Demagoguery and Populism

Law and Liberty is one of my favorite sites, as you’ve probably noticed.  They, like me but far better, tend to the underlying principles rather than the day to day atrocities of politics these days. Like reading Locke and Burke to understand conservatism, it gives one a base to judge daily happenings. I think that valuable. I also think it is what leads so many leftists astray, not having any base. It’s one thing to argue, say the British welfare state based on the context of the old poor law, it’s quite another to simply talk yell about how unfair it is to some identity politics grouping.

And so once again we go to Law and Liberty, this time to Charles  Zug on the differences and similarities between Demagoguery and Populism. Again it’s a fairly long article so you’re going to need to read it there to make complete sense of what I say. It’s worth the time.

In recent years—particularly since Brexit, Trump’s 2016 election, and the rise of figures such as Marine Le Pen and Victor Orbán—the terms populism and demagoguery have come to be used with increased frequency in political discourse. And yet, the concepts which these terms refer to remain unclear—as testified by the emergence of books (scholarly and general-audience) purporting to clarify what it is, precisely, that makes a demagogue and a populist. Adding to, or perhaps resulting from, this general lack of clarity is the fact that demagoguery and populism tend to be used interchangeably, often to describe those now-familiar political figures whose characteristic attributes include raging against neo-liberalism and globalization in the name of ordinary people, condemning “elites” of all stripes, and advocating a return to traditional local or nationalistic values, particularly as these regard religion, gender, and race.

The temptation to group these two concepts together is understandable, and in some ways, useful. Demagogues are often populists and populists frequently use demagoguery. Yet beyond their obvious similarities, these terms stand for distinct political concepts.

Practical Difficulties

Before saying what makes them different, however, it is worth observing the way populism and demagoguery are used in the context of real life politics. Because politicians and pundits so often weaponize these terms, public figures labeled “populists” and “demagogues” have a personal stake in denying either the appropriateness of the designation as it regards them, or the tenability of the very concept itself.

And yet there is no real problem with either of them. Populism is not quite a synonym but its meaning is really pretty close to democracy, while to demagogue essentially means to present to the people with passion. And yet, they have developed a bad reputation because of some bad actors, like Hitler and Mussolini. But nobody is going to say than Andrew Jackson wasn’t a populist demagogue, and he was a pretty good president.

For understanding why demagoguery and populism so often accompany one another, the American experience is particularly informative—though by no means exhaustive. The founders of the American political system recognized that the structure of a large polity housing a multiplicity of interests would incentivize discrete interest groups to assemble coalitions. This in turn would induce interest groups to deliberate among each other in ways they would otherwise not, so as to find the broadest and most stable bases of mutual support and therewith assurance of effective and enduring governance.

The founders also chose to lodge the regime’s ultimate (thought not its only) political authority, not in State and local governments as the Anti-Federalists would have done, but rather in national constitutional offices far removed from local constituents. Consequently, national office-holders were insulated from the pressures to which the leaders of small democracies had been notoriously subject. More importantly, the goals and priorities of national officeholders were reoriented away from the narrow and parochial concerns of their own communities towards the broader and more enduring concerns of the Union. To this end, James Madison in Federalist 10 anticipated that the effect of these national offices on public policy would be “to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.”

I agree with him, and yet,  as the federal government has taken over more and more things that used to be in the purview of state and local government, who actually probably understood their constituents better than the faceless bureaucrats in Washington, it has gotten out of hand. What was an excellent idea, like all excellent ideas,  has come to be abused, and wants correcting. It’s a problem when you delegate to people who often self-describe as an ‘elite’, start to believe they know what I want or need better than I do.

I think we are going to be looking at aspects of this in the coming days, so remember what is in this article. I’m neither Locke nor Burke,  but I do have some idea of what ails us.

Political Realignment and the Uniparty

Over at American Greatness, Edward Ring says politics is realigning. I say he is correct. Read on.

Just over three years ago, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, speaking at a fundraiser in New York City, characterized half of Donald Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” […]

It might be tempting to return the favor and hate back. That not only would be a tactical mistake—since you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar—but also inaccurate targeting. There are a surprising number of liberals, progressives, and even socialists, who are not only anti-Clinton, but are begrudgingly, and increasingly, capable of seeing the positive side of the Trump presidency.

A very early indication of this came in October 2016, when John Pilger published in the London Progressive Journal an influential article titled, “Why Hillary Clinton Is More Dangerous Than Donald Trump.” Pilger, notwithstanding his socialist leanings, is a world-renowned journalist and filmmaker of undeniable courage and integrity.

He’s not alone, either in Britain or the US. They’re starting to pop up everywhere, in the trade unions, the leftist parties. There’s a full-on Marxist that is an elected Brexit Party MEP. So what’s going on?

The political universe is realigning, the left-right divide that has sufficed since the French Revolution no longer does.

Many Trump supporters cheered his election not because of his pugnacity (about time), or his policies (also about time), but because when you hate the china shop, you love the bull.

Trump has exposed the Democrat versus Republican, Right versus Left, liberal versus conservative paradigms as, if not obsolete shams, then at least models that have lost most of their dialectic vitality. They remain real and represent important differences, but they are overshadowed by a new political polarity, worthy of urgent and vigorous dialectic—globalism versus nationalism.

Until Trump came along, the globalist agenda crept relentlessly forward under the radar. Issues that now can be framed explicitly as globalist versus nationalist—immigration, trade, foreign policy, even climate change—found deceptive expression when shoehorned into the obsolete paradigms.

It suited the uniparty establishment to engage in phony, ostensibly partisan bickering to keep up appearances. It suited them to pretend that immigration and “free” trade bestowed unambiguous global economic benefits, while claiming that to oppose it was economically ignorant and “racist.” It was convenient to pretend ceaseless foreign interventions were based on moral imperatives, while silencing the opposition as “isolationists.” It was easy to get away with promoting climate change policies based on supposedly indisputable scientific evidence, while stigmatizing opponents as “deniers.”

Suddenly all of that is revealed as almost Ptolemaic in its contrived complexity. Here is Trump’s Copernican breakthrough: if you want open borders, absolutely free movement of capital and jobs, and an aggressive international “climate agenda” enforced by the American military, you are a globalist. If you do not, you are a nationalist.

The impact of the globalist agenda has been felt acutely in America already, but the pain is spreading and intensifying.

Unskilled immigrants are taking jobs away from the most vulnerable Americans, and every year, they continue to arrive by the millions. Manufacturing jobs which are vital to America’s economic vitality are being exported to any nation with cheaper labor, costing Americans still more jobs. Policies that are supposedly designed to save the planet have made it virtually impossible to build anything cost-effectively—houses, roads, reservoirs, power plants. In states where the globalist agenda is well advanced, the gap between rich and poor is at record levels, and the cost-of-living is prohibitive.

I think he’s spot on, and even more than the US, the situation in Britain makes it pretty obvious, does one want to join the globalist empire or not? Could hardly be clearer, and that’s why at least for the moment the old designators don’t work. Most of my British friends refer to LibLabCon, which refers to Liberal Democrat, Labour, Conservative, a short form meaning they’re all the same. Pretty much true at this point, there and here.

Interesting times, but at least half the battle is recognizing the enemy, and it is becoming clearer by the day. Press on.

Brexit and the End of Democracy

Our British cousins are now in a full-fledged constitutional crisis. Their Supreme Court has hijacked all power in the realm, from the people, the Parliament, the Prime Minister, and even the Queen.  As long as this lasts, the United Kingdom cannot really be considered a democracy, it is an oligarchy of 12 people. Maybe it would be more honest to call it simply the Politburo. This, of course, is the fact of finding the prorogation of Parliament to be unconstitutional, illegal, unlawful, or maybe fattening. Who knows, they simply made it up out of the whole cloth without any justification in law whatsoever. It is an ancient right of the government acting with the crown. I’m no lawyer, nor am I an expert on the British constitution, so, although that much is obvious, let’s let someone who knows a lot more tell you about it. That would be Titus Techera, writing in Law and Liberty.

In America, the Democratic Party that lost the 2016 elections at every level simply decided that the people do not have a right to the president they elected, in this case a Republican. So, partisans of the Left have since been trying everything they could think of to overturn the legitimate results of that election.

Yes indeed, and that’s one thing, and the President is doing a pretty fair job of upholding the Consitution, and as he says, there will be elections next year. In Britain, it is much worse.

So thank God for the Constitution, or Official Washington might simply attack elections instead of the elected. This is now happening in Britain, and it urgently demands our attention. Brexit has finally become what it was always going to be, a full constitutional crisis. This week, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, an institution younger than most people now alive in the UK, has suddenly declared its authority over Britain’s ancient constitution and actual political institutions.

This is a textbook example of judges hijacking politics. The UK Supreme Court was created when then-Labour PM Tony Blair passed the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005, explicitly in order to subordinate British politics, and especially its justice system, to the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. You might not think the UK’s leadership would make it their job to subject themselves and the people they swear to represent to foreign authorities, but you’d be wrong.

Thus, in 2009, the UK Supreme Court sprang forth like Athena from the skull of Zeus, fully-grown and armored for battle. And in 2019, it has unanimously decided that it, rather than the people or their elected representatives, will decide whether the Queen and the Government can prorogue Parliament. Twelve justices put a stop to British politics with the sole purpose of preventing elections where the people could choose their representatives.

The character of British law itself is therefore in question now, however hard it may be for the press to say so, or for people to realize this, as they’re facing a baffling, unprecedented, highly arcane institutional ruling. Previously, we had believed that the oldest constitutional regime in the world was dedicated to representative government. Now, we are told that power must be arbitrary and administrative rather than representative, and only official experts to whom the people never consented through elections must decide the most serious political questions.

Let us therefore present the issue in its clearest political form. Boris Johnson became Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister this summer after his predecessor’s resignation. He was committed to implementing Brexit, because the British people voted for it in a referendum in 2016. But the Parliament has since decided that it will not do so and, instead, that European unelected officials should decide Britain’s fate against the will of the majority.

The Parliament faces an easy choice, if it understands itself as bound by the consent of the governed. If it does not trust PM Johnson, it can easily hold a vote of no confidence, since he no longer has a majority in the House of Commons. That would lead to elections and the people would choose which party they want to run the government. This is what PM Johnson wants, so he asked the Queen to prorogue Parliament and have a new election.

Prorogation is used with some frequency in British politics, but rarely for such an extended time. The truth remains that rather than some extreme measure, is a simple and recognized procedure used to suspend Parliament. The reasoning of the PM is sound and democratic. If the Parliament refuses to implement the Government’s policy, then politicians must turn to the people for their choice. Since Parliament refuses to turn to the people, the Prime Minister may have to do it for them and save democracy.

Do read it all, and yes, I do agree with him.

And just for additional flavor, this is the longest session of Parliament since the Long Parliament, the one that, after Pride’s Purge, executed Charles I, and installed Cromwell as Lord Protector. It also passed a law that it had to consent to its own dissolution. Eventually, Cromwell had enough of what was then called the Rump and closed it down saying:

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place,

which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice.

Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government.

Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess?

Ye have no more religion than my horse. Gold is your God. Which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defiled this sacred place, and turned the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices?

Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation. You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance.

Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God’s help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do.

I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place.

Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

In the name of God, go!

Say what you want about Cromwell, mostly I’ll agree, but in this case, and again today, he was both correct, and eloquent.

The Great Pineapple Pizza War

In reading over at The Blogmire, I ran across this gem: The Great Pineapple Pizza Controversy and the Battle for Our Minds. Let’s have a look.

However, whilst the controversy may appear to be fairly harmless and light-hearted, sadly there may well be something far more sinister lurking beneath the surface. Without knowing it, it could be that these young people, and in fact anyone entering into the Great Pineapple Pizza Controversy, are in fact being manipulated by malicious foreign actors who “hate our values, our freedoms, and presumably our otherwise moderate views on Pineapple on Pizza.”

Lest you think I have gone mad, allow me to point you to a document produced by the United States Department of Homeland Security, in which Americans are warned about the influence of foreign nations (and you can probably guess who is at the top of their list), using the example of Pineapple on Pizza as an illustration.

Yes, there is. Our tax money at work.

From the document:

“Americans often engage in healthy debate on any number of topics. Foreign influencers try to pollute those debates with bad information and make our positions more extreme by picking fights, or “trolling” people online …

What started in cyberspace can turn very real, with Americans shouting down Americans because of foreign interference.”

Hard to believe that we pay people (overpay, in fact) to write such tosh. Can it happen, well I suppose it can, but that probably indicates that you spend too much time online, and need to get a real job. But there is a serious point here, both in the document and for those of us who think for ourselves as the linked article author says.

But although I am tempted to just laugh at the sheer madness of it, I do want to make one very serious point. What is going on at the moment is that the political elites are trying to create what they call the “centre ground”. Broadly speaking, this so-called centre ground can be defined as an ideology that is committed to: globalisation; the sexual revolution; the destruction of the married family; the demonisation of males; the idea that white people are intrinsically racialist; the erosion of any differences between male and female; the ending of national sovereignty and borders; the right to intervene and wage war against nations for alleged humanitarian reasons; the right to kill human beings in the womb; and a view of crime that puts it down to social injustices, rather than guilt and culpability. Or to put that another way, pretty much everything George Soros, Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair believe in.

What they are also doing, at the same time, is to attempt to stifle and even close down debate. But they are not resorting to the jackboot or the Gulag to achieve this. No, they are resorting to the demonisation and smearing of their opponents, usually achieved by the insertion of the word “phobia” at the end of a word, but also increasingly by the suggestion that anyone holding a contrary position to the officially approved “centre ground” opinion does so because they have been targeted, swayed, propagandised by foreign actors who — altogether now — hate our values, hate our way of life, and who want to destroy us etc etc etc ad infinitumad nauseum.

In short, the deep state mired in the swamp at work. And that is why it is the enemy of the American people, as it is of all free people everywhere. In America, and yes in Britain as well, it is the eternal battle to keep us free, and for the rest, if our peoples fail, they have little hope, as all will subside back into the mire of various forms of autocracy.

For all that, pineapple belongs on ham, not pizza.

The Age of Empires Redux?

This from Sumantra Maitra in The Federalist is very interesting.

“The world order of tomorrow is not a world order based on nation-states or countries, it’s a world order that is based on empires,”said former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, the current leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament, in a barn-storming speech in the Liberal-Democrat conference in London.

“China is not a nation, it’s a civilization. … The U.S. is also an empire, more than a nation — maybe tomorrow they will speak more Spanish than English, I don’t know what will happen. And then finally, the Russian Federation,” he continued. “The world of tomorrow is a world of empires, in which we Europeans and you British can only defend your interests, your way of life, by doing it together in a European framework and a European Union.”

Interestingly, he is right in his own way, and I at least respect his sense of history and unabashed imperialism, although I am confused why, according to him, the British should join a European empire and not an American empire, since Brits are culturally and historically more compatible with the Anglosphere than with continental Europe. But at least he is not a fraud and is refreshingly honest about the ultimate endgame of global governance and “perpetual peace,” to borrow from Immanuel Kant.

I’d say he’s not entirely wrong. And I  too respect his honesty. America has always been sort of a quasi-empire, composed as it is of quasi-independent states, I’d be very surprised if our base language changed from English though.

I would not call China a civilization at this point, I would call it an empire, much like where the EU is tending, very authoritative, and little freedom.

Russia as well is an empire, composed, like the US of formerly independent countries. It’s problem is twofold. A lot of it is second world at best, and it sits between two other prototypical empires, the EU and China. It is more democratic than China and less than than the EU, but they are converging and may cross.  Vladimir Bukovsky, in a speech to the House of Commons, made this very point. So have many others. There is a very good explanation of his reasoning here.

In The  Federalist article, the point is made that the EU will eventually run afoul of the United States. I agree and would say that is already happening, although on a limited scale. Nor does it necessarily mean militarily, although it’s possible. It’s more likely to be like Sino-American relations, where both sides push at the fringes.

And that brings us to Great Britain, the leader of the two greatest empires of the modern world, and the progenitor of not only the United States, but almost all of what we could call Oceania, but might be better described as the Anglosphere in a looser meaning than we usually mean.

And that is kind of what is as stake with Brexit, will Britain remain in the authoritarian EU, almost all of which conflicts with British tradition, or join the much looser confederation, following for the most part British precedent and tradition, led, but not coercively, by the United States.

Read both linked articles, and I think you will see why this is such a basic decision, and why it is being so hard-fought. In truth, it may be as fundamental as when Henry VIII took England out of the Catholic Church and tuned the English gaze out onto the wider world, rather than stultifying in Europe.

It is also why the Democrats in the United States are going to lose, we’ve always gone our own way, but some of our people have always inordinately worshipped Europe. They really should move there, as should the remainers. Both we and they would be happier.

American Nationalism, Continued

A  bit over a week ago I excerpted and commented on an article from Steven Hayward in Law and Liberty (it’s called The Minefield called Nationalism). I liked it then and I like it now. But it felt rather incomplete, not answering enough questions to properly answer the questions. Now yesterday comes Ted McAlister also writing in Law and Liberty, and I think he answers some of them.

Steve Hayward has usefully introduced two key problems with the word “nationalism,” one historical and the other conceptual. He is right, furthermore, to note in his Liberty Forum essay that without understanding these problems, we cannot properly assess any claims made about an “American nationalism.” Hayward is wrong, however, about the nature of American nationalism.

First, he notes that the experiences with nationalism in the first half of the 20th century has given a bad odor to the word and any idea that attaches to it. He calls it “the German question,” and rightfully so. […]

See both my article and Steve’s for more on this, it’s important and a major part of why nationalism has a rather bad odor these days.

A Protean Term

Second, Hayward explores the protean quality of “nationalism,” observing that even leftist opponents of the idea are capable of discovering examples of a healthy or favorable sort. But the point is that the word does not have a clear meaning outside of context, such that nationalism for China is radically different from Canadian nationalism, even if the two share enough to bear the same label. We cannot ask whether nationalism is healthy or destructive without understanding the nation (its character, as it were), its context, and the forms or manifestations it takes. […]

We are left wondering about American nationalism—the nationalism of a self-governing people. Hayward does not go here—his essay is about what constitutes the American character, with the implication that this character determines what shape nationalism takes in America. His argument is not focused on our tradition of self-rule. For me, this is its primary flaw. Instead of rooting American nationalism clearly in its tradition of self-rule, Hayward claims that it flows out of American exceptionalism. Hayward connects this exceptionalism with the Declaration of Independence generally and with natural rights particularly.

This is one place where Steve left me unsatisfied, he’s not exactly wrong but it’s incomplete, there a lot more than the Declaration of Independence to making American nationalism. Ted covers at least some of them.

But that is a far cry from saying that our nation was founded on the idea of equality. Some attachment to equality, defined variously, has been and will continue to be a deep part of our story and therefore a part of us. Abraham Lincoln’s brilliant use of the Declaration’s emphasis on equality served the nation well because it was part of our heritage that, highlighted and even abstracted from its original context, served to address a political and moral pathology in ways that no other part could.

Do Not Forget Experiences, Attachments, Affections

The problem with defining American character this way—as grounded on a set of universal ideas—is that it conflates the fact that these ideas are part of our history (and most Americans tend to believe them in some form or another) with much deeper sources of our national character. When talking about something as elusive as a national character we are prone to abstract claims that help us escape the messy, often ironic, but always complex, empirical and historical evidence. If we can call upon sacred texts and well-stated expressions of principles, we effortlessly gain the conceptual clarity that often hovers above the tangled webs of beliefs, hopes, dreams, actions, of a living people who operate in a living tradition and also in changing circumstances that require them to adapt, change, and redefine.

And here we rejoin Edmund Burke because that is about as close as one can come to what he defined conservatism as, as one can without quoting him, for instance:

But a good patriot, and a true politician, always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country. A disposition, to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution.

See what I mean?

First, the Founding should be understood not as a moment in 1776 but as a settlement of peoples, primarily from England, who established a hybrid cultural and political form (actually several hybrids) that stressed, among other things: inherited liberties, common law, and the fact that community is prior to government (that communities create government to serve the prior reality of the community). This beginning place stresses our most important characteristic, that we are a people who want to rule ourselves and that we do so typically through communities and associations.

Second, Americans were from the start more in love with opportunities, with chance-taking, with new starts (and start-ups), with the lure of making their fortune or finding a new opportunity out West, than they were with equality. In this context, Americans were less interested in equal opportunity (which is philosophically nonsense) than with an abundance of opportunities, and, as Wilfred McClay traces so well in his Land of Hope, the ever-fresh spring for new hope that opportunities supply.

Third, that the attraction among immigrants was not primarily our “idea” as expressed by Thomas Jefferson or anyone else, but the same sense that opportunities abounded and that America offered everything from a new profession to a new identity. The confining status and roles of traditional societies dissolved and each person (even if he or she faced all manner of other persecutions upon arrival) could chart his or her own course, craft his or her own identity, and live free from the cultural, social, economic, and political restrictions of Italy or Poland, or whatever the country of origin.

And that is a pretty good summing up: Americans are a people who want to rule themselves, are chance-taking opportunists, who formed a society where you became what you wanted to be if you could sustain it.

He illustrates this with the story from The Man  Who Shot Liberty Valance, and the points he makes are very valid. But I would think so, its a very valid reference around the parts, Pilgrim. To the point that Jessica wrote about it here, and I wrote about it here, as well.

Some more questions about the subject answered I think. Read the linked articles for a fuller picture.



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