November 4, 2017

Dierdre McCloskey on populism

Filed under: Economics, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

A recent paper, “Populism Is Zero Sum Under Majority Rule” [PDF], prepared for the Stockholm meetings of the Mont Pelerin Society:

Populism revives the ancient ideology of zero sum for an age of majority rule. Liberalism, by contrast, is a recent ideology of positive sum, with rights for minority groups, which often generate the positive sum. The pioneering management theorist of the 1920s, Mary Parker Follett, called it “win-win.” Populism speaks instead of “win-lose,” and darkly suspects that the minority groups are the source of the “lose.”

Populism can be given what the philosophers call an “ostensive” definition, that is, pointing to instances one after another until the point is clear. All right, to speak only of those who achieved substantial if often temporary political power, the Gracchi, Savonarola, William Jennings Bryan, Mussolini, Juan Peron, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, Hugo Chávez, Silvio Berlusconi, the Tea Party, Jeremy Corbyn, Marine Le Pen, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump. Zero sum prevails. Italy in the 1930s can be rich and, especially, glorious only by foreign conquest, incompetently pursued. Southern whites in the 1880s can only be dignified if blacks are not. America in the late 2010s can only be made richer if China and Mexico are made poorer.

What has been odd and definitive of populism during the past couple of centuries, though, is not the zero sum, an old and commonplace assumption about the economy, but majority rule as the default in politics. “Democracy,” after all, has only recently become a good word. Majority rule was until the nineteenth century regularly described as mob rule. Odi profanum vulgus. It was to be disdained, and only a tiny group of radical priests and levellers disagreed. “When Adam delved, and Eve span/ Who then was the gentleman?” John Ball asked in 1380, for which he was drawn and quartered. In 1685 the Leveller Richard Rumbold, facing the hangman, declared, “I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another; for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.” Few in the crowd gathered to mock him would have agreed. A century later, many would have. By 1985 virtually everyone did, at least in declaration.

Populism, then, is democracy in the polity when obsessed with zero sum in the economy. Socialism is a populism with a grand theory attached. Neither is strange. After all, zero-sum thinking is deeply natural. It is the default, certainly, for humans and for other great apes. Herd animals and social animals behave “charitably” towards their herd or society, it may be, though all animals will fight for territory, or else avoid the fight from a sense of justice. A dog will not steal another’s bone.

Modern populism was expressed by the Louisiana governor Huey Long in 1934 as “Every man a king.” A classical liberal can warmly agree, as against the affection for hierarchy among conservatives. In the eighteenth century kings had rights, and women had none. Now, thankfully, it’s the other way around.

But Huey’s way of achieving the rights was that of both Bad King John and his enemy Robin Hood, characteristic of the feudal and now the socialist and populist order, of violence. “It is necessary to scale down the big fortunes,” he said, “that we may scatter the wealth to be shared by all of the people.” Scale down by governmental violence one person’s earnings by trade and betterment, in order to give to another person, and all will be well. Zero sum. Win-lose.

March 17, 2017

Peronism, fascism, and socialism

Filed under: Americas, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

David Warren is in fine form:

Peronism came to Argentina and never left. Not only have the Partido Justicialista and its avatars dominated Argentine electoral politics, through their various iconic husband-and-wife acts over the last seventy years, but they have contaminated the thinking of the whole country, which adhered to their arbitrary and contradictory doctrines even during the sixteen years they were banned, and adheres to the present day when once again they are nominally out of power. Actually it is a century, now, since Peron’s “Radical” predecessors first won election (dating from Hipólito Yrigoyen, 1916). Moral, intellectual, and material squalour is their chief legacy to a country which was once among the world’s most prosperous and most free. The spiritual equivalent has now migrated to Rome.

This, at least, is the impression I have formed from afar. “Justicialism,” so far as one can read, embodies every sort of rhetorical populism, across the political spectrum, but with a heavy and perfectly consistent bias towards centralized power. It stands for “social justice” — an absolutely imaginary and therefore unattainable ideal. It is on the side of labour and of management, it is Catholic and anti-Catholic, racist and anti-racist, isolationist and aggressive, leftist and rightist and dogmatically nationalist with all the contradictions nationalism entails. Yet it is not unique.

Socialism is leftwing Fascism; Fascism is rightwing Socialism. Other than that, they are the same. They vie for the same voters, and politicians may move comfortably back and forth between their symmetrical (i.e. identical) extremes. The principle underlying both is that the government should control everything, for the government’s idea of the common good. Whether the government technically owns everything is neither here nor there. Indeed, Socialism/Fascism works better, for the government, if private actors can be made to take the blame and the losses for all of the government’s goon-show mistakes. Any “excess” income on which they fall in their government-assigned monopolist stations can then be impounded.

March 11, 2017

“Writing a good populism story in Canada is thus all about reaching the Canada Is Just Better conclusion”

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

J.J. McCullough provides a valuable public service by compiling a checklist for Canadian media types when writing about populism:

Greetings Canadian journalists!

As you know, there’s currently a thing called “populism” happening all around the world. This is a fad in which poor people elect little Hitlers to power. I mean, it’s so far only actually happened in the context of Donald Trump (boo!) getting elected in the U.S., but there’s also that Brexit vote thing in the U.K., and that counts too for some reason. I know the iron rule of journalism is that you need three examples before you can claim a trend, so in a pinch just refer vaguely to “recent events in Europe” and that should cover it.

So anyway, having established that the world is in the midst of a populist tidal wave, the important question to ask is why it hasn’t hit Canada. The obvious answer, of course, is that Canada is just better than everywhere else, but you’re not allowed to say that openly if you’re a serious journalist. That’s for columnists like Doug Saunders or John Ibbitson or John Ivision (those are two different guys, right?).

Writing a good populism story in Canada is thus all about reaching the Canada Is Just Better conclusion without making it overtly obvious that’s where you’re heading. Or at least not obvious in the first paragraph. The way you do this is by noting that while Canada has some populist-like things happening, they are all really stupid and dumb and unpopular and meaningless and should be ignored. Because Canada Is Just Better.

H/T to Kate at Small Dead Animals for the link.

November 10, 2016

Tracking the rise of Il Donalduce

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I was curious enough to go back to when I created a “DonaldTrump” tag for posts here on the blog and see how much has changed since he entered the race:

  • The tag was created on June 18 of last year when I posted a link to P.J. O’Rourke’s notion that Trump was the perfectly “representative” candidate.
  • In August (two months with no Trump sightings? Those were the days…), I linked to Walter Russell Mead taking a swing at defining what it is that Trump offered to the disaffected plurality (majority?) of would-be Republican voters. A few days later, Megan McArdle found herself coming back to the phrase “bag o’ crazy” when she tried to make sense of Donald Trump’s immigration proposals.
  • In September, I linked to Grant McCracken’s explanation for why revelations of faults and gaffes didn’t cost Trump much of his support, while Ace speculated that the Trump kryptonite might be “middle class respectability”.
  • In December, Megan McArdle wrote a piece that an unkind soul might call to her attention now, including the immortal line “I rank the odds of a Trump presidency somewhere below the odds of my winning the lottery”. We also looked at the impact of “The Donald” on “The Overton Window”, and Megan McArdle got uncharacteristically conspiracy theoristic.
  • In January, Scott Adams began earning more attention (and much more vilification) for his “master persuader” posts on the Trump insurgency, and Tucker Carlson explained why the conservative establishment so badly misjudged the folks who vociferously supported The Donald. Colby Cosh also gave props to Adams and discussed the odd state of the state of Iowa in US presidential elections.
  • In March, economist Don Boudreaux speculated on the possible good outcome of a Trump electoral victory, and Colby Cosh wrote “Dear America: We need to talk about Donald“. Scott Adams speculated about Trump’s possible rhetorical tactics against Hillary Clinton in the general election. I also finally settled on the appropriate nickname to use for Il Donalduce, having briefly tried “Mussotrumpi” and “The Donald”.
  • In April, Scott Adams wrote on some of Il Donalduce’s recent political mistakes.
  • In May, Adams discussed Clinton’s use of the literal “Woman Card”, and Megan McArdle bewailed the pointlessness of trying to analyze any given Trump policy. Warren Meyer pointed out that Clinton and Trump are equally bad in terms of crony capitalism. Jim Geraghty imagined that Trump was probably thinking “how hard can it be?” to run a government. Tim Worstall pointed out that, despite incoherency on other policies, Trump was correct on solving California’s water crisis.
  • In June, Megan McArdle refuted the “Trump is a scary autocrat” scenario, Camille Paglia compared and contrasted the Clinton and Trump campaigns, and Scott Adams decides to endorse Clinton for his personal safety. Simon Penner explains why President Trump could not do all the things his hysterical opponents claim he would.
  • In July, Shikha Dalmia criticized the “return to mercantilism” aspects of Trump’s trade policies and Scott Adams considered the possibility of Obama declaring martial law to prevent President-elect Trump from taking office. Jonathan Freedland looked at the alienated GOP establishment and the #NeverTrump-ers.
  • At what appeared to be a low point in Trump’s fortunes in August, David Zincavage wondered what Trump would be doing differently if he was actually aiming to lose. After what many pundits considered a potentially geopolitical destabilizing statement on NATO, Tom Kratman concludes that Trump wouldn’t actually abandon the alliance. Regardless of the election’s outcome, Scott Adams thought he’d identified a silver lining to the 2016 presidential race.
  • In September, Jay Currie suggested a three-part plan to bring about a Trump victory, and Tamara Keel outlined the impossible choice facing American voters in November.
  • October saw Megan McArdle addressing the social media outrage at revelations from Il Donalduce‘s partial tax returns leaked to the media. Also in October, an unusually fair article appeared in the Guardian on who Trump’s supporters really were, and Jay Currie looked at the state of US election polling (which we now know from the differences between predictions and actual results is dire).
  • In early November, Ken Stern peered into the murky depths of the right-wing media bubble (and the matching one on the left), then the totally unexpected landslide occurred, and I blamed it on the media (usually a safe accusation to make).

March 17, 2016

QotD: Trump’s populism

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is too late to challenge Trump when he talks about the wall. It does not matter how stupid the idea, taken literally, may be. American politicians spoke Parseltongue to the working class, the people who contend with and live beside immigrant labour, for too long. They are ready to vote for the only guy who will think about a wall.

Of course a bad collective conscience is the key to any populist movement like Trump’s. He really is like Hitler in this: he sells absolution to those too inarticulate to explain or defend their prejudices. It is universally acknowledged that less-skilled American workers are in a bad state. Millions are on federal or other disability schemes and food stamps, millions are at least half-zombified on prescription drugs and the overlap between these groups is obviously great. Mortality statistics among the middle-aged show the results. What they don’t show is the shame that dropouts from honest labour and bourgeois aspiration must suffer — how unlike their fathers and mothers they feel. If I were a worse writer I’d drop the word “alienation” here.


And so Trump materializes with a garbled, but not totally unfounded, account of what went wrong: globalization destroyed traditional jobs, illegal immigration took more, Mexican heroin salesmen swooped in. Idealistic America has been hornswoggled by tricky foreigners who know their own interests. Trump won’t stop saying how “smart” they are. This isn’t white supremacism: it’s American inferiorism.

If Trump is a charlatan who saw the conditions for populist agitation and crafted an opportunistic message, all I can say is: well played. What I ask of Americans who deplore him is, what did you do about these conditions when something might have been done? Did you not think your civilization was particularly vulnerable to hucksters and loudmouths?

America is the land of, and I’ll put these in alphabetical order, Frank Abagnale, Jim Bakker, P.T. Barnum, Scott Boras, Dale Carnegie, Bill Clinton, Enron, Chris Kyle, Bernie Madoff, Charles Manson, Billy Mays, Dr. Phil McGraw, Joe McCarthy, Norman Vincent Peale, Charles Ponzi, Al Sharpton, Charlie Sheen and Orson Welles. It is the dynamo of cultivated marketing crazes: flagpole sitting, Cabbage Patch Kids, hula hoops, the Lambada. It is mother and nurse of kooky sci-fi religions: Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, chiropractic, Scientology, Erhard seminars. The glories and powers of America are inseparable from this trait, and it has never been a secret to outsiders, not since Tocqueville.

So how can any self-aware American look at Donald Trump — who, again, even before his candidacy, might have been the first person a Chinese peasant thought of when someone said “name an American” — and imagine him as novel and unfamiliar? You don’t think his architectural sensibility is characteristically American? You don’t think his habit of overstating his fortune is American? You don’t think his hair and his tan are American? Where on Earth, dear friends, do you think you live? Do you never look in the mirror?

Colby Cosh, “Dear America: We need to talk about Donald”, National Post, 2016-03-03.

October 9, 2015

QotD: Populism and the Nanny State

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

“Democracy,” or populism, has always delivered the Nanny State — which to my understanding is something more than a centralized bureaucracy. The Communists tried to deliver it by force, but politicians in our parliamentary free markets advance it by appealing to the lowest common denominator. The two systems — falsely contrasted “socialist” and “free market” ideologies — are animated by the same Enlightenment ideals. Both claim to speak for the mute and anonymous “little man”: to stuff him with material goods, and inflate him with rhetorical gases. Both play, directly and indirectly, on the envy in that little man, and his resentment of his betters. Both are thus effectively in opposition to the natural hierarchical ordering of society (which made and would make most politics unnecessary). Both promise, as a matter of course, what the serpent offered to Eve and Adam: the fruit that will make the little men “like gods.”

The purpose behind this is not to build the bureaucracy, as an end in itself, but bureaucracy as the means towards moral debilitation. The excellence of bureaucracy, from the diabolical point of view, is that it reliably punishes the good, and rewards bad behaviour. Its weakness remains an inability to predict that human behaviour, including sudden manifestations of the “hostile inflexibility” mentioned in my last post.

For there is in nature something besides the original sin that felled our first parents, and has been the trickster of history ever since. There is also a positive, which I’m inclined to call “human decency,” or in its most extreme and inflexible form, Love. This cuts across all diabolical intentions, and in moments of grace even faces them down. It should be said that the free market approach to moral debilitation leaves rather more scope to this human decency, though it tends to draw the line at Love. Violent tyranny leaves no scope at all, but as a consequence of plugging every vent, triggers the response of pent-up forces. At some point, the signal from a fracture spreads, and in a kind of earthquake, Berlin Walls come down. The genius of the rival consumer democracy is that it releases the pressure, one riot at a time.

But democracies, too, are fated — like every material aspiration on this earth, to die and leave no traces. When they deny the immortal dimension of man, the unchanging reality of creature and Creator, they become dry husks. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and in every direction the dry husks are scattered away. Only by God is the living implanted, and only on God’s terms will it grow. That jealous God, who will have no other gods before Him; against Whom we have, in truth, opposed our little “democratic” pie-in-the-sky.

David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.

August 21, 2015

QotD: The lack of populism in Canadian politics

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

For all the talk we’ve heard in recent years about Canada’s slide into supposedly “American-style” gutter politics, the sort of garish gestures described above are completely unknown north of the border. The Canadian version of a controversial “stunt” involves Stephen Harper sitting down at a piano and playing a pop song. And when Elizabeth May embarrassed herself with her Welcome Back Kotter shtick, most observers responded to this brief spasm of theatricality with stunned mortification and pity.

I suppose the closest thing that the federal Tories have to a controversial populist is Minister of Employment and Social Development Pierre Poilievre, who shocked the Canadian pundit class by, wait for it, conducting a ministerial press conference wearing a golf shirt emblazoned with the Conservative Party logo. His party is so obsessed with milking partisan advantage from their expanded Universal Child Care Benefit that Poilievre actually travelled to a Winnipeg production facility so he could pose for pictures with the freshly printed cheques. The stunt was fantastically grubby. But the least that can be said for it was that the UCCB is an actual component of government policy. Better a printing press, I suppose, than a snowball, a chainsaw, a flame-thrower, or a gun.

As Canadians, we’d like to think that Donald Trumps don’t infect our politics because we are smarter and saner than Americans. But the real reason is structural. Republicans and Democrats elect their presidential candidates through the grass roots, which means that populists do occasionally hijack the process. In our parliamentary system, on the other hand, the major parties are heavily whipped entities obsessed with brand preservation. And the party leaders who go on to become premier or prime minister are selected at convention proceedings closely supervised by risk-averse party grandees. The result is a menagerie of bland, polished, disciplined wonks and career politicians such as Stephen Harper, Christy Clark, Rachel Notley, and Kathleen Wynne. (It’s no coincidence that the most interesting and thoroughly disgraced politician in modern Canadian history, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, existed completely outside the party system.)

Most Republicans are appalled by Donald Trump, and rightly so: His comments about Mexico’s supposed criminal hordes only encourage the GOP’s reputation as a party for ageing white nativists. But his fifteen minutes of fame highlight the degree to which Americans trust ordinary yahoos to pick the person to run their country. It’s a right that our own yahoos will never ever have.

Jonathan Kay, “A Land Without Trump”, The Walrus, 2015-07-28.

August 13, 2015

The unlikely appeal of Donald Trump

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

What is the explanation for the meteoric rise of Donald Trump’s fortunes in the Republican race? It’s certainly not his hardcore conservative beliefs, for he clearly doesn’t have too many of those. It’s not his “everyman” story, because he’s far from having experienced anything like an actual “everyman” life. What could possibly account for his current popularity? (I mean, aside from being pretty much antithetical to the “establishment GOP” … that’d be crazy talk.) In The American Interest, Walter Russell Mead takes a swing at defining what it is that Trump appears to be offering to the disaffected plurality (majority?) of would-be Republican voters:

Is The Donald a populist candidate? Our friend Glenn Reynolds argued in Sunday’s USA Today that the rise of Donald Trump is best understood as a populist event — “an indictment of the GOP establishment and, for that matter, of the American political establishment in general” and “a sign that large numbers of voters don’t feel represented by more mainstream politicians.”

Over at the Washington Post, Daniel Drezner, another friend, disputes Reynolds’ interpretation of Trump, arguing that though “there’s definitely something to this”, “on closer inspection this isn’t really a straightforward populist story, for two reasons.” The first is that “the policy preferences that Trump is pushing aren’t all that popular.” The second is that Trump, rather than emphasizing his solidarity with ordinary people, makes a point of flaunting his tremendous wealth and privilege at every possible opportunity in outrageous ways.

But Reynolds is right and Trump is very much a classic populist — in the following sense. Populism isn’t always about taking majority positions or cultivating economic solidarity with non-elites. In some populist movements, specific policy positions that don’t always or even often have majority support gain energy by hooking up with generalized dissatisfaction with elites and the status quo. Late 19th- and early 20th-century populism, from a policy standpoint, put a lot of stress on agrarian issues and crackpot economic ideas that, though there weren’t any opinion polls at the time, don’t seem to have had majority support. So while, as Drezner points out, hard-line immigration enforcement may not be particularly high on the agendas of a majority of voters, Trump can use the issue to signal his contempt for the establishment — and voters pay more attention to the tune than to the lyrics.

Last week, Megan McArdle tried to explain “The Donald” as being the “Ron Paul” of this election cycle:

For me, the high point [of the Republican debate] came when Donald Trump announced that he had made a donation to Hillary Clinton in order to … get her to come to his wedding. Where to begin with such a statement? I have known brides and bridegrooms who cherished a vulgar belief that weddings have a three-figure admission fee, in cash or kind. But outside of romantic comedies, I have never heard of an American wedding in which the payments ran the other way. Trump touts himself as a dealmaker, but if this is an example of his negotiating prowess, do you really want him in charge of your international treaties? “I’m afraid I won’t even consider withdrawing our troops from your border unless you also allow me to give you a billion dollars, a weekend for two at the Maui Hilton, and a personal guided tour of the White House!”

When I pointed this out on Twitter, a Trump fan of indeterminate sincerity tweeted back “Wake … up, sheeple!”

How did this man get onto the stage? And how can we get him off, given the apparent passion of his base, who flood online polls with support for The Donald? He and Bernie Sanders are giving me flashbacks to those heady days of 2007, when a rash mention of Ron Paul’s name in a column, much less criticizing his somewhat tenuous grasp on monetary economics, was good for hundreds of comments and emails, assuring you that Dr. Paul was going to be the next president of the United States because he was FINALLY offering Americans a REAL ALTERNATIVE. (Ron Paul supporters favored ALL CAPS so that you would UNDERSTAND that they were SERIOUS ABOUT CHANGE, or perhaps because the RON PAUL COMMEMORATIVE KEYBOARDS they had bought had some sort of TERRIBLE MALFUNCTION.)

Donald Trump is not going to be president. Bernie Sanders is also not going to be president. Their appeal to their supporters is precisely the reason they are not going to be president. Every few years, a large number of Americans need to learn the same lesson: The reason you don’t hear the solutions that you want coming from the boring, scripted, mainstream politicians who get elected is that the solutions that you want do not appeal to the majority of your fellow countrymen.

Update: Fixed the link to Walter Russell Mead’s article.

Update the second: Mark Steyn takes some heat for his perceived support of Trump:

I’ve had a ton of mail objecting to my “support” of Donald Trump which we’ll try to run some of it in the days ahead. But, for the record, I’m not “supporting” him. As I said to John, the Republican nominating process has failed in the last two cycles, and thus, five months before any actual votes are cast, watching someone disrupt a racket that can use all the disruption it can get is hugely enjoyable. I mean, he’s touched the third, fourth, fifth and every other live rail in American politics, insulting Hispanics, veterans, menstruating women – and the more juice that shoots through him the stronger he gets. He’s discarded every convention of American politics, which, given that it’s the conventions of American politics that have made us the brokest nation in history, is something to be cheered. He’s the richest guy in the race, but he’s not spending a dime – because while the single-digit candidates kiss up to the big donors and blow through a fortune on the usual tedious “I was born the son of a mailman” ads – Trump is sucking up all the airtime between commercial breaks for free. He’s making a mockery of the consultant class, and what’s not to enjoy about that? For as long as it lasts.

May 28, 2012

The EU elites’ fear of populism reveals their loathing of ordinary people

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:32

In sp!ked, Patrick Hayes looks at the predictions of populist disaster from the EU elite:

There is little the EU elites fear more than so-called ‘populism’. According to one commentator, ‘in conferences and dinner parties from Brussels to Bratislava, the topic of populism dominates conversations’. As Corrado Passero, Italy’s minister of economic development, declared earlier this year, ‘our worst enemy right now is populism’. Clegg echoed such concerns in his interview with Der Spiegel. ‘Frankly’, he said, ‘questions about the British debate on EU membership will just be a small sideshow, compared to the rise of political populism’.

[. . .]

The casual equation of ‘populism’ with xenophobia, racism and even Nazism reveals much about the EU elites, and not a great deal about the actual views of the public. After all, that word — ‘populism’ — is commonly defined along the lines of the Collins dictionary as, ‘a political strategy based on a calculated appeal to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people’. Which raises a question: do Clegg and the many other politicians and commentators fretting about populism see xenophobia, racism and nationalism as being the default political prejudices of the public? From the public discussion, it would seem that if the ignorant, feral masses are not kept in their place by a liberal elite which understands their genuine interests, then concentration camps are just around the corner. As a Guardian editorial put it: ‘When Brussels or Berlin loses sight of [democracy], voters reach for simpler and uglier solutions.’

The widespread concerns being voiced by the political classes about the dangers of populism speak to an elitist disdain for mass politics. Trying to represent the uncontrollable electorates is seen to be cynically pandering to their proto-fascistic whims. The fear of the rise of populism, then, comes not from a genuine concern that a Fourth Reich is imminent, but rather from a terror of the public. The only solution is seen to be greater consolidation and centralisation of power in Europe-wide institutions in Brussels. These can then insulate the enlightened elite from the barbarian hordes roaming across Europe, so they can continue in their attempt to keep civilisation alive. The worst xenophobes are in fact among the European political elite, petrified of the ignorant, bigoted Others that make up the rest of the European populace.

November 29, 2011

European democracy is now “the preserve of right-wing populism”

Filed under: Europe, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:09

Frank Furedi on the urge to omit democracy from European government:

Over the past month, it has become clear that the European Union doesn’t simply suffer from a democratic deficit; rather, it has decided that in the current climate of crisis and uncertainty, the institutions of government must be insulated and protected from public pressure. In Brussels, and among an influential coterie of European opinion-makers, the idea that ordinary people have the capacity to self-govern is dismissed as at best a naive prejudice, and at worst a marker for right-wing populism.

As we shall see, this desire to renounce the politics of representation is by no means confined to EU technocrats. To no one’s surprise, many businesspeople and bankers also prefer the new unelected governments of Greece and Italy to regimes that are accountable to their electorates. And such elitist disdain for nations’ democratic representative institutions is also shared by sections of the left and the intelligentsia, too. So in his contribution on the crisis of democracy, Jürgen Habermas, the leading leftist German philosopher, writes off national electorates as ‘the preserve of right-wing populism’ and condemns them as ‘the caricature of national macrosubjects shutting themselves off from each other’.

Indeed, it isn’t the old-fashioned conservative detractors of the multitude who are at the forefront of the current cultural turn against democratic will-formation — no, it is liberal advocates of expert-driven technocratic rule who are now the most explicit denouncers of democracy. The current political attack on the principles of representative democracy is founded on three propositions. First it is claimed that the people cannot be trusted to support policies that are necessary for the preservation and improvement of society. Secondly, it is suggested that there is an important trade-off to be made between democracy and efficiency, and that in a time of crisis the latter must prevail over the former. And finally, anti-democratic ideologues believe that governments, especially democratic governments, have lost the capacity to deal with the key problems facing societies in today’s globalised world.

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