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Cultural backlash: Trump, Brexit, and authoritarian populism, by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart

Cultural backlash: Trump, Brexit, and authoritarian populism, by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart
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  Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism  by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2019, xiv + 540pp., bibliography, index. $29.99 (paperback), ISBN 1108444423. This book accounts for the rise of authoritarian populism across the Western world. It proposes an explanation to why voters and parties alike have drifted towards authoritarian and populist attitudes and candidates. After laying out the logical sequence of steps that underpin the theory, the authors examine a wide range of data to show that cultural issues have once again become a central determinant of public opinion and voter preferences. Using a cross-national approach to explain patterns in the EU, and an in-depth look at the rise of Trump in the US and the results of Brexit in the UK, they suggest that a culture war is at the heart of the matter. The theory is extraordinarily simple yet comprehensive. It suggests that a shift in long-term social structures sparked a silent revolution in cultural values. As the natural process of generational replacement eroded the conservative agenda, liberal concerns came to the forefront. This tipping-point triggered an authoritarian reflex in traditional segments of society; particularly those composed of older generations, white men, rural communities and the non-college educated. In the midst of declining economic conditions and growing social diversity, they turned to populist candidates willing to hold the establishment accountable for their losses. Cultural Backlash  is divided in four parts. The first part lays out the causal mechanisms that buttress the theory. The second part tests the main hypotheses at both the citizen and party levels and shows how the evidence points to a significant rise in authoritarian and populist sentiment. It also shows how recent waves of immigration and economic events shape voter preferences. The third part classifies parties according to their alignment on cultural cleavages, describes the profile  of authoritarian populist voters and takes an in-depth look at the two case studies. The final part highlights the dangers that authoritarian populism poses to liberal democracy. The book mainly relies on evidence stemming from the European Social Survey and the Chapel Hill Expert Survey. Through a battery of tables, graphs and figures, it shows that generational cohort is, as expected, the most important predictor of authoritarian populist attitudes. While older cohorts tend to support authoritarianism, younger ones tend to back populism. More importantly, it shows that when this sentiment is translated to electoral preferences, it cuts across the left-right continuum. While older voters tend to support conservative authoritarian initiatives like Brexit, younger ones tend to support progressive populist candidates such as Sanders. In the light of the receding share of older cohorts, the authors convincingly suggest an explanation to why rightwing authoritarian populism has been more salient and successful than its counterpart. Indeed, they propose that while the proportion of more socially-conservative older cohorts holding traditional values towards core identity issues, such as those surrounding the values of religion, family, and nation, has gradually faded away, it also remains the most active sector of the electorate. In comparison, younger generations who disproportionately support secularism, same-sex marriage and globalism among other more liberal issues, vote less. This strength of this book is its solid, systematic analysis and interpretation of the data. The carefully weaved together theory takes flight only after a series of measurement and methodological considerations are duly explained and accounted for. The proposed scales of measurement for authoritarian and populist attitudes are cautiously constructed and convincingly  useful. The long list of findings that result from their application are particularly persuasive and as such, theoretically valuable. Filled with confirmations and refutations for new and old hypotheses, Cultural Backlash leaves few stones unturned. The most visible shortcoming of the book is related to its purposely restricted sample size. Indeed, it is not clear how applicable the theory is non-developed democracies. But, if the cultural backlash account is robust, as the authors suggest, the political pattern observed in the EU, the US and the UK should also be visible elsewhere. Finding that the same mechanisms are at play, in significantly different settings, would have been a truly remarkable finding. A potential avenue to prove the extent of the theory in the future could be by extending the model to the presidential regimes of Latin America, where authoritarian populists have also made significant gains. The contribution of Cultural Backlash is not only in its account of the rise of authoritarian populism, but also in its suggestion of a changing social and political landscape. Its finding of the demise of the longstanding left-right cleavage will surely mark a turning point for research. The new social and political cardinal map proposed in the book, anchored in pluralist-populist and liberal-authoritarian continuums, will undoubtedly be helpful in the academic effort of explaining current social and political events. Quantitate and qualitative scholars alike will find value in the generational renewal account to explain public opinion and electoral trends in their fields. Cultural Backlash is a foundational piece in the burgeoning field of studies related to the revival of authoritarianism and the rise of populism in the twenty-first century. But it is also much more than that. It is not only a book that explains the reasons why some parties and candidates have been  more successful than others, or about the potential causes and effects of the erosion to liberal democracy. It is also an unprecedented roadmap to understand the new political and social fault lines that will likely mark political representation patterns for years to come. The book is a landmark in the study of social psychology and voter choice. Kenneth Bunker University of Milan, Milan, Italy
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