Why I think Populism fails in the modern world-Knowledgeable Elite institutions are irreplaceable

Oct 2012
565
No, it is doing what is good for the general public but will be spun by elites as bad for them. The term populism derives from the Roman political party that saw to reform the government of problems caused by corruption.
A bit straightfoward. There were no political parties in Rome. The populist politicians seeked support from the plebs , the optimates from the patricians. There were rampant corruption in both groups.
 

GogLais

Ad Honorem
Sep 2013
5,039
Wirral
The Cambridge Dictionary definition of Populism is-

political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want:

Isn't that a normal part of politician's activities and always has been? (at least, within the constraints of what is available, possible and moral). Most people have a pretty good idea of what they want and what is good for them- cheaper housing and a roof over the head, food on the table, health service etc- Isn't trying to improve the lot of your constituents part of a politician's duty? Of course there has to be a moral outlook built in also, but trying to tend to the needs of your flock isn't right wing surely? It used to be what left wing politics was about.

Now, it seems that whenever the liberal elite feels thwarted, the inevitable horrified cry of 'Populism!' goes up, as if in invocation of 1920s style brownshirts.
Firstly there are always different ways of giving and paying for what the public want such as different models of healthcare. I’m also perfectly happy with politicians having the courage to take the lead on unpopular matters such as the rights of minorities. And finally the public might be keen on policies like trade protectionism but isn’t necessarily to their benefit.
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
32,481
T'Republic of Yorkshire
No, it is doing what is good for the general public but will be spun by elites as bad for them. The term populism derives from the Roman political party that saw to reform the government of problems caused by corruption.
A populist never says they're going to do what's "good" for the general public if it's not a popular measure.
 
Apr 2018
814
Upland, Sweden
@Tulius, @dreuxeng @motorbike

Is that not the role of the political order to provide an environment to allow members of society to meet their needs and aspirations, to maintain law and order and protect the society from outside competitors? What is the law, and what individuals' and groups' rights are within it, will be determined by the necessity of maintaining the security and dynamics of the society. This does not deny that over time conditions change (environmental, economic, external force, unintended consequences of internal changes) and a system that functioned adequately may no longer be adequate, requiring a change in the system. One would hope this change would be an evolution, decided and agreed by the members of the society following their accepted methods of dealing with change.
Right. I think I've misunderstood the emphasis of your posts.

I broadly agree with what you're saying, and absolutely agree that no system will be permanently sustainable over time. This is why I dislike trusting the legal system too much, and dislike enumerating lots of rights right (pun intended) left and centre that the government has some kind of abstract duty to uphold. I trust what has remained over longer periods of time more than I trust our ability to rationalize human government into a machinelike conceptual framework. Ideally, anyway.


The principles of a society are those that make it work and allow it to evolve in an orderly manner as conditions demand it.
Ah. Are you using principles in a descriptive sense? As in "the general principle behind cooking is to make raw-materials edible" or "one underlying principle behind indoor heating is to keep temperatur stable over long periods of time by using certain buildingmaterials, like stone"? If so I agree with what you said.

The reason I am mindful of words like "principles" in this context is that they confer a kind of telos to things - they make it seem as if there is a stated (often a stated, artificial) purpose to things that really cannot be assumed to be there, unless you presume some kind of "creator" in this case.

Rights are not the foundation of society but they are part of a mosaic of factors that give form to a society, sustain it and allow it to evolve as necessary.
I see what you're driving at. Alright, fair enough. What I would condition this with is to say that "Rights" - when they are formulated in this abstract way that most modern western constitutions have - are not an entirely independent factor of their own, but draw on the surrounding cultural and historical framework, in some ways more than they add to it - in other ways the other way around. Looked at extrinsically they are surface phenomena, culturally conditioned. Looked at intrinsically they often claim to be universal, ahistorical and unbound by time and place. This causes a tension which is what I think is problematic.

All societies seem to be dependent on some kinds of principles that are timeless, or are at least percieved to be so. The problem I have with modern liberal "Human rights" and so on is that they often explicitly claim to be somehow objectively true, while also claiming to be secular, rational and superior to other, older, more traditional forms of belief and morality (religion for example). The way I see it this is self-delusional at best, hypocritical and megalomaniacal at worst. That understanding (meaning in this case also the progressive ideology's "self-understanding", if one could speak of that) of Liberalism is either religious or fake. And I am fine with it if is truly and self-awarely religious, I have certain religious un-atheistic tendencies myself, what annoys me is the hubris and pretentiousness. I think it is dangerous to the very ideals it pretends (or wants, if one feels more charitable than I am) to uphold.

Principles have no material form; they are formed in the minds of men. They become material when individuals and groups act on those mental constructs. To the extent they support the society in which they emerge they can be validated by the political order and its law and justice system. The wealth and sophistication of a system determines whether a number of alternative principles can be sustained at any one time, and define whether some of them are a threat to society and have to be disallowed.
I would say that there are other factors besides wealth and sophistication, and that inreased sophistication does not necessarily lead to increased tolerance of diversity. In physics, a complex system often becomes less predictable. I don't think it is a coincidence that freedom does not scale very well, as most free societies until recently were either city states or relatively small European nations.

I like to look at society as similar to an eco-system, or a kind of (ideally) very liberally kept garden: if you centralize everything you get lots of bottlenecks, requiring even more control, and increasing the risk of major "blow-ups". This doesn't just apply to power, it applies to information, knowledge and belief as well. When we codify a right, we are essentially centralizing an interpretation, and tying it to the very cumbersome and "square", clearly delineated and instrumental apparatus of the state, while the nature of that which we are trying to codify is essentially fluid, organic and hard to pin down. Religions are more organic than laws, similarly cultural practices are more organic than laws.

I think it is telling that most of the early classically Liberal politicians (who were succesful) were very Christian. Gladstone comes to mind.

This brings me back to my main point: what really matters is the capacity of the population to care for the common good as @sparky pointed out. Similarly, people can only be free in proportion to their ability to take care of themselves, their ability to at least not harm their community. I think talking about freedom as if it is upheld by laws and enlightenment principles risks undermining the things that actually uphold freedom, in the real world. It's a dangerous form of understanding of society, and is only functional if there is a complete consensus and very clear, almost religious tradition about "the law of the land". The Americans have this with their constitution. Most European countries do not have this, in the same way.

Ah, but what is freedom you may ask? What is harm? After all I have been pestering people with definitions about this for a couple of posts now. Well, I don't pretend there isn't some subjectivity involved in this, and that it is largely a culturally conditioned concept. That is why I am very skeptical of someone who says "Aha, I have the definition of freedom or XYZ other Liberal principle" and proceeds to write it down in a constitution for some poor population who don't know what they're getting into.

If by stability you also mean unchanging then that is unlikely. The best result is that a society is allowed to change according to its own dynamics, making adjustments to all affected parts with the consent of its members. The more probable outcome will be change directed by those in power, attempting to influence the course of change to their benefit. If that course deviates significantly from providing an environment to allow members of society to meet their needs and aspirations, to maintain law and order and protect the society from outside competitors, then those attempts will not be successful and will push change in other directions, stopping only when some form of equilibrium is attained.
I do not mean unchanging. Any system must change over time, but in a healthy society there is continuity. If there is no continuity then we are not even talking about the same society any more, but rather two different societies in the same place. The real question then becomes: how do you ensure continuity while enabling society to keep evolving. This is where I think modern Liberalism can be dangerous, in the way I hope I have outlined above.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2015
1,673
England
@Tulius, @dreuxeng @motorbike

Right. I think I've misunderstood the emphasis of your posts.

I broadly agree with what you're saying, and absolutely agree that no system will be permanently sustainable over time. This is why I dislike trusting the legal system too much, and dislike enumerating lots of rights right (pun intended) left and centre that the government has some kind of abstract duty to uphold. I trust what has remained over longer periods of time more than I trust our ability to rationalize human government into a machinelike conceptual framework. Ideally, anyway.

Ah. Are you using principles in a descriptive sense? As in "the general principle behind cooking is to make raw-materials edible" or "one underlying principle behind indoor heating is to keep temperatur stable over long periods of time by using certain buildingmaterials, like stone"? If so I agree with what you said.

The reason I am mindful of words like "principles" in this context is that they confer a kind of telos to things - they make it seem as if there is a stated (often a stated, artificial) purpose to things that really cannot be assumed to be there, unless you presume some kind of "creator" in this case.

I see what you're driving at. Alright, fair enough. What I would condition this with is to say that "Rights" - when they are formulated in this abstract way that most modern western constitutions have - are not an entirely independent factor of their own, but draw on the surrounding cultural and historical framework, in some ways more than they add to it - in other ways the other way around. Looked at extrinsically they are surface phenomena, culturally conditioned. Looked at intrinsically they often claim to be universal, ahistorical and unbound by time and place. This causes a tension which is what I think is problematic.

All societies seem to be dependent on some kinds of principles that are timeless, or are at least percieved to be so. The problem I have with modern liberal "Human rights" and so on is that they often explicitly claim to be somehow objectively true, while also claiming to be secular, rational and superior to other, older, more traditional forms of belief and morality (religion for example). The way I see it this is self-delusional at best, hypocritical and megalomaniacal at worst. That understanding (meaning in this case also the progressive ideology's "self-understanding", if one could speak of that) of Liberalism is either religious or fake. And I am fine with it if is truly and self-awarely religious, I have certain religious un-atheistic tendencies myself, what annoys me is the hubris and pretentiousness. I think it is dangerous to the very ideals it pretends (or wants, if one feels more charitable than I am) to uphold.
The principles that i think you are referring to are really just profound or fundamental things of value (that any number of people may indeed be able to agree with): Liberty, Freedom, Democracy, the Rule of Law (& equality before the Law).

The fact that the Liberal values of the Enlightenment were and are thought of as universal is sort of obvious in a way. Only someone of a more challenging (potentially extreme?) intellectual bent would engage in complicating things and entangling them up with spurious claims/assertions/ideologies. If most people can understand Freedom - which is freedom from persecution - then freedom will be regarded and appreciated by most, all?, and for all time. Furthermore, if power always tends to corrupt (or all power tends to corrupt), and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then democracy is fundamental and always will be, as is the Rule of Law, and a separation of powers, or a governmental system of checks and balances. All of which must be sustained by people who understand and appreciate the value of these things for the sake of human civilisation. The demos not least.

You frame "human Rights" as implicitly French Revolutionary: "secular and superior", but also to some extent via the Enlightenment: rational. Of course the argument: what i claim as my human rights may conflict with yours and so on. This is clearly an obvious problem when applied with political correctness and identity politics. How to decide between such a contradiction! And that is why Liberty and the Governments duty to protect individual liberty has been a central value at the heart of Western civilisation, via the Enlightenment. If you mix in the cleverly subversive but ludicrously wrong post modernist belief that anything is merely subjective, and any claims to objectivity are spurious, then you have a mind altering and destructive and mesmeric ideology (contextually) which calls up fanatics among other folowers. It takes as its view a line out towards nihilism, perhaps? The post modernist ideology that says objectivity is spurious is indeed patently an entangled piece of intellectual sophism (possibly sorcery?!). For in short, objectivity is merely being impartial. Being subjective is just not being objective. The human race is perfectly capable of being impartial, again in short. It just is. If we serve on a jury we think we are supposed to be impartial. We think we need to ask the question are we, and have we been impartial in arriving at our verdict! Umpires, referees, arbitrators, adjudicators, parents with more than one child no less, surely. All demand objectivity. It might not happen, but don't tell me or yourself that it cannot happen, and does not happen, because it does, and you know it, if you are sober and honest, with yourself, taking account of the doctrinaire instinct and so forth, the Socratic examined life, the authentic conscious decision.

Christianity has and may always play a part more or less, strangely in the background or otherwise, but not in Law. Though by treating your neighbour as you would wish to be treated, there is to be found morality and the Law. "How would you like it", is a common old saying or laymans version of the same.
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
814
Upland, Sweden
The principles that i think you are referring to are really just profound or fundamental things of value (that any number of people may indeed be able to agree with): Liberty, Freedom, Democracy, the Rule of Law (& equality before the Law).

The fact that the Liberal values of the Enlightenment were and are thought of as universal is sort of obvious in a way. Only someone of a more challenging (potentially extreme?) intellectual bent would engage in complicating things and entangling them up with spurious claims/assertions/ideologies. If most people can understand Freedom - which is freedom from persecution - then freedom will be regarded and appreciated by most, all?, and for all time. Furthermore, if power always tends to corrupt (or all power tends to corrupt), and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then democracy is fundamental and always will be, as is the Rule of Law, and a separation of powers, or a governmental system of checks and balances. All of which must be sustained by people who understand and appreciate the value of these things for the sake of human civilisation. The demos not least.
You should watch the video about Magna Carta I posted! He's able to make the point I'm trying to make in an infinitely more entertaining and probably more eloquent (but perhaps mildly insulting) way. ;) If that part of "potentially extreme intellectual bent" was a backhanded compliment I'll gladly take it!

When you say that "these things are fundamental", you seem to be speaking in the sense that you want them to be fundamental. I more or less agree with you that I want them to be fundamental, but that doesn't mean that they will be. What I value (or rather what I ought to value, in practice we are all midly corrupted by the modern world :p) in practice is good governance that helps the community, and something that does not stop me from trying to live a nice and virtuous life. True virtue requires freedom of individuals to have at least a spectrum of decisions they can make in life. Good governance requires that there is no abuse of power, and that the leaders have the best interests of the community at heart (and also that the citizenry does). I think that this overly universalistic and secular, modern form of Liberalism undermines the social balance enabling those things in practice, even though it might (if one is charitable) want to protect those things in theory.

You frame "human Rights" as implicitly French Revolutionary: "secular and superior", but also to some extent via the Enlightenment: rational. Of course the argument: what i claim as my human rights may conflict with yours and so on. This is clearly an obvious problem when applied with political correctness and identity politics. How to decide between such a contradiction! And that is why Liberty and the Governments duty to protect individual liberty has been a central value at the heart of Western civilisation, via the Enlightenment. If you mix in the cleverly subversive but ludicrously wrong post modernist belief that anything is merely subjective, and any claims to objectivity are spurious, then you have a mind altering and destructive and mesmeric ideology (contextually) which calls up fanatics among other folowers. It takes as its view a line out towards nihilism, perhaps? The post modernist ideology that says objectivity is spurious is indeed patently an entangled piece of intellectual sophism (possibly sorcery?!). For in short, objectivity is merely being impartial. Being subjective is just not being objective. The human race is perfectly capable of being impartial, again in short. It just is. If we serve on a jury we think we are supposed to be impartial. We think we need to ask the question are we, and have we been impartial in arriving at our verdict! Umpires, referees, arbitrators, adjudicators, parents with more than one child no less, surely. All demand objectivity. It might not happen, but don't tell me or yourself that it cannot happen, and does not happen, because it does, and you know it, if you are sober and honest, with yourself, taking account of the doctrinaire instinct and so forth, the Socratic examined life, the authentic conscious decision.
I do not at all deny that there is an objective reality out there, and I also don't deny that we can try to come closer or further away from it. What I'm saying though is that these things are very difficult for us, and that we are not naturally inclined to be impartial or objective. There are, besides my intuition and seemingly large parts of history, a number of studies supporting this, this one - about "anchoring bias" (i.e. that serious people, in this case Judges, aware that they are being influenced, are still influenced by things in ways that seem intuitively unreasonable) is especially interesting. Self-discipline and self-awareness are therefore very important, if we are to remain free and impartial in the way you describe. Being told that we "have rights that are inalienable" I think risks undermining our self-discipline and self-awareness by taking things for granted, and encouraging many citizens to confuse "ought" with "is" and them putting too much thought on their feelings and opinions of matters and too little on their capacity for action. Whenever I think about these things I also usually reach the conclusion that interest matters more than capacity. I fear this modern form of Liberalism is making us into natural slaves.

I also don't think the Enlightenment is necessarily the root of individual liberty, I think our various inherited political traditions, and high social trust in Europe as well as the practical divisons of power that exist in our societies are more important. Take England for example. You are 1) an Island 2) have not had to raise sizable armies to defend against large potential foreign invasions every five minutes 3) became politically centralized, in the sense of having one law for the entire land, quite early. In much of the continent this was simply not the case, because of practical concerns. In some countries that had similar inherited political traditions to you (Sweden for example, also traditionally had a very powerful parliament with arguably even stronger protection of commoners that go back to the Middle Ages, but our military projects during the 1600s got in the way) these things nonetheless failed to attain the same continuity. The Enlightenment is not unimportant, but I wouldn't overstate its case. France is what, on their fifth republic? How's that for self-evident Enlightenment values?

Christianity has and may always play a part more or less, strangely in the background or otherwise, but not in Law. Though by treating your neighbour as you would wish to be treated, there is to be found morality and the Law. "How would you like it", is a common old saying or laymans version of the same.
That religion should not explicitly inform law is something I absolutely agree with. "How would you like it" is not a bad ground for drawing the boundaries of freedom... if everyone was like me anyway. But not all people want to just be left alone. We all have an instinct to "stick it to the other guy", especially those of us who have suffered in life. Some of us are not very individualistic, and naturally crave strong leaders or groups that they can be part of. Some of us our natural leaders. Perhaps the case could be made that a people who are encouraged to think of themselves as individuals first and everything else second (something I myself intuitively do, no doubt largely due to the Enlightenment tradition) will risk having a limited "immune system" against people who are organized into like minded groups, and bent on more nefarious ends.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2015
1,673
England
You should watch the video about Magna Carta I posted! He's able to make the point I'm trying to make in an infinitely more entertaining and probably more eloquent (but perhaps mildly insulting) way. ;) If that part of "potentially extreme intellectual bent" was a backhanded compliment I'll gladly take it!

When you say that "these things are fundamental", you seem to be speaking in the sense that you want them to be fundamental. I more or less agree with you that I want them to be fundamental, but that doesn't mean that they will be. What I value (or rather what I ought to value, in practice we are all midly corrupted by the modern world :p) in practice is good governance that helps the community, and something that does not stop me from trying to live a nice and virtuous life. True virtue requires freedom of individuals to have at least a spectrum of decisions they can make in life. Good governance requires that there is no abuse of power, and that the leaders have the best interests of the community at heart (and also that the citizenry does). I think that this overly universalistic and secular, modern form of Liberalism undermines the social balance enabling those things in practice, even though it might (if one is charitable) want to protect those things in theory.



I do not at all deny that there is an objective reality out there, and I also don't deny that we can try to come closer or further away from it. What I'm saying though is that these things are very difficult for us, and that we are not naturally inclined to be impartial or objective. There are, besides my intuition and seemingly large parts of history, a number of studies supporting this, this one - about "anchoring bias" (i.e. that serious people, in this case Judges, aware that they are being influenced, are still influenced by things in ways that seem intuitively unreasonable) is especially interesting. Self-discipline and self-awareness are therefore very important, if we are to remain free and impartial in the way you describe. Being told that we "have rights that are inalienable" I think risks undermining our self-discipline and self-awareness by taking things for granted, and encouraging many citizens to confuse "ought" with "is" and them putting too much thought on their feelings and opinions of matters and too little on their capacity for action. Whenever I think about these things I also usually reach the conclusion that interest matters more than capacity. I fear this modern form of Liberalism is making us into natural slaves.

I also don't think the Enlightenment is necessarily the root of individual liberty, I think our various inherited political traditions, and high social trust in Europe as well as the practical divisons of power that exist in our societies are more important. Take England for example. You are 1) an Island 2) have not had to raise sizable armies to defend against large potential foreign invasions every five minutes 3) became politically centralized, in the sense of having one law for the entire land, quite early. In much of the continent this was simply not the case, because of practical concerns. In some countries that had similar inherited political traditions to you (Sweden for example, also traditionally had a very powerful parliament with arguably even stronger protection of commoners that go back to the Middle Ages, but our military projects during the 1600s got in the way) these things nonetheless failed to attain the same continuity. The Enlightenment is not unimportant, but I wouldn't overstate its case. France is what, on their fifth republic? How's that for self-evident Enlightenment values?

That religion should not explicitly inform law is something I absolutely agree with. "How would you like it" is not a bad ground for drawing the boundaries of freedom... if everyone was like me anyway. But not all people want to just be left alone. We all have an instinct to "stick it to the other guy", especially those of us who have suffered in life. Some of us are not very individualistic, and naturally crave strong leaders or groups that they can be part of. Some of us our natural leaders. Perhaps the case could be made that a people who are encouraged to think of themselves as individuals first and everything else second (something I myself intuitively do, no doubt largely due to the Enlightenment tradition) will risk having a limited "immune system" against people who are organized into like minded groups, and bent on more nefarious ends.
Part I:
Your overall take does seem rather defensive. A key trap set by the post modernist ideology concerning the subjective/objective argument is the sheer technicality of one of its central propositions: that since we are all individuals with separate life journeys, it is easy to see how we might all be influenced by our own uniqueness and life experiences, towards being subjective. But you can see how this is at first potentialy convincing; but it is really just a technicality, a pedantic, a trivial, an obscure absolute!

We clearly have the capacity to be impartial, we can be encouraged to be impartial, we can see that it is in our interest to be impartial. A history essay, book, or academic paper is not thereby spurious, it does not privilege itself over others. It might do. But there is no reason why it must, just because it was written by a one person rather than another. A decision or verdict based on personal opinion or prejudice, implies something, that is not based on evidence, by contrast, in a court of law. Just because an individual necessarily has their own version of events for example, doesn't imply that version is an expression of fundamental separateness from the next person. They can cluster around much the same idea, narrative and conclusion, like court cases, like a consensus, like the hundreds of biographies of Winston S Churchill, all of which have drawn on much the same source material, and necessarily tell much the same story. They are not spurious, they do not privilege one over another. They inform the reader and tell a story. And the ethics of such an ordinary everyday thing, will not appear overly challenging, given half a chance.
 
Sep 2015
1,673
England
That religion should not explicitly inform law is something I absolutely agree with. "How would you like it" is not a bad ground for drawing the boundaries of freedom... if everyone was like me anyway. But not all people want to just be left alone. We all have an instinct to "stick it to the other guy", especially those of us who have suffered in life. Some of us are not very individualistic, and naturally crave strong leaders or groups that they can be part of. Some of us our natural leaders. Perhaps the case could be made that a people who are encouraged to think of themselves as individuals first and everything else second (something I myself intuitively do, no doubt largely due to the Enlightenment tradition) will risk having a limited "immune system" against people who are organized into like minded groups, and bent on more nefarious ends.
Part II:
There are people who like some fashions, and others that wish to do their own thing, but all people will indicate their membership of the larger group, sooner or later, at some point or other.
 
Apr 2018
814
Upland, Sweden
Part I:
Your overall take does seem rather defensive. A key trap set by the post modernist ideology concerning the subjective/objective argument is the sheer technicality of one of its central propositions: that since we are all individuals with separate life journeys, it is easy to see how we might all be influenced by our own uniqueness and life experiences, towards being subjective. But you can see how this is at first potentialy convincing; but it is really just a technicality, a pedantic, a trivial, an obscure absolute!

We clearly have the capacity to be impartial, we can be encouraged to be impartial, we can see that it is in our interest to be impartial. A history essay, book, or academic paper is not thereby spurious, it does not privilege itself over others. It might do. But there is no reason why it must, just because it was written by a one person rather than another. A decision or verdict based on personal opinion or prejudice, implies something, that is not based on evidence, by contrast, in a court of law. Just because an individual necessarily has their own version of events for example, doesn't imply that version is an expression of fundamental separateness from the next person. They can cluster around much the same idea, narrative and conclusion, like court cases, like a consensus, like the hundreds of biographies of Winston S Churchill, all of which have drawn on much the same source material, and necessarily tell much the same story. They are not spurious, they do not privilege one over another. They inform the reader and tell a story. And the ethics of such an ordinary everyday thing, will not appear overly challenging, given half a chance.
I literally do not understand how to interpret this post. You seem to be making some general point against what you call post-modernism. Why? Are you insinuating that I am what you call a post-modernist? Is that why you are calling me "defensive" for no reason (I was beginning my previous post with a self-deprecating joke, this is me being defensive)?

Did you actually read what I wrote?
 

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