“Be even more suspicious…of all those who employ the term we or us without your permission. This is another form of surreptitious conscription, designed to suggest that we are all agreed on our interests and identity.”
– Christopher Hitchens
Merriam-Webster defines populist as “a believer in the rights, wisdom and virtues of the common people”, and when the word is capitalized: “a member of a U.S. political party formed in 1891 primarily to represent agrarian interests and to advocate the free coinage of silver and government control of monopolies”. The first definition seems to be the very point of representative government; the latter what happens when representative government is no longer representative.
The use of the word “populist” among professional politicos implies an off-the-run candidate or leader with ill-intent – an irreverent voice deigning to challenge established institutions by speaking directly to the deplorable rabble, bypassing the narrative perpetuated by vast political and media infrastructures. Those inclined towards transitive logic might infer that governments and the Fourth Estate propose, but are not structured and do not work, to serve the rights, wisdom and virtues of commoners.
We won’t get idealistic about democracy or the gaping separation between political rhetoric and execution. In non-revolutionary times (about 99.9% on a timeline) governments serve the privileged. It is what they do. Political leaders throw bones to commoners, providing bread, circuses and welfare – distractions eminently better than brioches chucked at them by Marie Antoinette, but decidedly worse than most people’s conception that their government abides by the principle of equal access for all.
Liberal democracies are like major medical insurance policies. They will, in the end, protect freedom and most liberties, but they do not provide preventative health care. (Indeed, as their promotion of systemic debt shows, they are not above distributing the fiscal equivalent of cigarettes to their citizens.)
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