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The Rise of Populism and the Backlash Against the Elites

We were joined by Jonathan Haidt and Nick Clegg as they analysed how disillusionment with Western liberal democracy is fuelling the rise of a new populist politics.

What is going on in the Western democracies? From Britain’s vote for Brexit, to Donald Trump’s election victory in America and the growth of populist movements across Europe, voters are expressing their dissatisfaction with the status quo. Economic anxieties go some way to explain the phenomenon, but as with the Brexit decision, people are voting in ways that seem – at least to their critics – likely to harm their own material interests just to give the establishment a bloody nose. In this special Intelligence Squared event, renowned American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and politician Nick Clegg examined the complex web of social, moral and political concerns that are driving the unrest. How can we explain the new illiberalism that is growing on both left and right, as authoritarian trends spread across campuses throughout the Anglosphere (the no-platforming of speakers being a typical example)? How should we understand the new ‘culture war’ emerging in Britain, America and elsewhere between the ‘globalists’ and ‘nationalists’?

As deputy prime minister during the Coalition government, Clegg witnessed the upheaval in British politics from the inside. Haidt, author of the acclaimed bestseller The Righteous Mind, has long been studying the moral and cultural drives that divide people into different political camps.

Together they discussed how the West’s longstanding liberal institutions and traditions can be updated for the 21st century, and what kind of future lies ahead for post-Brexit Britain.



Nick Clegg

Former leader of the Liberal Democrats

Leader of the Liberal Democrats for eight years from 2007, and deputy prime minister from 2010 to 2015. He was the Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam from 2005 to 2017. His book, Politics: Between the Extremes, is part memoir and part call to arms on the need to reform our political institutions and restore belief in the values of liberalism.

Jonathan Haidt

Psychologist and author of The Anxious Generation

Social psychologist and the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Anxious Generation (2024) and The Righteous Mind (2012). He is the co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind (2018). His latest book is The Anxious Generation :How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness,