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Elites, Insecurity and Populists in Western Democracies

Elites and People: Challenges to Democracy

ISBN: 978-1-83867-916-3, eISBN: 978-1-83867-915-6

ISSN: 0195-6310

Publication date: 7 October 2019


History teaches that agreement about the distribution of valued things is seldom deep or widespread in large populations. When distributive issues rise to clear public consciousness, the tendency is towards civil strife. Stable democratic institutions are rarely the result of all or even most social actors cooperating voluntarily, peacefully and with adequate information; nearly always, they are the products of shrewd decisions made by those who are seriously influential – elites. Elites must trust each other to manage politics in ways that prevent distributive issues from reaching acute degrees that impel power seizures. But can elite trust be sustained in advanced post-industrial conditions? The question arises because of steadily declining needs for many kinds of work, exacerbated by large migrations from non-Western countries and a resulting insecurity that populists exploit divisively for political gain. They act as pied pipers offering delusive enticements, making irresponsible promises and exhibiting disdain for rule of law. Disinclined to deal realistically with, or even acknowledge, long-term post-industrial problems of work, populists erode elite trust and weaken the basis of stable democratic institutions.



Higley, J. (2019), "Elites, Insecurity and Populists in Western Democracies", Engelstad, F., Gulbrandsen, T., Mangset, M. and Teigen, M. (Ed.) Elites and People: Challenges to Democracy (Comparative Social Research, Vol. 34), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 189-202.



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