On September 20, 2022, political scientists from around the world joined together for the “Populists and the Pandemic” workshop in Madison, WI. The event was co-sponsored by the Jean Monnet Center of Excellence for Comparative Populism, an ERASMUS+ Program, and the Center for European Studies, a National Resource Center funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The workshop was a culmination and celebration of efforts in creating the volume Populists and the Pandemic, edited by Nils Ringe, UW-Madison Professor of Political Science and Director of the Jean Monnet EU Center of Excellence for Comparative Populism, and Lucio Rennó, Professor of Political Science at the University of Brasília. The book, published as part of the Routledge Studies in Extremism and Democracy series, presents case studies from 22 countries that examine the response of populist actors and parties to the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of their attitudes, rhetoric, and policy proposals.
The workshop stemmed from the year-long, public lecture series, Populism and the Pandemic, which brought together two regional experts once a month for comparative lectures and discussion in an international, virtual forum. This workshop presented the first opportunity for the participating scholars to meet and discuss their findings in person. It concluded with two public keynote addresses by well-known scholars in the field of populism, Jan-Werner Müller of Princeton University and Pippa Norris of Harvard University.
In the first keynote address, Jan-Werner Müller offered insights into the future of democracy and remarked on experiences of crisis and the political consequences of the pandemic. Müller warned that authoritarian techniques have evolved from the past and therefore, authoritarian administrations are unlikely to peter out on their own; indeed, authoritarian leaders learn from one another’s failures and successes.
Pippa Norris’ keynote focused on public trust in authorities and brought together ideas from Populists and the Pandemic and her upcoming book about skepticism. She stressed the importance of building government trustworthiness and the challenge of what she calls “credulous trust” – when a populace erroneously puts its faith in untrustworthy institutions and actors. Such credulous trust, Norris warned, poses a particular danger for the future of democracy.
The keynote lectures can be viewed here. Populists and the Pandemic: How Populists Around the World Responded to Covid-19 is available here (the Open Access eBook version of the book is available for free).