The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
On November 8, scores of millions of voters will cast their ballots for the most remarkable presidential candidate in the history of American politics—a charismatic real estate developer turned reality TV star whose strident populism and checkered past have been denounced even by many in his own party. Last June, meanwhile, defying most of the country’s establishment, a majority of voters in the United Kingdom opted to abruptly exit the European Union, throwing the region’s future into chaos. And elsewhere in Europe, surging populist parties now control parliamentary majorities or pluralities in six countries and share in government in three others. What tectonic shifts are generating these earthquakes? How and why has populism reemerged with a vengeance in the heart of the advanced industrial world, and what will happen next? These are the questions we try to answer in this issue’s lead package, drawing as usual on a broad range of experts from various perspectives. The package kicks off with a fascinating interview with Marine Le Pen, the second-generation leader of France’s National Front, western Europe’s flagship populist party, who endorses Donald Trump, defends the burkini ban, and calls for a “Frexit.” Then, Fareed Zakaria surveys the West’s populist revival, arguing that its roots lie in the convergence of opinion on economic policy, the divergence of opinion on culture, and a pushback against increased immigration. Michael Kazin looks at the Trump phenomenon through the history of American populism, casting the fiery candidate as the latest champion of the ethnonationalist strand of the movement, which trains its fire on nonwhite “others” below as much as nefarious elites above. Cas Mudde explores the European scene, tracing how the decades-long erosion of support for mainstream political parties created an opening for outsider challenges. And Shannon O’Neil explains why Latin America, long a region notorious for its populist political antics, has moved away from populism in recent years. Sheri Berman dispels the notion that today’s populists are fascists but warns that they are symptoms of a decline in the ability of traditional political parties on both the left and the right to satisfy the needs of most voters—a trend that could lead to even greater turmoil down the road. And Pankaj Mishra locates the West’s populist surge in a broader uprising around the world against elites who have backed neoliberal globalization while ignoring the persistence of massive inequalities. Whatever the U.S. election results turn out to be, it is clear that today’s populist revolt cannot be ignored or dismissed. New voices are being heard, new issues are being forced onto the agenda, and politics as usual is unlikely to return anytime soon.
—Gideon Rose, Editor