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Photo: “New York Stock Exchange 20170311“, by Suicasmo, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Hue modified from the original

Gatta, Giunia. “Liberalism for dark times: Judith Shklar versus populist constituencies.” Global Intellectual History (2020): 1-19.


The ability of political institutions, actors, and theorists to understand and engage the ‘populist’ challenge may very well be a matter of survival for liberal democracy. Political theory has spanned the range of approaches to this challenge: from chastising, to disciplining, to glorifying. This paper aims at disentangling the economic and social grievances of many populist constituents from the nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric that often accompanies them, and suggests that Judith Shklar’s rearticulation of liberalism embraces the first while rejecting the second. I argue that three aspects of Shklar’s work make her liberalism different and potentially more responsive to the pleas of populist voters. First, her approach to politics and political theory centres on experiences of injustice, humiliation, fear, and cruelty, which she sees as enabled by strong, existing asymmetries of power. Second, Shklar was extremely attentive to the affective dimension of politics. Third, she was not consumed by matters of justification, but more interested in advocating for and from the margins in order to bring about a more inclusive political agon. Yet Shklar was also critical of populist dreams of cultural homogeneity and strong leadership, resisting citizenship as a privilege to be wielded against minorities or discriminated groups.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.