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Panel Discussion – Strongman Politics in the 21st Century

September 27, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Elsa Clavé
, Harvard University Asia Center
Ayşe Kadıoğlu, Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University
Joseph Fewsmith, Boston University
Valerie Sperling, Clark University

Thomas Vallely
, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School

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As the role of “strongman” leaders on the world stage appears to be on the rise, this panel examines “strongman politics” in a comparative context. In May 2018, Time Magazine proclaimed in an article that “The ‘Strongmen Era’ Is Here” (Time, May 3, 2018). Highlighting Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping’s tightening authoritarianism in Russia and China, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Rodrigo Duterte, and Viktor Orbán’s undermining of democratic norms in Turkey, the Philippines, and Hungary, it certainly appears that Huntington’s post-Cold War “third wave” of democratization is witnessing a strongman-inspired reversal. But does this entail a new “era” of authoritarianism advance as the United States rhetorically withdraws from its global leadership role?

This panel examines the role of politically-strong male leaders in authoritarian countries in a comparative context. Elsa Clavé, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard University Asia Center, examines the 2016 election of Duterte in the Philippines; Ayşe Kadıoğlu, Visiting Scholar at Harvard’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, looks at Erdoğan’s reversal of Turkey’s previous move towards democratization; Joseph Fewsmith, Professor Political Science at Boston University, compares Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power in China to Mao’s historical rise at Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party; and Valerie Sperling, Professor of Political Science at Clark University, interrogates the cult-like masculinity of Vladimir Putin’s image as a “manly” leader in post-Soviet Russia.

Regarding her upcoming discussion of the presidency of Duterte at the panel, Asia Center Postdoctoral Fellow Elsa Clavé, a historian of the Philippines working on the expression of authority and power in its Muslim periphery, stated “President Duerte is not only a populist; he was elected and stays extremely popular for various other reasons. Understanding these reasons is essential to understanding the present society and the direction it is taking. Models and theory are a good approach to reality, but reality exceeds both. A conversation between different fields and disciplines will help, I hope, to refine the model.”

The panel is moderated by Thomas Vallely, Senior Advisor at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School, and a specialist on Southeast Asia, and introduced by Karen Thornber, Director of the Harvard University Asia Center.

Co-sponsoring Centers:
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School
Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University
Harvard University Asia Center
Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University
Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University
Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University


September 27, 2018
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Event Categories:
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CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium (S010)
1730 Cambridge St
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States
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Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

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