62 Brahmin Left 2: Jan-Werner Müller (AU, JP)

This new series on the Brahmin Left was inspired by Adaner and John’s bracing but terrifying interview with Thomas Piketty. Piketty maintains that Left parties have abandoned the working-class for an increasingly highly educated voter-base. This has turned (or perhaps only threatens to turn) Left parties all over the developed World (US, Western Europe, Australia/NZ etc…) from champions of egalitarianism into defenders of the privileges and interests of the educated. So, how do various scholars make sense of this ongoing realignment (or perhaps “dealignment”) from the class-based politics of the mid-20th century?

In this set of three conversations we set out to ask a set of related questions around that claim. First, is Piketty right? Second, to the extent that he is, how do we understand class dealignment in both Europe and America? Some scholars point to “post-materialist” politics; others to populist revival or ethnonationalism resurgent; others to the collapse of the trade unions which linked the working-class to the parties of the Left. Some even see in the Right’s recent successes simply the latest twist in a neoliberalism controlled by corporate elites.

Today’s guest is Princeton’s Jan-Werner Müller, (Another Country: German Intellectuals, Unification and National IdentityA Dangerous Mind: Carl Schmitt in Post-War European Thought,  Constitutional Patriotism) author of What is Populism? (2016) which explores how the identitarian logic of populism can come to lodge within democracies. Is the current success of the antidemocratic Right (in Hungary and Poland–and increasingly elsewhere in Europe as well) the product of “plutocratic populism”? Or is there some other more systemic maladjustment in Europe and America, whereby the ground rules for deliberative democracy have been skewed into a new stable shape, one that anti-democratic populist leaders have been able to capitalize on by borrowing from one another’s dangerous playbooks?

Mentioned in the Episode

Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology

Our conversation with Matt Karp in episode 61

Our discussion with Quinn Slobodian in episode 11.

Listen and Read


In Brahmin Left: In September, Arlie Hochschild (Strangers in Their Own Land) finishes the series off. Two weeks later, Adaner, Elizabeth, and John all come together for their own look back at the three conversations and what holds them together.

In October: We declare October Octopus Month! For starters that means beginning the month with a terrific conversation with Poeter Godfrey-Smith, author of the best book we know on the alterity of octopus consciousness: Other Minds. More cephalopod-themed material will follow throughout the month.

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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