Podcasts / Democracy in Question

Democracy in Question

Most of the world’s population lives in a formal democracy today. But in both established and new democracies, trust in parliaments and political parties is plummeting. Worldwide, they are being torn apart by inequalities, political polarization and a politics of hate. Citizens are using the streets and the courts to challenge authority and to seek the accountability that is often missing at the ballot boxes. The form, content, institutions, practices and, ultimately, the very principles of liberal democracy are being called into question from India to Hungary and from Brazil to the US.

Hosted by Shalini Randeria, Rector of the IWM, Director of the Centre at the Graduate Institute, and Excellence Chair, University of Bremen (Research Group: Soft Authoritarianism). It features some of the most important voices in contemporary academia. Together they reflect on democratic experiences and experiments the world over and explore whether this crisis of democracy represents a historically unique challenge or whether parallels to political crises in the past can be discerned. Why have democratic institutions lost their legitimacy along with their capacity to mitigate inequalities by righting the wrongs of economic, racial and gender injustice? How can the disenfranchisement and disillusionment especially of impoverished and marginalized sections of the population be transformed into enthusiasm for democratic participation? And in the midst of crises, can we also see tendencies that point to a renewal and reform of democracy? While each episode addresses issues concerning the contemporary challenges to democracy in different contexts, the series is also committed to exploring themes in the longue durée of democracy that have occupied social scientists for decades.

Join Shalini Randeria and leading scholars for an exploration of the dilemmas facing democracies worldwide. Subscribe now, wherever you get your podcasts!

This podcast series is co-produced by the Graduate Institute’s Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy and the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) Vienna, in cooperation with Research Group: Soft Authoritarianism, University of Bremen and in collaboration with Richard Miron and Anouk Millet (Earshot strategies).

Democracy From Below: What Real Utopias Can We Build On?

Citizens have a crucial role to play in political life and can have tremendous power, as they come together in associations and social movements. To close this first season, Professor Mary Kaldor (London School of Economics) lends us her experience as both an academic and an activist in the peace and human rights movements to discuss what role civil society plays in keeping democracy alive and healthy, and what real utopias we can build on.

Can Liberal Democracy Outlive Climate Change?

Prior to the Covid 19 pandemic, the issue on everyone’s minds was climate change. Scientists have been raising the alarm for the good part of three decades, but politicians the world over have been slow to react, even as more citizens have been calling for radical action. In this episode, we’re joined by Michael Ignatieff (Central European University) to find out whether liberal democracy is up for the fight against climate change, and whether that fight could affect the political system itself.

How do Economic Inequalities Corrode Democratic Processes?

Capitalism has come under attack in recent years, notably because of growing economic inequalities not only between the global North and South, but also within Western countries. Some critics even cast doubt on its legitimacy and ability to create and preserve a just and equitable society. In this episode, the economist Branko Milanovic helps us understand how economic inequalities systematically corrode democratic processes.

How Does Austerity Politics Weaken Democracy?

Since the introduction of neoliberal policies under Thatcher and Reagan many countries worldwide have implemented austerity politics that dismantled social security programs by cutting public funding. Our guest today, the renowned British economist, Lord Robert Skidelsky has argued that liberal democracy rests on a welfare state, so that austerity politics and the rise of populism in the West are interlinked. So this time we ask: can liberal democracy co-exist with a politics austerity? 

What will remain of Trumpism going forward?

Joe Biden was declared the next president of the United States over a month ago now, but Donald Trump has not yet conceded his own defeat. Claiming voter fraud he has launched legal battles to try to undo the results of the election, to no avail. What mechanisms, institutions and narratives has he used? And to what long term effects?  In this episode, we are joined by Professor Timothy Snyder (Yale University and IWM) and Ivan Krastev (Centre for Liberal Strategies and IWM) to understand what will remain of Trumpism going forward and how it will impact democratic legitimacy the world over.

‘Soft Authoritarianism’, a New Face of Electoral Democracy?

A new kind of elected leader has emerged across the globe: one who rules with a large parliamentary majority and this with a claim to democratic legitimacy, but who uses power to hollow out democracy from the inside. So is such ‘soft authoritarianism’ that uses the law to undermine liberal principles a new face of electoral democracy? Professor John Keane (University of Sydney) helps us dissect this pervasive pattern of new despotisms and their strategies of rule