Monday, April 12, 2010

Populist Intellecutalism?

Matthew Schmitz writes:
If populists had their own intellectual institutions and party leadership, it’s possible to imagine America’s populist energies being channeled in a more sustained and, possibly, constructive way. A populist party with its own intellectual institutions could develop a principled, policy-oriented populism that would offer its own solutions to our most pressing problems.  Then we might see more pieces of smart legislation and fewer cynical plays for the votes of an otherwise unrepresented group.

Generally speaking, FLG views this as something like saying, Man, those Jews would be far more successful if they just acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah. Even if it's true, they wouldn't be Jews anymore. Populist movements are almost defined by their lack of intellectualism, at least to the extent that intellectualism is akin to elitism. And in this case, with the Tea Partiers, FLG certainly doesn't see them going down this road.

Historically, populism seems to be driven by short-lived, emotional appeals. The Bull Moose party comes to mind. When you create a tent as big as "the people" or "us" versus "the elites" or "them" it becomes difficult to coalesce around anything other than anger and resentment. People are to heterogeneous in their political and social preferences. If try to start rationalizing that into a set of policies, then you'll lose people and, perhaps even more importantly, begin to create an elite within the movement that will ultimately kill it.

Populism, like Communism, is ultimately hampered by the universal need to have people in charge to get things done. Once somebody is in charge, then they become the elites within the organization. This type of disconnect can work for a while, but eventually pulls itself apart. A think tank devoted to populist causes, but staffed by Harvard PhDs just won't work.

1 comment:

Withywindle said...

I am the Lorax; I speak for my peeps.

 
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