A joint event with the
Legal and Political Theory Working Group
(Northwestern University and Australian National University)
“All the demagogue’s men,” or: how a liberal democracy disintegrates
Introduction: Richard Bellamy (MWP Director)
8 January 2019, 17:00-18:30
In previous work, I have argued that a liberal democracy can have its own morally important integrity, paralleling the integrity of an individual person. In this talk, I discuss the relationship between a liberal democracy’s collective integrity and the individual integrity of elected leaders of a particular sort.
These leaders, whom I label “media demagogues,” are distinguished by their combination of dangerous populism, systematic lies and manipulation, and an overwhelming reliance on media activity as a substitute for substantive government work.
Using Donald Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, and Binyamin Netanyahu as my running examples, I begin by arguing that the language of integrity – and the charge of lacking even minimal integrity - is extremely well-suited to characterizing, and condemning, media demagogues.
I then lay out multiple, media-driven connections, between media demagogues’ glaring failures of personal integrity, and the predictable threats they pose to the liberal polity’s integrity. Having a clear picture of these integrity connections is important in and of itself, as a way of obtaining a holistic understanding of the kinds of moral dangers brought about by the “mediatization” of politics. But these links are also important as a way of understanding the moral stakes involved in the decisions of those who are considering whether to serve or ally with media demagogues.
About the speaker
Shmuel Nili is an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University and a research fellow at Australian National University’s School of Philosophy (Research School of the Social Sciences). His current work explores the moral value of integrity in politics, and the practical role of political philosophy in the face of obvious moral failures in public policy. Nili’s first book,'The People’s Duty' (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press), examines the sovereign people as an owner of public property, and as an agent with its own moral integrity. Nili's scholarly articles have been published in a wide range of leading journals in political science (including The American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and The Journal of Politics), contemporary political philosophy (including Ethics and Journal of Political Philosophy), and the history of ideas (History of Political Thought, Review of Politics). Nili earned a PhD in political science at Yale University (2016).