Jan-Werner Mueller

© Amira El AhlJan-Werner Mueller; Foto: Birk Trads Jan-Werner Mueller is a Professor of Politics at Princeton University, where he also directs the Project in the History of Political Thought. His publications include What is Populism? (2016), Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth-Century Europe (2011) and Constitutional Patriotism (2007).

Interview with Prof. Dr. Jan-Werner Mueller

Dr. Mueller, what are your expectations for the second Civic Education Conference taking place in May in Tunisia?

I am not an expert on the Middle East and North Africa, but my impression is that Tunisia has been an inspiring example of how popular pressure can both be politically effective and be mediated through institutions in such a way that democracy – which is always pluralist – can be strengthened. I am of course referring in particular to the experience of the National Quartet, which received the Nobel Peace Prize last year. Now, political experiences are often very specific and we should resist the temptation to draw simple “lessons.” Still, I hope we can learn from the Tunisian political process.

In general, what is the importance of civic education for today’s societies?

On a basic level, citizens need to understand how democratic institutions function, and how they might best articulate their interests and identities politically. But they also need a sense of what it means for individuals to be part of a democracy in which we are politically equal and yet different and diverse in all kinds of other respects. How can one find fair terms of living together for citizens who are free and equal, and yet also bound to clash and disagree in many respects? This requires a much more extended and complex discussion of the value, but also perhaps sometimes limits, of pluralism and tolerance.

In your opinion, what are the main factors necessary for a vivid civil society and what are the challenges that actors of civil society are currently facing the most?

As a number of observers have pointed out, the space for civil society is narrowing in many countries. Governments are officially restricting or informally manipulating rights that are crucial for civil society to work: freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, for instance. Civil society organizations are accused of being foreign agents, and entire fake civil societies are constructed instead to legitimate governments. Some regimes have become very adept at this. It is a fateful mistake to think that such actions by governments is only bad for liberalism, but not for democracy. It fatefully damages democracy itself.

Have you ever been to Tunisia? What are you looking forward to – with regard to the conference but also generally with regard to your stay?

I have never been. I am hoping to learn more about recent history. And I am also particularly eager to find out more about the Truth and Dignity Commission.


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