Author Sam Wilkin shows how instability or other unsettled conditions that give rise to populism occur regularly in history.
Catch up with new book launches - History Repeating - Gurgaon
- The Leapfroggers
Political risk analyst Sam Wilkin was taken aback when he noticed that key indicators of trouble had started showing up in his own backyard. Could it really be true that Peru, the Philippines and Thailand were less risky than places like France? Bear in mind, Thailand's last military coup was about three years ago. It was true.
Now that political instability has come home, it's a good moment to ask: What causes it? How can you tell when your country is headed for turbulence? And what does the best social science say that we can do about it? A colourful romp through the history of recent revolutionary moments becomes a profound inquiry into the machinery of social unrest.
Mr Wilkin contends that the great events of history are hurricanes waiting to happen, and the butterfly flapping of the great leaders is more an attendant factor than anything else. One of his many test cases, after looking at Brexit and Mr Trump, is that the Russian revolution was not caused by Lenin's Bolsheviks but the rise of a literate, industrial proletariat, with Lenin arriving from exile at the last minute to pick up the power on the streets.
Two factors repeat throughout history when governments fall: relatively affluent, educated dissent and people believing that they can make a difference. In a sense, the author is saying nothing new but repeating it with ironic flair.
As this book shows, the instability or other unsettled conditions that give rise to populism occur regularly in history. Mr Wilkin takes the 20th century, the time when the common people's views began markedly influencing politics. The author shows that the practitioners of this populist politics range from Vladimir Lenin to Juan Peron to Ayatollah Khomeini, besides Thaksin Shinwatra, Greece's first populists and some more.
The author contends here that their success in getting into power - at least of these otherwise disparate political leaders - is rooted in a phenomenon that he calls "mobilisation politics", which can see greater public participation than conventional electoral democracy can ever aspire to or counter.
Giving the example of Brexit, whose result came about
through the participation of nearly 3 million citizens who had not voted in the previous general election or any election for that matter, the author notes that the force that can compel millions of otherwise uninterested people to get out of their comfort zone to take an active political role does need investigation.
Mr Wilkin observes that someone with dreams of leading the people to topple the exclusivist establishment or depose a corrupt and unjust regime for a better future will find that fellow citizens are "sheep". He writes: Let's remake this great nation, cries the leader. Baa, the people will bleat contentedly, distracted by salty snacks and Instagram.
So then, how does this mobilisation politics work? It happens, adds Mr Wilkin, when the conditions are right and the politicians are "no less the victims or beneficiaries of broader conditions", while how much the people chant
"egomanius incarecrus!" or "referendi reverso! But such magic doesn't fix politics, the author stresses.
The book then goes on to ask some pertinent questions. Why are farming nations so unstable? Is there really a "resource curse" on mineral-rich nations? Do tall rulers last longer? Just how good was the czar's wine cellar? The book answers all these questions and more in pursuit of the holy grail of political science: How to make things better without first making them much, much worse.
About the author
Sam Wilkin is a senior adviser to Oxford Analytica, a geopolitical analysis firm that counts more than 25 world governments among its clients. He is also a senior adviser to Oxford Economics, one of the world's foremost global forecasting consultancies.
AuthorSAM WILKINPublisher PROFILE BOOKSPages: 289 Price: Rs 599