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Beyond Populism: New Book Unpacks the Anger of Global Politics

By BETH HARPAZ

What do anthropologists see when they look at contemporary politics? They see angry people the world over.

Beyond Populism: Angry Politics and the Twilight of Neoliberalism is a collection of essays by anthropologists analyzing the roots of that anger —namely the 2008 financial collapse — and how it’s led to right-wing nationalism, authoritarian regimes, and attacks on immigrants and minorities around the globe.

The book was co-edited by Professor Jeff Maskovsky (Queens College, The Graduate Center) and Sophie Bjork-James, a Vanderbilt University professor and GC alumna.

Initially, fiscal policies that bailed out banks while ordinary people lost jobs and homes fueled left-wing movements like Occupy Wall Street. But right-wing politicians ultimately proved more adept at channeling voter anger. Donald Trump “exploited this legitimacy crisis to make his political ascent,” the editors wrote. Britain opted to leave the European Union. Populist parties gained ground in Italy, the Netherlands, France, Ger­many, Hungary, Finland, and elsewhere.

At the same time, America’s role as a proponent of democracy declined worldwide, Russia increased its footprint, and China’s economy boomed – without the democratic reforms Western experts once deemed essential to growth. A “global order organized around human rights and liberal democratic principles is no longer as compelling as it once was,” the editors wrote. Instead, voters prioritize “safety, security, and stability,” while attacking privileged elites, immigrants, and other outsiders.

Maskovsky, in addition to serving as an editor, penned a chapter analyzing Trump-era white nationalism and the liberal response to it. Bjork-James contributed an essay on “Americanism, Trump, and Uniting the White Right.” Other CUNY-affiliated scholars who contributed to the book are:

  • Professor Gerald W. Creed (GC, Hunter College), and Mary N. Taylor, assistant director of the GC’s Center for Place, Culture and Politics and a GC alumna. Their chapter examines Hungary’s conservative Fidesz party, which ensured its popularity by adding 750,000 jobs (in a country of 10 million people) through a public works program while increasing social benefits.

  • Professor Don Robotham (The Graduate Center), who shows how white populists in the Global North “are expressing their dismay and dissatisfaction that they can no longer take their global hegemonic positional­ity for granted.”

  • Carwil Bjork-James, GC alumnus and professor at Vanderbilt, who explores Bolivia’s left-wing anti-globalization movement, which empowered indigenous and peasant majorities despite the region’s move to the right.

  • GC alumna and Ambedkar University Delhi Professor Preeti Sampat, who analyzed the rise of Hindu nationalism and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India.

  • Stockton University Professor Nazia Kazi, also a GC alumna, whose chapter examined the history of Islamophobia in the U.S., its upsurge in the Trump era, and divisions among those seeking to fight it.
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Beyond Populism: Angry Politics and the Twilight of Neoliberalism
West Virginia University Press, 2020

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Jeff Maskovsky (Associate Professor, Anthropology) | Profile 1 | Profile 2