Read­ers' Lounge

Au­thor Sam Wilkin shows how in­sta­bil­ity or other un­set­tled con­di­tions that give rise to pop­ulism oc­cur reg­u­larly in his­tory.

India Business Journal - - CONTENTS -

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

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