19: Entering the ‘Post-Shame Era’: The Rise of Illiberal Democracy, Populism and Neo-Authoritarianism in EUrope


On 17 July 2018, former US president Barack Obama was invited to give the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg. In his speech, he warned that: a politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment began to appear, and that kind of politics is now on the move … I am not being alarmist, I am simply stating the facts. … Strongman politics are ascendant suddenly, whereby elections and some pretence of democracy are maintained – the form of it – but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.

Obviously, Obama did not use the terms ‘illiberal democracy’, ‘neo-authoritarianism’ or ‘populism’ (or other terms which currently dominate social-science scholarship and media reporting), but he certainly put his finger on the drastic socio-political changes that have been taking place globally, including in EU member states, specifically since the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 (Rheindorf and Wodak, 2018).

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