Note on a future populism post

An interesting post about populists. I think this point can be extended.

Find a wound common to many, someone to blame for it and a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys…if you’re not among the victims, you’re among the culprits

OK. Conservatism: there are always victims and culprits, and that’s OK. God and the King say so. Classical Liberalism: whatever God or the King may say, you can avoid being a victim by your own hard work as long as no bastard interferes. Marxism: some people are victims because they are workers and must sell labour to survive. As a result, the culprits can always exploit them because the workers are forced sellers. That’s why the culprits get rich. All post-Marxist movements: we assert that the same insight applies to us.

The common feature here is that there’s a determinate standard of victimhood. The rich man is in his castle and the poor man at his gate because He made them high and lowly, and ordered their estate. (Yes, we sang it in 1980s Yorkshire.) The working class is exploited because they’re workers, and further, they’re poor. Women are exploited because they’re women. So on and so forth.

The populist genius is to deny this stricture. Access to justified indignation is fully democratised. No matter how petty your grievance, you have it on an equality with everyone else. Swimming the Med away from your rapists? OK, but the bins here are only collected every other week, and my GP is Polish. Who cares? This is the populist moment – standing over the temporarily uncollected rubbish, you rage as if you had a real problem. The Germans have the useful word Wutbürger, which means an angry citizen or maybe an angry bourgeois. A valid but wrong translation, though, might be a citizen of anger, clutching a puce passport issued by the ungovernable state of rage. Other political movements tell you to wind your neck in and concentrate. Populism enrols your risible whining in its wider crusade towards wherever.

Endlessly expandable victimhood has an important consequence. The set of culprits can – must – expand to include all the grievances anyone could possibly have. In practice, this means that the culprit can be either left vague, or else selected as the moment demands, left to the performer’s unique interpretation.

4 comments

  1. Dave Hansell

    And not simply the performers unique interpretation.

    Defining the terms and differentiating between genuine /meaningful grievances (The Med & the dustbin in the example above), which is what is being done here, is a necessary first step. Yet there remain other aspects of this issue which need further clarification and wider debate.

    Those chosen as culprits are not necessarily a single homogenous bloc, even in the minds of the populist victims. Immigrants and liberal elites (or “liberal illites” as I’ve seen it put) springs to mind. Immigrants may or may not have a view or ‘interpretation’ of what counts as populist but other groups and individuals most certainly do.

    In the same way in which the self proclaimed angry victims place their own unique interpretation on and in this scenario so do others. Just as one perceived grievance, a fortnightly dustbin collection, is seen as no different in scale or context from people fleeing violance, certain identifiable groups in this scene for one reason or another also fail or deliberately decide not to distinguish between grieve noes for their own purposes.

    Thus all grievances, regardless of scale or context, are treated as “populist.” As with the flexible and moving definition of ‘terrorism’ ‘populism’ now encapsulates not just Brexiterers, British Nationalism/Unionism, UKIPippers etc but also, the civic nationalism of the SNP and any strain of self determination within the artificially created Britain, the bulk of Labour Party members who support what Corbyn is trying to do, anti fracking activists, environmentalists, anti nuclear campaigners, anti TTIP/CETA/TTP campaigners and anyone wanting change which is not given at the largesse of both the elected and unelected members of the Parliamentary club.

    Thus we witness Corbyn transformed into a British Trump before our eyes on the flagship Newsnight program of the British (Nationalism which will not speak it’s name) broadcast media. While Labour MP’S who were part of the irresponsible mardyness last June feed down into the constituencies this simplistic line that there is nothing to differentiate here and that all grievances which are not fed through the monopolist gatekeepers such as themselves are by definition ‘populist’ and beyond the pale.

    No doubt if they had been around at the time such people would have viewed everything which succeeded in getting us where we are today – from the revolt of the Barons which produced Magna Carta through to the peasants revolt, pamphleteers, Diggers, Levellers, Chartist’s, Sufferagettes, trade unionists et al as mere populists to be discarded as irrellevant on the grounds that the ‘grievences’ they achieved through struggle by prising those rights from the reluctant hands of the self styled great, good and aren’t we charitable and therefore virtueous were really freely given, you only had to ask ‘nicely.’

    Just as the populist victims here are being dishonest in their interpretation of the hierarchy of grievances so with the political and social gatekeepers and monopolists of what is and is not U and non U. Where, for example, the plethora of fake news produced by the Corporate media on an industrial scale is ignored and sold as the only legitimate and perfect form of information, news, analysis and opinion whilst anything outside of gatekeeping control is fake, alternative fact, propoganda and worse.

    At the very least each of these ‘unique interpretations’ are equally damaging, inaccurate and worthy of considered analysis.

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  4. chris e

    This is among the many reasons why I think that the idea that ‘liberals’ triggered all of ‘this’ (presumably populism) because ‘political correctness’ is largely wrong.

    Though to extend one possible application of your ideas above, the amount of energy Trump spent on attendance at his inaugural suggests that a populist DOS attack has at least limited application.

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