Lawyers, Guns and Money: Illiberal Societies and the Rise of Crony Capitalism


There is an old rock station back in Boston which had a special knack for playing those lesser-known B side tracks. I am reminded of one, a late 70s pop song by Warren Zevon with the quirky title: Lawyers, Guns and Money. It chronicles the exploits of an English expat who finds himself ensnared by a Russian Mafioso after a late night gambling. Half way through the second stanza he sings ‘send lawyers, guns, and money!’ Partially for its whimsy refrain and partially because I happen to like obscure 70s pop, the track strikes me as the perfect namesake for a piece on the rise of crony capitalism.

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Kein ‘business as usual’: Die Rolle von Akademiker*innen im Zeitalter von Trump überdenken

                                                                                                                                                                  [Photo: Cole Keister/unsplash]

„Mein Haus brennt, und ich stelle die Möbel um!“ – dieses russische Sprichwort stehe exemplarisch für die gegenwärtige Krise der Sozialwissenschaften, argumentiert Robert Benson in seinem neuen Beitrag. In Zeiten von Neoautoritarismus in Gestalt von Trump und Bolsonaro, Repressionen gegen universitäre Einrichtungen im Herzen Europas und rechtsextremen Mobs auf den Straßen von Chemnitz seien Akademiker*innen mehr denn je in der Pflicht, sich zu Wort zu melden. Stattdessen dominierten nach wie vor elitäre Debatten innerhalb akademischer Zirkel, weit entfernt von allgemeiner öffentlicher Wahrnehmung. Doch wenn Wissenschaft weiterhin nach dem von Max Weber konstatierten Muster betrieben werde – berechnend, exakt und gefühllos, so spiegeln auch die resultierenden Debatten diese Haltung wider. Als Sozialwissenschftler*in hingegen habe man, frei nach Howard Becker, den Luxus moralischer Indifferenz aufgegeben. Daher plädiert Benson für ein Ende des Maulkorbs – es sei an der Zeit, den Elfenbeinturm zu verlassen und kollektiv die Stimme zu erheben.

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This cannot be business as usual: re-examining the role of the scholar in the age of Trump

                                                                                                                                                                 [Photo: Cole Keister/unsplash]

The Austrian jurist Hans Kelsen wrote in the summer of 1932 ‘one hears talk on all sides of a crisis—and sometimes even a catastrophe— of democracy’. Embroiled in a bitter exchange with his fellow legal scholars, the erstwhile philosophy teacher from Vienna was increasingly isolated and at odds with his profession. ‘Those who are for democracy’ he argued ‘cannot allow themselves to be caught in the dangers of idle debates’. Spirited in his defense of the Weimar Constitution, Kelsen was not in keeping with the times. There was, he believed, a sense of urgency to his scholarly work that his contemporaries simply did not understand. We live in a world, he lamented­, absent of heroes. Within months of accepting his professorship at the University of Cologne, Kelsen was summarily dismissed on political grounds.

‘History may not repeat itself’, the Yale historian Timothy Snyder argues, ‘but it certainly instructs’. Once again there is talk of a crisis of democracy. Yet like the fatigue which comes at the onset of a fever, there exists a disorientating malaise amongst social scientists. We work and publish; we debate with our colleagues, but to what ends?

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The End of the Liberal Order as We Know It?

Are we witnessing the end of the Liberal Order as we know it? Two important new books on this pressing question were presented and discussed at a recent WZB event. You can watch the full video recording below.

Populist parties challenge democracy, European integration, and international order. At the same time, authoritarian states openly challenge liberal values. Counter-revolutions and counter-institutionalizations abound. Many people wonder how the liberal world could get into such a crisis. Is Europe disintegrating? How can the resistance to the global governance be explained? Is there a way to overcome the multiple crises?

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Is Europe’s democracy problem spiraling out of control?

© Photo by Patrick McManaman on Unsplash

The EU is currently marked by democracy problems at both the community and the member state levels. In the past decades, European decision-making authority has grown exponentially in breadth and depth without providing for appropriate mechanisms of democratic (input) legitimation. This is referred to as the EU’s democratic deficit. On the other hand, there has been a widespread surge of nationalist populism in the member states that has an authoritarian inclination. In some cases, such as Hungary and Poland, they have started to effectively undermine the domestic institutions of liberal democracy. I argue that these two developments are causally linked and mutually reinforcing, fueling a vicious cycle of increasingly authoritarian rule at the national as well as the supranational level.

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