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A Plague on Politics? The COVID Crisis, Expertise, and the Future of Legitimation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 July 2021

The Ohio State University, United States
Cornell University, United States
Michael A. Neblo, Professor, Department of Political Science, The Ohio State University, United States,
Jeremy L. Wallace, Associate Professor, Department of Government, Cornell University, United States,


Governments rely more and more on experts to manage the increasingly complex problems posed by a growing, diversifying, globalizing world. Surplus technocracy, however, usually comes with deficits of democracy. While especially true in liberal regimes, authoritarian states often face parallel dynamics. Recent trends illustrate how technocratic encroachment on civil society’s prerogatives can provoke populist backlash. Such cycles can build toward crises by eroding the legitimacy citizens invest in regimes. Surprisingly, by throwing both the need for and limits of expertise into sharp relief, the politics of COVID-19 create a novel opportunity to disrupt these trends. We assess how this opportunity may be unfolding in two crucial cases, the United States and China, and, more briefly, South Korea. We conclude by sketching some theoretical considerations to guide a geographically expanded and temporally extended research agenda on this important opportunity to slow or reverse a trend plaguing modern governance.

© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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