Populism and State Power

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Yves here. Please welcome Tony Lynch, a regular supplier of intel to the site, and now a meaty post on populism. Get a cup of coffee.

Tony’s central theme is that unlike the US Populist movement, a grass root campaign in the late 19th century that called for many of what later would be labeled as democratic socialist policies, the current “populism” is ascriptive, as in identity in that group is assigned as opposed to adopted by adherents. As one thinks about it, that is pretty weird for political views, but it fits with the current vogue for identity.

As Lynch explains, in reality, “….ascriptive (anti)populism is an elite ideology for elites,” a way to foster elite solidarity.

Lynch also offers a theory as to why those same hard-won democratic programs, institutes in the US in the wake of the Great Depression, have been and continued to be hollowed out despite broad public support for them, as well as the perfidy of the “Brahmin elite.”

Finally note that demonizing those who don’t accept the wisdom of our supposed betters may not be effective save as a call for action to suppress the refusniks. Recall how Hillary Clinton’s
“deplorables” rant backfired. Before the 2016 election, child T-shirts, blazoned with “I’m a adorable deplorable” sold like hotcakes, even in the smallest baby size.

By Tony Lynch, adjunct senior lecturer in Philosophy and Politics at the University of New England, Australia. He has written and taught philosophy for forty years

The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right or left, are in the gutters. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Introduction – Deliberative and Ascriptive Populism

There are straightforwardly causal explanations – ‘the tree fell on the car, crushing it’; and there are explanations that involve reasons – ‘he voted for X because he is a liberal.’  This difference remains, whether or not reasons explanations supervene on causal explanations, for there is no understanding human agency without appealing to reasons, and always – though not exclusively – those of the agent or agents themselves.  This is because if we are explaining human actions as actions – including group or collective actions – we are dealing not with theoretical, but with practical reason: with how it is that people, in the most general sense, decide or determine what to do.  Whatever else there might be to such action explanations (and there may be a lot), agent deliberation matters.[1]

Some political terms draw their practical explanatory power from this mattering.  Terms like ‘socialist,’ ‘liberal,’ and ‘conservative,’ may figure deliberatively in the thoughts and reflections of those who identify as socialists, liberal, or conservatives.  It is this fact that grounds their explanatory power: these people do the sorts of things they do because they are the sorts of things that people who think of themselves as socialists, liberals, conservatives, might (or should) think or do, and this fact is reflected in their explanation of their choices and actions.

Is ‘populist’ an explanatory term like this?  Are there people out there who identify, deliberate, and explain themselves, as populists?  Certainly, there have been deliberative populists in the past – the very term ‘populism’ was created in the United States outside Kansas (on a train, outside Topeka) by The People’s Party in 1892, as a snappy name for those committed to their political program.  While this is crucially important – for it grounds the real history of populism, and reminds us that it was, and is, an American forged political term which has since (unsurprisingly, given the United States oversize political footprint) been derivatively applied elsewhere – it does not change the fact that this is not how it is for populism today.  There are, as far as I know, no significant political parties or movements that self-identify as populist[2], nor do such people have a foundational text of the kind Marx provided socialism, Locke liberalism, or Burke conservatism.  Indeed – for reasons that shall concern us – there is not much history of any kind for populism except that provided by its critics.  Given this absence of populist agency, the surprising thing is that there is so much talk, fear, and (as this volume evidences), academic concern, with populism today.  Why the (seemingly increasing) need to locate all sorts of political problems and their explanation in the actions of those who, if they are anything at all, are only ascriptively ‘populists’?   Answering this question requires beginning with the history of deliberative populism.

Deliberative Populism

Not so long ago there were deliberative populists.[3]  Their foundational political text – their Communist Manifesto, Treatise on Government, Reflections on the Revolution in France – was the 1892 Omaha Platform of the Peoples Party[4] that sought ‘Equal rights to all, special privileges to none,’ and, to that end, sought, in an age of unregulated predatory corporate monopolies, rampant corruption, and a government that willingly facilitated both, to make the United States live up, and live out, its claim as a democracy (indeed, the Democracy)  to respect and further ‘the rights and needs, the interests and welfare of the people.

 To this end they formed a political party with an economic democracy platform.  Calling for the vote for women, secret ballots, the direct election of U.S. Senators and term limits, they sought to tame the impacts and corruptions of the unregulated monopoly capitalism that surrounded and exploited rural and civic labor, by having the federal government actively regulate businesses for the common good, stamp out monopoly corruption, and actively improve working conditions and wages – in particular, by initiating a graduated income tax, union recognition, and an 8 hour day.  And where private monopoly stood in the way (as with the banks and railroads), to nationalise ownership.

Why Deliberative Populism Matters

Looking back, what we have here is pretty much the program of that social democracy, or welfare capitalism, shattered in the 1970’s: a shattering that can only be fully understood in the context of the triumphant counter-reaction to the late 19C populists, which saw populism move from a deliberative possibility to an ascribed pathology.  It was that counter-reaction and its success that saw large scale popular political movements outside of the establishment Republican/Democratic duopoly – more particularly, large-scale movements of people who ‘feel disfranchised and ignored by conventional leaders’ – stigmatised as an irrational aspirational frenzy for the tyranny of ‘mob-rule.’  A stigmatization with an implied and pointed ethico-epistemic ordering: on the one hand ‘responsible elites,’ on the other the great, irresponsible, unwashed.  And an ordering that, whatever the rhetoric, remained untouched even at the height of welfare capitalism (not least because of its emphasis on ‘educational achievement,’ and so, increasingly, educational ‘credentials’); and that – once the pressure for a compromise position between laissez-faire capitalism and ‘socialism’ was lessened – facilitated a turn (and return) to more traditional oligarchic politics, this time armed with a novel ideology – neoliberalism – that proclaimed there to be No Alternative (TINA).

From Deliberative Populism to Ascriptive Populism

That ‘populism’ has two quite different meanings – one historical, deliberative, and so agential and explanatory; the other ‘scientific,’ critical, a matter of an ascribed ‘identity’ held together by an association of supposed elements (racism, nativism, extremism, authoritarianism, anti-intellectualism, etc.) picked out by master diagnosticians – is not commonly acknowledged (if at all) in populist studies today, but it should be, for doing so throws a whole new light on the field.   For while populist studies offer  an array of putative definitions of populism – as a psychology, a political style, a mode of political communication, and so on – it tends not to present it as a political ideology: or rather, when it is so presented, it is not as a ‘thick’ political ideology of the kind supposedly found in liberalism, socialism and conservatism, but as a ‘thin ideology’ that ‘only speaks to a very small part of a political agenda,’ and that in a Manichean way.  As Cas Mudde, doyen of contemporary populist studies, sums up: populists split society into ‘two homogenous and antagonistic groups: the pure people on the one end and the corrupt elite on the other, and say they’re guided by the “will of the people.”’[5]

When it comes to historical, deliberative, populism this characterisation is worthless.  For the 19C American populists did not manifest a brutely Manichean hatred of ‘the leadership classe(es),’ nor have a blind faith in some amorphous popular mass.  On the contrary, they had an historically informed political understanding of the forces and structures that forced so many farmers and workers into debt and poverty; they had a powerful critique of those centred on a profound and deep commitment to democracy; and they had concrete policy proposals for democratic inspired reform.  They were not ‘anti-elite, ‘anti-intellectual’ political simpletons (indeed, when it came to their desire to break away from the gold standard and its deflationary dynamic in a growing economy – an idea condemned at the time and later as economic idiocy – they were far more sophisticated and correct than the ‘expert economists’ who universally condemned them as ‘economic illiterates’), nor did they uncritically worship ‘the people’ understood as the embodiment of all that is virtuous: an idea that makes no sense of their commitment to public education, gainful work, anti-racism and equal rights feminism.

Undoubtedly, they had certain elites in mind – in the South, because of debt peonage exacerbated by gold-standard driven deflation, the targets were mainly bankers, landowners, and shopkeepers, while in the North, with a greater number of free farmers and a large manufacturing industry, it was the monopoly rentier extraction of railway monopolists and commodity speculators that attracted the greatest ire.  It was these people, these elites – in the South Democratic aligned, in the North Republican – who together, just because of their accumulated wealth and financial power, shaped public policy to their own ends at the expense of the well-being of the citizenry generally.  The challenge was to domesticate these elite powers by democratically inspired and informed government regulation and, if need be, by nationalisation: a challenge that, if it was to be met, meant organising, educating, and coordinating political action: including the cooperative self-education of ‘the people’ so that they might be a genuinely comprehensive grouping, both in terms of ‘analytical’ class aware political capacity, and in terms of an ethical solidarity that meant transcending racism between black and white farmers and workers, and overcoming the misogyny of patriarchy.

All this was lost, even inverted, in the furious, elite generated and solidifying, counter-reaction to 19C populism when Willian Bryan Jennings (not himself a populist) was nominated by the Democratic Party for the 1896 Presidential Election after a fiery nominating speech that came down on the side of the populists on one issue – the disastrous effects of the gold standard on currency supply in a growing economy.  That point of agreement led to his receiving (unasked) the nomination too of The Peoples Party.  Suddenly it seemed (and to many of the Democratic Party elite too), that the populist analysis and program might be rolled out on a national scale, altering established property rights, undermining bankers, and, in general, attacking ‘economic privileges.’   As Thomas Frank writes, in a telling anecdote

On July 10 [1896], the New York Sun declared that the Democratic Party had been given over to “Jefferson’s diametric opposite, the Socialist, or Communist, or, as he is now known here, the Populist.”[6]

This hyperbole – as does hyperbole generally – tells us more about its authors than its subject, but the fear was genuine: the populists economic and political program threatened the comfortable arrangements of the already-in-place (therefore it was ‘communism,’ ‘socialism’).  With the fiery orator Bryan now its public face and Democratic/Populist Presidential candidate, this was no idle fear.  It was, rather, an emergency, with pretty much everything at stake.

But while it was to be fought with every resource to hand, it was not to be opposed on its own political and deliberative terrain: to engage in political debate and discussion with the populists would suggest there was something to their political analysis and proposals.  Instead, populism was to be (and was) ascriptively depoliticised as a ‘thin ideology’, its dynamic structural analyses ignored (‘only speaks to a very small part of a political agenda’), and it treated (from the authoritative point of view of the master diagnostician) as a pathology of ignorant resentment of the many directed at the responsible, so deserving, few.

As so often when it comes to the conventional wisdom, David Brooks captures the essence of the ascriptivist (anti)populist tradition when he writes that ‘populist values’ are not really values at all, but a matter of ‘rage, bitter and relentless polarization, a demand for ideological purity among your friends and incessant hatred for your supposed foes.’[7]  While Richard Hofstadter’s very first sentence in the populist condemning ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’ begins with this (unargued and false) depoliticising statement:

Although American political life has rarely been touched by the most acute varieties of class conflict, it has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds.[8]

‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Populism

What a sensitivity to the deliberative history of populism shows us is that the depoliticization of populism and its ascriptive diagnosis as an irrational anger at a meritocratically legitimated ‘democratic’ order, arose in and through a counter-reaction to what today’s populist theorists would call ‘left populism,’ not ‘right-populism’ of the kind later associated by Hofstadter with McCarythism, and (apparently) so prevalent today.  It was fear of the redistributional impacts of economic democracy that inspired the anti-populist counter-revolution (and its success), as the political, business, academic and media classes united in a shared horror of possible dispossession, that saw populism become a term of its depoliticising enemies, and so, of course, no longer a deliberatively ‘thick ideology,’ but an ascriptive ‘thin’ ideology of binarized resentment that reflected one basic political fact – ‘a reaction of maladjusted minds to the advance of modernity.’[9]

 While the depoliticization of populism was aimed first and squarely at the class politics of economic democracy, that very depoliticization allowed the now pejorative term to be applied subsequently to anything that its master diagnosticians counted as ‘a reaction of maladjusted minds to the advance of modernity.’   Not merely had we ‘left populism,’ we now had ‘right populism’ too; though both, on this view of things, expressing the same pathology of maladjustment, anger and resentment.

This identification was cemented in Hofstadter’s yoking together of traditional ‘left’ populism and ‘right wing’ McCarthyism as manifestations of the same paranoid psychology projected onto and into public political life in terms of nefarious ‘global conspiracies of elites against the people.’  But for anyone not yet committed to Hofstadter’s conclusions, things are exceedingly odd here, and, because of that, very revealing.  For if we look at this right populism, and in Hofstadter’s own terms, we come across the striking fact that it seems to be there from the start, not as deliberative populism, but with populisms accusers.

According to Hofstadter, McCarthyism as a paradigm of (paranoid) ‘right’ populism was made up of three things. First, the belief there is ‘a sustained conspiracy… to under­mine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism or communism.’[10]  Second, that ‘top government officialdom has been so infiltrated by Communists that American policy … has been dominated by sinister men who were shrewdly and consistently selling out American national interests.’[11]  And third, ‘that the country is infused with a network of Communist agents… so that the whole apparatus of education, religion, the press, and the mass media are engaged in a common effort to paralyse the resistance of loyal Ameri­cans.’[12]  To place these three beliefs together is to see the world roughly as the anti-populists of the late 19C feared they saw it: a ‘socialist’ and ‘communist‘ threat to ‘undermine capitalism [and] to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government,’ utilising a mass propaganda project ‘to paralyse the resistance of loyal Americans,’ being enacted by populist extremists and their infiltrators (or ‘useful idiots’) in the Democratic Party.

What can it mean that so-called right populism cleaves so closely to the animating vision of the depoliticising anti-populists of the late 19C?  How and why did the animating spirit of anti-populism come to be condemned as itself a populist maladjustment to modernity?  This is the real question ‘right populism’ poses.

On one level the answer lies in the remarkable fact that the anti-populist critique of deliberative populism better fits this ‘right populism’ in a way it never did the populism of economic democracy.  This is because right populism is depoliticised already, seeking only to save an idealised vision of the present order from its supposed enemies.   On a deeper level, the answer lies in the epistemological ordering intrinsic to the depoliticising logic of anti-populism, setting the responsible, knowledgeable and rational, against the irresponsible, ignorant, and irrational, or – as it appears so often today – between those who ‘seek unworkably simple solutions for complex problems,’[13] (or, as President Obama put it, drawing on Seymour Lipset,[14] those who ‘promise a return to a past that [it] is not possible to restore),’ and those who grasp these complexities and the necessities of history, and so the irresponsible impossibility of anyone but themselves expertly navigating in times of TINA.

Anti-populism is, and was from the start, a creation of those already-at-home in those social, economic, and political structures and institutions the deliberative populism of economic democracy threatened.  Here (already-at-home) were (and are) to be found the self-anointed, if, typically, credentialled, master diagnosticians of those maladjusted to ‘modernity.’  Here the responsible, complexity aware, reality and truth honouring, (so rightful) elite, whose accumulated wisdom and expertise any sane democracy demands and depends upon.

True, left populism is an enemy, and the fundamental one (Tony Blair – a paradigm anti-populist if ever there was one – speaking of right populism tells us of the ‘dismay’ it brings those of ‘the centre,’ while left populism is bluntly condemned as ‘a profound error’[15]), but in both cases what we have is a ‘thin ideology’ of Manichean inflected social and political pathology.  And so ascriptive populism is extended to include a quite different threat – that of the (typically) elite demagogue, willing to pursue wealth and power by exploiting the ignorant, resentful, and leadership hungry masses for their self-aggrandising purposes.

Still – despite Hofstadter – there is a great difference between the radical and democratic politics of the original populists, and that of McCarthyism which, despite its hyperbolism and caricatural aspects, was simply an extension of the reigning ideological fears and ideas of the already-in-place (it should not have to be pointed out we are talking here of the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee).   It was, in fact, pretty much the position of the developing US ‘national security state’ gearing up after World War II.  McCarthyism was not seeking, as were the deliberative populists, economic democracy, it was seeking out enemies within and without to a vulnerable – because ‘corrupt’ – system, though with a sense of emergency, mission, and threat, that made it politically a loose cannon (‘the unfounded accusation against any citizen in the name of Americanism or security’[16]), liable to unpredictable and indiscriminate victim savagery.  As Harry Truman, whose 1947 Loyalty Program kicked the whole thing off, later ruefully reflected, what made it objectionable was not revolutionary intent aimed at smashing the system – as had been the fear with deliberative populism – but a matter of ‘the power of the demagogue’[17] to deploy the systems own resources as a shortcut to power.

Populism, as an ascriptive pejorative term of the already-at-home-in-the-system (even if only by defending it from its corrupting enemies), and as a depoliticised ‘thin ideology,’ allows its master diagnosticians to homogenize the deliberative populism of economic democracy with in-system demagoguery: obliterating the distinctiveness of the former, at the same time as providing a tool useful for managing elite solidarity.  For the outraged charge of ‘Populist!’ stands ready for those who might dare seek (further) power by presenting themselves as a representative of the politically dispossessed or marginalised: a possibility dangerously exploited today by ‘billionaire populists,’ and ever more tempting (so dangerous) the greater the denial of economic democracy; so making it ever more urgent, in Blair’s headline in the New York Times, that Against Populism, the Center Must Hold.

In fact, and certainly in practice, while ‘right populism’ has its dangers to the comfortably already-in-place, it can also be deployed as a weapon, both defensively and aggressively.  For while right populism may be a matter of minds maladjusted to modernity, this is not because these minds repudiate or reject this ‘modernity,’ so much as that they are hysterical defenders of an idealised ‘corruption-free’ conception of it.  This makes right populism an available (and oft used) tool of the already-in-place, both domestically, and – especially for the United States – overseas, in crushing any stirrings of popular and redistributive economic democracy.  This potential may be directly targeted against ‘left’ targets like unions, but it may also be used indirectly, as when the supposed fear of ‘right populism’ gives an excuse for heightened state surveillance and repression now available for the real populist enemy on the left.

Populism, Centrism and Horseshoe Theory

We have seen how populism went from a self-ascriptive deliberative politics of economic democracy, to an ascriptive identity allocated by master diagnosticians from the already-in-place: a process that depoliticised populism, turning a democratically inspired political critique and movement into one marking individual (if widespread) failure to adjust to the realities of the modern world.  This depoliticization of populism allowed an analytical collapse of deliberative ‘left’ populism and ‘right wing’ demagoguery as equally ‘extremist’ populisms, even as the latter eschewed revolutionary change for the defence and cleansing of an idealised understanding of the already existing order.

In truth, what holds left and right populism together is not some common political identity or shared pathology of maladjustment, it is rather their relation to their ascriptive diagnosticians among the comfortably already-in-place.  One way of specifying this ascriptive authority (and one with a deliberative reality) is to say that it is the authority of the ‘sensible, ‘the responsible,’ indeed, the ‘necessary,’ Centre.

From the point of view of the (self)postulated  centre,’ political ideology, left and right, is to be understood in terms of what has come to be called the ‘horseshoe’ theory of ideology, according to which, about a nonideological axis of ‘bipartisan’ neutrality, there extend, as the arms of a horseshoe, left and right ideologies that, the more extreme, so distant they are from the centre, the more they converge in an identical extremism.[18]  Horseshoe theory is the natural orientation (so not really a ‘theory’ at all) of the comfortably already-in-place, and it finds expression in remarks like this Hofstadter echo from James Straub in Foreign Policy (June 28, 2016) responding to the UK referendum result to leave the EU, under the headline ‘It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses’:

The Brexit has laid bare the political schism of our time.  It’s not about the left vs. the right; it’s about the sane vs. the mindlessly angry.

Such horseshoe ‘analysis’ presupposes a centre that is both not extremist (though it may, as does Blair, like to call itself ‘progressive’), and (of course!) is the very essence of actually-existing-democracy: so functioning, in the political domain, as once did the Standard Metre for measurement in Paris.  Being a standard defining measure it cannot be either ‘left’ or ‘right,’ for those terms only make sense in relation the centre.

And so, these sublimely centrist words of bipartisan centrist authority (and fear) from the 2018 report Drivers of Authoritarian Populism in the United States,[19] jointly produced by the Republican aligned American Enterprise Institute and the Democratic aligned Center for American Progress in the face of Bernie Sanders ‘left populism’ and Donald Trump’s ‘right populism.’

Scholars at the Center for American Progress and at the American Enterprise Institute have often found themselves on opposing sides of important policy discussions. Yet, at a time when the fundamental character of Western societies is at stake, what unites us is much stronger than the disagreements that we have.

And what they agree is that ‘populism on the left and populism on the right have some striking commonalities: deep suspicion of America’s overseas military actions; alarm about the rise of a surveillance state; mistrust of major institutions; and suspicion of global elites.’

What unites them in their ‘conventional wisdom’ centrism is their shared (‘bipartisan’) horseshoe theory of ideology, and the conviction on which it arises: that they constitute its orientating axis as expressive of ‘the fundamental character of Western societies,’ so the very embodiment of ‘established democratic institutions and norms’ – and, according to Andrew Sullivan –  the only thing standing in the way of that ‘hyperdemocratic’ disintegration into tyranny Plato supposedly warned us of.  ‘Democracies end,’ he intones, ‘when they are too democratic.’[20]

That sense of legitimacy, of an entitlement to define and aggressively defend the already existing regime in which one has, or desires, an advantageous place, as the ultimate embodiment of ‘established democratic institutions and norms,’ arises from, and rests in, the desire to defend (or further exploit) the existing the regime and the promise and reality of its privileges.  It is an ideology of the already or aspiringly privileged in defence of those privileges and that possibility, and so the continuing order in which they have their place.  Unlike the deliberative populism of the late 19C,  , its basic purpose neither analytical, nor explanatory (despite the claims populist studies makes for itself), but rather a matter of ensuring elite solidarity in the face of perceived threats, however ostensibly ‘democratic’ and ‘popular’ those ‘threats’ might (to the ‘populist,’ so ‘naïve,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘paranoid,’ or ‘malicious’) appear to be.  Using populism in the ascriptive sense as picking out ‘paranoid anti-elitists, racist, authoritarian, apocalyptic utopians, steeped in anti-intellectualism, with a horror of meritocracy and love of conspiracy theories,’ helps crystalize class self-consciousness; its language a way of distinguishing and determining in an ‘absolute,’ because civilisation defending way, who is of the elite and who is not (and, because of that, a real or potential friend or enemy).

What we find here, in the service of elite class consciousness and solidarity, is an instance of the ‘universalist’ logic of Ronald Reagan, when, in a UN speech, he said:

In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond.[21]

Replace ‘humanity’ with ‘our elites’ and identify the ‘outside’ threat with the mass of maladjusted resentment filled bigots who like to think of themselves as ‘the people’ and this is exactly right, and right in a way that lets us see a little further.  For what might it be that unites these elites, and that they are in danger of forgetting in the thick of the ‘antagonisms of the moment?’ It is, surely, their shared stake in the privilege order in which they have already found or made a home.  And the ‘antagonisms of the moment’ that distract them from this self-interested unity arise from any strong (‘extreme’) commitment to the oppositional politics of the Left or Right.  Still, elite status alone is hardly sufficient to ensure deliberative, political (self)identity.

The ‘Thick’ Ideology of Anti-Populist Centrism

What is further required is a shared ideological identity that cuts across (and through) mere elite status, and that has a positive, not merely a negative, aspect.  One may certainly use hyperbolic exaggerations of supposed enemies to further group self-identification, but unless there is a ground for this self-identification beyond that of an ‘us’ negatively defined against an ‘other,’ such identification will be at best be thin, vulnerable always to inter and intra elite calculations of interest and advantage.

That collective deliberative ground was there in the United States in the 1890s.   As Frank writes, this was ‘a time when everyone who was anyone agreed that government’s role was to provide a framework conducive to business and otherwise to get out of the way,’ letting ‘free enterprise’ sort fairly, because impartially, between ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’[22]  Given this consensus there was little trouble mobilising the bankers, landowners, and shopkeepers in the South and the railway monopolists, bankers, and commodity speculators the North – and with them, (celebrating the bipartisan convergence), national media, religious, and academic elites.

Famously, or notoriously, depending on your viewpoint, this elite consensus, while it certainly never disappeared altogether, was significantly weakened and divided in the face of the depredations and potential politically explosive impacts of the Great Depression, allied with the reinforcing fear of a powerful and seemingly rising communism that celebrated ‘the worker state’: a pressure only relieved after the asset destruction of World War II fortuitously allowed capital and labour both to share in the economic growth of reconstruction.   This was the era – wrongly thought by many at the time to be irreversible – that saw the remnants of deliberative populism absorbed in ‘social democratic politics’ or ‘welfare capitalism’ as traditional ‘left’ political elites and many (not all) ‘right’ political elites, embraced Keynesian economics and accepted the necessity for a degree of general social provisioning.

But this was essentially a reactive, not positive unity: a fact reflected in the failure of social democracy to articulate a thick ideology of its own, instead (self)presenting as a mid-position or compromise between laissez-faire capitalism and socialism.[23]   Fashioning for itself no thick ideological self-understanding, it had no coherent analysis or response to the stagflation and oil price shocks of the 1970s.  But traditional right business friendly elites that had never looked favourably on the compromises of social democracy, did have such a thick ideological understanding ready: one forged in and through opposition to the redistributionist welfarism of social democracy by the members of the Mont Pèlerin Society and the Chicago School of economics.[24]  This was (and is) neoliberalism –a theoretically buttressed, activist driven, return to the late 19C elite consensus of ‘free enterprise’ and its impartial, socially advantageous, sorting of the deserving (‘winners’) from the underserving (‘losers’).  The deliberative self-identity of entitled superiority neoliberalism offered the comfortably already-in-place appealed too to many among social democratic political elites, seeing them repudiating, often vigorously, their traditional political commitment to ‘the working classes’ in favour of a commitment to entrenching and furthering the logic of ‘market competition,’ and the credentialed ‘upskilling’ it requires.

The reasons for this abandonment of a class-conscious politics of economic democracy are many, with two of great importance here.  First, the changing social profile of social democratic left parties as they ‘professionalised,’ and second the exhilaration of left political elites at the freedom of action neoliberalism opened up for ambitious political agents.  The first has been stressed by Thomas Piketty, who has charted the way established ‘left’ parties in the 1970s onwards, as neoliberalism took hold, became increasingly the parties ‘of the intellectual elite’ – ‘the Brahmin Left’ – willing, often determined, to abandon ‘low income, low education’ voters in a process of ‘necessary modernisation’: a process that built on the very success of social democracy in widening educational opportunities, and, in stressing its importance, implicitly denigrating the status of physical labour against ‘intellectual labour.’[25]  This emphasis/denigration dialectic, in the face of the economic shocks of stagflation and a fourfold rise in the oil price, opened up for the ‘Brahmin Left’ an attractive possibility: a new freedom of action not there for unionised parties committed to full employment (and so Keynesian full employment demand-management).  Not only was this invigorating for those whose education had already subtly denigrated the value and dignity of physical labour, but ready to bipartisan hand was an economic theory that ‘legitimated’ this denigration; for what was necessary, according to the ‘best’ economic theory, was returning more of the profit share to capital at the expense of labour.  Only this way could the ‘wealth creators’ wealth ‘trickle down.’  Given the necessity was unlikely to be embraced by those losing their share, it followed at once that the political and bargaining power of organised labour, both generally and within the party, had to be subdued, even eliminated, as ‘a profound error.’   And so, under bipartisan neoliberalism, the Brahmin Left came together, on all except now marginal ‘branding’ identities, with the ‘Merchant Right,’ in a shared pro-capital project dressed, by the best economic minds’ in the clothes of political and rational necessity.

Populism, Nationalism, Citizenship

Neoliberalism is, today, the thick ideology of anti-populist elitist centrism, though it differs from its 19C antecedent in a way that makes it very different from its forefather.  For whereas the original populists andtheir anti-populist critics were both deeply nationalistic (the populists’ nationalism a matter of economic democracy, the anti-populists that of ‘economic nationalism’), today’s anti-populist master diagnosticians typically find nationalism (often simply equated with xenophobia and ‘nativism’) to be one, perhaps the, cardinal sin of populism, be it that of economic democracy or economic nationalism.

This is no minor change, for while the original anti-populists sought to depoliticise the drive for economic democracy, still their battle was, and remained, a political struggle, in so far as two conceptions of national citizenship were being contested (it was this contest between economic democracy and economic nationalism that social democracy seemed, for a time, to have quietened).  But this is not how it is for neoliberal anti-populism, for if it has no time for nationalism, nor, and in part because of this, does it have any basic place for ‘national citizenship.’  To the contrary, neoliberalism is (and celebrates itself as being) ‘cosmopolitan,’ riding free or above any local nationalist prejudice in a ‘globalised’ economy; just as it celebrates the producer/consumer, not the citizen, as the highest and most basic modality of human freedom.  And in doing both, it depoliticises not merely populism, left or right, but its own contestation and usurpation of political life and power.  Not being a matter of citizenship, nor a matter of national identity and identification, its condemnation of left and right politics comes from a sensible centrism that places itself outside and above the rough and tumble of contested understandings of what goes into, and what counts as, national citizenship, its rights and duties, and so outside of any conception of the common or public good.  It is this that lies behind the words of the early neoliberal champion, Kennedy’s and Johnson’s Undersecretary of State, George Ball, in 1967:

We will never be able to put the world’s resources to use with full efficiency so long as business decisions are frustrated by a multiplicity of different restrictions by relatively small nation states that are based on parochial considerations, reflect no common philosophy, and are keyed to no common goal.[26]

And Ball was remarkably clear about the key institution of this depoliticised politics of the radical centre, the ‘multinational corporation.’

For the widespread development of the multinational corporation is one of our major accomplishments in the years since the war (WW II), though its meaning and importance have not been generally understood.  For the first time in history man has at his command an instrument that enables him to employ resource flexibility to meet the needs of peoples all over the world.  Today a corporate management in Detroit or New York or London or Dusseldorf may decide that it can best serve the market of country Z by combining the resources of country X with labor and plan facilities in country Y – and it may alter that decision 6 months from now if changes occur in costs or price or transport.  It is the ability to look out over the world and freely survey all possible sources of production… that is enabling man to employ the world’s finite stock of resources with a new degree of efficiency for the benefit of all mankind.[27]

The depoliticization of ‘responsible centrism’ through, the corporation (and, corporate ‘logic’), now universalised (and idealised) as the supreme institutional arrangement for meeting ‘the needs of the people all over the world,’ does not mean these corporations don’t occupy the heights of power, economically and politically, but it does mean (as it understands itself, and as it claims to others) that this occupation is not itself a political fact of the kind that can be caught, or touched in and through, the left/right oppositional politics of national identity and citizenship.   It is, rather, a fact of necessity, and one grounded in a deeper, more basic, reality, discernible in all its complexities, only by the learned, elite-technocratic mind of the depoliticised centre.  As such, any democratically conceived political effort, whether left or right, to ‘turn the tide’ or to ‘reverse course’ is doomed to disaster and failure.

 Under neoliberal centrism if we are to save ‘our Democracy’ we must paradoxically give it up.  Given the necessitarian constraints on the space of political policy and action, all of us – democrats especially – must accept elite rule, and accept too that that rule is not itself political.  Or, to put it in less rosy terms, only elitist corporate rule can deliver (and save) democracy.  As Andrew Sullivan sums up:

Elites matter in a democracy [because they are the] critical ingredient to save democracy from itself.[28]

As for what that might mean, Peter Orszag, Obama’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, lets us know:

we need to [rely] more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to [make] our political institutions … a bit less democratic.[29]

A ‘bit less democratic’ because – obviously! – our most pressing political problem today is the country abandoning the Establishment, not the other way around: with the immediate – and obvious – implication that a more authoritarian politics is demanded.  But, again, the depoliticisation of populism works systematically to hide this obvious fact.  First, by projection.  According to Psychology Today:

Projection is the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person, animal, or object. The term is most commonly used to describe defensive projection—attributing one’s own unacceptable urges to another.[30]

 And so populism is ‘Authoritarian Populism,’ as it must be if the centrist ego is to defend itself from its own burgeoning authoritarian policing of the thought, words, and actions of the ‘maladjusted.’

Populism, Tyranny and the State

At the (real) centre of everything lies the question, the matter, of state power, its control, direction, and personnel.  The 19C deliberative populists sought to wrest state power from elite capture, and to radically democratise it.  In response, the anti-populists – already entrenched in the state the populists sought to reform – sought to identify themselves with very sanity and intelligence of the ‘democratic’ state, casting the populists as ignorant and deranged authoritarians.

What is different with the depoliticised centrism of neoliberal anti-populism, with its abandonment of political nationalism and national citizenship as the bedrock of political thought and discourse, is that it removes the democratic state from the political domain itself.  The point is not just that traditional left/right parties have aligned on a bipartisan platform, but that this platform is removed from the language of political contestation about the meaning of national citizenship.  Even worse, such national citizenship, its idea, and its demands, stand in the way of the ‘necessity’ to ‘adjust’ to an inevitably unfolding ‘modernity’ of corporate modernisation that it is the duty and task of a truly informed, truly nonideological, depoliticised politics to facilitate and realize.

And so the final irony of the anti-populist ascriptive stigmatisation of populism as an ‘authoritarian’ threat to ‘democratic norms and principles’ – an irony unrecognised in most populist studies – is not, as some might think, that here we have the annihilation of the state itself (‘anarcho-capitalism’), but a depoliticization of the state that allows it openly meld with, and into, just those economically oppressive and exploitive elite corporate interests the deliberative populists opposed, but which now – given the totalisation of the state into the TINA necessities of modernity – constitute the very essence of a so-called ‘democratic’ state that rests not on its capacity for citizen recognition and democratic participation, but on very real, if depoliticised, force and coercion, operating as blithely and free from restraints as does any tyrannical power.

It is our political tragedy, and that of Global Populism Studies, that the tyranny inherent in ‘sensible centrism,’ and most fully realized under neoliberal depoliticisation, is not merely unrecognised, but embraced as a means of avoiding ‘the tyranny of the masses’ conceptualised epistemo-ethically as collective(ly) Untermensch.  And what makes it worse, the depoliticised state that remains, melded now into monopoly corporate power, is the state-as-force: internally a matter of ensuring neoliberal authority, externally, a matter of its military geopolitical use in furthering further political corporate profit taking.


George Ball, ‘The Future of U.S. Foreign Trade Policy,’ Congressional Joint Economic Committee, Congressional Record, 1967.

Tony Blair, ‘Against Populism, the Center Must Hold,’ New York Times, March 3, 2017

David Brooks, No, Not Sanders, Not Ever,’ New York Times, February 27, 2020.

Brian Ellis, Social Humanism: A New Metaphysics (Routledge, 2015).

Thomas Frank, The People: No, Metropolitan Books, 2020.

Peter Hartcher,’The Ascent of Scott Morrison, from Trump mini-me to National Leader,’ Sydney Morning Herald, July 31, 2020

Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Harvard University Press, 1964

Seymour Martin Lipset, Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics (New York: Doubleday, 1963).

Cas Mudde, ‘The Populist Zeitgeist,’ Government and Opposition, 39(4), 2004, p. 543.

The Omaha Platform, 1892, https://history.mcc.edu/wordpress/history/2014/03/06/the-omaha-platform-1892/

Peter Orszag, ‘Too Much of a Good Thing – Why We Need Less Democracy,’ The New Republic, September 14, 2011.

Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology, Hawaii University Press, 2019.

Ronald Reagan, Speech to the UN General Assembly, Sept. 21, 1987. <https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/address-42d-session-united-nations-general-assembly-new-york-new-york>

Dalibor Rohac, Liz Kennedy, and Vikram Singh, Drivers of Authoritarian Populism in the United States, Center for American Progress, American Enterprise Institute, May 2018.

James Straub, ‘It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses,’ Foreign Policy June 28, 2016.

Andrew Sullivan, ‘Democracies end when they are too democratic,’ New York Magazine, May 2, 2016.

Robert Van Horn and Philip Mirowski, “The Rise of the Chicago School of Economics and the Birth of Neoliberalism, in The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective, ed. Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009)

Bernard Williams, ‘Formal and Substantial Individualism,’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol 85, 1984-85, pp. 119-132.


[1] This is well discussed in Bernard Williams, ‘Formal and Substantial Individualism,’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol 85, 1984-85, pp. 119-132.

[2] A web search turns up only two ‘populist parties’, one in the US whose webpage is remarkably content free, the other in the UK, marginally more informative, though mainly focused on signing up ‘financial members.’  (Of course, there may be a reactive formation in that those identified as populists may proudly use the ascription as a way of defusing or refusing its critical intent.  Thus far this possibility is scarcely visible, if at all.)

[3] Their story most recently told by Thomas Frank, The People: No, Metropolitan Books, 2020.

[4] https://history.mcc.edu/wordpress/history/2014/03/06/the-omaha-platform-1892/

[5] Cas Mudde, ‘The Populist Zeitgeist,’ Government and Opposition, 39(4), 2004, p. 543.

[6] Frank, op. cit., p.

[7] David Brooks, No, Not Sanders, Not Ever,’ New York Times, February 27, 2020.

[8] Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, Harvard University Press, 1964, p. 3.

[9] Frank, op. cit.,

[10] Ibid., p. 25

[11] Ibid., p. 26

[12] Ibid.

[13] The ‘preferred definition’ of Sydney Morning Herald political editor, Peter Hartcher,’The Ascent of Scott Morrison, from Trump mini-me to National Leader,’ July 31, 2020.

[14] Seymour Martin Lipset, Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics (New York: Doubleday, 1963).

[15] Tony Blair, ‘Against Populism, the Center Must Hold,’ New York Times, March 3, 2017.

[16] Harry Truman, New York Times, November 17, 1953.

[17] Ibid.

[18] While they did not use the term (it owes to Jean-Pierre Faye in Le Siècle des ideologies, Armand Colin, 1996) this is the position implicit in Hofstadter, and, more explicitly, in End-of-Ideology theorists like Daniel Bell, Raymond Aron and Lipset.

[19] Dalibor Rohac, Liz Kennedy, and Vikram Singh, Drivers of Authoritarian Populism in the United States: A Primer, May 2018.

[20] Andrew Sullivan, ‘Democracies end when they are too democratic,’ New York Magazine, May 2, 2016.

[21] Ronald Reagan, Speech to the UN General Assembly, Sept. 21, 1987.

[22] Frank, op. cit., pp.

[23] A point forcefully made by Brian Ellis, Social Humanism: A New Metaphysics (Routledge, 2015)

[24] A story told by Robert Van Horn and Philip Mirowski, “The Rise of the Chicago School of Economics and the Birth of Neoliberalism, in The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective, ed. Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).

[25] Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology, Hawaii University Press, 2019.

[26] George Ball, ‘The Future of U.S. Foreign Trade Policy,’ Congressional Joint Economic Committee, Congressional Record 1967.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Sullivan, op. cit.

[29] Peter Orszag, ‘Too Much of a Good Thing – Why We Need Less Democracy,’ The New Republic, September 14, 2011.

[30] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/projection

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    1. GramSci

      So. we are ‘splained, economic crisis and war are not real problems; they’re all in our head :-(

    2. pjay

      LOL! Today we have “cognitive neuroscience” adding a layer of scientistic “expertise” to the more primitive social-psychological arguments of Hofstadter and Lipset’s day to account for populist “extremism”:

      “Threats, including resource overload or scarcity, can shift neural networks toward receptiveness to oversimplified political messages.”

      So deplorables suffering from “resource scarcity” have their “neural networks” shifted in a way that does not allow their “oversimplified” worldview to grasp the complex realities that make neoliberalism necessary. If only they had the cognitive capacity to to understand what elites are patiently trying to explain to them. “You see, you will own nothing, but you will *like* it…”

  1. Tony Wikrent

    I had great hope upon reading the title and introduction, but am dismayed to find no mention of Lawrence Goodwyn, imho the best expositor of the 19th century agrarian movement for economic justice, and the development of populism and the People’s Party. Nonetheless, I salute Tony Lynch’s essay as a very useful explanation of how the elites defeated populism and corralled its political energies.

    I would also have liked to see some consideration of civic republicanism as the founding governing philosophy, and how liberalism pushed aside civic republicanism to make room for capitalism. Alexander Hamilton, for example: a tragedy that he is much maligned on the left because what he accomplished is so fundamental to the founding of USA as a republic. Hamilton’s fiscal and financial plans are decried on the left as institutionalizing rule by elites, but in fact what Hamilton did was democratize finance by creating a powerful, surviving alternative to the financial domination of the City of London and the rest of old, oligarchical Europe.

    Moreover, Hamilton identified the innate human resistance to change as a major obstacle to economic and political development, and designed and put in place a national government with a constitutional mandate to promote the General Welfare and make the nation less imperfect, by active government support of scientific inquiry and the incorporation of the results into general economic activity. In this light, please consider the following two passages:

    First, from Lynch’s essay:

    “That sense of legitimacy, of an entitlement to define and aggressively defend the already existing regime in which one has, or desires, an advantageous place, as the ultimate embodiment of ‘established democratic institutions and norms,’ arises from, and rests in, the desire to defend (or further exploit) the existing the regime and the promise and reality of its privileges.”

    Second, from Upton Sinclair’s 1907 (and note the title) The industrial republic: a study of the America of ten years hence (New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1907)

    “We have been taught to think that the institutions of freedom in this country are so secure that we may go about our business and our play, and leave them to take care 62of themselves. And yet, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” is the motto our ancestors left us. For the forms of tyranny change from generation to generation, and it is always out of the old freedom that the new slavery is made. You think that you can stay free by clinging to the good old ways, by repeating the good old formulas, by standing by the good old faiths; but you cannot, for freedom is not a thing of institutions, but of the soul. It has always been under the forms of spirituality that men have been chained by priestcraft; and it is with the very pennons and banners of liberty that this land is bound to-day. It always has been so, and it always will be so—that the despot asks nothing save that things should stay as they are. What was it that the slave-holder wanted, but that things should stay as they were? That men should hold by the Constitution as it was, while America was made into a Slave Empire? What is it that our masters want to-day, save that we should stand by the good old traditions of American individualism, freedom of contract and the right of every man to manage his own business as he pleases—the while the Republic of Jefferson and Lincoln is forged into a weapon for the enslaving of mankind?”

    The full text of The industrial republic: is available at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/64373/64373-h/64373-h.htm

    1. zagonostra

      I remember reading Godwyn’s book on The Populist Movement long ago and far away, back at University days. It read like a gripping thriller. Not your typical historian.

  2. Carolinian

    Perhaps if, as stated in the intro, those original populists were small farmers and therefore business people–seeking fairness and “concrete material benefits”–then it could be said that Populism is a bottom up political movement based on practical necessity rather than a top down imposition of theory as seen in the USSR where theories about factory workers were imposed on a nation of peasants.Here’s suggesting that Americans have always had a genius for the practical and that this hard headed approach produced many innovations as well the horrors of slavery–justified originally as a necessity. Meanwhile the theorists’ disdain for the practical has been lampooned as “assume a can opener.”

    Cut to now and there aren’t many Americans who still get their hand dirty pushing a plow and farmers are as likely to be driving a half million dollar combine with air conditioning and iTunes. The world has changed, but the need to be practical and smart about our actions has not. FDR got this. The current duopoly by contrast seems to be off in La La land.

    1. Agro-turismo

      “… farmers are as likely to be driving a half million dollar combine with air conditioning and iTunes.”

      Can they really listen to music nowadays? Luxury! Back in the ’70s I was offered a job on a crew of contract cutters run by a friend of mine. It sounded pretty good until he told me that those 12-14 hour days driving back and forth, back and forth across the fields would absolutely be without headphones, because you needed to be always listening to the blades, in order to detect any problem as soon as it occured.

  3. pjay

    Thank you for this excellent discussion of ‘populism’ as both a political movement and elite ideological weapon winding its way through US history.

    In relation to today’s political rhetoric, your observations on the “horseshoe theory” of left-right “extremism” seems particularly relevant. As you make clear, it is crucial for elites to keep “left” populism and its social-democratic vision completely bottled up and separated from the potentially potent but less articulated discontent of the majority. The liberal chattering classes do this by simply labeling the latter as right-wing authoritarian “populism,” as you document here, and then charging anyone on the left who might want to establish a common understanding with them as fascist-enablers. Right-wing demagogues do it by simply lumping left-populists with the rest of those pointy-headed liberals or “communists” (Trump actually still uses this term) who want to screw “the people.” Divide and rule.

    I’m also struck by the extent to which ‘nationalism’ has now become a completely pejorative term among the “liberal” faction of the neoliberal elite consensus. This is made easier by the way the term is often wielded by right-wing demagogues themselves. Again, a useful division of labor to keep us separated.

    1. JBird4049

      The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right or left, are in the gutters. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

      It has been a process of more than a century to lump anything left of center as being of the extreme left or communism, which is one of the causes for today’s Democratic Party being now a conservative center-right party and the Republicans are far-right reactionaries if not insane.

      Restated, if the Democrats are actually moderate center-right conservatives, but are labeled moderate and considered center-left liberals, just where are the traditional the actual left and center-left liberals of forty or fifty years ago, and just as important, I think, is the Democratic Party still liberal?

      Classical liberalism was and is something followed by people across the political spectrum, but I am seeing fewer actual liberals, just people who say that they are, when really they are economically center-right Democrats often following extremist Identity Politics Ideology. They are just using the term liberal to be mean not-conservative and what I would all a pseudo-leftist although they probably honestly believe that they are leftists.

      To further expand on this, if the left no longer effectively exist, are we driving into Eisenhower’s gutters? And if people who are not of either the center or of the left, but are conservative especially in economics, how does one go about convincing them and everyone else that they are not leftists?

      Then there is the pernicious reality denying pseudo-left Identity Politics that has been deliberately glommed into the currently (pseudo) designated left.

  4. Jokerstein

    Interesting content indeed, but (and here – for me at least) the style could – with advantage (and – I also believe – extra clarity) – have done without so many parentheses – and subsidiary statements in em-dash-separated locutions – in each paragraph, and – surely – such achingly-long (and indeed sometimes almost Faulkernesque) sentences.

    Or maybe not :-)

    1. Paul Art

      Me too. Found the piece hard to read and understand. But then the author is a Professor ergo whatever he writes needs a lot of hard work to understand. Sometimes I think this is a perennial problem with the Left – an intrinsic inability to boil ideas and explanations into turgid and elegant language that anyone can understand. Anyone who wants the lowdown on Populism can pick up Thomas Frank’s excellent “The People, No!”.

      1. witters

        “an intrinsic inability to boil ideas and explanations into turgid and elegant language that anyone can understand.”

        Turgid & elegant?

  5. Feral Finster

    Most humans, populists included, are a confused and confusing mix of slogans and tribal allegiances rattling around in their heads.

    That said, the current system is unreformable, simply because any attempt at meaningful reform would damage too many entrenched interests. (Alexander Tytler noted that systems typically last about 200 years. This is why.)

    The average frustrated American can sense this, even if he cannot express it. This is also why so many Americans simply want to burn it all down. This is an entirely rational response to a system that otherwise cannot be reformed.

  6. Gulag

    “At the (real) center of everything lies the question, the matter of state power, its control, direction and personnel.”

    In my opinion, both contemporary left populist and right populists in the U.S. now have an opportunity to come to a more common understanding about the nature of state power.

    As Tony Lynch points out, “populism on the left and populism on the right have some striking similarities,” including deep suspicion of American overseas military action, alarm about the rise of the surveillance state, and mistrust of major institutions. Where the real differences in left and right populism emerge is over the future role of capitalism.

    One way to chip away at this difference is to first note, as the right populist Mike Benz has been arguing (from a left perspective), that the Pentagon, the State Department, and the CIA do favors for big multinational capital (oil, gas, big tech, credit card companies, even Pizza Hut and PepsiCo, etc.) and if they want to maintain these international markets they, in turn, do favors for the CIA, Pentagon, and the policy planning staff of the State Dept. It seems to me that a critique of Big Capital is possible in this type of potentially merging right/left populism.

    I also believe that it would be possible for right and left populists to begin to have productive discussions about the role of the Fed, the role of community banks, and the role of Substack capitalism in future visions of an alternative populist regime.

  7. Michael Hudson

    This reversal of populism is precisely what occurred in the 4th and 5th centuries when St. Augustine called in the Roman army to kill the orthodox Christians (the Donatists who opposed making Christianity the pro-Roman, pro-landlord and pro-creditor turn. Cyril of Alexandria already had done this, trying to “cleanse” Christianity of the Jews who were its earliest advocates, and removing Jesus’s political message.
    I discuss this in The Collapse of Antiquity

  8. Steve Ruis

    Brought to you by the same people who turned the term “liberal” into a slur, populism is something today that we are warned about as being a great evil. This is passing strange in a country in which government is supposed by be “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Those opposing this form of discourse are those who think our governments should be of the people, by the elites, for the people.” To them, often referred to as oligarchs or the morbidly rich, the “non-rich” are considered to be the “lazy poor” who, were they allowed to “rule” would willingly confiscate the wealth accrued by those self-same oligarchs, so that must not be allowed. So, Newspeak it is: Social Security, Medicare, and the Post Office are Socialism! Fascism is just putting a strong man in charge who will do the right thing. Actual democratic structures are to be opposed, like voting by those same grubby poor, recent immigrants, people of color, etc.


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