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National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy (Pelican Books) Kindle Edition
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About the Author
- Publication date : October 25, 2018
- File size : 4477 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 336 pages
- Publisher : Pelican (October 25, 2018)
- Language: : English
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- ASIN : B07CV45TCM
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
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- Best Sellers Rank: #375,897 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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Top reviews from the United States
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The authors point out that national populism is not a new phenomenon. They state that its rise is a response to the spread of liberal democracy. This is a tautology. The issues and emotions underlying national populism (adjusted to its time) have been around a lot longer than that but outside a democracy they are known as uprisings, revolts or revolutions (think Rome, Chartists, Lenin, Castro). The authors choose the US People's Party as their example, I think the only one cited, of a national populist movement. But that is a historical aberration as far as such movements are concerned. They had a platform of improvements they wanted to enact: graduated income tax, shorter workweek, direct election of Senators. They were "for" something rather than "against"; and they were competing within the electoral structure.
In attempting to legitimize today's national populism as a benign movement, the authors do not examine whether those the authors identify as populists have formed their (subjective) views or have been goaded there. Of course everyone's view in a democracy - subjective or not - is valid. However, the national populist movements have been haunted throughout history by their connection with demagogues (think Hitler, Mussolini, Peron, Chaves). Unfortunately that combination usually leads to a result where the people's problems are not only not solved but everyone winds up worse, sometimes much, much worse.
So the question unanswered in this book is whether the current populist movement in the US is more akin to the People's Party of the 1890's or movements which were prone to high-jacking by demagogues which can lead to anti-democratic movements. The current movement in the US is not close to the latter, yet. However, the authors' blindness to that possibility is what makes this book incomplete.
The authors identify four “historic shifts” that explain the rise of populism in the West: rising inequality, growing distrust of elites and institutions, the effects of mass immigration and the weakening of old party alliances. The authors believe that national populism prioritizes “the culture and interests of the nation and promises to give voice to a people who feel that they have been neglected, even held in contempt, by distant and often corrupt elites.” They believe that national populism will have a much longer life expectancy than many assume because there has been a collective failure to identify, grasp and respond to the underlying causes.
National populists have enjoyed record election results in Italy, Sweden, Austria and elsewhere, while support for social democratic parties has slumped or collapsed. In 2017 Ipsos Mori surveyed nearly 18,000 voters in 25 countries. The poll asked voters if they felt “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me," lots of respondents across Europe agreed (ranging from a low of 44% in Sweden to 61% in Poland and 67% in France). It found that 43% of the British, 54% of Hungarians and 63% of Italians believed that “immigration is causing my country to change in ways that I do not like.”
Liberals such as Tony Blair have argued that the solution to populism is more globalization, not less. Many of Europe's political elite view the nation-state as an anachronism. However, many ordinary Europeans still believe in the nation-state and fear globalization. In Britain, nationalism and patriotism used to be encouraged.
Many voters in Britain believe they have little control over the policies and actions of EU bureaucrats. Mark Blyth who teaches economics at Brown has claimed that the EU has a sinister agenda and it wants to drag wages in Western Europe down to East European levels so that it can better compete with China. Britain relies increasingly on cheap, non-unionized migrant workers. To the people at the top, the increased profits look like wealth creation, but the people at the bottom don’t see any benefits. As one member of the public is quoted as saying: “That’s your bloody GDP, not ours.” Blyth claims that the EU imposed austerity on southern Europe and dismantled the welfare state in Greece in order to protect German banks who lent recklessly.
The authors believe that a lot of ordinary people feel they have been left behind and are getting a raw deal. There is a belief among many liberals that populists are either unemployable losers or old, white, racist men who will soon die and be replaced by more enlightened millennials. However, more than 62 million voted for Trump and 17 million for Brexit. The authors claim that simple stereotypes don’t work once you analyze the data.
Many people, on the right and the left, from Robert Reich to Steve Bannon have noticed that inequality is causing problems, they just disagree on the solutions. Mark Blyth argues that both major parties in the U.S. have written off the bottom 30% of society and the same has happened in Britain. He claims that the American working class has not had a pay rise since 1979 and that globalization has failed them. He believes this explains the anger behind the Trump phenomenon.
National populists are offering protection from the challenges of globalization. Discontent has been inflamed by how poorly many people feel they are being served by their politicians. People look at the mainstream parties and fail to see people they identify with or trust. They are now looking to outsiders who express a similar cynicism with the status quo and offer an alternative. The Oxford philosopher David Miller has argued that the basic responsibility of governments is to maximize the welfare of their citizens and listen to their wishes. Voters believe that the politicians they elect should serve their interests, but the politicians appear to be serving others. In the U.S., polls show support for gun control and action on climate change, but the politicians won’t let it happen.
Many of those who voted to leave the EU are dismissed as stupid, uneducated, and racist. I have read such comments in the New York Times. The metropolitan left across Europe and in America have embraced what the writer Mark Lilla calls “identity liberalism,” and many white working-class voters have felt ignored. The authors claim that “It is hard to imagine any other group being treated with as much contempt” as Brexit or Trump voters. Eatwell is an expert on fascism and the authors explain why contemporary national populists are different from historical fascists. The authors demolish some of the stereotypes about Trump and Brexit supporters being almost exclusively white and old.
The American, French and Russian Revolutions happened because people had grievances that were ignored by the elites. The Germans had grievances in 1932 when they elected Hitler to shake things up. The lesson from history is that you ignore the anger of the masses at your peril. Many European liberals in the media have suggested that the people are too stupid to make decisions on the big issues and so they should be ignored and perhaps even disenfranchised. That seems both dangerous and stupid. The authors believe that most ordinary people in the West are not giving up on democracy even if the elites are. They are also more open to more “direct” forms of democracy, like referendums. The authors suggest this would give people a greater say in the decisions that affect their daily lives. However, the elites in the EU like to ignore referendum results when they disagree with the outcome. They now view them as a nuisance. President Macron told a British TV interviewer that the French people would vote to leave the EU if they were given a simple choice in a referendum.
In many ways, the populists have changed the debate. For the authors, national populism is not a passing phenomenon and will have a “powerful effect on western politics for many years to come.” The book tries to disabuse liberals of any lingering hope that the last three years have been but a blip, after which transnational, elite-led politics will return. I found the book enjoyable and thought provoking.
Top reviews from other countries
However, I referred to the book as a curate's egg. The reason for this, is that on some issues it seems to me very poor. It goes on about the 'unrepresentative' character of those taking political decisions - when, on the face of it, this just looks like a silly concession to the idea that people's background determines their views (and while I'd take someone to be a fool, if they did not want someone a lot *smarter* than them taking decisions on their behalf). One might say: well, is there not a problem that a lot of people's genuine concerns are not getting represented in the decision-taking process. This is true enough; but I'd have thought that a significant role, here, has been played by the decline of industry and in consequence of industrial unions which - in Britain - played a key role in the development of people who could take up their members' concerns in a way that made sense in the context of policy-making. (I'd also add that, as opportunities and higher education are now more open, there will be fewer capable people who don't - in this sense - look middle class.) We need, here, new institutions, not populism. In addition, at times the authors showed sympathy for referendums - when, as circumstances round Brexit should have made clear, this is the last way in which it makes sense to take decisions. (The key issues are that one ends up with 'unowned' decisions, for which no-one is accountable, and which - as in the Brexit case - can take place in relation to issues which are formidably complex. Here, Sir Ivan Rogers' speech in Cambridge - October 2018; easily found on the internet - brings out just what some of the issues are, and in consequence what the defects are of 'populist' decision-making.
All told, the key problem about populist (cultural) nationalism, at least if it is thought of as locally based, is its populism. Issues of public policy are typically complex and technical. This means that sensible decision-taking needs to be in the hands of people who can at least understand what the problems are. It is important that the rest of us have channels through which our criticisms and concerns can be channelled to those taking the decisions, and also that we can get rid of governments at elections. (It would be good, also, if senior public servants were subject to similar kinds of accountability!) But the idea that it is 'us' who should be taking the actual decisions, seems to me highly problematic.
But what happens when populist actually come to power? Do they represent "common people" as promised in the campaign? This was not covered, unfortunately. For example long-term experience from Balcans and Hungary was largely ignored, even if populist hold the majority there for at least 1-2 decades. This experience would highlight two important aspects. Firstly, populist often implement different policies from proclaimed (e.g. campaign for blue collar workers but legislate neo liberal policies and cover-up with anti-immigration narrative). This would capture populism as a tool for acquiring and maintaining political power, not an ideology by itself. Secondly, once in power, populists tend to be anti-democratic by suppressing media, demonizing opposition, and influencing legal & voting systems into their favor. This is the actual link to fascism, not the national sentiment or immigration fears. Existing examples show that populists use democracy to acquire power. Once in power, they work against the democracy to maintain power.
It provides many answers as to why National Populism is on the rise across the world and opens up a more complex debate as to the type of demographic of people that are turning against the old political elites; whether that is in America or Europe.
This would serve as an interesting read for remainers and leavers alike. I will be recommending it to both.
The main conclusion of the book is that either directly or indirectly through influence on other political parties’ agendas, National Populists will have a powerful effect on the politics of many Western countries for many years to come. They conclude that National Populism is not a flash in the pan movement that will disappear once voters have made their protest and return to mainstream parties.
The established political class has been far too slow to respond to change. National populists, a by-product of this change, have been quick to articulate a response that is both resonant and compelling.
So what drives the movement to National Populism?
National populists prioritise the culture and interests of the nation, and promise to give voice to a people who feel that they have been neglected by distant out of touch and often corrupt elites. They question the capacity of Western societies to rapidly absorb rates of immigration and ‘hyper ethnic change’ that are unprecedented in the history of modern civilisation. And they question why the West’s current economic settlement is creating highly unequal societies leaving swathes of people behind.
One of the key conclusions of the authors is that people attracted by National Populism are not primarily motivated by economic factors such as their own wealth but rather by quality of life issues such as the impact on culture by mass immigration and by perceived unfairness in distribution of wealth and benefits. So the authors state that the idea that ‘normal business’ will resume once economic growth returns and the flow of refugees slows, is wrong.
They state that attempts to vilify national populists as racist are fallacious as it is other aspects of modern society that drive and motivate them.
The authors analyse the shifts to National Populism under four headings, the “Four Ds”.
The elitist nature of liberal democracy has promoted distrust of politicians and institutions and fuelled a sense among large numbers of citizens that they no longer have a voice which is heard.
According to the authors there has always been a tension in liberal democracy (going as far back as early Greek democracy) between the governing elites who believed they had the skills and experience to govern, and distrusted the ability of mass of the people to make sound decisions, and worse still, to be susceptible to charismatic demagogues.
In practice the gap in representation has been self-perpetuating as the views of the elites has increasingly and perhaps unknowingly skewed the policy making process towards the ‘haves’ rather than the ‘have nots’.
Social media is blamed for its role in polarising opinion as many people on both sides tend to be highly selective in what they read.
The authors expound a definition of what “liberal democracy” is. One of the key advantages of liberal democracy is that various people with competing demands, compromise and reach consensus. It thus brokers the peaceful resolution of differences of opinion among the populace.
However, this requires large numbers of people to believe that the system is fair and gives an equal voice to all. This acceptance of fairness has been dramatically undermined in the post-war era as power has drifted away from democratically elected national governments to transnational organisations, from nationally elected politicians to non-elected ‘expert’ policy makers and lobbyists who operated beyond the realm of democratically accountable policies.
Immigration and hyper ethnic change are cultivating strong fears about the possible destruction of the National group’s historic identity and established ways of life. These fears are exasperated by a belief that culturally liberal politicians, transnational organisations and global finance are eroding the nation by encouraging further mass immigration, while ‘politically correct’ agendas are being used to silence any opposition.
Crucially, today worries about immigration and refugees have also become entwined with wider fears over security.
A greater concern raised by the authors is that there is no example in history of a successful multi-racial democracy where the once majority group has become a minority.
Wanting a tighter immigration policy or fewer immigrants is not in itself racist. Rather than being driven by racial hatred, most populists see the quest for lower immigration and slower ethnic change as an attempt to stem the dwindling size of their group, and to avoid the destruction of their culture and identity.
Neoliberal globalised economics has stoked strong feelings of relative deprivation as a result of rising inequalities of income and wealth in the West.
This profound sense of loss is intimately entwined with the way in which people think through issues like immigration and identity, and gives rise to a strong belief that the current settlement no longer works for them and that others (less deserving) are being given priority.
The bonds between traditional mainstream parties and the people are weakening, making political systems across the West far more volatile, fragmented and unpredictable than at any point in the history of mass democracy.
Among other key factors the authors claim that there is an educational divide. Those who have gone to college tend to have a culturally liberal mindset that emphasises tolerance of difference, has little time for social hierarchies and prioritises individual rights over group identities. In contrast, those who have not gone to college lean towards a more socially conservative outlook which places more value on preserving social hierarchies, stability, maintaining order and tradition and ensuring that people conform to the wider group.