Mainstream journalists are just so clever. They write essay format stories, but put the thesis at the end instead of the first paragraph, so that you think (perhaps) that you came to the conclusion yourself. This is one of the many ways people manipulate you every day.
These manipulations reveal a fundamental truth of our society: it is based on making masses of people do what you want. Everyone needs a personal army for whatever idea they want to make real. This requires crafting sales pitches to seduce and control a herd.
As anyone who is paying attention will note, this means that our society selects for manipulators. We do not choose our best leaders, but our best salespeople, and then we are surprised when the results in reality turn out to be different from the sales pitch.
We had one of those “this is not the product I ordered” moments recently when a worldwide sea change began. After eight years of Barack Obama and the corresponding drift toward Leftism worldwide, a movement of pushback began. This culminated many years of a Leftward momentum in the West.
After all, with only a few interruptions, since the early 1800s the West has been heading more toward the Leftist ideal of an equal crowd, unified by ideology and not culture or heritage, working to make Utopia by advancing further equality.
In the 1860s, America joined Europe in its revolutions, changing government from a protector of an organic culture into a force for transformation through an ideology of civil rights. This set us down the path that populism would oppose.
On this path, our goal shifted from civilization itself to using civilization as a tool to achieve a state of equality for our citizens. This meant that government was no longer responsible for the welfare of its citizens, but for making them do the ideologically-correct thing.
This mirrored the unification of states in the European model which allowed for entitlements states, or those based on direct payments to citizens. This caused a concentration of wealth in those who could afford the high taxes necessary and penalized small businesses and individuals for whom the tax was a higher burden.
Government admitted that its goal was to reduce hereditary fortunes, when in reality it simply shifted them to corporations which could afford them. As President Theodore Roosevelt urged in 1907:
A heavy progressive tax upon a very large fortune is in no way such a tax upon thrift or industry as a like tax would be on a small fortune. No advantage comes either to the country as a whole or to the individuals inheriting the money by permitting the transmission in their entirety of the enormous fortunes which would be affected by such a tax; and as an incident to its function of revenue raising, such a tax would help to preserve a measurable equality of opportunity for the people of the generations growing to manhood.
Not surprising to observers of modern government, this “progressive agenda” started small but quickly became all-encompassing. In the 1930s, most of the West adopted a partially socialist entitlements regime, including state pensions, welfare, and jobs.
Interrupted by the war, this resumed in the 1950s, when entitlements programs became a fact of daily life under the theory of “scientific management” of our populations. In the 1960s, we doubled down further, and after a brief reaction in the 1980s, went back to that ideal during the 1990s.
After a brief detour into neoconservatism during the Bush II years, mostly in response to the raging chaos caused by the end of the Clinton era and the rising world disorder that accompanied weak American leadership, we ended up right back in far (enough) Leftism with Obama.
Then, despite the media insisting that things had never been better, suddenly the world shifted. Brexit hit England. Far-Right parties were winning local elections. Donald Trump appeared and brushed aside all the Republican candidates bleating out the same stuff they had been promoting since the Reagan years.
This was more than a series of elections; it was a rejection of everything that had been taken for granted as “that’s just the way things are” for the past several decades. We lumped all of that under the ambiguous heading of globalism, but really it meant our final stage of democracy.
Francis Fukuyama wrote about this in The End of History and the Last Man: liberal democracy, in his view, would be the ultimate development of humanity. Once we got there, nothing would change. With the fall of the Soviets and Nazis, liberal democracy — democracy, civil rights, and entitlement programs — was the only system remaining in the first world.
Naturally that system extended to a global order because the shared system made it easy for nations to consider themselves to be on the same side. That is, they wanted the same things, and had the same system. However, for some reason, as that system made itself fully clear during the Obama years, people rejected it.
The idea was that liberal democracy, market-based economic systems and the rule of law would spread from the West into the postcommunist East as well as into the Global South. International institutions would increasingly replace the anarchic competition of states by developing rules-based approaches to issues from trade to climate change.
As it turns out however, the West was not happy with its system. It was not just the crushing cost of things like Obamacare as it bankrupted the American middle class, but the general malaise of a life in which one existed to work, then buy luxuries, in a society without unity, culture, or values except the non-values of tolerance, pluralism, and utilitarianism.
This was a spiritual revolution, not a revolution of the stomach. The people had plenty, for the most part, despite having less. It was more that — as we saw later with the “yellow vests” — they were working an awful lot for very little payoff, and felt like their national identity was eroding under the assault of international values like cosmopolitanism/diversity, consumerism/globalism, and equality/culturelessness.
There they saw the end results of individualism, or the idea that the individual mattered more than social order or other orders larger than the individual like natural law, the divine, and the commonsense logic of hierarchy:
The French aristocratic political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–59) described individualism in terms of a kind of moderate selfishness that disposed humans to be concerned only with their own small circle of family and friends. Observing the workings of the American democratic tradition for Democracy in America (1835–40), Tocqueville wrote that by leading “each citizen to isolate himself from his fellows and to draw apart with his family and friends,” individualism sapped the “virtues of public life,” for which civic virtue and association were a suitable remedy.
We can view all of Western history from The Enlightenment™ onward as part of this quest to make individualism legitimate. Its goal was to ensure that no matter what the individual did — absent turning their backs on egalitarianism, or big bads like murder, assault, and rape — the individual was protected against attack by the group.
At first this was phrased as equality under the law, meaning that a wealthier and more powerful person did not get legal rights that others did not. This quickly morphed into rules designed to protect, employ, and pay benefits to the poorer ones.
From that rose modernism itself, or the use of the state to engineer its people into equals, and that created the system that populism opposes:
For increasing numbers of people, our nations and the system of which they are a part now appear unable to offer a plausible, viable future. This is particularly the case as they watch financial elites – and their wealth – increasingly escaping national allegiances altogether.
Europe, of course, invented the nation state: the principle of territorial sovereignty was agreed at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The treaty made large-scale conquest difficult within the continent; instead, European nations expanded into the rest of the world. The dividends of colonial plunder were converted, back home, into strong states with powerful bureaucracies and democratic polities – the template for modern European life.
The new order of nations only made sense if these were integrated into a “society of nations”: a formal global society with its own universal institutions, empowered to police the violence that individual states would not regulate on their own: the violence they perpetrated themselves, whether against other states or their own citizens.
In other words, the modern system is international or anti-national.
It relies on bureaucracies to administer its increasingly complex states, which have taken on not just the need to lead, but also the task of administering massive welfare states, regulating industries, and socially engineering their own people.
Unfortunately for this global happy warm fuzzies cult, it suffers the same problem as the French Revolution and Soviet Union did, which is that the more one centralizes, the more society decays from within.
Centralization coordinates everyone equally on the basis of method and as a result, produces citizens with no impetus of their own, while rewarding the obedient instead of the good, resulting in a massive trend of incompetence, corruption, and apathy.
Populism constitutes a revolution against the revolution which placed our unelected bureaucratic ruling class in power:
The 2016 election and refutation of the ruling class did not signal that those without such educations and qualifications were de facto better suited to direct the country. Instead, the lesson was that the past record of governance and the current stature of our assumed best and brightest certainly did not justify their reputations or authority, much less their outsized self-regard. In short, instead of being a meritocracy, they amount to a mediocracy, neither great nor awful, but mostly mediocre.
Populism rejects the idea of a global bureaucracy because it recognizes that governments are self-interested corporations, but even larger than normal corporations and without the feedback loop from markets and customers that keep businesses functional.
Even more, these governments tend in only one direction, which is the consolidation of power. Plato would have recognized this as tyranny, or rule for the sake of perpetuating itself, in which the civilization becomes a means to an end of that power.
Liberal democracy has brought us the same problems with the same failures on different continents and in every language. Generally, populists object to:
These manifest in different forms: for example, the “yellow vests” noticed that the high taxes and numerous regulations of the French bureaucracy had raised costs and reduced wages, while all of the money seemed to flow to diversity and anti-poverty programs, and of course the highly-paid bureaucratic “elites” who administer them.
Populist parties are pushing back against the Leftist bureaucracies inherent to liberal democracy because of the utter destruction they have wrought:
Fidesz and other right-wing parties in the E.U. contend that unelected bureaucrats are making consequential decisions—regulating markets, inflicting rules on technology and economic development, setting quotas of refugee resettlements—without the participation of European citizens; increasingly, voters agree. This resentment is at the core of the Brexit movement in the U.K. and lies behind the growing strength of xenophobic parties in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Central Europe. Steve Bannon, who has been serving as an informal adviser to various nationalist parties, told me, “The fight right now in the E.U. is between those who look at the nation-state as something to be overcome and the others, who look at the nation-state as something to be nurtured.”
We trust markets because they have feedback loops built into them that reject activities which do not produce wealth, in contrast to socialist-style activities which determine what is “correct” and then apply it through force.
None of us may “like” capitalism, but we recognize that it works, and that its theory underscores all markets. We do not make that reality go away by wishing it or by writing an entitlements state into law.
Populists want the feedback loop back because it enables us to have a natural and functional life, instead of being shaped by the theories, conjectures, and rationalizations of people who live in ivory tower gated communities and a mental bubble of Leftist academic writing:
Michael Barone’s Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future (2004) is a short book with a useful distinction that begins to illuminate the phenomenon of Trump. It describes two countries, as it were. “Hard America” is shaped by the marketplace forces of competition and accountability. “Soft America” is the realm of public schools, self-esteem, and government social programs. The latter, according to Barone, produces incompetent and unambitious 18-year-olds, the former hard-charging and adaptable 30-year-olds. Somehow, uneasily, modern America includes both.
For populists, markets are not an ideal, but a baseline or minimum. We must work within the confines of reality, and those are expressed most clearly in things like markets, hierarchy, competition, and natural selection.
They are obscured and deflected by things like socialism, equality, diversity, feminism, LGBT+ rights, and the abolition of traditional culture and heritage.
Under the liberal democratic regime, however, capitalism has become nothing more than an engine generating power for the entitlements state, resulting in “consumerism,” or a system where money is redirected into the citizens for expenditure on consumption, so that it “primes the pump” of the economy and allows it to grow in total value, so that this can be taxed to fund the entitlements state and begin the cycle anew.
Consumerism replaces high-value things — stable societies, long-term futures, and healthy populations — with low-value objects that fascinate those with high time preference, or a need to be distracted constantly by something shiny and new.
The loss of those high-value things has created a backlash against consumerism even if it is mis-identified as capitalism, as expressed by Alt Lite thought leaders like Tucker Carlson:
Does anyone still believe that cheaper iPhones, or more Amazon deliveries of plastic garbage from China are going to make us happy? They haven’t so far. A lot of Americans are drowning in stuff. And yet drug addiction and suicide are depopulating large parts of the country. Anyone who thinks the health of a nation can be summed up in GDP is an idiot.
Members of our educated upper-middle-classes are now the backbone of the Democratic Party who usually describe themselves as fiscally responsible and socially moderate. In other words, functionally libertarian. They don’t care how you live, as long as the bills are paid and the markets function. Somehow, they don’t see a connection between people’s personal lives and the health of our economy, or for that matter, the country’s ability to pay its bills. As far as they’re concerned, these are two totally separate categories.
Our system was created by human beings for the benefit of human beings. We do not exist to serve markets. Just the opposite. Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society.
We only “exist to serve markets” because the State depends on them, and it justifies itself with helping the poor/foreign so that it can increase its own power. Altruism is a sales-job, not a political philosophy.
Without the need to fund entitlements, and pay up to half of our wealth into the State, we are freed from the need to serve markets, and can let culture regulate markets. People buy what their customs dictate they need under this system.
Without equality, we can stop worshiping the lower and focus on the higher as people we want to emulate. This naturally creates a functional social order.
All of this conflicts with the basic idea behind democracy and socialism, egalitarianism, or the idea that there was a Golden Age when everyone was equal and that we can reach Utopia by making everyone equal.
In reality, inequality drove us to compete with ourselves and thus, to improve, forming the base of abilities that allowed us to have a successful civilization.
Populism represents a pushback against egalitarianism. It rejects the idea of liberal democracy that we should follow mob rule, and instead seeks to find “true voices” for the people, or our best.
In the populist view, some of our people understand what must be done and embody our civilization best, and for that reason, it values their input over trying to make everyone participate equally. Populism rejects the perpetual Leftward movement inherent to liberal democracy:
Unlike many of today’s self-appointed defenders of liberal democracy, Galston does not dismiss populism as the simple result of xenophobia, nativism, or racism. On the contrary, he identifies, especially among working-class voters across the West, a legitimate frustration with governing elites and the ideological consensus driving policy for the last several decades. That consensus has ignored or downplayed anxieties arising from rapid technological and demographic changes and attendant economic and cultural dislocations.
A liberal democracy is a particular type of republic in which the people exercise power indirectly by delegating it to elected representatives. It depends upon mediating mechanisms, such as the separation of powers and the judiciary, which serve to protect the minority against the tyranny of the majority. Therein lies the danger: Populism threatens democracy by identifying the “people” with a particular “homogenous and unitary” subset of the people; and it threatens liberalism by promising to fulfill the will of this “people” even if that means casting liberal mechanisms aside.
Ultimately, Galston thinks, defeating populism will require revitalizing the economy as well as advancing public policies that ensure its fruits are broadly shared. But it will also require leaders capable of articulating an alternative vision — what Galston has elsewhere called a “reasonable patriotism” — grounded in universal liberal principles but recognizing that “the enjoyment of these principles requires institutions of enforcement, most often situated within particular political communities.”
In doing so, populism rejects the idea that society can be everything to everyone, an idea embodied in both relativism and pluralism. Instead, every society must choose a culture and live by that in order to have values.
This shifts our focus from internationalism/diversity to nationalism:
Nationalism, translated into world politics, implies the identification of the state or nation with the people—or at least the desirability of determining the extent of the state according to ethnographic principles. In the age of nationalism, but only in the age of nationalism, the principle was generally recognized that each nationality should form a state—its state—and that the state should include all members of that nationality.
This nationalism transforms the idea of the “proposition nation” — a giant shopping mall where people aggregate on the basis of political, economic, and legal systems — into the idea of what came before the nation-state, the nation.
In doing so, it also transforms identity politics, or people voting for special interests based in their tribal (religious, ethnic, cultural, racial, pet issues) identity, into positive identity politics:
Eighteen years ago, rather presciently, George Akerlof and Rachel Kranton suggested that economics is far too individualistic in its conception of human motivation. Identity Economics, as they call their theory, holds that people’s pride in their collective identity can be considered as a parallel form of wealth, which people seek to grow and protect every bit as much as the balance of their bank accounts.
It rejects individualism as a goal, and embraces social order and through it, civilization itself, instead.
At the end, pluralism means choosing civilization over the individual, which requires rejecting equality so that we can choose those who best embody that civilization, and make them leaders in politics, culture, and thought.
In this way, it rejects the postwar order entirely, and opts for something entirely new, based not on international standardization and conformity, but each nation going its own way, much to the dismay of those who want to control us to use us as vehicles for their ideologies:
In his hour-long speech, Francis several times mentioned the League of Nations, which was set up after World War One to promote peace but failed to stop the nationalist and populist movements that helped lead to World War Two.
“The reappearance of these impulses today is progressively weakening the multilateral system,” he told envoys from 183 countries in the speech, which touched on the situation in many countries.
This arises from a political crisis in the international order, which has failed to deliver on its promises and has created a high-tech consumerist wage slave dystopia instead. Populism is a cultural rebellion, not a philosophical one:
We must remember that in the 19th century, there were many inventions of new social models, such as the utopian socialists for example. In the 20th century? Nothing, except fascism and Hitlerism. It is a little bit the fault of the philosophers of whom I am, who have not seen this new state of affairs happen. My hesitation to comment on what is happening today in France comes from this imbalance that I have perceived violently for 20 or 30 years between society as it has become and institutions as they have remained. There is a total disruption between an outdated policy and an extremely new society
…Do you realize how powerless politics is in the face of the questions posed by this movement? The traditional parties of government that we have known for at least two centuries have been unable to respond. But this political crisis is global. Trump in the United States, the far right in Central Europe, Brexit in England and the yellow vests in France are the results.
This rejects the liberal order entirely and the assumptions of liberalism going back to The Enlightenment™ by embracing order larger than the individual in place of individualism.
Like Plato and Nietzsche, this new view replaces the idea of “progress” with the notion that our traditional ways work best, and these start in the individual heart, which requires that we reject external methods of control and motivation in the Leftist style.
Pluralism in this view can be seen as illiberalism, or the idea that we need a central idea upon which to harmonize as individuals, instead of a mob of individuals each going his own way but restrained by financial incentives and police states.
In this illiberal view, “progress” does not exist; in some eras, civilization and the individual are in balance through this inner harmony, and when we abandon that, we head into periods of decay. We are now coming out of one of those periods.
This illiberalism rejects the concept of modernity entirely:
And so liberals set out to define the conditions for progress to come about. They believe that argument and free speech establish good ideas and propagate them. They reject concentrations of power because dominant groups tend to abuse their privileges, oppressing others and subverting the common good. And they affirm individual dignity, which means that nobody, however certain they are, can force others to give up their beliefs.
We want out of modern society. We are tired of being ruled by the morality of the shopkeeper, which says that more customers are better and the more trivial the product, the better. This has done nothing but erode civilization and replace it with masses of landfill as these products are discarded.
For individuals to shine, civilization must thrive; for civilization to thrive, there must be a spirit of the people found in their best, instead of a lowest common denominator found in demotism, or the mass votes, mass culture product buying, and social popularity.
This completes the rejection of Crowdism, or the tendency of human groups to form and police reality based on their fears. Instead of fear, we have chosen the creative impulse.
Populism will not be understood widely for another few decades, but the pushback intensifies as all of the programs of Leftism — democracy, equality, internationalism, consumerism — collapse simultaneously in failure as their consequences present a bill due to be paid.
Those of us embracing populism are on the cutting edge of humans who realize that for us to get to the next stage of our evolution, we must get past this constant internal class warfare, and to do that, we must reject equality entirely.