Wake up, you giant!

Jan-Werner Müller

The end of history will mean the end of great ideologies. This is what Francis Fukuyama proclaimed in his famous essay 'The End of History' after the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the consecutive disintegration of the Soviet Union. However, it would not be a happy end. Instead, it would feel more like a living museum. That Europe has by no means become a museum was the first, but maybe also the last reassuring message of today's first lecture by Jan-Werner Müller.

Populism ain't easy

Europe is indeed very much alive with ideas and ideologies. Nonetheless, even if liberal democracy is by far the most dominant one and the modus operandi in most European countries, there are various counter-currents and forces working against a democratic order in more than one European nation. What is so very dangerous, Müller stressed, is that those forces are not openly propagating alternatives to democracy, but erroding their respective democratic systems from within. Populism, Müller argued, is the great adversary of democracy today. Surely, to be a populist it's not enough to be critical of the political elites. The essence of true populism, Müller went on, is to be against pluralism, to deny the existence of any kind of legitimate political opposition. Populist regimes, such as those in Hungary or increasingly also Turkey, consolidate their position in power by legal means on paper. De facto, however, they are going after their political opponents in order to "crack down on civil society, weakening democracy".

Normative disintegration

What is most concerning about such regimes and currents within the European Union, Müller stressed, is the complete abscence of any kind of collective action against them by other European states. "We cannot disentangle us from the rest" - said Müller, meaning that we cannot just stand idly by, while other countries within the EU are being slowly hollowed out from the inside. What we are dealing with is a Europe that is not officially falling apart, but witnessing a slow normative disintegration of some countries from the values that should bind us.


Doing nothing is not an option

So we all seem to know that there is something going wrong in some countries on the periphery, as well as in our own countries (take the example of the success of the Front National in France, or the astonishing turnout for the far-right-wing Sverigedemokraterna in the Swedish elections this year) - but we do not really want to intervene. "There is no option of neutrality", Müller argued. "Europe doesn't have the option to not engage".


Forget about the money for a second

According to Müller, we have been so preoccupied with the financial disintegration of the EU since the Euro Crisis began, we do not seem to realize the moral corrosion that is taking place. The EU was not founded to promote democracy, Müller reminds us, nor to promote Human Rights. But it is one of the great achievements that it has come to stand for those values and we should not carelessly give that away by sheer ignorance. 

Conference Day: 

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