MEC Friday Seminar - Lebanon and the twenty-first century: populism, neoliberalism, and their discontents


Much ink has been spilled in recent years on the phenomena of populism and neoliberalism – increasingly, it seems to many, the defining traits of our late modern world. Scholars and commentators alike, however, have tended to focus on their manifestations in large states, whether in the global north or south, from Poland to the United States, and Brazil to Russia. But what might populism, neoliberalism, and the world look like from the vantage point of a small, and seemingly quixotic, place like Lebanon – a place that, with its sectarianism, its political violence and punctured sovereignty, many now think of as a bundle of exceptions, rather than a canary in the global coal mine. In this talk, however, I argue that this is precisely what Lebanon is: an image of the long-term ravages wrought on the body politic by the bilious discourses of populism, with its coarseness and sharp, Schmittian distinctions between friends and enemies and the economic engineering of neoliberalism, with its cooptation of state means for private ends. Lebanon’s political landscape, in short, offers us insight into the present – and a glimpse into the future.

About the speaker:

Andrew Arsan is Senior University Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern History in the Faculty of History, Cambridge, and a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. His second book, Lebanon: A Country in Fragments (London: Hurst, 2018), offers a survey of Lebanese politics and society in the years since 2005. He is currently at work on a history of the lands that became Lebanon, for publication with Cambridge University Press in 2020.