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Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Majoritarian futures in Europe and beyond

Ivan Krastev, a political scientist and a renowned public intellectual, who is also the Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, gave the SEESOX Annual Lecture on 24 May 2017. Entitled “Majoritarian futures in Europe and beyond”, the lecture was chaired by SEESOX director Othon Anastasakis.

Krastev’s lecture kicked off with Jose Saramago’s 2005 novel Death with Interruptions, which tells the story of a country where people suddenly stop dying and death loses its central role in human life. Krastev likened this story to the West’s experience with globalization, a dream that turned into a nightmare. Suggesting that what we are witnessing worldwide is a revolt against the progressive post-1989 liberal order - defined by the opening of borders for people, capital, goods and ideas - and which takes the form of democracy’s revolt against liberalism, Krastev went on to dissect Francis Fukuyama’s article “The End of History.” Fukuyama had presented the victory of the West in the Cold War as one delivered by history itself. According to Krastev, Fukuyama’s piece captured the zeitgeist well; but one aspect was missing in his famous article. He talked about the free movement of capital, of goods and of ideas, but not of people, at least to the extent that we are experiencing now. The reason for this was, Krastev claimed, Fukuyama’s belief in the resistance of democracy. Fukuyama had believed that people would not migrate because democracy would create favourable environments in their homelands. But this turned out not to be the case. Today, poor and dysfunctional countries had become places in which it is not worthwhile to live, while Europe had neither the capacity nor the will to open its borders to everybody.Krastev contended that the current refugee crisis in Europe is the most powerful manifestation of both the changing nature of the appeal of democracy, and the rising tension between the principles of democratic majoritarianism and of liberal constitutionalism, both to the public and to the elites. What we are experiencing right now is not simply a movement of people from outside Europe to the continent, or from poor states to richer ones, but also, as Krastev calls them, a migration of voters away from the centre, from left to right and vice versa, and a migration of arguments. For example, the argument used by 1970s left-wing intellectuals in the West to defend the right of poor indigenous communities in India or Latin America to preserve their way of life, has now migrated to the middle-class communities of the West today.

Krastev acknowledged that, for many people worldwide, the idea of change means changing the country they live in, not the government they live under; and therefore, migration is actually the revolution of 21st century - a revolution that inspires a counter-revolution in Europe, led by the right-wing populist parties.

Krastev concluded his lecture by examining the populist tide and how it tends to generate majoritarian democracies all around Europe; we see the majority considering the state as its own private possession, with popular will considered as the only source of political legitimacy. Krastev also noted that the dismantling of checks and balances and of independent institutions are the main features of such majoritarian regimes.

Ezgi Başaran, St Antony's College

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