The Populist Surge
Why Populist Nationalism Now?

The economic, political, and cultural sources of the rise of populist nationalism around the globe.

Published on: November 30, 2017
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  • Joey Junger

    For an intelligent man, Fukuyama is incredibly stupid and obtuse (but it’s in a way that compliments the emperor’s clothes, so the fact that he doesn’t “get it” means he’ll continue to not only survive, but thrive, whatever the political climate). He admits early in this piece that what’s motivating these backlashes from what Sam Francis called MARs (Middle American Revolutionaries) is that people’s prerogatives and way of life under threat, not just in existential terms but in real, quantifiable ways (wages, burdens on social services, crime). And then later in the piece, he calls this backlash (to elite front-lash) scapegoating, as if he and we can’t remember what he said a couple of paragraphs ago. I think the elite need to consult a dictionary. It’s not scapegoating when someone or something is causing a problem and you call it out. That’s just diagnosing a problem to be fixed. I get that the elite want people who don’t speak English or ask for raises to raise their kids and cut their lawns, and I also get that they want to literally be able to rob taxpayers and enjoy the good life on the riviera in their pied-à-terre or Central Park penthouses, and I also get that since neither they nor their kids are in the military, this adventurism is just a game of Risk with the lives of red state redneck kids, but it’s still a marvel to me how someone in the elite (Fukuyama in this instance) can “get it” and then forget it in the next paragraph. His article (and all the “soul-searching” done by the elite re: Brexit/Trumpism, etc.) can be summed up thusly: “The people have no cake, so I understand their problems. My solution: Let them eat cake.”

    • ljgude

      Well said to you and the previous commenter Tom Scharf. Trump was elected a year ago and people like Fukuyama still don’t get it. Acknowledging the the Opioid epidemic and the number of deaths is nice gesture, but it wont disarm the issue. And here is the scary part – people like him are among our top minds – and they still think they can put the toothpaste back in the tube. I don’t think, in theory, that the liberal world order is broken beyond repair but when our supposed brightest and best can’t even see it, then you have to worry. Imagine if all you had was a man with no degree standing astride history – like Harry Truman – who was able to end WW2, take on Joseph Stalin and contain him and stop him in Berlin and Greece as well as Korea and set the conditions that would bring the Cold War to a successful conclusion 40 years later. Then look at the Obushtons. Pretty sad.

  • Anthony

    A splendid precis. A few observations:

    “There are three reasons why we are seeing the rise of populist nationalism in the second half of the 2010s: economic, political, and cultural.” (Francis Fukuyama)

    “In many ways, questions of identity – language, ethnicity, religion, and historical tradition – have come to displace economic class as the defining characteristic of contemporary politics.” (Francis Fukuyama).

    A theme perhaps (despite Donald Warren’s MARs [middle American radicals] proposition) is that on one level 2010s populism (whatever populism truly means) reflects an semi-organized effort to reclaim aspects of a removed past while struggling to understand what appears to be a future that presumes distress: economic, political, and cultural.

  • AbleArcher

    Low skilled labor? As someone on another article noted, we aren’t just talking about wrapping stuff or making shirts. We are talking mid-level skills to advanced skill in electronics, automotive, software, and all sorts of jobs in the sciences.

    • AnonymoussSoldier

      That someone was me, and you’re right. I’ll just go ahead and show you some of the economic details. The political and cultural is also self explanatory. Nothing wrong with nationalism, and not all cultures are equal.

      • Jacksonian_Libertarian

        Over 40 years of an annual foreign trade deficit has resulted in $6+ Trillion in US Treasuries being held by Foreign Countries at the Fed. This is the result of China, Japan, and other nations manipulating their currency value, by removing the supply of dollars to their economies by purchasing US Treasuries. (Supply and Demand), reduce the supply of Dollars available to your economy, and their value rises against the local currency, creating an unfair price advantage for exports to America. This is however a double edged sword, as America can simply pay them off, and instantly reverse over 40 years of unfair trade. This would add $6+ Trillion to the Fed’s reserves of ~$4 Trillion from quantitative easing, or about $10 Trillion. This is enough money to fix Social Security from the present Ponzi Scheme, to individual, inheritable, tradeable, retirement accounts of ~$40,000 for every naturally born American (approximately 250 Million people, the 60 million naturalized citizens should have to provide for their own retirement). In addition, the $6+ Trillion in cash will flood back into America in the form of a trade surplus, foreign direct investment, and repatriation, as America BOOMS.

        Fixing Social Security, re-balancing foreign trade, and creating a Booming economy. What’s not to like?

        • CheckYourself

          Loving this thread. Rarely find knowledgeable commenters like this, and I actively look for them! To Jacksonian, you see how the dollar appreciated like 20% in broad trade weighted basis 2014-2016? They buy those securities because they’re a dollar denominated asset, and pushing the value of the dollar up like that keeps the US less competitive on trade, you’re saying. They also buy US and European companies with our own deficit dollars and dissect them, take tech they want, and then either ship jobs back to China or resell the company.

          • AnonymoussSoldier

            Yes, CY, this is the jump you’re speaking of. In part, consequence of neglect dollar misalignment, Chinese over capacity, and how China, among others, effectively export some of their unemployment to the US. Making exports more expensive, imports cheaper, killing jobs, and depressing wages, all at the same time. A very bad situation for all but the rich who jetset around the globe. globalists indeed.

  • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

    It is very difficult to debate immigration in the US; for one thing, the government tries very hard not to count immigrants. For instance, try to find an answer to what one would think would be a simple question in a country as besotted with ethnic and racial bean-counting as the US: “How many illegal immigrants are in American jails and prisons?” Or, another: “How many people in the US have overstayed their visas?” Most countries — even Mexico! — try to keep abreast of these things.

    One can only surmise that those who control the levers of government don’t want to know and, a fortiori, don’t want us to know.

    Suffice it to say that very few Americans are willing to turn away the best and the brightest of the rest of the world, but it is also true that most of us don’t want to bring the merely ordinary over and subject them to a form of involuntary servitude via H-1B visas, nor do we see any need to open our borders to the uneducated, unskilled, and illiterate — no, not even for that great fraud, family reunification. (Yes, yes, that drivel on the Statue of Liberty: but we had jobs for such people a century ago; today, we don’t even have jobs for uneducated, unskilled, and illiterate Americans.)

    But the larger cultural problem is that the American Left wishes to, as Obama, in a rare moment of honest forthrightness, put it, fundamentally transform the United States of America. He and his fellow-travelers have made great progress in that regard — should we then wonder that those on whom the Left is inflicting this transformation are less than grateful?

  • Stephen

    “While laudable from an economic and moral standpoint…”

    Really? That seems dubious. Since at least 2008 the economic benefit seems unclear at best. And, on what normative basis can an assertion of morality be made? Unless you are going to cite a direct line to God’s thoughts on the the matter, that normative basis may be hard to find.

    • hecate9

      Freedom of movement-maximized- is a “good” thing- until it isn’t. It’s unclear if there is an Aristotelian basis on which to say freedom of movement is an un-alloyed good. Eudaimonia could, in some expansive definitions, include the freedom of human beings to choose their geography, but it’s hard to see how this wouldn’t entail probable encroachment on others’ living space. In most of the world now (as opposed to Plato’s and Jesus’ time) there IS no frontier and your “lebensraum” impinges on someone else’s back yard. Jesus, FWIW, would probably have come down on the side of freedom of movement as a good. Did the Samarian at the well say to Christ-“dude! watcha doing in my ‘hood?!”
      Is there a temporary moral dispensation to be granted the refugee fleeing war/famine/persecution? Do we have a (moral) obligation to relax the common-sense limitations on freedom of movement in special situations?
      Ayn Rand would probably say “no”- but she didn’t believe in moral obligation.
      The “normative basis of morality” spans a lot of ground.

      • Boritz


        Open the doors to the prisons then. Held against your will equals persecution.

  • Stephen

    “They are driven by a politics of resentment against elites who benefit from the system, and they tend to scapegoat immigrants and foreigners as agents of this loss of status.”

    Do they? Perhaps they have in the past, but what’s the evidence of that in the present? Has there been a nationwide outbreak violence against illegal aliens, much less recent immigrants, that I’ve somehow missed? The only ones to have “suffered” (at least in their eyes) consequences of the middle class, i.e. bourgeois, resentment appear, to date, to be the elites oft cited in this piece. And as the elites have to a great degree been responsible for the economic, legal and cultural changes that so vex the bourgeois, the bourgeois do not seem to be scapegoating as much as pointing out the results of decades of elite action who effects have fallen on them.

    • hecate9

      Let me see if I understand your argument.
      1. The “elites” (who ever they are- they are lefty undefined) are responsible for “economic, legal, and cultural changes.”
      2. This “elite action” has been going on for “decades”
      3. The elites knew they were screwing the middle class (somehow) but did it anyway. Damn them!
      4. The middle class resent these changes.

      The rest, as they say, is history (i.e. the 2016 election).

      May I suggest that yours is a serious and possibly dangerous misunderstanding of the politics of resentment. Let me outline an historical analogue to our times.
      In 1918 the defeated German army returned to the fatherland and found difficulty (as most did) picking up where they left off pre-war. Many Germans were demoralized and ashamed. Germany had fallen from a position of pre-eminence to one of humiliation. In the 1920’s National Socialism, the Freikorps, and others began to propagate a myth that Germany had been “stabbed in the back”- the famous “Dolchstoss”- that the German Army had in fact NOT been defeated in the field but had been betrayed by “anti-German” traitors from within- to wit, the “elites” that now ran the Weimar government. In league with these elites were notorious anti-German elements such as Jews, marxists, intellectuals, foreigners, artists, decadent people who listened to jazz, etc. As Germany’s postwar depression and hyperinflation increased 1920-32, largely due to factors beyond Germany’s control, the national Socialists drumbeat of “Criminals” running the government increased. “Lock them up!”
      Have we had a Kristallnacht? No- as you point out, we haven’t. There are reasons for that- fortunately, history does NOT aways repeat itself. We are NOT Germany in 1933 and Trump is NOT Hitler. But there may be a DIRECT line to be drawn between the resentment of the (petite?) bourgeoisie in Weimar Germany and the resentment on display in Charlottesville and in the White House. The commonalities are too many to ignore, as Professor Fukuyama points out.

      • Stephen

        Oh, so you think my observations are dangerous because…they might lead to the next Reich. Not Nazis…yet. Well, golly gee, thank you.

        Interesting that you reference Weimar: Kristallnacht happened on Hitler’s watch not that of the Republic. The bourgeoisie of the Republic felt abused and put upon because…they were. European political elite outside of Germany thought it was a grand idea to make life as miserable as possible for Germans after the war. They succeeded. Before the Nazis scapegoated the Jews, anger was directed by the bourgeoisie at what they saw as their tormentors. The Nazi were opportunistic, to say the least.

        So too, I claim, the majority of Trump voters motivated by resentment. A resentment not directed primarily, if at all, toward illegal aliens as people, for example; rather, in reaction to the faithless execution and administration of immigration law for the better part of 40 years by successive Congresses and Administrations; by the galactic chutzpah of politicians who promise to get it right this time after failing with elementary responsibilities for decades.

        Put aside the cultural abuse, mindless ad hominem and invective that one can point to most any given day, there remains high-handedness, venality and corruption that has come to characterize what others have defined as the clerisy – perhaps a better term than elite – rendering DC a modern Versailles-on-the-Potomac. Oh, I am sure that residents of the original Versailles believed too that they served a higher purpose. Unfortunately, those of the original did not notice that the audience was no longer in their thrall…until too late. So too, perhaps, now.

  • Tom

    Let me offer a much shorter answer: the disintermediation caused by the Internet.
    Pre-Internet, aside from crank groups like the John Birch Society and people who subscribed to The Village Voice, nearly everyone got their news from the big TV networks and the big papers, and it was oftentimes extremely difficult to find the source material they were using. As a result, it was pretty easy for the journalists who worked the political beats to spin stories the way they wanted–and they ended up developing a massive case of groupthink.
    Then the Internet came along, and it became extremely easy to do things like check government figures, see if people actually said what journalists said they said, and, most importantly, communicate information contrary to the spin the journalists put on the situation.
    As a result, people realized that they had been, and were being, lied to. At which point, the door was thrown wide open to populism, because when the elite fails, where else do you go?

  • Virgil Bierschwale

    software developer with over 3 decades of experience wearing all hats.
    can’t buy an interview, but I can show you why we are getting mad.

    Divide the total nonfarm payroll numbers by the population from 1939 till 2016.

    I’ve done it for you on this chart.

  • Tom Scharf

    “Low-skill workers in rich countries are likely to lose out to similarly-skilled but lower-paid workers in poor ones.”

    “While laudable from an economic and moral standpoint”

    The fact that elites are willing to sacrifice their own countrymen on the alter of globalism tells you everything you need to know. They re-brand patriotism to “immoral” nationalism. This isn’t complicated. Elites are no longer in your tribe, and they absolutely, positively, don’t want to be. Their behavior demonstrates they don’t care about others, and they have moved on to open disdain of the same. The fact they seem perplexed and confused by the reaction to their own behavior is incomprehensible.

  • Jeff77450

    I understand the economic principle of labor being able to easily move to where it’s needed most. I’m in favor of free *fair* trade. Mark J. Perry over at American Enterprise Institute has said that whenever someone makes reference to fair trade what they *really* mean is protectionism for their industry. That is emphatically not what I mean. If one trading partner is allowing their currency to “float” and the other trading partner is manipulating their currency that doesn’t strike me as fair. If one trading partner is making a good-faith effort to respect intellectual property rights/laws and the other trading partner is engaging in (massive) IP theft that doesn’t strike me as fair. If one nation is doing the heavy-lifting of the defense of many or most of its trading partners then that allows them to spend less on defense and more on subsidizing their industries, etc.. And so on.

    Antiseptic discussions of the benefits of open borders and free trade don’t adequately factor-in the human element. Human beings are genetically hard-wired to want to be surrounded by people who are as much like them as possible, racially, ethnically, culturally, politically, religiously and linguistically. A society can have some well-behaved minorities, they add salt to the stew, so to speak, but there needs to be one homogenous group that’s at least 90% of the population to keep things stable. The Immigration Reform Act of 1965 was sold to “us”–I was six–as not impacting our demographics. Clearly that was a lie. We’ve all heard the horror-stories of chain migration resulting in huge numbers of people being allowed in per individual immigrant.

    Not too long ago in this forum I commented on the phenomenon of foreign students taking slots in U.S. universities and most especially high-ranked ones. I asked three questions: Did the parents & ancestors of those foreign students do the heavy-lifting of creating America? Did they do the fighting and the dying in our many wars? Did they pay taxes for generations to build the infrastructure that supports those universities? The answer to all three questions is, of course, no. My g3-grandfather, James Corner, served in the Texas army during the Texas Revolution. My father, R.I.P., served in the Pacific in WWII and I served in ODS. We didn’t do that so that our descendants could be shoved aside and replaced and new arrivals moved to the head of the line.

    The following is not an attempt at melodrama. If there is ever a collapse as bad or worse as the Great Depression I predict that people aren’t going to be as well-behaved as they were in the 1930s. It could be more like the Balkans in the 1990s. 200,000,000 white people, armed to the proverbial teeth and with ample multigenerational military experience, told since the 1960s that they’re the root of all evil when basic history and the evidence before their eyes tells them that they created the modern world and the overwhelming majority of what we enjoy it. Many may decide that it’s time to clean house. Umm, yeah, it won’t be pretty. The so-called elites who told them to “just eat cake” will be strung-up like Mussolini.

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