Friday, November 25, 2016

Populism accused of being always anti-democratic

Since the grim Presidential election results, The American Prospect has been running a number of articles in the "resistance" mode from people like Adele Stan (Donald Trump’s Calibrated Race and Sex War 11/23/2016), Harold Meyerson (Can Cities Protect Their Immigrants from Trump? 11/17/2016), Derrick Jackson, White Nationalist Bigotry Is the Official Policy of Trump’s White House 11/23/2016, Bob Kuttner, No Common Ground with Trump 11/22/2016 and Paul Waldman, The Greatest Grift of All 11/21/2016.

But Marc Fleurbaey in Why Populism Challenges Democracy from Within 11/25/2016 presents us with an end-of-ideology kind of look at populism, arguing that it always "presents a threat to constitutional democratic procedures and institutions."This is essentially a conservative position, though the corporate-liberal cause also finds such arguments convenient.

He treats populism mostly as rightwing populism. He does note in two sentences, "to be sure, there are some left-wing forms of populism in both continents that claim to be inclusive of the new immigrants rather than exclusionary. But even populists on the left put forward claims as a challenge to the constitutional fabric of representative democracy."

Fleurbaey's column is described there as an excerpt from Inequality as a Challenge to Democracy from the International Panel on Social Progress, although Fleurbaey is not listed at the as an author.

Section 2.6 of is called "Populism: A challenge from within." Fleurbaey is not listed at the Chapter 14 link as one of the authors, though he is cited.

The Prospect column reads like an ideological declaration, an explanation to the committed of what the Correct Line is at the moment on the topic at hand. It reads that way because it doesn't specify any real-world examples of what it's talking about. Not Trump, not the Brexist campaign, not even any historical examples like the Populist Party which can the concept its name.

So when you're just tossing declarations into the void, you can say things like, "Populist movements pushed xenophobic ideologies that opened the door to fascist regimes," without fear of contradiction. Because who know what's referenced, if anything?

So it may or may not be relevant to rise questions based on the historical examples most generally taken to be "fascism." If the governments of Heinrich Brüning and Franz Von Papen that immediately preceded Hitler's Chancellorship in Germany were regarded by anyone as "populist" regimes, it seems to have escaped the attention of every historical or journalistic account of the period I've even come across. They were stone conservative and made no attempt to construe themselves as defenders of the People against the Elite, which the classic populist construction of politics (William Jennings Bryan and the Populist Party, Juan Perón and the Peronist movement in Argentina from 1945 on).

The Spanish Popular Front government elected in 1936 that soon faced the Civil War that eventually brought Francisco Franco to power hardly seems an example of "populism." Unless we define populism so broadly as to include any multiparty coalition government. Which would also pretty much remove any meaningful distinction to the term.

The Chapter 14/Section 2.6 does reference the anti-austerity protests following the 2008 financial crash, like the indignados in Spain and the Occupy movement, as examples of popular protest movements. But it seemingly views them as non-populist.

And it cites Fidesz party of Viktor Orbán in Hungary and the Law and Justice Party (PiS) in Poland of the4 Kaczyński brothers as populist examples. And those two are generally regarded today as rightwing populist parties. But he cites them only in passing.

Apart from the lack of actual analysis presented in both Fleurbaey's and Chapter 14/Section 2.6, assuming that populism is inherently anti-democracy leaves a large swath of political opinions and attitudes to be exploited by the rightwing without the kind of effective competition that left populism can provide.

Foreign Affairs devoted several articles to populism in its Nov/Dec 2016 issue, including "France’s Next Revolution? A Conversation With Marine Le Pen." Le Pen is leader of the rightwing populist French National Front and is currently expected to be one of the two leading candiates in next spring French Presidential election. She frames her positions here this way: "In many countries, there is this current of being attached to the nation and rejecting untamed globalization, which is seen as a form of totalitarianism. It’s being imposed at all costs, a war against everybody for the benefit of a few."

The "everybody for the benefit of a few" is a typical populist formulation.

The National Front has pulled a significant number of voters from left parties, including the Communist Party, though it clearly emphasizes rightwing political positions. This comment from her presents a formulation that could resonate with both left and right voters:

So I would note that Clinton supports TTIP [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership]. Trump opposes it. I oppose it as well. I would also note that Clinton is a bringer of war in the world, leaving behind her Iraq, Libya, and Syria. This has had extremely destabilizing consequences for my country in terms of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the enormous waves of migration now overwhelming the European Union. Trump wants the United States to return to its natural state. Clinton pushes for the extraterritorial application of American law, which is an unacceptable weapon for people who wish to remain independent. All of this tells me that between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, it’s Donald Trump’s policies that are more favorable to France’s interests right now.
She also makes a number of criticisms of the EU that could be the same. She's explicitly in favor of French exit from the EU, "What I want is a concerted exit from the European Union." That is mostly a conservative position, with anyone on the left generally favored remaining in the EU but drastically reforming it. But that's not universally true. And as the euro continues to be a major drag on economic activity, that position will seem to more and more people like the only practical solution. The Five Star Movement is more a left populist party with substantial public support, and they are for Italy leaving the EU.

But Le Pen's scoffing at the notion that the EU has helped preserve peace in Europe gives more of a rightwing nationalist signal to her voters:

Because it’s not the European Union that has kept the peace; it’s the peace that has made the European Union possible. This argument has been rehashed repeatedly, and it makes no sense. Regardless, the peace hasn’t been perfect in the European Union, with Kosovo and Ukraine at its doorstep. It’s not so simple.

In fact, the European Union has progressively transformed itself into a sort of European Soviet Union that decides everything, that imposes its views, that shuts down the democratic process.
But here she shows the xenophobic core of the National Front's historical and current appeal. And it shows the kind of mixture of signals in which some could appeal to left or center-left voters, others give a rightwing-nationalist twist, and some plain misinformation.

In reality, the euro is a currency created by Germany, for Germany. It’s a suit that fits only Germany. Gradually, [Chancellor Angela] Merkel sensed that she was the leader of the European Union.
A blurring of the true and false. The euro has primarily benefited Germany. But only proportionately, compared to other eurozone members. Le Pen could read that in Joe Stiglitz' new book, which she cites specifically in this interview, The Europe: How A Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe (2016). But she's very right about Merkel's dominant leadership role in the EU, very much enabled by the existence of the euro currency as it's

But here she makes the pivot the xenophobia and narrow nationalism:

She imposed her views. She imposed them in economic matters, but she also imposed them by agreeing to welcome one million migrants to Germany, knowing very well that Germany would sort them out [i.e., distribute them to other countries]. It would keep the best and let the rest go to other countries in the European Union.
This is a bait-and-switch routine, sucker populism. She makes popular and valid points, like fear of globalization and references what known as the democratic deficit in the EU. But then she interprets it all in terms of old-fashioned anti-German nationalism, and focuses her criticism on the hot-points of anti-immigrant hatred. She continues directly:

There are no longer any internal borders between our countries, which is absolutely unacceptable. The model imposed by Merkel surely works for Germans, but it is killing Germany’s neighbors. I am the anti-Merkel.
She also uses a Trumpian equation of terrorism with Muslims and indulges in sweeping Islamophobia:

How can France protect itself from terrorist attacks like the one in Nice in July?

So far, it has done absolutely nothing. It has to stop the arrival of migrants, whom we know terrorists infiltrate. It has to put an end to birthright citizenship, the automatic acquisition of French nationality with no other criteria that created French like [Amedy] Coulibaly and [Chérif and Saïd] Kouachi [the terrorists behind the Paris attacks of January 2015], who had long histories of delinquency and were hostile toward France. This isn’t the case for everyone; I’m not generalizing. But it’s a good way to have a surveillance mechanism. We need to revoke citizenship from dual nationals who have any kind of link to terrorist organizations.

We especially need to combat the development of Islamic fundamentalism on our territory. For electoral reasons, French politicians rolled out the red carpet for Islamic fundamentalism, which has developed in mosques and so-called cultural centers financed not only by France but also by countries that support Islamic fundamentalism. We also have to regain the mastery of our borders, because I can’t see how we can combat terrorism while having open borders. [my emphasis in italics]
Terrorism=Muslims=foreigners="the few" in this sentence quoted above, "It’s being imposed at all costs, a war against everybody for the benefit of a few." Identifying the It as globalization, which she then identifies with the more personified and familiar figure of the Evil Foreigners.

And this is the same kind of language we hear from the American versions of the Authoritarian International. The gubment is doing absolutely nothing. Birthright citizenship! The politicians rolled out the red carpet for Islamic fundamentalism. The so-called cultural centers. The foreigners are criminals so we need surveillance on them all. We've lost the mastery of our borders.

She complains about "open borders," the most publicly popular feature of EU membership. She even gets in a dig at the bad values of "tAnglo-Saxons" and their multicultural ideas.

Marine Le Pen's interview provides a great example of the distinction between rightwing and leftwing populism, a distinction that Marc Fleurbaey int he pieces linked above doesn't acknowledge. I quoted this essay by John Judis a few days ago,All The Rage New Republic 09/19/2016:

The central feature of all these [historical] populist campaigns has been the attempt to champion “the people” against an elite or establishment. ...

But there is another element of populism that is less understood, one that divides the tradition into two distinct political strains. In the left-wing strain, epitomized by Long, Perot, Occupy Wall Street, and Sanders, populists champion the people against the elites. In the right-wing strain, it’s also the people versus the elites — but the elites are attacked for coddling and subsidizing a third “out group,” such as African Americans (Wallace) or immigrants who have entered the country illegally (Buchanan, the Tea Party, and Trump). [my emphasis]

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