eve of World War I, suffrage rights were still the province of the elite. But for their efforts, the SPD was rightfully recognized as the most consistently democratic force in prewar Germany.

Great Britain

Of all the European countries of the Second International, Great Britain had the least democratic voting system, the proportion of men over the age of twenty-one who could cast a ballot at the start of World War I was smaller than in eight of nine countries for which full data is available.

Mass disenfranchisement was deeply rooted in the country’s political system. At the start of the nineteenth century, in an electoral system marred by extreme gerrymandering, only 4 percent of the population could vote. In the middle of the century, the pro-suffrage demonstrations of the Chartists, the first mass working-class movement in European history, were met with elite antipathy. As late as 1884, access to voting remained unequal between the towns and the countryside, and after reforms altered that undemocratic hindrance, eligible voters still had to prove a base payment in rent to qualify.

The ruling class simply couldn’t countenance approving a measure they thought would give “the rabble” political power: universal suffrage, in the estimation of British statesman Thomas Babington Macaulay, was “incompatible with property . . . and consequently incompatible with civilization” itself.

Arrayed against Macaulay were the working class and their burgeoning movement. The Labour Party, firmly committed to universal suffrage, agitated for political democracy and was able to wrest some concessions before World War I. In 1911, they pushed for an end to the House of Lords’ veto over legislation.

Finally, on the heels of continent-wide war, universal male suffrage was established, and women won the vote in 1928.

The political order that, in Lenin’s words, had entrapped the working masses in a “well-equipped system of flattery, lies, and fraud” was cracking open.

Fighters for Democracy

The early socialist parties showed an unflagging commitment to universal suffrage, a commitment unmatched by any other party.

Their dedication was at once ethical and practical. On the one hand, they were determined to overturn structures of domination and inequality wherever they existed. And in the political sphere, workers were vassals, subject to the decisions of officials they had no hand in choosing.

On a more practical level, the early socialists recognized the potency of the ballot. Their fight for universal suffrage joined the political and economic struggles, transforming the vote into an object of radical tactics and revolutionary élan. It tied together the different factions of the movement in the pursuit of a tool (the vote) that workers could use as part of the broader class struggle. Their aim was to create a “true democracy,” from the bottom-up, in the tradition of Marx.

Today, amid fights in the US to maintain the basic functionality of a democratic voting system, socialists mustn’t forget their historic role in struggling for political democracy. So many of even the liberal democratic parts of liberal democracy came about thanks to the battles socialists waged against the feudalistic leftovers of the Old Regime and the new capitalistic oligarchy.

Barely a century old, and only for males of European descent the universal right to vote is still an infant in need of close guard. Current shadows of Jim Crow, whether in Georgia or the Dakotas, reveal the persistent threats to its existence, as well as the oligarchic and undemocratic strain that runs strong in the American republic and still hasn’t accepted universal suffrage.

We should reject faux-radical pronouncements that dismiss voting as inconsequential and, instead, meld the fight for universal suffrage with the fight for socialism and radical democracy. The vote was a historic conquest for the working class. It remains a “paper stone” in the hands of the disenfranchised.

Adam J Sacks holds an MA and PhD in history from Brown University and an MS in education from the City College of the City University of New York.

Jacobin Magazine

Manifesto For The Democratisation Of Europe –  Thomas Piketty and Antoine Vauchez.

A concrete plan to democratise European institutions and policies, with a view to bringing more fiscal and social justice.

Europe will only reconnect with its citizens if it proves it has the ability to bring about genuine European solidarity, by having the main beneficiaries of the globalization process fairly contribute to the financing of the public goods Europe desperately needs.

In a critical moment for Europe, this Manifesto proposes to escape immobilism and abstract discussions by putting on the table a concrete plan to democratise both European institutions and policies, with a view to bringing more fiscal and social justice and to effectively address Europe’s environmental and migration emergencies.

The new European governance that has consolidated over the past decade in the wake of the financial crisis is not only opaque and unaccountable as epitomized by the Eurogroup; it is also ideologically biased towards economic policies with an almost exclusive focus on financial and budgetary objectives. Unsurprisingly, Europe has proved unable to take up the challenges with which it is confronted: growing inequalities across the continent, the acceleration of global warming, the influx of refugees, structural public under-investment (most notably in universities and research), tax fraud and evasion…

Our proposal empowers those member states that wish to address the current political and social crisis of the European project by proposing a budget of long-term investments in public assets of a European scale with a view to fighting social inequalities at EU level, and to securing the long-term viability of a genuine political model of social, fair and sustainable development in Europe.

Financing of the Budget is based on fiscal solidarity through the creation of four European taxes (on high incomes, on wealth, on carbon emissions and a harmonized corporate profits’ tax). To date, European integration has primarily benefited the most powerful and most mobile economic and financial agents: major multinationals, households with high incomes and large assets. Europe will only reconnect with its citizens if it proves it has the ability to bring about genuine European solidarity, by having the main beneficiaries of the globalization process fairly contribute to the financing of the public goods Europe desperately needs.

Such policies are virtually impossible in the current institutional framework, in particular because of the veto right of each country preventing any common fiscal policy. The Treaty for the democratization of Europe (T-Dem) sets the stage for a renewed democratic framework where these new economic policies, in particular the Budget, would not only be possible but also legitimate.

By creating a European Assembly in charge of deliberating and voting upon this Budget, member states can put themselves in a position to tax fairly the most prosperous actors and thus to finance the proposed common budget. With its mixed composition, including national and European members of Parliament, the European Assembly would also have the legitmacy to act as a counter-balance to the ever-growing impact of Europe’s economic governance on national social pacts.

Manifesto For The Democratization Of Europe

We, European citizens, from different backgrounds and countries, are today launching this appeal for the in-depth transformation of the European institutions and policies. This Manifesto contains concrete proposals, in particular a project for a Democratization Treaty and a Budget Project which can be adopted and applied as it stands by the countries who so wish, with no single country being able to block those who want to advance. It can be signed on-line (www.tdem.eu) by all European citizens who identify with it. It can be amended and improved by any political movement.

Following Brexit and the election of anti-European governments at the head of several member countries, it is no longer possible to continue as before. We cannot simply wait for the next departures, or further dismantling without making fundamental changes to present-day Europe.

Today, our continent is caught between political movements whose programme is confined to hunting down foreigners and refugees, a programme which they have now begun to put into action, on one hand. On the other, we have parties which claim to be European but which in reality continue to consider that hard core liberalism and the spread of competition to all (States, firms, territories and individuals) are enough to define a political project. They in no way recognise that it is precisely this lack of social ambition which leads to the feeling of abandonment.

There are some social and political movements which do attempt to end this fatal dialogue by moving in the direction of a new political, social and environmental foundation for Europe. After a decade of economic crisis there is no lack of these specifically European critical situations: structural under- investment in the public sector, particularly in the fields of training and research, a rise in social inequality, acceleration of global warming and a crisis in the reception of migrants and refugees. But these movements often have difficulty in formulating an alternative project, and in describing precisely how they would like to organise the Europe of the future and the decision-making infrastructure specific to it.

We, European citizens, by publishing this Manifesto, Treaty and Budget, are making specific proposals publicly available to all. They are not perfect, but they do have the merit of existing. The public can access them and improve them. They are based on a simple conviction. Europe must build an original model to ensure the fair and lasting social development of its citizens. The only way to convince them is to abandon vague and theoretical promises. If Europe wants to restore solidarity with its citizens it can only do so by providing concrete proof that it is capable of establishing cooperation between Europeans and by making those who have gained from globalisation contribute to the financing of the public sector goods which are cruelly lacking in Europe today. This means making large firms contribute more than small and medium businesses, and the richest taxpayers paying more than poorer taxpayers. This is not the case today.

Our proposals are based on the creation of a Budget for democratization which would be debated and voted by a sovereign European Assembly. This will at last enable Europe to equip itself with a public institution which is both capable of dealing with crises in Europe immediately and of producing a set of fundamental public and social goods and services in the framework of a lasting and solidarity-based economy. In this way, the promise made as far back as the Treaty of Rome of ‘harmonisation of living and working conditions’ will finally become meaningful.

This Budget, if the European Assembly so desires, will be financed by four major European taxes, the tangible markers of this European solidarity. These will apply to the profits of major firms, the top incomes (over 200,000 Euros per annum), the highest wealth owners (over 1 million Euros) and the carbon emissions (with a minimum price of 30 Euros per tonne). If it is fixed at 4% of GDP, as we propose, this budget could finance research, training and the European universities, an ambitious investment programme to transform our model of economic growth, the financing of the reception and integration of migrants and the support of those involved in operating the transformation. It could also give some budgetary leeway to member States to reduce the regressive taxation which weighs on salaries or consumption.

The issue here is not one of creating a ‘Transfer payments Europe’ which would endeavour to take money from the ‘virtuous’ countries to give it to those who are less so. The project for a Treaty of Democratization (www.tdem.eu) states this explicitly by limiting the gap between expenditure deducted and income paid by a country to a threshold of 0.1% of its GDP. The real issue is elsewhere: it is primarily a question of reducing the inequality within the different countries and of investing in the future of all Europeans, beginning of course with the youngest amongst them, with no single country having preference.

Because we must act quickly but we must also get Europe out of the present technocratic impasse, we propose the creation of a European Assembly. This will enable these new European taxes to be debated and voted as also the budget for democratization. This European Assembly can be created without changing the existing European treaties.

This European Assembly would of course have to communicate with the present decision-making institutions (in particular the Eurogroup in which the Ministers for Finance in the Euro zone meet informally every month). But, in cases of disagreement, the Assembly would have the final word. If not, its capacity to be a locus for a new transnational, political space where parties, social movements and NGOs would finally be able to express themselves, would be compromised. Equally its actual effectiveness, since the issue is one of finally extricating Europe from the eternal inertia of inter-governmental negotiations, would be at stake. We should bear in mind that the rule of fiscal unanimity in force in the European Union has for years blocked the adoption of any European tax and sustains the eternal evasion into fiscal dumping by the rich and most mobile, a practice which continues to this day despite all the speeches. This will go on if other decision-making rules are not set up.

Given that this European Assembly will have the ability to adopt taxes and to enter the very core of the democratic, fiscal and social compact of Member states, it is important to truly involve national and European parliamentarians. By granting national elected members a central role, the national, parliamentary elections will de facto be transformed into European elections. National elected members will no longer be able to simply shift responsibility on to Brussels and will have no other option than to explain to the voters the projects and budgets which they intend to defend in the European Assembly. By bringing together the national and European parliamentarians in one single Assembly, habits of co- governance will be created which at the moment only exist between heads of state and ministers of finance.

This is why we propose, in the Democratization Treaty available on-line (www.tdem.eu), that 80% of the members of the European Assembly should be from members of the national parliaments of the countries which sign the Treaty (in proportion to the population of the countries and the political groups), and 20% from the present European parliament (in proportion to the political groups). This choice merits further discussion. In particular, our project could also function with a lower proportion of national parliamentarians (for instance 50%). But in our opinion, an excessive reduction of this proportion might detract from the legitimacy of the European Assembly in involving all European citizens in the direction of a new social and fiscal pact, and conflicts of democratic legitimacy between national and European elections could rapidly undermine the project.

We now have to act quickly. While it would be desirable for all the European Union countries to join in this project without delay, and while it would be preferable that the four largest countries in the Euro zone (which together represent over 70% of the GNP and the population in the zone) adopt it at the outset, the project in its totality has been designed for it to be legally and economically adopted and applied by any sub-set of countries who wish to do so. This point is important because it enables countries and political movements who so desire to demonstrate their willingness to make very specific progress by adopting this project, or an improved version, right now. We call on every man and woman to assume his or her responsibilities and participate in a detailed and constructive discussion for the future of Europe.

Drafted by the following seven authors:

Manon Bouju, économiste

Lucas Chancel, vice-président du World Inquality Lab, Paris School of Economics

Anne-Laure Delatte, economiste, CNRS Research fellow

Stephanie Hennette-Vauchez, juriste, professeure à l’Université Paris Nanterre

Thomas Piketty, economiste, professeur à la Paris School of Economics et à l’Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales

Guillaume Sacriste, politiste, maître de conférence à l’Université Paris 1-Sorbonne

Antoine Vauchez, politiste, CNRS Research professor, Université Paris 1-Sorbonne

and signed by scores of others

Social Europe

Manifesto for the democratisation of Europe

Download complete Manifesto PDF

LET’S MAKE THE HUMAN FOOTPRINT EVEN BIGGER. U.S. billionaires are fuelling the hard-right cause in Britain – George Monbiot * DARK MONEY. The Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right – Jane Mayer.

“A stunning record of corporate malfeasance.”

Dark money is among the greatest current threats to democracy. It means money spent below the public radar, that seeks to change political outcomes. It enables very rich people and corporations to influence politics without showing their hands.

Despite having been elected as a populist outsider, Trump put together a transition team that was crawling with the kinds of corporate insiders he had vowed to disempower.

“This whole idea that he was an outsider and going to destroy the political establishment and drain the swamp were the lines of a conman, and guess what, he is being exposed as just that.”

Among the world’s biggest political spenders are Charles and David Koch, co-owners of Koch Industries, a vast private conglomerate of oil pipelines and refineries, chemicals, timber and paper companies, commodity trading firms and cattle ranches. If their two fortunes were rolled into one, Charles David Koch, with $120bn, would be the richest man on Earth.

In a rare public statement, in an essay published in 1978, Charles Koch explained his objective. “Our movement must destroy the prevalent statist paradigm.” As Jane Mayer records in her book Dark Money, the Kochs’ ideology, lower taxes and looser regulations, and their business interests “dovetailed so seamlessly it was difficult to distinguish one from the other”. Over the years, she notes, “the company developed a stunning record of corporate malfeasance”. Koch Industries paid massive fines for oil spills, illegal benzene emissions and ammonia pollution. In 1999, a jury found that Koch Industries had knowingly used a corroded pipeline to carry butane, which caused an explosion in which two people died. Company Town, a film released last year, tells the story of local people’s long fight against pollution from a huge paper mill owned by the Koch Brothers.

They have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a network of academic departments, thinktanks, journals and movements. And they appear to have been remarkably successful.

The Koch network has helped secure massive tax cuts, the smashing of trade unions and the dismantling of environmental legislation.

But their hands, for the most part, remain invisible. A Republican consultant who has worked for Charles and David Koch told Mayer that “to call them under the radar is an understatement. They are underground.”

. . . The Guardian

DARK MONEY. The History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

Jane Mayer

“We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Louis Brandeis

Election night 2016 was a stunning political upset, auguring a new political order in almost every respect. Donald Trump, a billionaire businessman with no experience in elected office, running on a promise to upend the status quo, defeated Hillary Clinton, the designated heir to Barack Obama’s Democratic presidency. Trump’s triumph defied the predictions of almost every pundit and pollster. It rocked the political establishments in both parties, and sent shock waves around the globe. Markets trembled before recovering their equilibrium. The political world seemed to shift on its axis, spinning toward an unknown and unpredictable future.

Although Trump ran as a self-proclaimed outsider against what he portrayed as entrenched and corrupt political elites, there was an unexpectedly familiar representative of this moneyed class at his victory party in Manhattan. Standing with a jubilant smile amid the throng of revelers at the Hilton hotel in midtown Manhattan was David Koch.

During the presidential primaries, Trump had mocked his Republican rivals as “puppets” for flocking to the secretive fundraising sessions sponsored by David Koch and his brother Charles, co-owners of the second-largest private company in the United States, the Kansas-based energy and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries. Affronted, the Koch brothers, whose political spending had made their name almost shorthand for special-interest clout, withheld their financial support from Trump. As a result, the story line adopted by many in the media was that the Koch brothers in particular, and big political donors in general, were no longer a major factor in American politics. Trump had, after all, defeated far bigger-spending rivals, including Clinton.

It might be nice to think the era of big money in American politics is over, but a closer look reveals a far more complicated and far less reassuring reality.

Trump had indeed campaigned by attacking the big donors, corporate lobbyists, and political action committees that have come to dominate American politics as “very corrupt.” In doing so, he fed into a national, bipartisan outpouring of disgust at the growing extent to which campaigns have become little more than relentless pursuits of obscene amounts of cash. To the surprise of many, Trump and Bernie Sanders, the left-wing insurgent who challenged Clinton in the Democratic primaries, seemed to transform big political money from an advantage into a liability. Trump nicknamed Clinton “Crooked Hillary,” claiming that she was “100% owned by her donors.” By Election Day, the public’s trust in her was in tatters.

Improbably, Trump, a New York businessman who had global financial interests and who spent some $66 million of his own fortune to get elected, ran against Wall Street. He successfully positioned himself as pristine because he was a billionaire in his own right, rather than one beholden to other billionaires. In a tweet less than a month before the election, Trump promised, “I will Make Our Government Honest Again believe me. But first I’m going to have to #DrainTheSwamp.” His DrainTheSwamp hashtag became a rallying cry for supporters riled by the growing economic inequality in the country and intent on ending corruption in Washington, which they blamed for putting the interests of the rich and powerful over their own.

Yet as Ann Ravel, a Democratic member of the Federal Election Commission who had championed reform of political money for years, observed just days after Trump’s election, instead “the alligators are multiplying.”

Despite having been elected as a populist outsider, Trump put together a transition team that was crawling with the kinds of corporate insiders he had vowed to disempower. Especially prominent among them were lobbyists and political operatives who had financial ties to the Kochs. This was perhaps unexpected, because the Kochs had continued to express their distaste for Trump throughout the campaign. Charles Koch called himself a libertarian. He supported open immigration and tree trade both of which benefited his vast multinational corporation. He had denounced Trump’s plans to bar Muslim immigrants as “monstrous” and “frightening.”

Yet there were signs of a rapprochement. The chair of Trump’s transition team, Vice President elect Mike Pence, had been Charles Koch’s first choice for the presidency in 2012 and a major recipient of Koch campaign contributions. David Koch had personally donated $300,000 to Pence’s campaigns in the four years before Trump chose Pence as his running mate. Pence, who in the past had shared the Kochs’ enthusiasm for privatizing Social Security and denying the reality of climate change, had been a featured guest at a fund-raiser that David Koch hosted for about seventy of the Republican Party’s biggest political donors at his Palm Beach, Florida, mansion in the spring of 2016. He had also been slated to speak at the Kochs’ donor summit in August 2016, but canceled after joining the Republican ticket.

Meanwhile, Pence’s senior adviser in the sensitive task of managing Trump’s transition to power was Marc Short, who just a few months earlier had actually run the Kochs’ secretive donor club, Freedom Partners. This was the same elite group whose meetings Trump had ridiculed during the campaign.

The Kochs’ influence was also evident in the transition team members that Trump picked in the areas of energy and the environment, which were crucial to Koch Industries’ bottom line. For policy and personnel advice regarding the Department of Energy, an early chart of the transition team showed that Trump chose Michael McKenna, the president of the lobbying firm MWR Strategies, whose clients included Koch Industries. McKenna also had ties to the American Energy Alliance, a tax-exempt nonprofit that advocated for corporate-friendly energy policies, to which the Kochs’ donor group, Freedom Partners, had given $1.5 million in 2012. The group, which didn’t disclose its revenue sources, was a textbook example of the way secret spending by billion-dollar private interests aimed to manipulate public opinion.

Another lobbyist for Koch Industries, Michael Catanzaro, a partner at the lobbying firm CGCN Group, headed “energy independence” for Trump’s transition team and was mentioned as a possible White House energy czar. Meanwhile, Harold Hamm, a charter member of the Kochs’ donor circle, who became a billionaire by founding Continental Resources, an Oklahoma-based shale-oil company known for its enormously lucrative “fracking” operation, was reportedly advising Trump on energy issues and under consideration for a cabinet post, possibly energy secretary.

To the alarm of the scientific community, Trump chose Myron Ebell, an outspoken climate change skeptic, to head his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ebell too had Koch money ties. He worked at a Washington think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute. It didn’t disclose its funding sources, but in the past, it had been bankrolled by fossil fuel interests, including the Kochs. His stridently antiregulatory views meshed perfectly with theirs. The Kochs had long been at war with the EPA, which had ranked Koch Industries one of only three companies in America that was simultaneously a top ten polluter of air, water, and climate.

Joining Ebell on the transition team was David Schnare, a selfdescribed “free-market environmentalist” who had accused the EPA of having “blood on its hands.” Schnare worked for a think tank affiliated with the State Policy Network, which was also funded in part by the Kochs. He was reviled in environmental circles for hounding the climate scientist Michael Mann with onerous public records requests until the Virginia Supreme Court ordered him to desist in 2014. The Union of Concerned Scientists had described these actions against climate scientists as “harassment.”

Thus, less than a week after having been elected on a wave of populist anger, Trump appeared set to fulfill many of the special interests’ fondest dreams, including the deregulatory schemes of the Kochs. He promised to “get rid of” the EPA in “almost every form” and to withdraw from the 2015 international climate accord in Paris, and against the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, he called climate change “a hoax”. The Trump transition had a selfimposed ethics code barring lobbyists from shaping the rules and staffing the departments in which they had financial interests, but in the early stages, at least, these commonsense strictures appeared to have been sidestepped.

Experts in government ethics were aghast. “If you have people on the transition team with deep financial ties to the industries to be regulated, it raises questions about whether they are serving the public interest or their own interests,” warned Norman Eisen, who devised the Obama administration’s conflict-of-interest rules. “Let’s face it, in the Beltway nexus of corporations and dark money, lobbyists are the delivery mechanism for speciaI-interest influence.” Peter Wehner, who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and both presidents Bush, told the New York Times, “This whole idea that he was an outsider and going to destroy the political establishment and drain the swamp were the lines of a conman, and guess what, he is being exposed as just that.”

The Kochs’ influence reached greater heights with Trump’s nomination of Mike Pompeo, a Republican congressman from Kansas, to direct the CIA. Pompeo was the single largest recipient of Koch campaign funds in Congress. The Kochs had also been investors, and partners, in Pompeo’s business ventures prior to his entry into politics. In fact, as Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas professor of political science, noted, the future CIA director’s nickname was “the congressman from Koch.”

Helping to guide the transition team in these fateful choices was Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of Robert Mercer, the wealthy New York hedge fund manager who “out-Koched the Kochs” in 2014, as Bloomberg News put it, giving more money to their political club than even they had.

Clearly the reports of the Kochs’ political death in 2016 were exaggerated. While they had refrained from backing a presidential candidate, the tentacles of the “Kochtopus,” as their sprawling political machine was known, were already encircling the Trump administration before it had even officially taken power.

Many had counted the Kochs out after their refusal to back a presidential candidate. Their initial 2015 plan called for their donor group to spend an astounding budget of $889 million in order to purchase the presidency. But they sat out the primaries, as they had in the past, and then found their plan rudely upended when Trump emerged as the nominee. He was the only major Republican presidential candidate whom they opposed. Sidelined, they continued to withhold their support.

But while the media fixated on the extraordinary presidential race, the Kochs and their network of right-wing political patrons quietly spent more money than ever on the three-pronged influence-buying approach they had mastered during the previous forty years. They combined corporate lobbying, politically tinged nonprofit spending, and “down ballot” campaign contributions in state and local races, where their money bought a bigger bang for the buck.

Far from shutting their wallets, they simply downgraded their budget to $750 million and directed several hundred million dollars of it to races beneath the presidential level. Few noticed, but in 2016 Koch Industries and Freedom Partners poured huge sums into at least nineteen Senate, forty-two House, and four gubernatorial races as well as countless lesser ones all over the country.

They also mobilized what a 2016 study by two Harvard University scholars, Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, described as an unprecedented and unparalleled permanent, private political machine. In fact, amazingly, in 2016 the Kochs’ private network of political groups had a bigger payroll than the Republican National Committee. The Koch network had 1,600 paid staffers in thirty-five states and boasted that its operation covered 80 percent of the population. This marked a huge escalation from just a few years earlier. As recently as 2012, the Kochs’ primary political advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, had a paid staff of only 450.

The Kochs ran their political operation centrally like a private business, with divisions devoted to various constituency groups, such as Hispanics, veterans, and young voters. One of their top people explained that their aim during the 2016 election had been to target five million voters in eight states with key Senate races. In the past, labor unions probably provided the closest parallel to this kind of private political organizing, but they of course represented the dues of millions of members. In comparison, the Koch network was sponsored by just four hundred or so of the richest people in the country. It was for this reason that the Harvard scholars who studied it said that the Koch network was “like nothing we’ve ever seen.”

Irrespective of Trump, the Kochs and their fellow mega-donors succeeded in their chief political objective in 2016, which was to keep both houses of Congress under conservative Republican control, ensuring that they could continue to advance their corporate agenda. They succeeded in their secondary goal, too, which was to further crush the Democratic Party by continuing the nationwide sweep of state legislatures and local offices that they had begun in 2010. By controlling statehouses, they could dominate not just legislation but also the gerrymandering of congressional districts, in hopes of securing their grip on the House of Representatives for years to come.

Many of the races they backed were too minor to merit press attention. In Texas alone, they supported candidates in seventy-four different races, reaching all the way down to a county court commissioner. Thanks in no small part to huge quantities of targeted money spent by the Kochs and their allied donors, the Democratic Party lost both houses of Congress, fourteen governorships, and thirty state legislatures, comprising more than nine hundred seats, during Obama’s presidency. By the time the votes were tallied in the 2016 election, Republicans controlled thirty-two state legislatures, while Democrats controlled only thirteen. Five others were split. This imbalance posed a huge problem for Democrats not only in the present but for the future, because state legislatures serve as incubators for rising leaders.

The Kochs might have disavowed Trump, but in several important respects he was their natural heir and the unintended consequence of the extraordinary political movement they had underwritten since the 1970s. For forty years, they had vilified the very idea of government. They had propagated that message through the countless think tanks, academic programs, front groups, ad campaigns, legal organizations, lobbyists, and candidates they supported. It was hard not to believe that this had helped set the table for the takeover of the world’s most powerful country by a man who made his inexperience and antipathy toward governing among his top selling points.

Charles Koch’s mentor, the quasi-anarchist Robert LeFevre, had taught the Kochs that “government is a disease masquerading as its own cure.” Their extreme opposition to the expansions of the federal government that had taken place during the Progressive Era, the New Deal era, the Great Society, and Obama’s presidency had helped to convince voters that Washington was corrupt and broken and that, when it came to governing, knowing nothing was preferable to expertise. Charles Koch had referred to himself as a “radical,” and in Trump he got the radical solution he had helped to spawn.

The Kochs had also primed America for Trump by pouring gasoline on the fires lit by the antitax Tea Party movement starting in 2009. Charles Koch decried Trump’s toxic rhetoric in 2016, and David Koch complained to the Financial Times that “you’d think we could have more influence” after spending hundreds of millions of dollars on American politics. But in fact, the influence of the Kochs and their fellow big donors was manifest in Trump’s use of incendiary and irresponsibly divisive rhetoric. Only a few years ago, it was they who were sponsoring the hate.

In the 1960s, Charles Koch had funded the all-white private Freedom School in Colorado, whose head had told the New York Times that the admittance of black students might present housing problems because some students were segregationists. That was long ago, and his views, like those of many others, could well have changed. But in a 2011 interview with the Weekly Standard, David Koch echoed specious claims, made by the conservative gadfly Dinesh D’Souza, that Obama was somehow African rather than American in his outlook. He claimed that Obama, who was born in America and abandoned by his Kenyan father as a toddler, nonetheless derived his “radical” views from his African heritage.

The effort to attack Obama, not as a legitimate and democratically elected American political opponent, but as an alien threat to the country’s survival, was very much in evidence at a summit that the Kochs’ political organization Americans for Prosperity hosted in Austin, Texas, during the summer of 2010. Between Tea Party training sessions, operatives working for the Kochs gave an award to a blogger who had described Obama as the “cokehead-inchief” and asserted that he suffered from “demonic possession (aka schizophrenia, etc.).” The Kochs and other members of the Republican donor class might have disowned the vile language of the 2016 campaign, but six years earlier they were honoring it with trophies.

The same incendiary style characterized the big donors’ fight against the Affordable Care Act. Rather than respectfully debating Obama’s health-care plan as a policy issue, the Kochs and their allied donors poured cash into a dark-money group called the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which mounted a guerrilla war of fearmongering and vitriol. Television ads sponsored by the group featured the false claim that Obama’s plan was “a government takeover” of health care, which PolitiFact named “the Lie of the Year” in 2010. Meanwhile, a spin-off of Americans for Prosperity organized anti-Obamacare rallies at which protesters unfurled banners depicting corpses from Dachau, implying that Obama’s policies would result in mass murder.

Koch operatives also purposefully sabotaged the democratic process by planting screaming protesters in town hall meetings at which congressmen met with constituents that year. In short, during the Obama years, the Kochs radicalized and organized an unruly movement of malcontents, over which by 2016 they had lost control. “We are partly responsible,” one former employee in the Kochs’ political operation admitted to Politico a month before Trump was elected. “We invested a lot in training and arming a grassroots army that was not controllable.”

In other ways, too, the Kochs and their allied big donors became victims of their own success in 2016. They inadvertently laid the groundwork for Trump’s rise by too thoroughly capturing the Republican Party with their cash. Their narrowly self-serving policy priorities were at odds with those of the vast majority of voters. Yet virtually every Republican presidential candidate other than Trump pledged fealty to the donors’ wish lists as they jockeyed for their support. The candidates promised to cut taxes for those in the highest brackets, preserve Wall Street loopholes, tolerate the off-shoring of manufacturing jobs and profits, and downgrade or privatize middleclass entitlement programs, including Social Security. Free trade was barely debated. These positions faithfully reflected the agenda of the wealthy donors, but studies showed that they were increasingly out of step with the broad base of not just Democratic but also Republican voters, many of whom had been left behind economically and socially for decades, particularly acutely since the 2008 financial crash. Trump, who could afford to forgo the billionaires’ backing and ignore their policy priorities, saw the opening and seized it.

Whether Trump would fulfill his supporters’ hopes and break free from the self-serving elites whose money had captured the Republican Party prior to his unorthodox election remained to be seen. The early signs were not promising. Not only was Trump’s early transition team swarming with corporate lobbyists, including those who had worked for the Kochs, but Trump’s inaugural committee featured several members of the Kochs’ billion-dollar donor club, too. Neither Diane Hendricks, a building-supply company owner whose $3.6 billion fortune made her the wealthiest woman in Wisconsin, nor billionaire Sheldon Adelson, founding chairman and chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation casino empire, signaled a break from politics as usual.

Inaugurals had long been underwritten by rich donors, so perhaps reading too much into this was unfair. But Trump’s tax proposals, to the extent that they could be gleaned, were if anything even more of a bait and switch. While he had garnered bluecollar support by promising to stick it to the elites who “are getting away with murder,” his proposals, according to economic experts, threatened instead to enshrine a permanent aristocracy in America. He appeared poised to repeal the estate tax, presenting a windfall to heirs of estates worth $10.9 million or more. There had been fewer than five thousand estates of this size in 2015. He also had plans to abolish the gift tax, which put the brakes on inherited wealth. Capital gains taxes and income taxes for top earners were headed toward the chopping block, too. Charles and David Koch, who together were worth some $84.5 billion, stood to benefit to an extent that dwarfed earlier administrations, as did many other billionaires. As the headline on Yahoo Finance proclaimed on the day after the election, “Trump’s Win Is a ‘Grand Slam’ for Wall Street Banks.”

The fact of the matter was that while Trump might have been elected by those he described as “the forgotten” men, he would have to deal with a Republican Party that had been shaped substantially by the billionaires of the radical Right. He would have to work with a vice president once funded by the Kochs and a Congress dominated by members who owed their political careers to the Kochs. Further, he would have to face a private political machine organized in practically every state, ready to attack any deviation from their agenda. No one could predict what Trump would do. Nor could they predict how much longer the Kochs, by then in their eighties, would stay active. But one thing was certain. The Kochs’ dark money, which they had directed their successors to keep spending long after they had passed away, would continue to exert disproportionate influence over American politics for years to come.

November 2016 Washington, D.C.


DARK MONEY. The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

by Jane Mayer

get it at Amazon.com




Why is populism suddenly all the rage? – Matthijs Rooduijn * IMF Report. Populism and Civil Society – Tito Boeri, Prachi Mishra, Chris Papageorgiou, Antonio Spilimbergo.

In 1998, about 300 Guardian articles mentioned populism. In 2016, 2,000 did. What happened?

What is populism?

Populists tend to frame politics as a battle between the virtuous ‘ordinary’ masses and a nefarious or corrupt elite and insist that the general will of the people must always triumph. The Guardian is adopting the classic definition of populism proposed by political scientist Cas Mudde. Populism, he says, is often combined with a “host” ideology, which can either be on the left or right.

Populism is as old as democracy itself, but the last 10 years have proven particularly fertile: populist leaders now govern countries with a combined population of almost two billion people, while populist parties are gaining ground in more than a dozen other democracies, many of them in Europe.

Populism is sexy. Particularly since 2016, the year of the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump, it seems as if journalists just cannot get enough of it. In 1998, the Guardian published about 300 articles that included the terms “populism” or “populist”. In 2015, these terms were used in about 1,000 articles, and one year later this number had doubled to almost 2,000.

The increasing popularity of the term is no coincidence. Populist parties have tripled their vote in Europe over the past 20 years. They are in government in 11 European countries. More than a quarter of Europeans voted populist in their last elections.

Why? There is no easy answer to this question. Recent academic studies have shown that throughout the western world populist attitudes are widespread. Many citizens take the view that ordinary, virtuous people have been betrayed, neglected or exploited by a corrupt elite. Although citizens with strong populist attitudes do not necessarily vote for a populist party (in fact, many of them don’t), there are various circumstances that increase the likelihood that they will do so.

Firstly, when a society is more individualised, and voters are more independent and emancipated, electoral volatility tends to be higher. Such circumstances will enhance the probability that populist attitudes are translated into real populist votes. After all, without a certain degree of detachment from traditional mainstream parties, voters are unlikely to actually switch away from them and turn to populists.

Secondly, there is a fertile breeding ground for populists when mainstream left and right parties converge ideologically. If this is the case, many voters will be susceptible to the message that mainstream political parties are all one and the same. A good example is how in France the Front National (now National Rally) merged the names of the centre-right UMP and the centre-left PS into “UMPS” in its campaigning the political equivalent of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Moreover, when mainstream parties converge, they leave fallow a lot of ideological space, and therefore tend to be unresponsive to the worries of more radical citizens.

Thirdly, crises can make the activation of populist attitudes more likely. A financial crisis, for instance, makes mainstream parties highly vulnerable to the critique that “the established elite” has messed things up. The European refugee crisis provided populist parties with ammunition for the argument that governing elites had opened up the borders and were unable to deal with the inflow of immigrants.

Fourthly, Widespread corruption plays straight into populist hands. If it turns out that political parties are highly corrupt, the populist claim that people are exploited by an inward-looking, condescending elite will find wide public support. This is exactly what happened in Italy in the early 1990s, for instance. As a result of a nationwide judicial investigation into bribery, nepotism and other forms of corruption, the whole party system was turned upside down. This cleared the way for the rise of populists such as Silvio Berlusconi and the League.

Yet a fertile breeding ground for populism is not enough for populism to thrive. There should also be a credible populist challenger who offers an attractive alternative to the existing parties. In order to be perceived as an attractive alternative, a challenger party needs to express a message that appeals to large numbers of discontented voters. Moreover, what also helps is an alluring leader and, especially in the long term, a well-functioning party organisation.

The changing media environment also plays a role. Because of dwindling subscription rates, traditional media increasingly focus on topics they expect to sell well, such as scandals and conflict, fuelling the sense of crisis that populists can draw on.

Of course, sociopolitical contexts vary by geography and so does populism. In northern Europe, successful populists are mainly radical rightwing populists. Parties such as the Danish People’s party, the Finns and the Sweden Democrats all combine a xenophobic nationalist outlook with a populist message. Leftwing populism is much less widespread in this part of Europe possibly because the strong economies and generous welfare systems of the Nordic countries make a radical leftwing populist message less pressing.

Southern Europe looks different. In countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece, populism is not exclusively a radical rightwing phenomenon. This might well be due to the fact that the financial crisis hit these countries harder than most. They therefore form the perfect setting for a leftwing populist message. Parties like Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece combine their populism with a radical leftwing main ideology. In Italy, the Five Star Movement combines populism with a diverse array of ideological stances.

Western Europe differs from southern Europe in that radical leftwing populists are less successful. This is most likely due to the fact that countries in this part of Europe have much stronger economies than their southern European neighbours. The exception that proves the rule is Ireland. This country did not perform very well economically and harbours a relatively successful radical leftwing populist party: Sinn Féin.

The landscapes in central and eastern European countries look very different. Here, populism generally did not bob up at the fringes of the political spectrum, but in the centre. Parties such as Fidesz in Hungary and Law and Justice in Poland started their political lives as mainstream parties. Only later on did they also embrace populism and, even later, nativism. It is probably because these do not have radical heritages which could potentially thwart their “respectable” images that they have managed to become the leading parties in their respective countries.

Despite all these geographical differences, throughout Europe the breeding ground for populism has become increasingly fertile. And populist parties are ever more capable of reaping the rewards.

Matthijs Rooduijn is a political sociologist at the University of Amsterdam

The Guardian

See also:

IMF Report. POPULISM AND CIVIL SOCIETY – Tito Boeri, Prachi Mishra, Chris Papageorgiou, Antonio Spilimbergo.

IMF Report. POPULISM AND CIVIL SOCIETY – Tito Boeri, Prachi Mishra, Chris Papageorgiou, Antonio Spilimbergo.

“Despite popular perception there is not an overwhelming trend in favour of populism in Europe.”

Populism: An ideology that considers society ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonist groups, ‘the pure people’ versus the ‘corrupt elite’.

Populists claim to be the only legitimate representative of the people. Does this mean that there is no space for civil society?

What is peculiar about the recent wave is that populism has spread and sometimes became dominant in countries with well established liberal democracy.

Why do voters vote for parties which are ultimately against their own interest?

Our main finding is that individuals belonging to associations are less likely to vote for populist parties.

The issue is important because since Tocqueville (1835), associations and civil society have been recognized as a key factor in a healthy liberal democracy.

We ask two questions:

1) Do individuals who are members of civil associations vote less for populist parties?

2) Does membership in associations decrease when populist parties are in power?

We answer these questions looking at the experiences of Europe, which has a rich civil society tradition, as well as of Latin America, which already has a long history of populists in power.

The main findings are that individuals belonging to associations are less likely by 2.4 to 4.2 percent to vote for populist parties, which is large considering that the average vote share for populist parties is from 10 to 15 percent. The effect is strong particularly after the global financial crisis, with the important caveat that membership in trade unions has unclear effects.

1. History

Populism is not new. Waves of populism have spread through Russia and the US. at the end of the 19th century and through several European and Latin American countries in the 20th century. In previous episodes, populism remained marginal (like in Europe in the second half of the 20th century) or became dominant in weak democracies (like Latin America.) What is peculiar about the recent wave is that populism has spread and sometimes became dominant in countries with well established liberal democracy. This begs the question of how populism not only coexists but even thrives and prospers in liberal democracies.

What is populism?

Populism has been defined in various ways and is often used as a derogative term in political debates. In line with a common view in political science, we use the definition of populism as “an ideology that considers society ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonist groups, ‘the pure people’ versus the ‘corrupt elite’”.

The key issue of interest here is that the populist ideology considers the people as a monolith, and populist leaders claim to have the monopoly of political representation of the people. This monopoly on representing “the people” is almost a moral right which delegitimizes all other parties, associations, and groups in the populist discourse. In the populist view, a (corrupt and detached) elite is in opposition with the (homogenous and virtuous) ‘people.’ In the populists’ Manichean view, there is no intermediate space between the ‘virtuous people’ and the corrupt elites. This view is in contrast with the concept of liberal democracy.

Liberal democracies are political systems based on pluralism where different groups represent different interests and values, which are all legitimate provided they respect the rules. In liberal democracies, multiple political parties compete in free elections, branches of government are separated, and a system of checks and balances exists. Associations are formed to organize and give voice to these different values. Associations play a key role in liberal democracies.

Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America (1835) writes on the role of associations in democracies:

“Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite. Thus, the most democratic country on earth is found to be, above all, the one where men in our day have most perfected the art of pursuing the object of their common desires in common and have applied this new science to the most objects. Does this result from an accident or could it be that there in fact exists a necessary relation between associations and equality? All citizens are independent and weak; they can do almost nothing by themselves, and none of them can oblige those like themselves to lend them their cooperation. They therefore all fall into impotence if they do not learn to aid each other freely. If men who live in democratic countries had neither the right nor the taste to unite in political goals, their independence would run great risks, but they could preserve their wealth and their enlightenment for a long time; whereas if they did not acquire the practice of associating with each other in ordinary life, civilization itself would be in peril. The morality and intelligence of a democratic people would risk no fewer dangers than its business and its industry if the government came to take the place of associations everywhere. In democratic countries, the science of association is the mother science; the progress of all the others depends on the progress of that one.”

This citation illustrates well the role of associations in well functioning liberal democracies.

In sum, liberal democracies are pluralistic and associations are key to aggregation; in contrast, populists consider ‘the people’ as a homogeneous group, which cannot be divided.

But what is the role of associations if the populist leaders are the only legitimate representative of the people? This paper looks at the issue of single individuals’ preferences in a large sample of European and Latin American countries. Are individuals who belong to associations more prone to vote for populist parties? Did the global economic crisis and the Euro area crisis change this relation?

We test the hypothesis on whether belonging to a body in civil society (by belonging to a civil society association or a trade union) reduces the probability to vote (as stated in retrospective questions) for a populist party. We use several waves of the European Social Survey (ESS), which comprises more than 60,000 individual observations, covering 17 European countries with populist parties for about 15 years, and several waves of LatinBarometro, which covers all major Latin American countries for several years.

Our main finding is that individuals belonging to associations are less likely to vote for populist parties.

In Europe, individuals belonging to associations are 3.2 percent less likely to vote for populist parties during the post global financial crisis period. The result is driven specifically by membership in civil associations rather than trade unions. The finding is robust controlling for several variables that could co determine jointly the voting behaviour in favour of populist parties and the decision to join an association, and removing outliers to estimate a 2 step Heckman model that accounts for the probability of participation in voting.

We find qualitatively similar results for Latin America, where voting is compulsory, albeit with very limited data that precludes conducting several robustness checks. We interpret the findings as associations provide ideological anchors, identities, and voice mechanisms; as individual beliefs became more unhinged from ideological anchors post crisis, people felt more open to voting for new parties. Another interpretation is that associations promote social responsibility and acts as a protective shield against populism. Finally, it is not only that association members are less likely to vote for populist parties, but there is also some suggestive evidence for trade union density to be lower in countries where populists have been in power.

This paper makes contributions in three fields:

First, our approach is useful in explaining one of the puzzles that populism is generally not correlated to economic crisis. For instance, despite the deep economic crisis, Ireland and Iceland did not have strong populist movements. On the other hand, Poland, which did not experience a recession during the global financial crisis, has a party classified as populist in power. We investigate how the presence (or absence) of civil society can explain these differences across countries.

Second, there is an ongoing debate about the importance of economic versus cultural and social factors in explaining the rise of populism. Our approach focusing on the intermediate bodies argues that these factors need to be complemented as the spread of populist ideas depends on the presence of a civil society.

Third, our results provide indirect evidence for the old idea that populism may be the response of a society losing its ‘collective consciousness.’ The idea, which is old in sociology, is that a society needs a system of solidarity between individuals, providing cross-cutting social ties. When this system breaks down, individuals feel anemia and are ready to support new movements. According to this view, populists gain support after big shocks only if the society does not have enough intermediate institutions which provide an ‘ideological anchor’ to individuals.

The paper is organized as follows. Section 2 reviews the literature on populism and economics with a focus on the effect of the recent global financial and euro crises. Section 3 describes the data sources used in the empirical analysis and takes a first look at these data. Section 4 discusses the empirical strategy followed by Section 5 that reports and discusses the results. Section 6 looks at what happens to trade union membership when populists gain power. Section 7 draws conclusions.

2. Literature Review

The literature on the causes and the electoral success of populism is old and voluminous, but so far answers have been elusive to historians and political scientists. In this paper, we focus on three questions on which economists have focused:

1) What is the role of populism in rich postmodern societies and why has populism been on the rise even before the global financial crisis?

2) What are the effects of the global financial crisis and, in particular, the euro crisis on politics?

3) Why do voters vote for parties which are ultimately against their own interest?

Populism in post modem societies

The rise of populist parties in Europe since the 1980s has revived the literature on populism in political science. The success of (far right) populist parties in the last thirty years has been remarkable. With the Green Parties, the populist far right parties are the only new party family in Europe in the last seventy years and the only one to spread consistently in both Eastern and Western Europe. The reasons for the rise of populist parties are complex, involving both demand and supply factors, A key issue is the revival of populist parties in rich countries where democracy is well established.

Inglehart and Norris (2016) explore two leading explanations:

First, there is the widely held view that economic insecurity has caused the rise of populism. According to this view, deep structural transformations of the last fifty years have created economic uncertainty and social malaise, especially amongst the economic losers of these transformations.

The second view focuses on cultural backlash. In addition to deep economic changes, the last fifty years have seen profound social transformation; the introduction of new values in the society has caused a reaction in sectors of the population which felt threatened.

Using the European Social Survey, Inglehart and Norris (2016) find strong evidence in favour of the cultural backlash hypothesis. This finding suggests that the traditional left-right cleavage, on which politics was based before the 80s, is being substituted by a new cleavage between traditional and progressive values in (post modem) Western societies. Inglehatt and Norris (2016) also find evidence that the support for populist parties comes from small shop keepers and not from low wage workers and that unemployment status and income are bad predictors of populist votes.

The view that in post modern societies voting is more affected by cultural factors than by wealth or income is important for this paper. In fact, in a post modern world, associations, Which are part of the individual’s cultural world, should play an increasing role in determining voting intentions.

Are voters irrational?

Economists have found it particularly difficult to explain the success of populist parties because support for populism challenges the usual assumption in political economy that individuals act (and vote) following their own interests. Economists have long maintained that populists in power implement policies that in the long run damage the whole economy and, particularly, those groups that populists are supposed to favour. Why do people vote for populist movements that ultimately go against their own interests? If populism leads to bad economic consequences (as economists assume), why do people support populist parties?

This seems to violate the principle of rationality.

Economists provided different answers to this question. Dornbusch and Edwards (1992) argue that (most) voters are short sighted and often misinformed; this explains why they supported political movements in Latin America that promised wealth for everybody and ignored budget constraints. Caplan (2007) provides evidence that American voters do not behave rationally, at least in the economic sphere. Acemoglu et al. (2013) argue that populist policies are a signalling device by honest politicians directed to voters who have imperfect information about the politicians. Populist politicians choose ‘extremist’ policies to signal that they are not beholden to special interest. Di Tella and Rotemberg (2017) add voters’ distaste for ‘betrayal’ to a standard model and argue that voters prefer having incompetent leaders rather than feel betrayed. These explanations have merits, but also the big limit that they do not build on the insights of political science.

Finally, Rodrik (2017) argues that populism is a rational response to the shocks caused by globalization.

The views in this debate on the rationality of the voter span a wide range. However, all have the implicit assumption that the individual chooses (rationally or irrationally). Our paper innovates in this respect and shows that associations play a key role in explaining the populist votes.

Social Capital and populism

The role of social capital has been recognized in economics for a long time. Building on Tocqueville’s intuition, Putnam argues that social capital, which was key in building American society, has been declining since the 1960s. According to him, the decline in social capital has increased unhappiness and political apathy. Crucially, low level of social capital also decreases confidence in government and lowers frequency in voting and participating in political activity. In his original work, he did not deal directly with populism but all these correlates of social capital are often associated with populism. Satyanath et al. (2018) argue instead that there is a “dark side” of social capital, documenting that social capital aided the rise of the Nazi movement that ultimately destroyed Germany’s first democracy.

This paper also builds on this strand of the literature in linking social capital as measured by membership in association with populism.

Economic crises and populism

The global financial crisis (or Great Recession) in 2008/9 and the Euro crisis in 2012 have had unprecedented economic consequences; did the economic crises also cause political crises? After all, political crises and the ascent of Nazism followed the economic crisis in the thirties. Political scientists and economists give different answers to this question.

Rovira Kaltwasser, and Zanotti (2016) state that “in contrast to alarmist reports in the media claiming that the Great Recession is triggering the rise of anger, extremism and protest across Europe, most comparative (party) politics literature on the Great Recession tend to argue that so far the political consequences of the crisis have been limited.” The extended state of welfare is credited for preventing a different outcome than in the 30s. Moreover, the evidence points that the recession itself has not caused a large increase of votes for the French Front Nationale. The discontent caused by the economic crisis seems to have been channelled through retrospective voting (i.e. voters punish incumbents in government irrespective of their ideology). According to this view, the rise of populism after the Great Recession is the continuation of a pre-existing trend of punishment of the ruling class via voting for parties with mostly inexperienced politicians presenting themselves as anti establishment.

Economists hold the opposite view that the economic crises had profound political effects and, in particular, are fostering populism. Guiso et al. (2017), Algan et al. (2017), the EEAG report (2017), Dustmann et a1. (2017) argue that the crises and the attendant economic insecurity undermined trust in institutions, in particular, European institutions. Similarly, Funke et. al. (2017) find that voters flock to extremist parties, located at both ends of the political spectrum, after financial crises.

Contributing to this literature, our paper finds that the crises had indeed an effect on the voting preferences, but this was intermediated by associations. Results somewhat similar to ours were obtained by Coffé et al. (2007) in their analysis of the electoral success of the Vlaams Blok in the 2004 Flemish regional elections. They found the right wing populists to be particularly successful in municipalities with a small network of social organizations.

3. Data

This section starts with a brief account of the sources from which data were obtained followed by a first look at basic trends and descriptive statistics.


Our dataset is at an individual level and is drawn primarily from the European Social Survey (ESS). The ESS maps the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour patterns to socio economic and demographic variables. The surveys take place every two years, though not all countries and individuals participate in all the waves. Therefore, we have a repeated cross section rather than a panel. The data measure voting patterns at the individual level. The ESS asks individuals whether they voted in the last Parliamentary election and if they did, which party they voted for. The sample covers 17 European countries over the period 2002-16.

We also use data on voting patterns in Latin America from the Latinobarometro. The Latinobarometro is also an individual level survey similar to ESS, though with very limited information, and reduced coverage, relative to the ESS. The Latinobarometro also measures voting behaviour but asks a different question: if individuals are asked to vote the following Sunday for Parliamentary or Presidential election, which party would they vote for. The data for Latin America is very limited, covering 17 countries from 1996-2008 with many gaps. Given the limited coverage, we exercise caution in interpreting the results for Latin America and treat them as only suggestive evidence.

To identify populist parties in Europe and Latin America, we follow the recent literature. Inglehart and Norris classify populist parties based on the 2014 Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES). The CHES uses expert ratings on position of parties on a range of characteristics such as support for traditional values, liberal lifestyles, and multiculturalism, including economic characteristics such as state of the economy, and market deregulation. Inglehart and Norris classify a party as populist if it scores more than 80 points on a standardized 100 point scale built using thirteen selected indicators contained in the CHES. This definition of populist party is time invariant. We follow the same methodology to classify populist parties in Europe and Latin America. Based on this methodology, we define 28 parties in Europe and 22 parties in Latin America as populist.

A key variable in our analysis is membership of civil society associations. We construct association membership rates for Europe using the ESS Membership of civil society associations is elicited from a question on personal involvement in actions “trying to improve things or help prevent things from going wrong”. We consider members of civil society associations those stating not to have “contacted a politician” or “worked in a political party”, or “belonging to any particular religion or denomination” but to have “worked in another organization or association during the last 12 months”. More specifically, an individual is defined to be a member of a civil society association, if during the last 12 months he has worked in an organization or association trying to improve things or help prevent things from going wrong in her country. In some specifications we also use a measure of self reported trade union membership, though we argue later in the paper that this measure is more likely to be contaminated by endogeneity concerns than membership of civil societies. We define an individual to be a member of a trade union if he/she is currently “a member of a trade union or similar organization”.

The Latinobarometro dataset also has information on whether an individual is a member of any association, including trade union, though the variable is not available for most years. Moreover, the exact definition of association membership in the Latinobarometro varies from year to year. In the 2008 survey, for example, the definition includes membership in trade or labor unions as well as groups or associations related to “politics , students , religious , culture , sport”, or “ecology”.

We use several other socio economic variables such as age, gender, income, and education. Details of all the variables used in the empirical analysis is provided in Table A2. Table A3 provides descriptive statistics for the variables used in the analysis.

A first look at the data

Before going into the econometric analysis, we analyse the evolution of our key variables over time and analyse simple correlations. In Europe, there is no clear trend in populist vote intention between 2002 and 2016. Close to 10 percent of the population said they would vote for populist parties in 2002; the figure increased to close to 15 percent by mid 2000, before beginning to decline again more recently. This is consistent with the fact that, despite popular perception, there is not an overwhelming trend in favour of populism in Europe.

For Latin America, we find a clear break in the trend towards populism. Populism was flat till mid 2000s but has increased sharply since then. The rise of populism in Europe till mid 2000s has coincided with a rather constant level of civil association membership whilst union membership has been on a declining trend. In general union membership rates display a much higher time variation than membership in civil society associations.

Only for selected countries in Europe, such as Turkey, populist in power were associated with declining membership of associations. In the case of Latin America, on average, association membership rates have decreased in parallel with a rise in populism. In Brazil and Argentina, the years when populists were in power were also years when membership of associations declined.

How does membership of civil society association interact with political preferences for populist parties? Do populism and decline in, broadly speaking, association membership rates (including unions) go hand in hand, or are they driven by a third factor? We analyse these issues more rigorously in the next section using a novel dataset on voting patterns and association membership rates.

4. Empirical specification. See the full report (download link below).

5. Empirical Results

This section first reports results using a large voting dataset from 17 European countries followed by results from a smaller yet quite representative dataset from 17 Latin American countries.

Baseline Evidence from European voting data

We first show results for drivers of voting for populists using the ESS. Our dataset includes observations from 17 European countries with eight waves.

Table 1-2 shows the results from estimating Equation (1) by OLS and Probit respectively. Column 1 pools data from all available years from 2002-2016. Our key variable of interest is membership in a civil association. The estimated coefficient for this variable is negative in Column 1 of Tables 1-2 i.e. individuals who belong to associations are less likely to vote for populist parties. The result holds also across all waves in Tables 1 and 2, with the exception of 2004 in Table 1.

The coefficient on civil association is about 3 percent. This is a large number considering that the average vote share for populist parties is between 10 and 15 percent in most countries. In other words, membership of civil society reduces the vote for populist party by 20 to 30 per cent.

In addition to membership in a civil organization, being female and having attained tertiary education are consistently negative and highly significant, i.e., females and highly educated are significantly less likely to vote for populist parties. Self reporting insufficient income or income difficulties are significant sporadically but, in general, consistent with economic explanations of populism: self reporting having sufficient income is negatively correlated with voting for populist parties while reporting income difficulties is positively associated with voting for populist parties.

Effect of the European crises

Europe experienced the global financial crisis in 2008-9 and the Southern part of the Eurozone experienced another severe recession in 2012. Did the crises change the effect of associations on voting pattern?

Columns 2 and 3 in Tables 1 and 2 report the results when we split the samples between 2002-10, and 2012-16. These two sub periods are chosen also in light of the retrospective nature of the question on individuals votes. Columns 4-11 show the results for specific years. The coefficient on civil association membership is negative and statistically significant for every year (with the exception of 2004 for OLS in Table 1) but becomes even more negative after the global financial crisis. Note also that the coefficient of the variable for (self reported) insufficient income is negative and significant after the global Enancial crisis; and its magnitude increased 2-3 times in the post ctisis period.

What can explain the increasing negative correlation between civil association membership and populist vote? One potential explanation is that before the crisis party discipline was strong, and ideological vote was important. Post crisis, notably with the collapse of social democratic parties across Europe, individual beliefs became unhinged. With more unhinged beliefs, people felt more open to vote for new parties. Civil associations, on the other hand, provided ideological anchors and voice mechanisms alternative to voting for outsiders. Therefore, individuals who belonged to these associations voted less for populist parties.

This explanation is also consistent with the view that social capital represented by civil associations membership has a long term effect which manifests itself in moment of crises. Another complementary explanation is that economic crises have a big role in the system of beliefs on the role of the state. People, mostly young ones, demand more from the state but, at the same time, are more sceptical about the state. This unanswered demand is fulfilled by civil society associations and less by populist voting. Last but not least, the crisis had an impact on the supply of populist parties, making the vote more responsive to civil association membership.

Extended specification correcting for potential sample selection bias

OLS and Probit regressions have the potential problem of self selection given voters may decide not to vote. Indeed, individuals make two decisions: (1) whether to vote in an election, and (2) conditional on voting, which party to vote for, whether to vote for a populist party or not. This issue has been recognized in the literature, e.g. in Guiso et. al. 2017, and has been addressed through a two step Heckman model, to account for the bias that may result from the fact that party choice apply only to voters who turnout to vote.

Following the literature, we estimate a two step Heckman model. In the first stage, we estimate the probability of participation. In the second stage, we estimate the probability of voting for a populist party. For identification, we need to introduce at least one variable which affects the probability of voting but does not have a direct effect on the choice of party. As instrument we use proxies for lack of awareness about public choice issues.

We assume that lack of awareness affects voter turnout by increasing the cost of acquiring information about political platforms and candidates but does not directly impact choice of political party. We use several proxies for lack of awareness. The proxies are measured by the number of “don’t know” or “no answer” to questions relating to “anything about politics”: (i) TV watching, news/politics/current affairs on average weekday, (ii) how interested in politics, (iii) able to take active role in political group, (iv) confident in own ability to participate in politics, (v) easy to take part in politics, (vi) placement on left-right scale, (vii) state of education in country nowadays, (viii) state of health services in country nowadays.

Table 3 shows the results from estimating Equation (1) by the 2 step Heckman model respectively. Table 3a reports the estimates from the second stage of Heckman, while Table 3b reports the first stage estimates. The first stage reported in Table 3b shows the coefficient on our proxies for lack of awareness is strongly negative and statistically significant. We find strong evidence that individuals who are less aware are less likely to participate in elections, suggesting that lack of awareness is a strong instrument. Overall, the results from estimating the 2 step Heckman model support the main finding in Tables 1 and 2, and establish more conclusively that populism is negatively associated with civil society membership in Europe. Women, high income, highly educated, and older individuals, are less likely to vote for populist parties. The evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that voting for populist parties is less likely among people who are likely to be more economically secure.

The rest of the findings are broadly consistent with the literature. Income affects participation positively. High income individuals are more likely to vote, but less likely to vote populist; Low income individuals are less likely to participate, but have an insignificant effect on voting populist, relative to other individuals.

Controlling for other variables, women participate as much as men but, conditional on voting, they are less likely to vote for populist parties. The coefficient on women is consistently (and significantly) negative. The negative relationship between women and far right populist parties in Europe has been long noted. In the past, authors have argued that women may be discouraged by the fact that far right European parties have conservative values on civil rights, which may be not appealing to many women. More recently, Mudde (2007) has proposed an alternative explanation: women tend to vote for conservative parties but dislike extremist parties that are stigmatized as outsiders.

Age affects participation positively, bug conditional on voting, it has an opposite effect on populist vote. Education is considered in the literature to be a proxy for the ability to gauge long term costs of current policies and is hypothesized to be negatively associated with populist vote. Our results support the significance of education; however, we find interesting variation across different categories of education. Individuals with tertiary education are more likely to participate in elections, but significantly less likely to vote for populist parties. Individuals with secondary education are also more likely to participate in elections relative to those who are not, but they are not significantly less likely to vote populist, unlike the tertiary educated. Therefore, while our results support the importance of education in determining populist voting patterns, we find that it is only the highly educated who are less likely to vote for populist parties.

Robustness tests

In this section, we conduct robustness checks to analyse whether the coefficient on membership in civil associations is robust to alternative specifications, explanatory variables, and instruments. Table 4 presents the first set of robustness tests. Panel A estimates a logit specification. Panel B includes only a subset of selection variables for the first stage equation in the Heckman procedure. In particular, it excludes (i) TV watching, news/politics/current affairs on average weekday, (ii) how interested in politics, (iii) able to take active role in political group, from the set of selection variables listed above, in order to explore whether the results are driven by these variables.

Another potential concern relates to omitted variables that could co-determine jointly the voting behaviour in favour of populist parties and the decision to join an association. Panels C and D include a number of additional controls proposed in Guiso et. al. (2017.) These include indicators for risk aversion, trust in parties and institutions, watching television, watching politics news and programs, the unemployment spell over the last 5 years, exposure to globalization, preference for lower immigration, perception of negative effect of immigrants, and right wing ideology.

The main finding that membership of civil associations is negatively associated with voting for populist parties remains remarkably robust to different specifications, smaller set of selection variables, as well as additional controls. We do not introduce additional controls in the main specifications in Tables 1-3 to avoid issues of multicollinearity between the controls, and the Heckman 2 step estimates do not converge with the large set of additional controls.

Including Trade Unions Membership

Trade unions are a form of association and have traditionally played a big role in Europe, Do trade unions play the same role as other associations in diminishing the propensity for populist votes?

In our dataset, the average trade union and association membership rates in the sample are similar, at 27 percent and 22 percent respectively (Table A4). But the trends in the two variables are also quite different. As shown in Figure 1, while trade union membership rates show a steady decline since 2002, membership of civil society associations, on average, remained relatively stable.

As a first pass, we do replicate the specification of Table 1 (OLS), Table 2 (Probit), and Table 3 (Heckman) but changing the definition of the key variable of interest. In Table 5 Panel A it is belonging to a civil association or to a trade union. The results are not as strong as in the regressions using only membership in civil society as explanatory variable (as in Tables 1 through 4). The OLS results are significant only after the crisis; the results with Probit and Heckman are more consistent across the time periods.

One possible concern is reverse causality or omitted variables. Given that membership in trade unions is more likely to be endogenous than civil society membership at these frequencies, we use an instrumental variables strategy specifically to address this concern. We use as an instrument the sectoral trade union density in another country for the same sector in which the ESS individual works. We choose the United Kingdom, because it is a country where there is no extended coverage of bargaining (or where “excess coverage” is low), and therefore trade union membership rates are an appropriate measure of the strength of collective workers’ organizations. We assume that the sectoral trade union membership rates in the United Kingdom are exogenous to populist votes in other countries in our sample, which we believe is a reasonable assumption. To implement this strategy, we drop the United Kingdom from our regressions. The results are shown in Panel B in Table 5. The estimated coefficients on association or trade union membership remain negative and statistically significant in the instrumental variable estimations.

Focusing on trade union membership

In order to focus exclusively on the role of the trade unions, we replicate the same specification with only membership in trade union as explanatory variable (Table 6.) The results show that membership in trade unions has little significant effect on the propensity to vote for populist parties except in the 2014 wave. This confirms that trade unions, despite being a form of association, are quite different from other associations. This is also confirmed from a historical point of view. In Argentina, trade unions played a big role during the Peron period in consolidating a populist regime. Instead of being a barrier to populism, trade unions did in fact become a transmission belt of populism.

Role of the Trade Unions vs. Civil Associations

Membership in trade unions and membership in associations are likely to be correlated. Indeed, the correlation coefficient between the two variables in our sample is positive and significant (0.25 and significant at 1 percent level). To disentangle the effects of these two variables we run our basic specification using the two variables (membership in trade unions and membership in civil associations.) The results are reported in Table 7, which follows the same structure as Table 6. The results show that membership in civil associations drives the results while membership in trade unions becomes insignificant in most of the cases.

Are the results sensitive to the exclusion of any speciiic country?

To test the results from any specific country we replicate the Heckman specifications excluding one country at the time. The coefficients on associations are reported in Table 8. All coefficients remain highly significant in every year and excluding one country at the time.

We also run regressions on a subset of countries that are present in all waves of the survey. Our key results are, once more, unaffected?

Are the effects of association membership heterogeneous? Age and education

In this sub section, we analyse if the negative association between populist vote and association membership is driven by particular groups of individuals. Specifically, we analyse whether the effects are different across different age and education groups. We estimate the relationship between populist vote and civil association membership separately for three different age groups young, middle aged, and old. The results shown in Panel A of Table 9 show that populism and civil association membership do not depend on any specific age group. The negative correlation between populism and belonging to civil association, however, weakens in 2016 among the young, possibly indicating the importance of new social media, as collective voice mechanisms, for younger generations.

Panel A of Table 9 shows the results for three different education groups, less than secondary (i.e. less than 12 years of schooling), secondary to tertiary (between 12 and 16 years of schooling), and greater than tertiary (more than 16 years of schooling). Again, the negative correlation between belonging to civil association and populism is not driven by any education group.

Evidence from Latin American voting data

Next, we show results on drivers of voting for populism for Latin America, the continent with the longest history of populist parties in power. Another reason to analyse the Latin American case is that in these countries voting is compulsory (see Figure 2), making the issue of sample selection into voting less relevant than in Europe.

As noted above, the data for Latin America has very limited coverage, with much fewer observations compared to Europe. In addition, the data covers only the period from 1996 to 2008, with many gaps. Therefore, we cannot evaluate how the association between trade union membership and populist vote changed since the global fiscal crisis. Therefore, these results should be interpreted as being only suggestive, and should be taken with caution.

Table 9 presents the probit estimates of the drivers of populism for Latin America. The specification is identical to that for Europe. All regressions include indicators of income, age, gender, and education, and control for country time fixed effects. All standard errors are clustered at the country level.

The results, however, are qualitatively similar to what we found for Europe. Populist vote and trade union membership go hand in hand in the earlier part of the sample, but move in opposite direction since 2007. The estimated coefficient on trade union membership is positive and statistically significant for the sample period from 1996-2005, but turn negative and significant during 2007-2008. In other words, we observe qualitatively similar patterns between Europe and Latin America, albeit with different samples and databases.

Note that under the Latin American voting dataset we do not perform the robustness test by replacing the logit and probit models with the Heckman specification due to lack of data on instruments.

6. Populists in Power. See the full report (download link below).

7. Conclusions

Researchers have focused on the many reasons behind populism, including cultural backlash, economic uncertainty, and lack of trust. But no previous study has focused on the role of civil society. Civil society has long been recognized as a key defence of liberal democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote almost two centuries ago. At the same time, populists, who do not see a role for civil society, may pragmatically use associations as transmission belts, as the historical experience in Latin America may indicate. Thus, one can find arguments for civil society being a protective shield against populism or a vehicle of the populist ideology and the role of civil society in the rise of populism is an empirical matter. However, empirical tests have been lacking. This paper fills this gap.

This paper is innovative also because it encompasses both Europe and Latin America, in contrast from previous studies. This is important because Latin America has a longstanding experience with populist parties in power, and the literature in political science has recognized that all populisms have important traits in common despite the obvious differences due to the different geographical areas and right or left orientation. Our results show remarkable similarities in Latin America and Europe, an indication that the issue highlighted in the paper is important in understanding populism in general. This paper has also shown that unions in Europe (different from other associations) have a weak negative association with populism.

Finally, this paper also sheds new light on the role of the global financial crisis in the political process. The global financial crisis has not simply caused a populist wave. Rather, it may have changed (and enhanced) the role of civil society. In a world where political systems, institutions, and ideologies have been put into question and even discredited, where social democracy in Europe almost disappeared, civil society assumes a new role.

But this paper also opens important questions for future research.

First, why the role of civil associations as a vaccine against the populist vote was less important before the global financial crisis?

Second, what are the specific mechanisms through which belonging to a civil association lowers the populist vote? Is it because associations provide alternative information or because they offer an ideological anchor? Is it because they promote social responsibility beyond onesself? Is it because they offer voice mechanisms alternative to exit-punishment of incumbents? Is it because civil society associations are identity providers moderating the impact of migration on the identity of local communities?

Third, are all associations equivalent or are some associations more effective?

Fourth, do associations have a similar impact on all members of society or is belonging to an association more relevant for some groups?

Future research, possibly benefitting from data also covering the refugee crisis, should further investigate these issues.

Download the full report here (pdf) Populism and Civil Society

IMF Working Papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and to encourage debate. The views expressed in IMF Working Papers are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF, its Executive Board, or IMF management.