The last two years we have seen a successful appeal to populism; the UK, US, France and half a dozen other EU countries have all seen massive public opinion shifts in that direction. While currently in vogue with the American right, few people are discussing what populism means under the current conditions, why it should be adopted and if it is a good thing. Rather than use some type of 5Y or DMIAC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology to actually question the efficacy of this rebirth of populism, it seems to have been taken as gospel. The statists have been populists on the surface since Rousseau began the Reign of Terror, Hegel penned his poisonous screed, and Marx plagiarized it. The bourgeoisie-proletariat bifurcation of the population is a defining concept for all statist thought. I defy someone to explain populism to me without embracing the communist duality of society. The rise in populism is a clear indication that the inmates are running the asylum and a further illustration that the politics of the United States are converging rather than diverging. Priebus and others are happy so sign on to whatever nets them seats and offices in Mordor on the Potomac, regardless of whether the very philosophy they are embracing has been the prime mover in nearly every Communist revolution since the politics of evil finally had a name.
One of the myths we tell ourselves about populism and voting in general is that wisdom can be had en masse, as if a collection of millions of fools are superior to a single fool. I can see those beginning to protest already, yet this strange math of voting never translates itself into other areas. Someone should create a poll and go grocery shopping for a month on the collective wisdom of the crowd. Surely 10,000 or 100,000 people can arrive at better choices than lowly you. Perhaps hospitals should have a sort of polling system. Put the symptoms online and everyone casts their vote for what ails the patient. Who needs doctors when you have a crowd? No, none of us entertain the myth in our own lives, but most of America believes something only slightly less fictitious than the tooth fairy when we embrace populism and the single most poisonous word in the English language, democracy. In our lives we go to subject matter experts for guidance. If we want help grocery shopping, we consult a dietician. If we have medical issues then we seek care from a doctor. None of us accept the farce that the latter should be consulted and their opinion weighed equally with a licensed mechanic when we have car trouble. The wise seek counsel, the Bible clearly states as much, but the counsel must be qualified. The Latin root qual- means ‘of what kind’ or more apropos, the nature of it. I may have an opinion on Smith-Corona typewriters, but unless the opinion is qualified by ownership or expertise of some kind, then what real use is it? Populism declares that consensus may be conflated as expertise and places no value on whether the opinions are qualified are not.
The only right one may claim to an opinion in a matter is to be a stakeholder in the venture. We are all familiar with the concept that money buys you a say. At work there is exactly two people who have a say in what I do. The first is the customer and the second is the president of the company, both get an opinion because they are paying to have one. Once upon a time there was an understanding that taxation without representation was untenable to free men. The inverse is also true. Representation without taxation is theft of influence, dilution of your opinion by others who’s opinion is not qualified. The crux of why we do not approach life in the same manner as we do voting is because we understand the fallacy of populism. We reject the idea that our neighbor should get an equal vote in what repairs our truck gets if he is not paying to repair it. I don’t care what my neighbors opinion is of my truck, my house or my camouflage recliner, because he is not funding any of those ventures. He certainly doesn’t get to tell me what to do with them.
The current resurgence of populism is insidious because of this madness we engage in every two years. Before the last vice presidential debate nearly half of the people polled couldn’t name Tim Kane as a VP candidate and 40% couldn’t name Mike Pence as one either. People who cannot be bothered to even be familiar with the name of the people they are casting a vote for are still fully vested partners in this process. People who are mentally handicapped are fully vested partners. People who don’t actually fund any part of the government are vested partners. It’s madness, and anyone who sits down and actually thinks about it in a non-emotional manner realizes it.
Populism in the United States not only provides legitimacy for those who are in no position to have a qualified opinion on matters, but also has a moral component to it. A popular idea does not equate to a moral idea. Nor are popular ideas often truly correct. Take whatever industry you work in and begin thinking about the common misconceptions about what you do. One can look at the laughable beliefs people have about firearms as ample evidence of how ignorant huge swaths of the population are on any given topic. Democracy, populism, Communism, and socialism all require at least a simple majority of the population to be willing to forsake their own self-interests and be capable of arriving at a collectively wise decision. The French were clearly unable to do so with Robespierre. It took Napoleon to pull them from the ashes and restore real order after that debacle. The Russians were certainly unable to see an astroturfed movement for what it was and collectively arrived at a real winner, Joseph Stalin, along with a little help from friends in NYC like Schiff and others funding him. The respect populism has for unpopular minorities has left me extremely suspect after reading about Haiti in 1804 and Zimbabwe ever since it became Zimbabwe. The populist dichotomy casts everyone who disagrees with the supposed ‘will of the people’ as an ‘enemy of the people.’ It’s a short step from ‘enemy of the people’ to ‘not a person.’
My biggest concern with populism becoming the dominant method of politics is what will be sacrificed in the name of it. The government cannot and should not be able to provide even half of what people currently expect it to and this shift from individual rights to groupthink is disturbing. We would be kidding ourselves if the statists will not align their rhetoric and political strategy to mimic the Trump campaign. Populism can bring into perspective issues that have been largely unaddressed, which is a positive. The flip side is absent a populace that is capable of self control, it opens a political pandora’s box that historically has led to very poor outcomes. I feel no need to consult the population, only a fraction of which have any semblance of a qualified opinion on any given matter, to operate in daily life. We are the subject matter experts in our own life and the shift to populism is a shift away from the individual and towards the collective. Populism is the morality of consensus. I shudder to think what that looks like at its logical end.