Research on political violence and public anger in inter-war years backed by ERC funding

  • Date

    Thu 3 Sep 20

Dr Nils Bormann

‘Can democratic leaders in Europe learn from the fate of democratic regimes during the inter-war years?’ asks political scientist Dr Nils-Christian Bormann, who has just won a prestigious European Research Council Starting Grant to support his research.

Dr Bormann, from the Department of Government at Essex, will use the ERC Starting Grant award to launch the Democracy, Anger, and Elite Responses (DANGER) project to investigate political violence and public anger from just after the end of World War One in 1919 to the start of World War Two in 1939.

Dr Bormann said: “I will be studying threats to the functioning of democracies in Europe's inter-war period.

“I will investigate instances of political violence as a measure of citizen anger towards democratic regimes, and try to understand what politicians can do to address this anger.

“What may be unique to my approach is that I will use statistical models to assess how relevant the lessons from European history are for today.”

Understanding threats to democracy

Dr Bormann hopes his findings will help political and civil society leaders to better understand how to deal with threats to democracy and protect democratic principles.

Dr Bormann said: “The main idea is to actually test how appropriate certain historical lessons are. In the public sphere, people frequently draw historical analogies yet without any certainty that history really repeats itself, or that the particular event/period is really the relevant comparison point.

“The point of the research project is to develop a model of risks to democracy for the interwar period, and then to use statistical models to evaluate if similar dynamics unfold today. If the answer to this question is "yes", we can learn from European inter-war history.

“Otherwise we should be careful about analogies to the inter-war period with respect to the questions I study.

“As we haven't seen a lot of democratic failures in Europe over the last 70 years, we can either draw lessons from states outside of Europe, or go back to the inter-war period.

“While a lot of excellent colleagues of mine have recently delved into examining democratic failure in Latin America, Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, I will investigate Europe's own history.”

ERC Starting Grants

Dr Bormann added: “I feel very lucky to receive the award with so many other outstanding projects that have been proposed.”

Dr Bormann is one of 436 laureates from more than 40 countries selected for 2020 European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants. The funding, worth in total €677 million, will help these early-career scientists and scholars to build their own teams and conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. The grants are part of the EU’s Research and Innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “With European Research Council grants, the EU is leveraging the talent and curiosity of some of the best young researchers in Europe.

“Their ideas are set to break fresh ground and open new ways to deal with pressing challenges in the areas of health, energy and digital technologies, as well as many other fields. Our ambition to effectively tackle current and future crises depends on our strong will to continuously and increasingly support top research at the frontiers of our knowledge.”

President of the European Research Council (ERC), Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, commented: “It’s clear that, if Europe is to be competitive globally, it needs to give excellent prospects to the next generation of researchers as these ERC Starting Grants do, and to invest much more in top blue sky research.”