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Book Talk. Illiberal Vanguard: Populist Elitism in the United States and Russia
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Please join the Harriman Institute for a book talk by Alexandar Mihailovic. Moderated by Elise Giuliano.

Recent years have witnessed a growing affinity between increasingly radicalized right-wing movements in the United States and Russia, countries that only recently viewed each other as intractable foes. In Illiberal Vanguard: Populist Elitism in the United States and Russia, Alexandar Mihailovic untangles this confluence, considering ethnonationalist movements in both countries and their parallel approaches to gender, race, and performative identity. Rather than probe specific points of possible contact or political collusion, Mihailovic unveils the mirrored styles of thought that characterize far-right elitism in two erstwhile enemy nations.

Mihailovic investigates notable right-wing actors like Steve Bannon and Alexander Dugin and targets of right-wing ire such as globalization, LGBTQ+ activism, and mobilizations to remove controversial statues (that honor Confederate generals and Soviet leaders, for instance), but the argument extends beyond the specifics. How and why are radical right-wing movements developing along such similar trajectories in two nominally oppositional countries? How do religious sectarianism, the construction of whiteness, and institutionalized homophobia support each other in this transnational, informal, but powerful allegiance? Despite their appeals to populism and flamboyant theatrics, Mihailovic argues, much of the answer can be found in the mutual desire to justify and organize an illiberal vanguard of elite intellectuals, one that supports and advocates for a new authoritarianism.

Alexandar Mihailovic is a Professor Emeritus of Russian and Comparative Literature at Hofstra University. He received his B.A. from Columbia, and his M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale. He has taught at Williams and Bennington Colleges and at the graduate programs at Columbia and Brown, and has received fellowships from the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, and the Oakley Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at Williams College.

His books include Corporeal Words: Mikhail Bakhtin’s Theology of Discourse (Northwestern University Press) and the edited volume Tchaikovsky and His Contemporaries: A Centenary Symposium (Greenwood Press). The Russian translation of an updated and expanded version of his book The Mitki and Art of Postmodern Protest in Russia (University of Wisconsin Press, 2018) came out with the New Literary Review (NLO) Press in Moscow, in the series ‘Studies in Visual Culture’, and was shortlisted for the 2021 Kandinsky Prize in the category of writing about contemporary Russian art. In 2016, together with Helga Druxes and Karolin Machtans he edited the collection Navid Kermani: Contemporary German Writers (Oxford, UK: Peter Lang Oxford), about the Iranian-German fiction writer and respected scholar of Islam who has positioned himself as a forthright critic of xenophobia and the resurgent far right within Germany.

Mihailovic’s two most recent books were released in 2023. Screening Solidarity: Neoliberalism and Transnational Cinemas, the book he co-authored with Patricia A. Simpson and Helga Druxes, was published by Bloomsbury Academic Press. In Illiberal Vanguard: Populist Elitism in the United States and Russia (University of Wisconsin Press), he examines the confluence of American and Russian populist nationalist movements and groups. He is currently at work on an interpretive biography of Dina Vierny, the Russian-Jewish performer of songs from the GULAG, gallery owner, and founder of the Aristide Maillol Museum in Paris who pioneered the sponsorship in the West of non-conformist artists from the Soviet Union.

This event is supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.