Before and After the Pandemic
How are elites, autocrats and legacies of empire driving the present ‘age of anger’?
Drawing on his Engelsberg Lectures, Michael Burleigh explores the new global era of national populism. He first probes the nature of mass anger in the West: how might popular discontent be artificially incited and sustained by elite figures claiming to speak for the common people? He then compares empire’s difficult aftermaths in Britain and Russia: how does History foster a sense of exceptionality, and how is it exploited by populists, as we’ve seen again with 2020’s ‘statue wars’? And finally, he turns to China, where the ruling Communist Party depends on a nationalised version of History for popular support.
Covid-19 has created problems for several populist leaders, whose image has suffered amidst the public’s new-found respect for expertise and disappointment over their shouty handling of the pandemic. Yet despite Donald Trump’s defeat, with extended economic depression looming, Burleigh fears that new post-populists may yet arise.
‘Burleigh is someone you’d not want to find on the other side in an intellectual bar fight. There is something of Christopher Hitchens about him in that he is erudite, seems to have read everything and knows how to deploy a crushing phrase. … [The book is an] enjoyable set of semi-polemics, just about every word of which I agreed with.’ — David Aaronovitch, The Times
‘[A] spirited, readable and thought-provoking tour through the forces defining our age. … Populism displays Burleigh’s eye for enlivening and memorable aperçus, anecdotes and factoids.’ — New Statesman
‘A compelling page-turner, Burleigh has once again with his customary wit caught the currents of our times and made us re-examine what populism means and why it is so dangerous. He joins that rare band of writers who rush in where most academic angels fear to tread.’ — Christopher Coker, Director of LSE IDEAS
‘Before the populists can be defeated they need first to be understood. Michael Burleigh charts the history of the appeal of populism and gives us the ideal vantage point from which to view its flaws.’ — Philip Collins, Contributing Editor, New Statesman
‘So much has been written about populism recently that one wonders if another book will have anything fresh to say. In fact, I found Michael Burleigh’s insights concrete and useful.’ — Labour Hub
‘We do not know what will come after the pandemic, but … Burleigh’s Populism … will help the discerning reader ask, and then answer, “What comes next?”’ — American Purpose
Michael Burleigh was LSE IDEAS’ inaugural Engelsberg Chair in History and International Affairs (2019–20). A regular commentator in The Times, the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, his books include The Third Reich, which won the Samuel Johnson Prize, and The Best of Times, The Worst of Times.