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TLI Signature Lecture: Professor Claus Offe - The 'democracy cube' under the onslaught of populist politics

14/02/2018 (17:00-19:00)
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TLI Signature Lectures 2017-2018

Democratic Politics in Global Crisis? Challenges, Approaches, Resistances

Speaker: Professor Claus Offe (Hertie School of Governance, Berlin)

Title: The 'democracy cube' under the onslaught of populist politics


The talk explores the current antagonism of liberal vs. "illiberal" democracy. Three dimensions (the "cube") of liberal democracy are elaborated, namely popular sovereignty, constitutionalism, and the effectiveness of governance, or "state capacity". Populist movements, parties and policies of governing elites attack all three of them by invoking a homogeneous "will of the people", calling for the abolition of constitutional constraints and promising the strengthening of state power which is bound to lead to (more or less "soft" forms of) authoritarianism rather than the effective performance of state functions. The author's claim is that the ethno nationalist reliance on solid borders, fences, walls and other mechanisms of social exclusion is not just objectionable from a liberal normative perspective: in addition, it is counter-productive in terms of building "requisite" state capacity.


The election of Trump in the USA, the Brexit vote in the UK, the rise of extremist parties in France, Holland and elsewhere, impeachments (successful and failed) of presidents in South Korea, Brazil and South Africa following corruption scandals, authoritarian turns in Hungary, Poland and Russia… Wherever one turns to, there are worrying signs that democracy, or at least democratic politics, is in trouble around the world.

This is further corroborated by lower election turn out and repudiation of mainstream political parties and politicians, symptoms of a generalized sentiment of political disenchantment that leads to political disengagement.

How deep is this crisis? What are its causes? How can it be solved?

These are the themes and questions we will be debating in our Transnational Law Institute Signature Lectures, now in its third year, with experts from around the world. The lectures are organized around four broad sub-topics: Democracy and extremism; Democracy and inequality; Democracy and corruption and Democracy and authoritarianism.

The Signature Lectures are delivered by world renowned scholars whose work tackles central challenges in global governance by cutting across disciplinary boundaries to develop new analytical and conceptual frameworks, which address today’s pressing problems of transnational legality and legitimacy with rigour and fresh eyes. Previous speakers included: Saskia Sassen, Albie Sachs, Sally Engle Merry, Wolfgang Streeck, Joseph Weiler, Eve Darian-Smith, Guy Standing, Upendra Baxi and Boaventura Sousa Santos.


Claus Offe is Professor Emeritus of Political Sociology at the Hertie School of Governance.  He has held chairs for Political Science and Political Sociology at the Universities of Bielefeld (1975-1989) and Bremen (1989-1995), as well as at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin (1995-2005). He worked as fellow and visiting professor at, among others, the Institutes for Advanced Study at Stanford and Princeton, the Australian National University, Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley and The New School in New York. He completed his PhD at the University of Frankfurt and his habilitation at the University of Konstanz.

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