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Crises of Democracy: The Populist Appeal of Strongmen

Politics of the Present

May 10, 2019

The panel will address the role of “strongmen” in escalating or, indeed, provoking democratic crises. There will be an emphasis on the relationship between the representations of modern leaders and the political actions such figures advocate and implement. How can we interpret Putin’s umbrella scene during the world cup final or the praises during Trump’s first cabinet meeting in the context of rituals of power? What does Viktor Orbán’s stadium-building obsession in Hungary or Erdogan’s monumental presidential palace tell us about the nature of those regimes? How do academic disciplines—history, political science, art history, cultural anthropology, cultural studies or psychology—help us understand and explain the complex relationship between representations and the exercise of power? Curiously enough, the relationship between political action and the (self-) representations of leadership has generally escaped the attention of journalists and analysts thus far. The panel aims to bring that relationship to the limelight and to show that the myths and rituals supporting the imagery of the “strong leader” are often indicative of the emergence of authoritarian political practices in a democratic environment.

Panelists: Balazs Apor (Trinity College Dublin), "The Return of the King? The Crisis of Democracy and the Rebirth of the Leader Cult" Ruth Ben Ghiat (NYU), "Strongman Body Politics" Ido de Haan (Utrecht University), “Bonapartist leaders and the imaginary people” Chair: María González Pendás (Columbia)