Tuesday, December 27, 2016


This semester, I am supervising eight thesis students which must be sort of a personal record. While I am rather jealous of one of the students who is doing a Minor Field Studies on the Seychelles, I know how much hard work thesis writing can be. In their thesis work, students have to combine the theoretical and methodological skills that they picked up through their undergraduate education and put it all together into a comprehensible manuscript.

Considering the times, it is not surprising that there have been a number of topics related to populism and the future of liberal democracy. As often tends to be the case, giving feedback on what the students write sparks my own interest. And picking up the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs with its “Power of populism” on the cover, I feel more inspired than ever to actually write something on populism.

One rather dark thought I have had recently has to do with how increasingly illiberal forms of government may paradoxically end up helping liberalism by offloading some of the burden associated with the provision of social reality. To put it in the words of the 80’s music: “Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)”. Easy as it may have been for people on the Left to complain about the loss of authenticity or having to choose telephone service provider in a globalizing post-historical Fukuyama world, I am afraid we will all rather soon wake up to problems of a completely different magnitude. Ultimately, there is no going back. The future will demand ever greater measures of self-actualization and reflexivity, at least any future that we want our children to live in. Eventually, it will become obvious that the cheap promises of an “easy life” that populism offers are just hollow and stale, that yielding to our bitterness only leaves us sad inside. And correspondingly, that only by expanding our circles of moral imagination do we grow.


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