Musings on Populists

18 Jun

Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer – except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs.

-Animal Farm

Robert A. Heinlein, may he rest in peace, had an observation on communists and communism that should be borne in mind. Communism simply did not take root in healthy societies. The presence of a communist movement, therefore, was a clear warning sign that something was deeply wrong, that society itself was sick. Society therefore needed to take heed, to address the social sickness before it turned terminal and brought society crashing down in ruins. The communists were not, at least at first, the cause of society’s problems. They were a symptom of a far deeper issue.

The same could easily be said of populists. Would-be populists come and go all the time, of course, but they only gain traction when two conditions are met. First, there must be a serious problem (or set of problems) gnawing at society’s vitals. Second, society itself – i.e. the government/ruling class – must be either unwilling or unable to admit there is a problem, let alone confront the problem directly. The former lays the groundwork for populists; the latter ensures that populists will climb to power.

Populists do not get to choose, by and large, what problems they intend to address. A populist who genuinely believes that eating asparagus for breakfast may have good intentions, but he simply won’t get very far. Why should anyone take him seriously? Very few people are prepared to die on a hill, or simply vote for, a platform that is so patently absurd. Even something a little deeper – a Scottish politician who insists that all Scots should wear kilts, perhaps – isn’t likely to get much traction. There aren’t many people – if any – who regard the lack of kilts as a serious problem – and the lack of such people ensures that would-be populist gets nowhere. No, a populist who wishes to gain power must identify a social issue that meets the criteria I mentioned above and use it.

And it is important – very important – to bear in mind, at all times, that the populist is not necessarily wrong. If people are voting for him, then his message is resonating with them; if the message is resonating with them, it’s a clear sign that there is a growing percentage of the population who both agrees that the issue is a serious issue and has no faith in the ability of the government – however defined – to handle it. If this wasn’t true, the populist would be about as dangerous as Screaming Lord Sutch.

Wait, you say. The populists are lying. They’re all liars, con artists, swindlers, etc …

Maybe they are. The point is, the really dangerous lies – the ones that tend to linger – are the lies that are based on a kernel of truth. When Hitler told the German people that they had been betrayed by their leaders, he was right; when Lenin told the Russians they were being oppressed by their aristocracy, he was right; when SJWs told the internet that political correctness was all about politeness, they were right. And one didn’t have to look very far to see evidence that they were right. The lie slipped through because, at its core, there was a certain degree of truth. And once the liars were firmly established, it became incredibly difficult to unseat them.

The populists are winning because the establishments are simply unwilling or unable to heed the legitimate demands of their electorates.


(Given a better cause, this guy could be really dangerous)

But there is a deeper problem.

There are, if I may crave your pardon for a slight digression, three default mindsets for humanity: Barbarism, Tribalism and Civilisation.

The Barbarian recognises no law, but force. He cares nothing for anyone, save for himself; he has no concept of right and wrong, no concept of the future, no willingness to honour his word, police his own actions … and no restraint. Given the chance, he will happily loot, rape and slaughter his way across an entire country. The only way to stop a Barbarian is force, the demonstrated ability and will to give him a bloody nose. The rule of the fist is the only rule the barbarian acknowledges.

The Tribesman is loyal to his tribe. He will respect the tribe and its rules; he will honour them, whatever his opinion of outsiders. He will not betray the tribe, even when it is clearly in his personal interest to do so. His tribe is his home, his family. At his best, a tribesman can deal with outsider tribes in the pursuit of profit and mutual stability (no one benefits from a long-term blood feud); at his worst, a tribesman will hold his tribe over all others, waging war on all other tribes.

The Civilised Man is loyal to an ideal, civilisation itself. He honours and respects the rule of law. He deals fairly with outsiders because he expects the legal framework to uphold whatever agreement is signed (and he can seek redress from the courts if there is a problem); he doesn’t try to cheat the system. At his best, a civilised man will place his faith in the system, expecting it to provide redress instead of setting off on a private vendetta; at his worst, a civilised man will hide behind the rules while civilisation crumbles around him.

(John Campbell talked about something similar, but as a series of stages human civilisations progress through. I see the three as always with us.)

All three states exist within the human mindset, sometimes simultaneously. Chess Players, for example, are Civilised Men because they have a structure of rules for playing chess (both for actually playing and for how they should act while they’re playing) and follow them religiously. At the same time, they are also Tribesmen; the world is divided into players and non-players. They recognise an ‘in-group’ and an ‘out-group.’ They also recognise that someone who refuses to play by the rules is not part of the in-group, whatever they are told by superior authority.

Now, when times are good – when faith and trust in the rule of law is strong, when the barbarians are held at bay – there is no need for tribalism. Why rock the boat? (Scotland didn’t vote for independence because most Scots saw no need for such an extreme step.) But when times are hard – when faith and trust in the rule of law is declining, when the barbarians are running rampant – people become tribal. They instinctively seek their fellows, people who will support them against outsiders (i.e. both barbarians and other tribesmen.) They want – they need – unquestioning support and protection. And they are often prepared to pay a steep price for it. In medieval times, low-ranking men would attach themselves to high-ranking noblemen and serve them loyally, in exchange for their support and protection. (Bastard feudalism.) In modern times, they vote for populists.

Like I said above, the populists didn’t create the conditions that inspire people to vote for them. But they do take advantage of them. And the only way to keep populists from eventually being voted into power is to tackle the conditions that lead to their rise.

The political and media classes, throughout the entire Western World, have been in deep denial. This is partly understandable. Any honest assessment of why things have been steadily growing worse would have to focus on leadership; doing something about the problem would mean admitting that they are part of the problem. (In much the same way that the greatest problem with Hilary Clinton’s 2016 campaign was Hilary Clinton herself.) The only way to deal with the problem is to openly admit that there is a problem and show (not tell) that they are taking steps to deal with the problem. This would not be easy – it would mean taking sides and dealing with the flak they’d get for doing so – but it would put things back on an even kneel.

Instead, they have reacted like people with something to hide.

There isn’t enough space to go into detail here, so I’ll touch on a few highlights. Media attacks on right-wing politicians, combined with a program of either ignoring or downplaying crimes committed by left-wing figures. Attacks on free speech; deplatforming, openly and covertly, anyone who appears to be a right wing figure. Deliberate mockery, below-the-belt attacks … anything and everything, apart from conceding that there is a problem and doing something about it. In short, they are trying to pretend that everything is fine by trying to silence everyone who says otherwise. In earlier days, this might have worked; now, the mere act of trying to silence opposition draws attention to it. And this makes people ask the obvious question. Why would anyone bother to silence the opposition unless the opposition had a point? Indeed, it makes things worse. It’s safer to believe the worst about anything if you can’t get reliable data. (The panic after 9/11 was wrong, but it wasn’t misplaced.)

There’s a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail which neatly illustrates my point. (Scene, quote.) King Arthur claims to rule – effectively – by divine right. Dennis the Peasant promptly points out that – all together now – “strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.” And Dennis is entirely correct. Arthur is unable to put together a response to this argument and resorts to shouting at Dennis, then trying to strange him. Dennis snarks: “ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system!”

The point is this. Dennis asks a reasonable question, which Arthur cannot answer. Indeed, his claim to power is risible. But Arthur cannot concede that Dennis has a point because that would undermine Arthur’s claim to power. He is therefore reduced to trying to silence Dennis, which makes Dennis’s claim more creditable. After all, if Arthur had a good answer to Dennis’s question, wouldn’t he have given it?

Populists point to this as proof they’re right. No one would bother trying to silence someone who’s talking nonsense. Why bother? People only try to silence the opposition when the opposition has an unanswerable point, one that cannot be countered fairly.

Back in a world that isn’t governed by the laws of comedy, this short-term attempt to conceal the problem has made matters worse. By undermining trust – in the media, in big tech, etc – it makes the opposition more creditable. Wild ideas and misconceptions about immigration, for example, take root because it’s hard to hold an open discussion about the issue. Instead, the populists and extremists get a boost – deserved or not – because they’re the only ones talking about the issues…

A lack of faith in the rule of law (etc) weakens the bonds of civilisation. So does a belief that civilisation’s leaders (from politicians to corporate CEOs) are not on civilisation’s side. The massive promotion of everything from identity politics to multiculturalism and top-down bureaucrat-driven social engineering makes things worse. The people pushing this are not, by and large, the people who will suffer. They’re the people who are rich or powerful enough to enjoy a certain insulation from the world. As I’ve noted before, the benefits from hugely controversial issues – immigration, globalisation – have not been spread equally. Why should the people who get the short end of the stick support them?

People who no longer trust that the law works for them – that, at the very least, they will get a fair trial if things go wrong – are thrust out of the civilised mindset. In a sense, they turn tribal. They put their own interests first.

Civilisation is weakened by harassment. Tribalism is not. Indeed, a program of harassment – direct or indirect – and outright repression makes the bonds of tribalism stronger. On one hand, the mere existence of a program of harassment is proof that there is an outside enemy. On the other hand, harassment means that the tribe has to hang together or hang separately. Populists take advantage of this by setting themselves up as the leaders and making shows of strength and determination, displaying a willingness to weather attacks from their detractors while serving their tribe. It is no coincidence that Donald Trump’s approval ratings kept rising every time he stood up to the media and gave the finger to political correctness.

In a sense, we have moved from ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ through ‘all animals are equal’ to ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.’ The rise of tribalism promotes both resentment of the ‘more equal’ tribes and a bitter determination to become the ‘more equal’ tribe.

It also obliterates nuance. To a civilised man, for example, there is considerable nuance in the abortion issue. There is room for a compromise that would satisfy the vast majority of people. But to the tribes – the pro-life and pro-choice tribes – there is no nuance. The tribal mindset doesn’t allow it. A concession will merely lead to another concession, followed by a third concession … neither side can risk disarming (i.e. offering to accept a reasonable compromise) because it believes, probably correctly, that the other will see it as a sign of weakness and pounce.

The marvel of western civilisation is that we built institutions that stood apart from the men who ran them. Our institutions were not perfect, but they worked. In a sense, they allowed us to overcome the tribal mindset. We made rules for electing our leaders, for example, and honoured them. But this was not built in a day! It required a degree of commitment, a willingness to make the system work (if necessary, by accepting defeat gracefully.) This is now under attack by people who see the system as something to be subverted or simply don’t have any loyalty to it at all.

We can cope with this. But we can only cope with it by openly admitting what is wrong and taking steps to deal with it.

Heinlein’s sad comment on communism is still true today:

“Communism is so repugnant to almost all Americans, when they are getting along even tolerably well, that one may predict with certainty that any social field or group in which the Communists make real strides in gaining members or acceptance of their doctrines, [that] any such spot is in such bad shape from real and not imaginary social ills that the rest of us should take emergency, drastic action to investigate and correct the trouble.

“Unfortunately we are more prone to ignore the sick spot thus disclosed and content ourselves with calling out more cops.”

Unfortunately, this is true of populists too.

21 Responses to “Musings on Populists”

  1. Ben H June 18, 2019 at 9:54 pm #

    Thank you, a fascinating read, the world is in desperate need of more commentators like you, a breath of fresh air to just be able to read; an observation, and what an important subject to do it on. Many thanks for this, I was, enlightening.

  2. PhilippeO June 19, 2019 at 7:29 am #

    You are too trusting on idea of “civilization” and ” common people”.

    Realistically, every civilizations, from Ancient Egypt to Cold War alliance, maintain themselves through war with outsiders. They are not that different from Tribalism except in scale. Rule of Law only applied internally. And without strong external opposition (since 90s USSR collapse) western civilization had difficulty maintain itself.

    Common People ALWAYS put it interest first, they only tolerate rule of law when their tribe is on top, Tribalism only put on backburner because they are ruling tribe, White Supremacy predate identity politics, multiculturalism, or any societal engineering. There no need for “harassment” because any who disturb their status is harassment.

  3. Christopher Reed June 19, 2019 at 3:16 pm #

    Chris, I think you’re focusing too much on the SJW/Mainstream Media side of the equation. Those are both problems that need to be addressed. However communists never have or will gain traction by complaining about gender pronouns. You’re missing the economic side of the puzzle. There would not be a rising populism in the west if it weren’t for the inherent flaws in Neoliberalism. The what’s good for the market is good for the nation approach isn’t working anymore.

    I mainly know this from more of an American perspective but, here in the states there was always a populist wing of the Republican and Democratic parties but, they never really started to be in the forefront until the crash of ’08. People don’t go for populists unless they’re hurting. Hitler didn’t rise to power just by saying that Germany’s leaders betrayed the German people he rose because the German people were hurting economically and the Classical-Liberal elites saw the social democrats and communists on one side and Hitler on the other and decided to pick their poison and supported Hitler knowing what he was but realizing he would at least let them keep their economic power. The book “The Apprentice’s Sorcerer” by Ishay Landa is good a book and I recommend it but I digress.

    The Republican establishment who always liked their dog whistles made a deal with the devil. Instead of having to admit that their economic models were flawed and try to help the american middle and lower classes they blame the SJWs, College Professors, Immigrants, anything but any kind of fault on their end. At least in america right wing populism has been co-opted by the economic establishment.

    The Democratic establishment tried to play the everything is fine card with predictable results. Is it any wonder then that the democrats lost? Trump didn’t win because he was anti-SJW he won because he promised the industrial heartland economic change. He lied through his teeth about what he would do but at least he was saying something was wrong.

    I don’t know about Britain’s industrial heartland but America’s is dying. SJWs and Liberal college campuses and immigrants aren’t lowering american life expectancy suicide, drug overdoses and alcoholism are. American life expectancy has dropped for the past three years in a row something unprecedented in the first world, mainly due to these issues. This in the eleventh year of an expansion possibly the longest one in American history. That shouldn’t happen under conventional capitalist wisdom.

    These deaths of despair are caused by a lack of economic opportunity and security. If you turn on Fox News so called “voice of the resistance” against the Liberal Elite however everything is fine, GDP is up, the unemployment numbers are good (candidate Trump had very different things to say about the methodology behind that number than president Trump.) and wonder of wonders them shouting “Socialism” when there’s any talk about economic reform while also blaming those said economic woes of which there aren’t any of course (Weird case of double think there.) on China and Immigrants. ( Not saying China doesn’t cheat on trade but it takes two to tango if you get what I mean.)

    This lack of willingness to reform anything is driving left wing populism. And I don’t mean the annoying SJW kind. Socialism isn’t a dirty word anymore mainly because most
    american millennial’s experience of Capitalism as adults was a big crash followed by economic despair and torment followed by both parties elites unwillingness to implement meaningful reform. Can you blame us then for thinking the system is irretrievably broken? And yes while I may be on the left I recognize the dangers of it but at the moment what are the alternatives? My generation finds itself in an untenable situation, socialist policy if imprudently implemented may kill the middle class but doing nothing definitely will.

    Sorry if this a bit ranty I got started and i couldn’t stop ;), Sincerely, also Chris.

  4. Billy June 20, 2019 at 12:15 am #

    Something to think about on the Abortion issue.

    I was thinking about it and take pets for example. If a dog is pregnant with puppies and the owners don’t want puppies then after the dog has puppies they are given away.

    And the owners after that would think about sterilizing the dog/s.

    When the dog is pregnant , no one gives the dog a pill to kill the puppies inside the dog (Giving the dog a abortion)

    People would throw up just thinking about it.

    So why do people think Abortion is ok for humans , yet not ok for animals ?

    Something to think about.

    On the rush towards communism.

    The young people in today’s world did not see this.

    I still remember on the nightly news (When there were only 3 channels) they would show long lines in the USSR , people would be waiting all day (Hundreds of people) to get into a store and when they got inside the store would be completely empty with no food inside anywhere. Nothing inside the store at all.

    That was ALL the stores inside the USSR.

    Except the stores for the big dogs in government, those stores were full of expensive stuff stacked to the rafters.

    THAT is communism.

  5. Billy June 20, 2019 at 12:26 am #

    Why I Voted for Trump

    First the Democrats of today are Not the Democrats of the past. Just go on Youtube and check out President Kennedy – he sounds like a far right Republican by today’s standards.

    Also the Republicans while vastly better than the modern Dems are different from Republicans of the past – I think of them as Milk Toast Republicans.

    Then along came Trump . He wants to kick the legs out from under the table holding up the government swamp.

    Of course I voted for him and will do so again. He is the modern Ronald Reagan.

    Hopefully we will Not have another Democrat President for at least a thousand years.

    Nor another Milk Toast Republican. We need Trump / Reagan / George Washington types

    • Christopher Reed June 21, 2019 at 4:02 am #

      The Republicans of today are not the Republicans of 100 years ago. Teddy Roosevelt is a personal hero of mine. He was a founding feminist when that actually meant something and an avid environmentalist not to mention a fighter for the working man and in my opinion at least the epitome of american masculinity. He would look at today’s Republicans with disgust.

      Abraham Lincoln who many consider one of the founders of the Republican party fought a war that needed to be fought and was killed for it. Republicans lionize him but often overlook his comments on labour. He corresponded with Marx for pete’s sake and his letters and speeches on labour and class have a lot more in common with Bernie Sanders than Ronald Reagan, he would also look in disgust at what became of his Party.

      Trump said he was going to drain the swamp and while I do admit Hillary was a product of the swamp, Trump wallows in it. If the point was to drain the swamp why the hell are former Goldman Sachs executives running the Treasury? Why is a Billionaire who never went to public school in a day her life and sure as hell doesn’t send her kids there running the Department of Education? What is John Bolton one of those Milk Toast Republicans, one of the idiots who got us into Iraq and the poster boy for the deep state doing as a national security advisor? Trump either lied and didn’t drain the swamp like he said he would or was co-opted by it. There’s no other explanation for those choices.

      Republicans have changed and yes Democrats have as well. Gone is the party of FDR who brought us out of the Great Depression, fought the Second World War, and built a lot of the infrastructure we have today. Today’s Establishment Democrats are sniveling cowards too afraid of upsetting their corporate donors to implement any kind of reform. They pander to SJWs as a means of splitting the working class. Just as Republicans pander to whites to the same effect.

      America is in trouble but not because of some Black Lesbian SJW or White Christians we’re in trouble because the inmates are running the asylum. We let big business take the reigns of power, and if you’ve noticed. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge Republicans or Democrats these days you and I, the working people get fucked either way.

  6. Anarchymedes June 22, 2019 at 2:15 am #

    “The populists are winning because the establishments are simply unwilling or unable to heed the legitimate demands of their electorates.” Couldn’t have said it better myself–except that I personally have some serious doubts about the democracy’s ability to cope when the electorate’s size and diversity exceed a certain “critical mass,” and when the going gets tough enough to require split-second hard decisions, instead of asking everyone’s opinion and seeking to please everyone (that’s why there is no, and there will never be a democracy in the military).
    Leaving alone the ‘goodness’ of the far-right politicians (the sensitive spot for many on this blog, I understand), the same is true about mass shoot-outs and gun control. The root cause of the problem is not how hard or easy it is for a kid to lay his or her hands on a gun; in order to deal with the problem, the question that must be addressed is, why a kid wants, or feels like he/she needs a gun — at school, where the children are supposed to be learning and socialising, rather than fighting for their dignity? No, movies and video games have nothing to do with this: bullying and violence have been with us a lot longer than they have existed. And technology (the Internet, mobile phones) aren’t responsible either: they just make it harder to pretend everything is hanky-dory and nothing is wrong (“Don’t blame the mirror when your face is crooked,” as Gogol wrote a long time ago).
    And ramping up political correctness certainly isn’t the answer: if the Neo-Nazis can be cast as the freedom of speech champions, the society is in even deeper trouble than the rise of the populists itself suggests.
    An example that has given me a lot of food for thought. When I lived in Brisbane between 2003 and 2007, there was a half-mad street preacher there; sitting on a busy street, he’d go, “God, Our Lord, blah-blah-blah! God, Our Lord, yada-yada-yada!” for hours; no one would so much as slow down to listen. That is how the freedom of speech should feel for the extremists of all kinds, I’ve thought many times later: it should be safe to let them “speak” away, because in a healthy society, people are just too busy living their lives to pay any attention. And if the people do pay attention–if they do stop and gather around those half-mad preachers–then the society indeed needs “to take heed, to address the social sickness before it turned terminal and brought society crashing down in ruins.”

  7. Bewildered June 25, 2019 at 6:14 am #

    One part brilliant, one part horrifying. One element aside your piece does rather describe the current situation.

    What of those who are loyal to a particular code, a code or set or set of ideals generally shared by their group? Are they civilised or tribal? Is it possible to have allegiance to ‘law’ and rules given by a higher source than a nation state or transnational system? And are they suddenly tribal if they know that because of their allegiance to their code they will be unable to get a fair trial?

    As regards your abortion example, there I fear you’ve made a mistake. The pro-abortion crowd do indeed want unlimited concessions, at least up to and including infanticide. What of pro-lifers though? Their basic premise is that life is sacred and as such abortion is murder, and there is little nuance to murder. A right to ‘self defence’ or ‘manslaughter’ exception can be debated – something you may deem compromise, but little else. You say civilised men can find considerable nuance in the abortion debate, but can you really call yourself civilised and be pro-murder? And if you insist that the pro-murder view is simply tribal, not that of civilised men, then can not a similar argument be made for almost every other issue, that for instance civilised men can support race based slavery if nuance is taken into account?

    This one little point rather upsets the apple cart for the rest of your argument I fear.

    • chrishanger July 10, 2019 at 12:03 pm #

      That’s a valid point.

      I am against abortion, as a general rule. I certainly have no sympathy for someone who wants to use it as a form of birth control. If you don’t use a condom or the pill or something, you’re taking your chances and you have to live with the consequences.

      BUT … I understand why a woman who gets pregnant through rape would want to terminate the baby (she would try not to think of it as murder) rather than bear her attacker’s child. I also understand that a woman who is at severe risk of death if she proceeds with the pregnancy might want to terminate it rather than take the risk. There is nuance here, even if we don’t want to admit it. These examples get used as ‘wedge’ issues because most people would not choose to deny abortion under those circumstances (and then people start widening the limits of ‘necessary’ abortion.)


  8. Tim June 25, 2019 at 7:50 pm #

    I’m not sure what Chris has against populist movements. Most governments, even ones that start out as revolutionary or progressive eventually become defenders of the status quo. Populist movements are one way of shaking things up. In the USA, most of the great changes in our history started out as populist movements: our initial rebellion, abolition of slavery, suffrage for women and non white citizens, the civil rights movement and so on. This is not to say all populist movements are successful or even worth while only they are a useful tool make necessary changes to keep society from stagnating.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard June 25, 2019 at 8:12 pm #

      Well, “Populist Movements” like anything else can be Good Or Bad depending on the Goals of the Movements.

      Some of the Anti-Immigration movements of the past here in the US had Anti-Catholic elements along with elements of “they aren’t like us” (IE not Northern Europeans).

      The problem is IMO plenty of “anti-Islamic Immigration” in Europe is automatically labeled as Racist/Nazism/etc by the Powers-That-Be even when at its heart it’s not that. So the question becomes “what happens when the populist movement get taken over by truly evil people?”. Why should the not-evil people believe that the leaders are Bad Folks when the Powers-That-Be are calling them evil?

      Of course, here in the US the Left is labeling the “Anti Illegal Immigration Folks” as Haters/Racists/etc.

      • Tim June 25, 2019 at 11:11 pm #

        That goes both ways. What do you do when the folks in power get taken over by “evil” people. Also, You seem to imply that only the left engages in name calling and labeling. As a person who identifies more with the left, I see more than my share coming from the right. I guess it depends on where you’re standing.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard June 25, 2019 at 11:22 pm #

        Chris is British so may have a clearer eye on things happening in Europe.

        While I’m not going to claim that the American “Right” is perfect, it’s not the “Evil Nazis” that too many Liberals claim it is.

        I’m reminded of a saying that goes “When fascism happens in America, it will call itself anti-fascist”.

        While I haven’t heard who first said that, watching the Democratic Party and the American News Media, I believe it.

    • chrishanger July 10, 2019 at 12:05 pm #

      Populist (right or left) eventually become dangerous – we’ve seen that with ANTIFA over the last couple of years and we’ll start seeing more of them, if someone doesn’t start applying sanity-checking duct tape. That’s bad news for individualists like me.


  9. Bob G June 25, 2019 at 9:48 pm #

    Robert Heinlein did not write Animal Farm. George Orwell did.

  10. Ryan June 25, 2019 at 10:00 pm #

    My biggest criticism on this is the tone is such that you infer that populism is inherently bad. I disagree. As you noted, populism rises because there is something very wrong and the government refuses to do anything about it or even acknowledge a problem exists. So long as the populists accurately diagnose the problem and present workable solutions, there is no issue with populism; corrupt government is ousted for a clean(er) government.

    • Sprout June 26, 2019 at 2:50 am #

      “So long as the populists accurately diagnose the problem and present workable solutions”.

      Most often they propose simple solutions to complex problems to get elected and then proceed to fumble around or ignore the issue. Because there are no perfect easy solutions and sometimes no one immediate solution. Instead what you have in your hands is a long and difficult road to recovery from whatever the ill.

      Then you have the type who prefer to redirect the anger to a more convenient target, let’s say the refugee horde that just wandered in illegally. Yeah, you’re probably gonna have problems with them and they’ll exacerbate the ones you already have, but at the end of the day your economy will still be shit even if they all left tomorrow.

    • denis1968 June 26, 2019 at 3:07 am #

      “Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,” the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian.
      “Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”

      R.E. Howard. ‘Beyond the Black River’

      Call populism good or bad; love it or hate it; attack it or defend it–it’s just there, inevitable as a supervolcano eruption (at Yellowstone, for example). Just as the volcanic forces are a part of nature, so this is a part of human nature. Tribalism, yes; but more importantly than that, the need for freedom to love what you love and, yes, to hate what you hate–and not silently in bed, while turning your face to the wall, but openly: to freely act on your opinions, feelings, and beliefs.
      There is no better way to make people hate something than to overdo it; this time, it has been done to the notion of being ‘civilised.’ Even here, on this blog, we all try to pretend we don’t hate anyone and love everyone: I challenge that. It simply cannot be true–anymore than the Yellowstone can submit to the vote requesting to postpone the eruption indefinitely, pending litigation. IMO, populists are not ‘righties’ fighting ‘lefties’; they’re people sick of hypocricy. And yes, many of them are misguided, as all angry people are; they lash out at their ‘tribal’ scapegoats, rather than the real enemy; they call each other enemy and lop each other’s heads off–simply because their need for action–to do something about all of this–can no longer be held back.
      And the best any government can do to keep this under control is to make sure their rule does not go against the human nature too much; does not force people to pretend and fake too much. And for that, the government need to stay in touch with the real people–which, once agin, is not the case today.

  11. Hanno Frerichs June 25, 2019 at 11:05 pm #

    Well people defending populism.
    Populism is of course a form of address or mannerisms, but often populism also impleys some style forms that are often not really of benefit for society.
    Usually populsm implies that the populist uses Argumentum ad populism or argumentum ad hominem. Also populism often implies that the the populist solution to the problem is simplified miss aimed or polarizing, While somebody who isn’t a populist can be charismatic and loud in his or her option but is factually right.
    Well mostly such people are rarly popular with voters and lets me often think that the guy who first wrote that “Every nation gets the government it deserves.” was sadly kinda right.

  12. Fleeced July 9, 2019 at 3:06 am #

    The three categories remind me of the Good, Nice and Right.

    When the slain giant’s wife comes to seek justice and demand the townsfolk hand Jack over or face the consequences, they try to band together. The witch betrays them and hands him over, saying to the townsfolk, “You’re not Good, you’re just Nice; I’m not Good and I’m not Nice, but I am Right.”

    The Nice correlates to the tribe – they stick together. But there are tribes within tribes (the family, the church, the town, the nation, etc). The Right correlate to the warrior, but with a bit more nuance: they will sacrifice individuals of their own tribe to save it (and themselves). The Good correlates to your concept of civilization, and would try to create an overarching authority where the sub-tribes recognise each others right to exist, etc.


  1. Musings on Cancel Culture | The Chrishanger - March 12, 2020

    […] People will think you can’t actually answer their claims and they’ll be right.  As I said before, King Arthur’s attempt to silence Dennis makes Dennis’s claim more creditable. After all, if […]

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