Like most attempts to restore sanity after the French Revolution, populism takes the form of a conservative movement trying to use liberal methods to appeal to the crowd. Conservatives want to save their civilization from the bleeding caused by the ongoing thousand-year Leftist takeover.
Very few know what populism is, however. The best most of us can come up with is the general idea that democracy has become manipulated by symbol-makers, so we have to return to the “spirit of the people” rather than whatever the dubious vote totals and polls tell us.
A few scholars have attempted to look at this topic, since populism recurs every time immigration increases or the dominant narrative becomes fractured, and have come up with the idea that populism is cultural revival opposed to the popularity contests of voting, consumerism, and socializing:
The ideology of populism displaces equality for unity and thus opposes social and political pluralism. Its extreme consequence, as the experience of fascism testifies, is to transform a political community into a corporate household-like entity, where class and ideological differences are denied and mastered in the attempt to fulfill the myth of a comprehensive totality of state and society
The actual scenario, however, is that of a new-born oligarchy (homines novi) profiting from popular dissatisfaction and actual subjection in order to penetrate the ruling class.
To sum up, we may say that populism claims an unbounded supremacy of the “will of the people” over institutions and over the social strata that do not identify with the dominant group. It does not contest the social order, but its political articulation and surface. It does not ask for political equality or equal recognition, but for the political power of the equals.
In this analysis, populism takes place in a war of oligarchies: the Establishment has its oligarchy, and the populists want to take over that power machine and use it for their own ends, but more importantly here we see the conflict between the social order and its politicized surface.
This means that populists see democracy as somewhat of a runaway chain and want to yank it back to sanity by relying on what the most commonsense among them perceive, instead of the perpetual lowest common denominator of the crowd that wants free stuff from government and anarchy.
Ohter academics see populism as a type of pluralism which emphasizes independence from the dominant ideology:
While this body of research is rich and variegated, it can loosely be divided into four families of theories: Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic-Elite Domination, and two types of interest-group pluralism — Majoritarian Pluralism, in which the interests of all citizens are more or less equally represented, and Biased Pluralism, in which corporations, business associations, and professional groups predominate. Each of these perspectives makes different predictions about the independent influence upon U.S. policy making of four sets of actors: the Average Citizen or “median voter,” Economic Elites, and Mass-based or Business-oriented Interest Groups or industries.
The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
An important modern incarnation of this tradition is found in rational choice theories of electoral democracy, in which vote-seeking parties or candidates in a two-party system tend to converge at the mid-point of citizens’ policy preferences. If preferences are jointly single-peaked so that they can be arrayed along a single dimension, the “median voter theorem” — posited verbally by Harold Hotelling, proved by Duncan Black, and popularized by Anthony Downs in his Economic Theory of Democracy — states that two vote-seeking parties will both take the same position, at the center of the distribution of voters’ most-preferred positions.
This analysis soft-sells its major point which is that the two parties converge on an average, and as a result, get away from what the various groups in a pluralistic society need, causing these groups to rise up and demand that they be represented instead of the average which serves no one.
Although this Left-leaning analysis likes to point the finger at economic elites, it may be using the typical correlation-not-causation error that misses the causal direction because it is rationalizing from an assumption that certain things like managerial stewardship government are good.
A more sober analysis might say that when citizens receive Free Stuff from Government (FSG, or “fisgie”) then government becomes a major economic actor, and therefore, the economic elites follow the ideological program of the government, converging on the middle.
Since the philosophy behind democracy is egalitarianism, any middle naturally moves to the left over the generations as democratization extends to all areas of society. What was moderate a generation ago now becomes the farthest from egalitarianism, so the new middle is pseudo-Communism.
It may well be that what doomed the West was its inability to recognize China as an enemy, so that when the Soviets fell, we no longer had a foreign opposition and instead lapsed into bloated laziness. From this comes the Uniparty, or that convergence on the middle.
However, in order to distinguish themselves, the Left must move farther Left or they will repeating the past and therefore, be unable to claim they are bringing “progress” or offer anything tantalizing to voters. Therefore the Left always goes further Left and the Right follows the new middle.
As democracy extends more rights and fisgie to new groups, this forces the Left to find newer groups to raise up with equality. For this reason, we first fawned over the Amerindians, then the Blacks, then Hispanics, and now have moved on to transgenders and the obese (ableism is a new sin).
That creates the political surface: a series of precedents or assumptions about what our base level is, which is defined now as the far-Right border of the Overton Window. For that reason, 1960s conservatives are now taboo, and contemporary conservatives resemble 1990s Leftists.
The political surface consists of how we frame issues and what we are willing to talk about. It is based in methods and not goals; its goals are to maintain itself, based on what has gone before, so it defers to precedent and assumptions like the alleged good behind equality, civil rights, and socialism.
As Plato noted, democracies go this way, but this may be a subset of a human problem. People react to what is already in effect and, because there are people who are now employed to make it happen, refuse to remove it even if it has long passed its usefulness and become parasitic.
To revoke a government program or a job title means that someone goes home, and this inflames the Crowd because they fear for their jobs. For this reason, random activities accumulate not out of conservatism but out of peer pressure, since no one wants to be seen as removing what others need.
A company in its youth will focus mostly on goals; a company in its senescence will focus mostly on its methods. Over time, some things become accepted as symbolism or religion, and they cannot be changed without becoming massively unpopular.
For that reason, democracy creates a snowball of Leftist programs and those who depend on them, who if they were not Leftist before now become Leftist in order to keep those programs alive. Their presence shifts the political surface toward the Left.
Ironically, the only source of revitalization comes from conservatism, or going back to the past when the company had goals and resurrecting those, at which point all practices can be assessed (yes/no) as to whether they help achieve these goals or are just methods.
The methods-based approach — classic means-over-ends — reflects the human desire for Control. When everyone depends on the system, stability is guaranteed, or at least lack of Revolutions. You can tell the age of something by how much ends-over-means remains in it.
For example, most organized religions are fifteenth-generation copies of a long ago faith, the Proto-Indo-European Religion, which was probably equal parts something like Zen Buddhism and whatever Plato was going on about in Phaedo. It was hermetic, but also reverent and theological, although possibly not the personalitied single deity of Abrahamic faiths.
In the same way, companies like Google once aimed to be really good at something. Once they grew, they basically became subsidy programs for the different roles their workers required, and being good at anything was incidental. Do not rock the boat; kick the can down the street.
To get back to the roots of an organization requires shrugging off methods and focusing on goals. People fear this because it eliminates many of the easy shortcuts that make their jobs safe from catastrophic failure. We can see an analog in the return to analog instruments:
Leveraging more than 40 years of data, we trace the relationship between technological developments and synthesizer players’ occupational meaning. While synthesists initially embraced the ease of use and novelty of digital’s black-boxed preset sounds, widespread adoption of digital sounds ultimately undermined musicians’ occupational goal of distinctive creative expression. In response, synthesists articulated preferences for technology that afforded control, enabling them to use their expertise to create sounds, and that provided an embodied connection with the tool. Synthesists associated these affordances with analog rather than digital instruments, leading to renewed demand for analog and the reemergence of a formerly displaced technology.
Older devices have fewer shortcuts, optimizations, and workflows; you work instead with the raw sound. This means that songs are no longer defined in terms of methods, like laying down a rhythm track, adding synth voices, and then adjusting knobs. You have to think in terms of goals instead.
The West has forgotten its primary goal, which is a sort of transcendental realism that emphasizes the beauty of the natural order, including its scary parts. It aims for quality through accepting reality and enhancing it with a naturalistic order.
We might see the early West — and its core, still — as a type of natural systems engineering:
Natural systems (NS) engineering is the practice of using inspiration from nature to improve designs, processes, practices, and/or to generate alternatives. This is accomplished through understanding the system well and appreciating nature’s elegant forms, structures, behaviors and processes, adaptations, interactions, and functions. Traditional engineering can be more of a “brute force” method of putting something into practice, while nature most often does a similar thing in a more elegant and efficient manner.
With a deeper appreciation for the elegant simplicity as well as the many times complex solutions are found in nature, the systems engineer may recognize parallels in her system and begin a search for answers to the way nature addresses similar challenges. The systems engineer needs to define problems and opportunities to communicate effectively with natural systems scientists to help her make the connection. Biologists, geologists, and other scientists may already be addressing the modeling, biomimicry, and derived functions that form the basis for realistic expectations of application.
Most of the rest of the world viewed nature as an enemy and sought to replace it in our minds with a world of human symbolism. Their destruction of nature was limited by their low degree of technology, but they waged war on it, seeking to impose a human face upon it.
In the West, nature was accepted as not just a thing, but a way of thinking that was viewed as superior to our own. The Proto-Indo-European faith emphasized gods not as symbols of humanity, but of natural forces, and used them to explain the amoral aspects of nature that in the end produced good.
Your average third world religion has a god who is all good, a devil figure, and a series of rituals that one performs for luck from the god. These gods intervene to fix nature according to what humans see as fair.
Western religions on the other hand sought to explain nature, and saw human hubris (note: individualism) as a sin not on a moral basis, but because it was unrealistic and therefore twisted up people inside so that they could not discern their own inner nature.
The goal of ancient Western mysticism was to have a clear head and therefore to exist in a divine state and as a result, pass into a divine state in the afterlife. It emphasized bonding with nature, not rejecting it in favor of gods made in the image of human fears and desires.
This was early natural systems engineering. They studied nature to see why it did what it did, which revealed the transcendent aspect of life: even death, when understood properly, makes sense as the best of all possible options, when one sees the structure of the whole natural system.
Natural systems engineering takes a holistic approach, or looking at structure and context because it believes in polycausal fact patterns more than linear causality, and seeing the architectures of life underneath the skin of appearance, analyzing systems of systems:
Systems engineering principles, and methods which support those principles, have their origins in three views with respect to a system of interest. The first is an outward looking view, which always sees the system as a part of one or more bigger systems. The second is an object view, which sees the system as an object with are necessary or desirable for it to play its intended role(s) in the bigger system(s). The third is the solution view, which sees the system as destined to be constructed of interacting elements, the characteristics of which, together with the interconnections, give rise to a system with the characteristics defined by the object view. The three view and their relationships are illustrated in the figure.
Much of systems engineering aims toward a type of functional transcendental realism. It wants to see how the different systems interact, forming a large ecosystem, and how to avoid becoming either repetitive or random in how we adapt to this system of systems. It aims to return old organizations to their younger state.
Populism aims to restore this feeling. It wants ends-over-means — set goals and let us individually find our way to them — instead of means-over-ends, which views humans as its only goal and therefore denies nature, in the process denying individuality.
It seems individualism, or the idea that everyone gets a participation award and is important, or gets a union salary or socialist subsidies just for being alive, as a rejection of nature that leads to becoming twisted and confused inside, which is a great cruelty.
Populism wants to reject modern methods that have become goals in themselves and then precedent from which we rationalize to the point where we cannot make decisions; political correctness (the “woke”) is just the latest iteration of this ancient primitive human tendency.
People like means-over-ends for the same reason they like meritocracy and bureaucracy. Someone tells them what to do, and if they do it, they get rewarded whether it did anything useful or not. Pile up a bunch of people like this and you have a dying society.
For all of their pretense toward preserving the past, conservatism and by extension populism seek to restart the life cycle of a civilization. They want to get back to the point where we had goals and met them with our own crude inventions instead of following procedures.
In this light, populism is not a reaction to modern society, but a rejection of the society that is a reaction to the past; it is a desire to renew through rebirth by following the spirit and goals of what we once were into an eternally-distant future.