Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Random thoughts on the unpopularity of populism

Dear Hannah,

The fact that a party named specifically after democracy can be especially opposed to populism is a phenomenon too appropriate for the times we live in.  Perhaps no other era in the history of mankind has ever botched the idea of representation so badly; and we know this because the worst governments possibly in the history of the world have almost all recently claimed to be republics*.  History's nastiest theocracies, in fact, soiled with the blood of honest askers and unintentional heretics, are substantially less offensive than our leftist "republics;" and if there's anything to be learned in the matter, it's that allowing anyone to label himself is just as much a human right as our ability to judge him by it.


A slew of anti-democratic policies, ranging from censorship in social media to judicial activism and sit-ins by losing parties in the House of Representatives, indicates nothing less than that our Democratic Party is uninterested in democracy.  In certain respects we're obliged to agree with them.  That anything could be considered right or wise because a majority says so is like saying anything is acceptable.  We're inclined to believe, whatever Rousseau said in The Social Contract, that the majority can do wrong; and that if there's an indicator of right and progress, that at some point only the minority will know it.  Every good and righteous movement is a movement on some level against either a guilty or disinterested majority; and every act of public heroism, every work of public genius, every evolution in the order of society, begins in the mind of the smallest minority possible.  A single man stands against what seems like the world before he can change it.   To be always in favor of democracy is not to be always in favor of goodness.  It's to resign your deepest and most humane sentiments to "the masses," a mass of individuals simultaneously resigning their deepest and most humane opinions to "the masses."

And yet we believe in popular government.  Self-protection leads us to say that even if the majority errs, a majority's error is more tolerable than a minority's error.  With the former we can say, with some sense, that we did it.  With the latter we feel that we were forced into it.  A healthy respect for the rights and opinions of the majority and a reasonable tolerance for the feelings and differences of the individual must be carefully balanced in order for a government to be truly popular**; an act which is more of an art and a spirit than a system and a science.  To be a truly democratic man you have to be fiercely opinionated and equally protective of others' opinions.  You have to be a walking paradox -- in a certain sense being for the very thing you're against.

And so we can't help but forgive the inevitable falling-off a precarious tightrope walk.  But we're excused in asking why our Democratic Party and leftist organizations are not only hostile to the things and ideas of democracy, but why our media is currently, unanimously, and openly opposed to the very idea of populism.  The current definition of populism, according to Dictionary.com, is

(lowercase) any of various, often antiestablishment or anti-intellectual political movements or philosophies that offer unorthodox solutions or policies and appeal to the common person rather than according with traditional party or partisan ideologies 

(lowercase) grass-roots democracy; working-class activism; egalitarianism. 

(lowercase) representation or extolling of the common person, the working class, the underdog, etc

There's nothing less democratic than opposing the populace itself.  Nothing less than a long and disagreeable period, in which the interests of the ruling class and the interests of the public are openly and obviously opposed, can cause a rise in "populist" feelings, or a popular distinguishment between the people and the establishment.  A blatant disregard for a nation's borders, and a confounding of the rights of citizens with the rights of foreigners; a preference for the feelings of the minority over the safety of the majority; an opposition to police officers instead of criminals; the unwillingness to prosecute rich and powerful public ministers; a transfer of power from national representatives to unelected international authorities; a coordinated silence to hide the sexual crimes of protected minorities; an obviously corrupt brand of crony-capitalism and corporate welfare; an overt attempt to change the religion and ethnicity of the people; and an inability to address flagrant insults to our national security and dignity comprise the reasons for a rise in America's and Europe's populist parties.  And we may convince ourselves, whether fairly or otherwise, that because of populism the quality of our discourse is cheaper and the ways that we're fighting are angrier.  But emotional outbursts are the inevitable result of betrayal; and if anyone can be called traitorous, it is the people who currently oppose not our populism, but the populaces of America and our European brethren.    

Your father,
-J

*For examples I give the USSR, the DPRK, and The People's Republic of China.  What more proof do we need that in politics, names are just as often used to deceive as they are to describe?  A stranger example of this was when Oliver Cromwell named himself the Lord Protector of England.  The English knew what to do with a king, because he had just overthrown theirs for violating their rights. And so Cromwell thought it more expedient to name himself something other than a king while giving himself more powers than the tyrant they'd recently disposed of.  The bypassing of hereditary succession, of traditional attitudes toward executive power, and of the constitutional constraints the English had won over centuries of struggle, was completed immediately and artfully in the creation not of a new kind of king, but of a new kind of title.

**Regarding the popularity of a movement known for championing the unpopular, and the dominance of a party claiming to represent the dominated, it should be fairly obvious that if the celebrities and the corporations and the teachers and the government are on your side, that you're not really a rebel, but actually a conservative.  There are few things harder to kill than habits, however, and as our leftists were originally backed by celebrities and teachers, they've had a difficult time admitting that they're now officially backed by everyone except the average American.

A change from underdog to overlord is something better swept under the rug, however; and if an admission of your supremacy welcomes weaker followers with the sanction of society, it has a tendency to drive away the freest thinkers by making its suggestions mandatory.  The sharpest slogans become tired old maxims; the rebellious youths become boring old parents; and as the spirituality of a movement becomes machinery, the enjoyment of a crusade becomes a drudgery. Whether or not he believes in original sin, a rebel must believe in sinning originally.  As such, the surest way to perpetuate a victory is to deny its success; and the easiest way to deny your success is to base your movement upon the unsuccessful.

Thus the Democratic Party's success lies in their imaging as the underdogs; and they'll lose their momentum either when the majority recovers their minds and their manhood, or when all the underdogs, each of them with contradictory claims to an artificial and unreasonable uplift, begin to realize their incompatibility, and tear one another apart in irrational acts of tribal warfare.

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