Photo: “Manifestacja przeciw islamizaji Europy Ruch Narodowy Młodzież Wszechpolska plac Zamkowy 2016“, by Adrian Grycuk licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 PL. Hue modified from the original

Kleine-Brockhoff, Thomas. “Why Populist Nationalists Are Not Having a Good Crisis Yet.” German Marshall Fund. September 4, 2020.


The mainstream interpretation of the coronavirus crisis sees it as a trend accelerator, rather than a turning point of history. According to this hypothesis, first advanced by the Council on Foreign Relation’s Richard Haass the world that emerges from the crisis will not look fundamentally different than the world that has existed before. The pandemic and the response to it will reveal and reinforce existing forces and trends of the international environment and hence not so much change the basic direction of history as expedite its course. An eroding liberal international order, a United States retreating as a global leader, increasing great-power rivalry, a world economy surpassing peak globalization—all of these trendlines were observable before and grow more notable as the pandemic ravages on.

But several months into the crisis, elements of discontinuity have emerged that point to not an acceleration but a deceleration of history. The politics of the pandemic seem to have slowed, not hastened the global ascent of populist nationalists. Their arguments are falling increasingly flat. Their poll numbers are tanking. Electoral victories are suddenly harder to come by. Their momentum is stalling. Where populist nationalists govern, their performance has been uneven. Clearly, they are not having a good crisis. It may be too early to talk about a turning point of history, but there is something to be learned from shining a light on exactly how and why they are struggling and what their best chance for a turnaround would appear to be.

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.