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(55,445 posts)
Thu Dec 4, 2014, 05:26 PM Dec 2014

History’s Postscript: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy

A quarter-century ago, a virtually unknown State Department official published an article in a neoconservative policy journal. The title of the piece as well as its author would go on to acquire global fame—or perhaps notoriety. Critics did not hesitate to dismiss Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History?” Strobe Talbott, for instance, called it “the beginning of nonsense.”

Yet the article, and the subsequent book that grew out of it, was often misinterpreted and misconstrued. Contrary to what has often been alleged, Fukuyama had not predicted anything like the end of all conflict. Rather, he had asserted that only liberal democracy was capable of fulfilling basic human aspirations for freedom and dignity. This claim has not been so obviously disproven today. The few self-proclaimed ideological alternatives to democracy, whether the Chinese Dream articulated by Chinese leader Xi Jinping or the Eurasianism of Russian President Vladimir Putin, do not exercise anything like the global attraction that fascism and communism enjoyed during the 20th century.

But this does not mean that all is well with the state of democracy. Democracy has a serious rival today that actually lays claim to many of the values democrats themselves endorse: populism.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, populism is not simply a matter of irresponsible policies or appeals to the downtrodden. Populism is an anti-elitist but, crucially, also an anti-pluralist form of politics. And despite the optimistic notions of many liberals, populist parties are not just protest parties that always prove incapable of governing. Populist regimes have recently been consolidated in Hungary, Turkey and to some degree Russia, among other countries. These regimes are often supported by what political observers since Aristotle have liked to think of as the social backbone of democracies: the rising middle class. Fukuyama himself recently affirmed the belief that “middle-class societies . . . are the bedrock of democracy,” but they can just as easily be the bedrock of populism.

Populist rabble-rousers today rely on middle classes who increasingly feel like—and are portrayed as—threatened minorities. Less obviously, populist regimes try to create their own middle class and equate it with the “true” people as such. These regimes typically weaken checks and balances, colonize the state, crush independent civil society and almost always prove highly corrupt. But all of the above tactics, even corruption, can be presented as benefiting a regime’s protected middle class, and hence do not obviously discredit a populist government.


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History’s Postscript: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy (Original Post) Blue_Tires Dec 2014 OP
Babble. bemildred Dec 2014 #1
Agree. I do think we are going to see attempts to smear the "populism" word, bend the djean111 Dec 2014 #2
Thank you. bemildred Dec 2014 #3
And there is a more genuine alternative starroute Dec 2014 #4
Yeah, it's not really tricky, they just don't want to do it. bemildred Dec 2014 #5


(90,061 posts)
1. Babble.
Thu Dec 4, 2014, 05:58 PM
Dec 2014

Populism is not an ideology, populism is what happens when ruling elites are incompetent, do a shitty job, like ours. Populism is all those people marching around in the streets because they are pissed about how badly they are treated in their own country.

And populism has jack shit to do with the Middle Class, now or ever.



(14,255 posts)
2. Agree. I do think we are going to see attempts to smear the "populism" word, bend the
Thu Dec 4, 2014, 06:11 PM
Dec 2014

meaning, because that is easier than being progressive or liberal for some would-be candidates.


(90,061 posts)
3. Thank you.
Thu Dec 4, 2014, 07:23 PM
Dec 2014

And yes, that's what we do, we thwart discussion, we make alternatives taboo, and we always always always engage in the politics of fear and personal destruction. Consider the evolution of the words "liberal", and "radical", and "activist" in US politics. Words mean what they say they mean, neither more nor less, and they can change it in an instant.

Simply consider the list of foreign enemies du jour we have been subjected to as existential threats since the USSR collapsed. All of them turn out to be small potatoes in retrospect, eh? Saddam? Ghaddaffi? Drug Cartels? Terrorists?

I can remember when Americans were not afraid.

They treat us like farm animals to be herded around "for our own good", like we have no say about it.


(12,977 posts)
4. And there is a more genuine alternative
Thu Dec 4, 2014, 07:47 PM
Dec 2014

Horizontalism, direct democracy, real democracy -- whatever they're calling it in Spain these days -- none of those refer to liberal democracy and all promise something better.

Liberal democracy is rooted in the days when the fastest means of travel and communication was horseback so the people had to elect representatives who they trusted to know more than they did and be in the centers of power to make necessary decisions.

These days, those inside the Beltway often seem less well informed than those back home -- and all too often rely on lobbyists or groups like ALEC to do their legislating for them. We deserve better than that, and though it may take some time to work out new institutions, things *will* change.


(90,061 posts)
5. Yeah, it's not really tricky, they just don't want to do it.
Thu Dec 4, 2014, 07:51 PM
Dec 2014

Our representatives are largely representing only themselves and the people who buy elections for them.

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