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Intellectuals against Liberal Democracy

Academia, Media, and Culture

Publication date: 06/03/2022

In recent years, scholars of political science and sociology have paid a growing attention to so called illiberal or authoritarian turns (Bluhm & Varga, 2019; Eatwell & Goodwin, 2018; Norris & Inglehart, 2019), that we understood here as infringements to the principles of liberal democracy, above all the Rule of law, human rights, and freedom of speech. Countries like Hungary, Poland, Brazil, Turkey, and Russia have experienced various forms of authoritarian or illiberal turns, but attacks against the principles of liberal democracy also take place in more stabilised democracies, where conservative or far right ideas, parties and movements seem on the rise, like in the United States, France, Germany, Italy or Spain, to name just a few (Kováts & Põim, 2015; Lacroix & Pranchère, 2018; Skocpol & Williamson, 2016).

Scholars, journalists, and artists have often been depicted as victims of such antiliberal moves, which has of course often been the case (Petõ, 2021). However, public intellectuals and experts also play a crucial role in conservative mobilizations (Agrikoliansky & Collovald, 2014; Kuhar & Paternotte, 2017), the construction of public problems, and agenda-setting (Beaugé & Hajjat, 2014; Korolczuk & Graff, 2018). The emerging scholarship on intellectuals’ contributions to authoritarian turns, be it in their concrete implementation or more generally in their political legitimization (Behr, 2021; Plattner, 2019; Silva, 2020; Swartz, 2020) invites to an in-depth sociology of the academic, media and artistic fields, among others (Bourdieu, 1988, 1991, 1996; Sapiro, 1999).

A relational approach might indeed bring new insights about conservative intellectual engagements, opposed to the “progressive” or “(neo)-liberal” engagements that have dominated this field of research so far (Brahimi & Brisson, 2020). Building on these considerations, this workshop seeks to bring together scholars who study conservative intellectuals’ engagement and intellectuals’ contributions to the critique of liberal democracy in various national and historical contexts.

We will focus on the following issues:
- The sociology of conservative intellectual engagement: what is the social background of conservative/far right intellectuals ?
- The sociology of the fields (academia, media, culture) in which conservative intellectuals evolve: to what extent do structural factors or changes within these fields explain conservative engagement?
- The history of ideas and of intellectual engagement: beyond the contemporary period, what can we learn from previous moments of illiberal backlash, such as interwar fascism, communist engagement, Cold War anticommunism, authoritarian regimes, etc.?
- The transnational circulation of ideas: how do illiberal ideas and repertoires circulate at the international level, or from one field to another? What are the channels (organisations, think tanks, conferences, etc.) and intermediaries that favour such a circulation?

Workshop organized by Valentin Behr, resident 2021-2022, Paris IAS and Simon Massei, Université libre de Bruxelles, with the support of Paris IAS and CESSP on 2nd & 3rd June 2022

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