Democracy contra Liberalism Workshop

Democracy contra Liberalism


These days pundits often lament the global retreat of liberalism and democracy. They say that democracy – liberalism’s crucible – is besieged by 'populist', authoritarian, right-wing, anti-liberal politics. Yet populist and authoritarian leaders, whether Trump or Modi or Putin or Orban, are avowed democrats. When in power, they do not tend to dismantle democratic institutions, but, on the contrary, often endorse democracy in its more direct, one may say purer, forms, like referendums, which the very advocates of liberal democracy so stridently oppose. Western political theory, which sees democracy as an essentially liberal institution, built on values of freedom and equality, has failed to reckon with the clash of democratic politics and liberal ideology around the world, including liberalism’s Euro-American heartlands.


This workshop brings anthropologists, historians and political theorists into a conversation that will begin with holding liberalism and democracy apart. What may the rise of non-liberal, illiberal or anti-liberal forms of democracy tell us about how we conceptualize the global varieties of democratic politics, and indeed democracy as such? What political and intellectual lessons might be drawn from democracies, often sans liberalism, of postcolonial Asia, Africa, and Latin America? How may vernacular democratic cultures help develop a clearer vision of politics around the globe, and a more true-to-life theory of democracy than the crumbling liberal certitudes have so far allowed?