The Liberal International Order and the Rise of Nationalist Populism

Published: November 14th, 2017

Category: About

November 17th, 2pm
216 Anderson Hall

Berthold Rittberger

Abstract: This paper analyzes how the post-Cold War triumph of liberal internationalism has contributed to the rise of nationalist populism. Drawing on the heuristics of historical institutionalism, we argue that the institutional order underpinning liberal internationalism exhibits self-reinforcing characteristics, which simultaneously provoke reactive, self-undermining, sequences by enabling nationalist populism. Liberal internationalism works on the assumption that certain basic sociopolitical questions have been conclusively settled. Free trade, humanitarianism, democracy, or the rule of law are seen as undisputed goals, which are best served by being delegated to technocratic international organizations (IOs). IOs take the issues out of the realm of political debate and render them questions of technical rule-application. On the one hand, this de-politicization helps to lock-in and perpetuate the liberal institutional order. On the other hand, however, it also sows the seed for its own undermining: by reducing the scope of the political, the institutional entrenchment of liberal internationalism impoverishes justificatory discourses, enables policy drift, and provides opportunity structures for blame shifting, inciting populist denunciation. These opposite trends are bound to lead liberal institutions into crisis of functionality and legitimacy which will further amplify the self-undermining tendencies by enhancing the opportunity structures for populist politics.

Bio: Berthold Rittberger is Professor of Political Science and International Politics at the University of Munich. After completing his D.Phil. in Political Science at the University of Oxford, he held positions at the University of Mannheim, the Kaiserslautern University of Technology, and Nuffield College, Oxford. He has published widely on EU politics and integration, regulatory politics and institutions, as well as political representation in peer reviewed journals, such as European Journal of Political Research, European Union Politics, Journal of European Public Policy, Regulaton & Governance, West European Politics. His book “Building Europe’s Parliament. Democratic Representation beyond the Nation State” (OUP) won the prize for best dissertation awarded by the European Union Studies Association (EUSA). He is co-editor in chief of the Journal of European Public Policy, which currently ranks 9/165 on the Political Science list, published by Thomson Reuters.


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