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Nationalist populism in the liberal international system: causes, strategies and challenges

This study examines a specific phenomenon in the international system: nationalist populism, or a specific blend of in- and out-group nationalism with underdog-versus-elite populism that has gained traction in the United States, India, Turkey, Brazil, and other states. More precisely, this study looks at the tendency of nationalist populists to withdraw from or actively move against the liberal international order while projecting narratives of a new world order. The dissertation asks one central question: why and how is the liberal international order contested by nationalist populism, and can this contestation be used to productively transform the liberal international order? To answer this question, it addresses three elements of the nationalist populist presence on (or absence from) the international political stage: causes, strategies, and challenges. That is to say, it first looks at possible factors that have fostered the electoral success of nationalist populism and provided a democratic platform for pushbacks against the liberal international order and de-pluralization. Hence, examining the causes of nationalist populist withdrawal, it asks: why has the withdrawal/rejection strategy gained such electoral support throughout different continents and in very different political contexts? In a paper called 'Illiberal Spirits: democratic backsliding, the crisis of liberal order, and de-pluralizing practices in nationalist-populist regimes,” the framework of strategic narrative theory (Miskimmon et al. 2013; ct. Foucault and Gramsci), will show how populist actors project particular pasts, presents, and futures onto a polity in a process of formation, projection, and reception. Next, the dissertation examines strategies deployed by nationalist populists to undermine the legitimacy of the liberal international order, thereby legitimizing their withdrawal from that order and the consolidation of power at the national level (purportedly giving that power back to “the people”) through de-pluralization. Finally, it pinpoints productively transformative elements within nationalist populism to see how actors within the liberal international order can approach nationalist populism and its de-pluralizing methods as a challenge – as a way to reshape the international order into a more democratic system. In doing so, it asks: what, if anything, can the liberal international system learn from the rise of nationalist populism?

Date:1 Nov 2020  →  Today
Keywords:international relations, strategic narrative theory, political philosophy, liberal international order, nationalism, populism, diplomacy, democracy
Disciplines:International politics
Project type:PhD project