You may or may not be attracted to Populism. But, whatever your personal position, its important to understand the new game in town, its principles and ideology.
Populist parties have entered coalitions in eleven Western democracies, including Austria, Italy and Switzerland. Their share of the vote has more than doubled, from 5.1% to 13.2% since the 1960’s.
So, this is a worldwide phenomenon, but what, exactly, is populism?
It appears to be a mix of three main threads, anti-establishment feelings + authoritarian leanings + nativism. It is also a philosophy that stands upon the wisdom of ordinary people (popularised in texts like the Wisdom of the Crowd). It reflects deep cynicism and resentment of existing authorities, big business, banks, multi-nationals, media pundits, elected politicians and government official, intellectual elites and scientific experts. There aren’t many of us who can’t find fault with some or all of those.
Let’s take the central tenet that ordinary people – or its parallel epithets, ‘hard-working”, ‘decent’, ‘family-oriented’ which pop up in the rhetoric of all populist leaders – are essentially homogenous and in addition ‘good’ compared to dishonest elites.
Clearly this is nonsense. ‘Ordinary people’ contains all shades of character and disposition from the virtuous through the ambivalent to the downright criminal. They are no better or worse than elites.
Unfortunately, as a rhetorical device it has an ‘everyman’ appeal. It is inclusive, common-sense, and easy to exemplify in the countless of examples of virtue and constructive social behaviour across all lands. It is a powerful piece of ‘wish-fulfilment’ too, I am an ordinary guy, just like you, and we’re OK.
But it is not representative of more than a small part of reality. Ordinary people are greedy, self-serving, manipulative, dishonest and deceitful, in just the same proportions as are politicians. They are also decent, noble, virtuous to the same degree too.
It is a powerful piece of anti-establishment rhetoric which rings true in these individualistic times, but contains no direction other than to do the bidding of the leader who opposes the establishment.
As long as we don’t do what those dishonest elites tell us, things will get better.
It is also completely propelled by an “ANYTHING BUT WHAT THEY SAY” stance rather than an analysis of the problems leading to a new set of proposals for a better world. It is anti, rather than pro, as we can see now with the complete absence of any plans, ideas or processes for Brexit. Essentially it is vacuous, and hence dangerously seductive sans prospects or plans.