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The populist obstruction of reality: Analysis and response

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Hartmut Behr



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Populist movements are on the rise in Western societies. With US president Donald Trump, “Brexit”, and the likely significant 2017 election results of Le Pen in France, de Wilders in the Netherlands, and the AfD in Germany, a “cordon populiste” threatens to strangulate liberal democracy. Among the long list of threats of populist politics is – besides its crusades against democratic constitutional law, institutional checks and balancesr, civil and human rights, and international diplomacy – the strategic obstruction of our perception of reality. As the latter concerns the intellectual and moral fabric of a society, the delusion of reality is among the most severe dangers for democratic politics. We have been handed down analytical language to focus on this threat by the generation of scholars, who witnessed totalitarian movements in the 20th century. Not unsurprisingly, but indeed worryingly, their analytical frameworks apply to contemporary right-wing populist politics. The following considerations will use Hannah Arendt’s characteristics of totalitarian movements and Eric Voegelin’s notion of “apperception” to analytically grasp the contemporary problem of obstructed reality, followed by some thoughts on how to respond to respective challenges. These final reflections focus on Higher Education.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Behr H

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Global Affairs

Year: 2017

Volume: 3

Issue: 1

Pages: 73-80

Online publication date: 12/04/2017

Acceptance date: 12/04/2017

Date deposited: 09/11/2017

ISSN (print): 2334-0460

ISSN (electronic): 2334-0479

Publisher: Taylor and Francis


DOI: 10.1080/23340460.2017.1302309


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