Yascha Mounk on Saving Democracy From Populism
Yascha Mounk—Harvard Lecturer, Senior Fellow at New America, and Executive Director of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change—spoke to a packed room at Third Way about global populism and the crisis facing liberal democracy as featured in his new book The People vs. Democracy. After some opening questions from Third Way’s Jim Kessler, the conversation turned to an open Q&A with an audience comprised of thought leaders and advocates from the DC area.
Mounk spoke of the rise in populism and warned that we may not be in a populist moment but the beginnings of a populist age. The disenchantment with democracy isn’t a phenomenon that started in 2016, but the culmination of rising support for populist parties has tripled since 2000.
A key factor in this is the divergence of classic “liberalism” and democracy. Our political system attempts to fulfill two aspirations: protecting individual liberty and promoting popular will through the vote. It has been a given that liberalism and democracy co-exist like binary stars. Now there is evidence of a decoupling. Popular will in certain countries have stripped individuals of their rights. Institutions like the press and the judiciary have been under attack. And it is unclear whether democracy without liberalism can survive. By attacking rule of law, delegitimizing political opposition, and undermining the free press, populists in power ultimately weaken the ability of the people to remove the populist himself by democratic means.
Public frustration with politics as usual—in addition to anger and resentment caused by a stagnant economy, increased immigration, and our changing digital world—has triggered the rise of populist candidates. These candidates are best identified as those who argue that they alone represent the people and anyone who disagrees with them, by nature, is therefore against the people. Economic and immigration issues compound each other: as people increasingly worry about their and their children’s future, they perceive a greater economic threat from immigrants. Some solutions to fight back against populism include developing policy agendas that promote an aggressive, modern and centrist agenda, championing inclusive patriotism and nationalism, and extending basic civil values to cover all Americans to ensure we create a stable multiethnic democracy.