Tutor profile: Jimena K.
Subject: Political Science
Why is it said that populism poses a challenge to liberal democracy?
Populism is said to be a contested subject, and this is partly because there are different conceptions of democracy and what it means to be truly sovereign. In The Populist Zeitgeist, Mudde argued that most definitions of populism are sensationalist, as they present populism as the de-facto enemy of liberal democracy (2004, p.541). Mudde states that many commentators concur that ‘populism is understood as a pathological form, pseudo- and postdemocratic, produced by the corruption of democratic ideals.’ (Mudde, 2004, p.541). He proposes that most definitions of populism can be placed in two pervasive groupings: 1. Those that describe populism as appealing to the “gut feeling” of the population, by using highly emotional and simplistic rhetoric and 2. Those that describe populism as attempting to buy the support of the voters, instead of providing them with the “best option” (Mudde, 2004, p.542). Mudde argued that both definitions are better described by the words demagogy and opportunism, respectively. Additionally, he highlights the empirical challenges with using measures such as “highly emotional”, in the first definition, or “best option”, in the second. In contrast with these negative perceptions about the relationship between populism and liberal democracy, Mudde astutely argues that the liberal democracy that all these definitions seem to be defending is not fully democratic, “Despite all democratic rhetoric, liberal democracy is a complex compromise of popular democracy and liberal elitism, which is therefore only partly democratic” (2004, p.561). For this reason, populism can be interpreted as a popular response to a limited democracy, where the “silent majority” stands up to the limitation of their current political system. Mudde's definition of "populism" employs Jean Jacques Rousseau’s idea of “volonté générale” (general will). The idea of “general will” presumes that there is one common shared sense of ideals or desires among the people. This idea highlights Rousseau’s republican utopia of self-government, which proposes that all people in a particular community can “unify their wills with the aim of proclaiming popular sovereignty as the only legitimate source of political power” (Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser, 2012, p.151). In Le Contrat Social, Rousseau highlights that the power of ‘the people’ exists in their numbers, proclaiming that if the people are informed enough, without the need to communicate with one another, their numerous little differences will ultimately lead to the creation of a general will, with a result that will always be positive (Simeon, 1943, p.150). The danger that is often proposed with the idea of “general will” is that individuals who do not share the same ideals or believes as the masses will not be considered as members of “the people”, and thus will be excluded from the political process, at best, and demonized, at worst. Therefore, the existence of a “general will” at its most extreme interpretation, challenges the very idea of liberal democracy, which has as one of its main pillars to constitutionally protect minority rights and to protect the independence of key institutions (Mudde, 2004, p.561). This has been the case of Venezuela where by “using plebiscitarian strategies to transform the country’s liberal institutional framework, concentrate power, and entrench himself, Chávez set about strangling democracy and putting competitive authoritarianism in its place” (Weyland, 2013, p.18). Venezuela is currently experiencing one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in its history and is the textbook example of the negative repercussion of extreme populism. However, as Mudde argues, liberal democracy is not yet serving all of its constituents, which begs the question “can liberal democracy be improved?” And, in theory, this is what the populists are setting out to discover. Populists often attempt to implement radical policies, in order to expand democracy to its constituents (“the people”), yet the inherent mechanisms of a liberal democracy, which have been established to protect minority rights and key independent institutions, pose a challenge. This leads to a vicious circle, where established and mainstream politicians attempt to maintain the constitutional provisions that uphold liberal(ish) democracy, while populist leaders push for radical change, some of them through any means necessary, which may include the degradation of the democratic system through plebiscitary instruments. The established politicians, in an effort to push out the populist contender, employ populist strategies, such as populist rhetoric and themes, and thus create the famous “populist zeitgeist” to which Mudde (2004) refers.
Subject: International Relations
The Venezuelan crisis is no longer just a national issue, but an international challenge. Name 3 ways in which the Venezuelan crisis has become a foreign policy issue by negatively affecting neighboring states.
Exodus of Venezuelans: An estimated 5.0 million immigrants are said to have left Venezuela since 2014, with the great majority of them remaining in South America . The borders are becoming more dangerous, more militarized, and a source of friction among the nations. Before the crisis, Venezuelans could cross to neighboring countries with nothing more than a national identity card. Many states now require that individuals crossing the border show a valid passport, a feat that is nearly impossible for most Venezuelans, due to paper shortages and the deteriorating bureaucracy in Venezuela. For many, the only option is to pay a ‘dragger’, in order to cross the border in search for food, medicine, and a better life. The draggers work in conjunction with powerful criminal groups who have been in control of contraband commerce across the borders, providing them a cut of the profit in exchange for the right to operate in the area . In turn, neighboring countries have tightened their requirements for entry, as well as increased military presence across their borders. In Brazil, for example, the government has deployed troops and increased its border spending in an effort to finance the treatment of sick, hungry, and pregnant immigrants entering the country. Colombia’s foreign minister estimated that as many as 4 million Venezuelans could be in Colombia by 2021, which he estimated would cost Colombia around 9 billion dollars. Rise of Right-Wing Populism: Recent elections in South America point to a radical ring-wing shift in the region's politics. One example was the contested 2018 presidential elections in Brazil. The election of ex-military captain and fierce Donald Trump supporter, Jair Bolsonaro, could arguably be interpreted as a response to the situation in Venezuela. Brazil's per capita GDP has decreased by 10% in the past 4 years. This downward trend, along with the recent corruption scandals that incriminated former left-wing presidents Lula Da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, led the Brazilian population to seek an anti-establishment figure . Bolsonaro ran on a campaign that claimed both Lula and Rousseff would lead Brazil in the same direction as Venezuela and asserted that he would protect the country from the ‘communist thieves’. In a contested election, Bolsonaro secured 55.1% of the votes, straining even further the relationship between Venezuela and Brazil, and making military intervention a possible response to the Venezuelan crisis, given the administration’s support of the Trump administration, who has openly discussed this option. The Return of Measles and other Eradicates Diseases: The economic and social crisis in Venezuela has led to the complete breakdown of the healthcare system. Venezuelans, faced with shortages of medicine and treatment, are migrating to neighboring states to seek medical attention. Hospitals in Colombia and Brazil are swarmed with ill Venezuelans, whose last recourse was to travel there in hopes of receiving treatment for a variety of diseases, from cancer to HIV. The latest effect of the crisis can be seen in the reemergence of diseases such as measles and diphtheria . The deterioration of the vaccine program in Venezuela, in combination with food and medicine shortages, led to a return of the once-eradicated diseases. Though the Venezuelan government attempted to respond to the outbreaks, the efforts were not enough to prevent the disastrous spread of the diseases. For example, for the first time in two decades, measles has appeared in the Brazilian Amazon, which houses an increasing number of Venezuelan immigrants. The area is not equipped to deal with an outbreak of this magnitude, as there are an estimated 170 cases a week. The disease has also spread throughout the Andean region, with cases reported in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. “Venezuela’s crisis has become our own,” said Arthur Virgilio Neto, the Mayor of Manaus, a Brazilian province in the Amazon which has been acutely affected by measles.
Subject: Comparative Government and Politics
Comparing Nordic States: Why do you think Sweden, Denmark and Finland decided to join the EU, but Iceland and Norway decided against it?
Small states benefit from joining alliances to gain strength and influence in the international system, ‘small states generally prefer multilateralism as both a path to influence and a means to restrain larger states’ (Þorhallsson and Steinsson, 2017, p.2). Reasons for joining alliances vary among the Nordic nations. For example, Sweden joined the European Union in 1995 because they had a desire ‘to influence the system from within’, while its neighbor Norway decided against it in order to ‘defend important domestic economic interests’ (Ingebritsen, 1998, p.112). These distinct responses demonstrate how small Nordic states have different needs and strategies, however, personal interests aside, all Nordic states possess one quality that makes them a key player in the international system: their will and ambition to try to exert influence. One of the most prominent alliances of the 20th century has been the European Union. The EU has grown from its original 6 members in 1951 to 28 member-states in 2017. Though the institutional structure of the EU presents disadvantages for small states, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden have found ways to turn these challenges into opportunities, and thus increasing their influence in shaping EU directives and regulations. There are three main strategies which Nordic states utilize to influence policy-making: act as a lobbyist, act as a self-interested mediator, and act as a norm entrepreneur. Ultimately, the three strategies depend on the state´s desire to exert influence, and require their energy, attention, and resources to be successful. Norway and Iceland have abstained from joining the European Union, though they both enjoy the free movement of persons, goods, services, and capital within the European Single Market through the EEA. Though the Nordic countries are very similar in many ways, the different dominant industries within each State ultimately explain their varying levels of European integration. Sweden, Finland, and Denmark´s principal industries are more dependent on the export of manufactured goods, particularly to the European Union. While for Norway, whose petroleum industry dominates the national production structure, joining the EU brought no additional benefits. In fact, through the EEA, energy products could be sold throughout Europe without price discrimination (Ingebritsen, 1998, p.119). In addition to this, oil revenue has become a way to support other traditional sectors of the economy like agriculture and fishing. The Norwegian government uses petroleum income to sustain employment in peripheral regions. For this reason, many Norwegians claim that they will not be capable of maintaining a livelihood in peripheral regions if Norway joins the European Union. Comparably, Iceland is highly dependent on fishing, and has very few manufacturing firms, and those that exist are linked to the fishing industry. Joining the European Union would mean joining the Common Fisheries Policy, which for Iceland would mean sharing their most valuable national resource with other European states. And if history has taught us anything about Iceland, particularly through the three Cod Wars, is that the Icelandic government is not comfortable with sharing their resources from the sea. Currently through the EEA, Icelandic products can enter the European market without incurring duties and as former Prime Minister David Oddsson said in 1994 ‘The EEA agreement is satisfactory for us, and will remain so, even if the other (Nordic) states join the EU’ (Ingebritsen, 1998, p.128). Though Norway and Iceland opted out of the EU, they still have representative working to advance their interests ‘Both Norway and Iceland work deliberately to influence the Commission and have missions to the EU’ (Grøn, Nedergaars & Wivel, 2015, p.72). Naturally, the two Nordic countries cannot act as member states, but rather as ‘organized interests’.
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