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Lecture: The New Despotisms of the 21st Century

Download the text of Prof John Keane’s lecture: “The New Despotisms of the 21st Century: Imagining the end of democracy“.

Delivered in May 2014 in London, this was the inaugural lecture of our Abdelwahab Elmessiri Memorial Lecture series.

We are living in times marked by a quantum jump in anti-democratic ways of exercising power. In the first Abdelwahab Elmessiri Memorial Lecture, Prof John Keane will examine the growth of a new 21st-century type politics he calls the new despotism. He sketches a future world in which governments, backed by democratic rhetoric and election victories, massively expand their executive powers by means of economic nepotism, media controls, strangled judiciaries, dragnet surveillance and armed crackdowns on their opponents. Best developed in China but found in contexts otherwise as different as Egypt, Vietnam and Russia, the trend is having global effects and represents a serious long-term alternative to power-sharing democracy as we have known it in recent decades.

John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB). He is the Director of the newly-founded Sydney Democracy Network (SDN). Well before the European revolutions of 1989, John Keane first came to public prominence as a defender of ‘civil society’ and the democratic opposition in central and eastern Europe. His political and scholarly writing during that period was often published under the pen name Erica Blair. In 1989 he founded the world’s first Centre for the Study of Democracy in London. Renowned globally for his creative thinking about democracy, including his fundamental rethinking of secularism, John Keane’s best-known books are The Media and Democracy (translated into more than 25 languages); the best-selling biography Tom Paine: A Political Life (2009); a new interpretation of the gains and losses of globalisation Global Civil Society? (2003); Violence and Democracy (2004); and the recently published Democracy and Media Decadence (2013).

Prof Keane writes a column for the London/Melbourne-based web platform The Conversation. Forthcoming in Arabic, his Life and Death of Democracy was short-listed for the 2010 Non-Fiction Prime Minister’s Literary Award and ranked by Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo) as one of the top 3 non-fiction books published in Japan during 2013. It is the first full-scale history of democracy for over a century.

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