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Moral Panics
A Liberal Defense of Populism

The Western elite’s populism-as-fascism meme is neither accurate nor helpful.

Published on: December 20, 2017
Frank Furedi is emeritus professor of sociology at University of Kent, Canterbury, England and author of Populism and the European Culture Wars (Routledge 2017).
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  • AbleArcher

    I appreciate this article. One thing I would like to add, per the comments on so many threads, it appears many of the readers blame outside forces, when they ought to be looking at home. Do the Chinese, Japanese and even the Germans engage in unfair trade practices, for example? Unquestionably. It’s just a fact. But who allows them to get away with it?

    You might see a comment about “70,000 factories and 20 million jobs outsourced.” Or “The Chinese come back with Americas own deficit (their surplus) dollars and use them to finance acquisitions in America!” Yes yes yes. But WHO allows it? More precisely, who has made it so easy and virtually consequence free to outsource to a communist dictatorship, and who green lights sales of major firms?

    The elite establishment and their insatiable greed and willingness to kowtow to all sorts of anti-capitalist and undemocratic regimes, and that includes a lot of big tech, are the cause of discontent and populism. Don’t expect populism to go anywhere. Precisely because you can’t expect the establishments in corporate greed to stop either. Where this goes? Absolutely nobody has a clue. Anybody who says that they do is a liar. Probably doesn’t end very well though.

    • AnonymoussSoldier

      I am one of those commenters you’re talking about, but don’t misunderstand! I fundamentally agree with what you just said. Problems from unfair trade to illegal immigration are not the illegal immigrant’s fault, or the unfair trader’s fault, or at least not entirely. The United States government has created, or at least has exacerbated, pretty much every problem that it has, or rather problems that it has created or exacerbated for the common man.

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    • TPAJAX

      Essentially, populism is a defense of ones culture and/or ones economic interests.

  • QET

    Excellent. Thanks to TAI for publishing a piece that goes almost entirely against the grain of every other article published here. The following statement stands out: “Populism is increasingly used as a moral category, not an analytic one, in order to condemn and devalue its targets. For all practical purposes, “populists” are bad people with wrong ideas.”

    Demonstrating the truth of Carl Schmitt’s thesis, political elites and their progressive foot soldiers treat all who dissent from their orthodoxy as enemies. An adversary is someone you disagree and dispute with; an enemy is someone you hate and destroy. What is really noteworthy about the situation in 2017 is that progressives can no longer dispute the ideas of their enemies because they have abandoned the commitment to educating themselves in ideas. “Let my will stand for reason” (Juvenal) is their guiding precept (ironic that this precept is expressed in a satire on the ways of women).

    • D4x

      Yes, but TAI publishes Frank Furedi on Europe’s ‘illiberal populism; problem. Does TAI see they, representative of America, are worse than the EU elites? Furedi even writes: “However, it is within the system of higher education that the paternalistic and authoritarian temper of 21st-century liberalism is most evident, even in the United States.”
      I argue: ESPECIALLY in the United States. It’s why I have lost hope in America, and why I believe America’s true OTHER to FEAR
      is NOT Russia, China, hydrocarbons, or Robert E. Lee.
      It is America’s Academia, from K-post-grad. And, 90% of American media, especially thoughtful journals on
      foreign policy. 95% of culture media, but the rotted root is education
      TAI is batting.100 on posts since the re-launch on Oct. 18.

    • tstev

      “”progressives can no longer dispute the ideas of their enemies because
      they have abandoned the commitment to educating themselves in ideas.””

      what a load of you know what…

      I am a progressive and I do dispute the ideas of my enemies. What I do notice is the the fascist rely on lies encapsulated in propaganda

  • Otis

    A fabulous essay and a real breath of fresh air. As a Washington DC swamp-dweller, I never cease to be appalled by the vitriol and downright hatred constantly expressed by elites toward the American working classes. The title of the Traub essay cited by Furedi sums up the arrogant mindset exactly: the American people are hopelessly out of touch with their elites, and need to be brought back into line ASAP!

    Renew my TAI subscription and keep publishing thoughtful, iconoclastic pieces like this one!

    • FriendlyGoat

      Working classes are about to discover that they do not really receive better treatment from the elites of financial trading and religion than what they get from the elites of academia and bureaucracy. They had a better chance of influencing the latter groups to their benefit and did so for most of the last hundred years. The next twenty years or so are going to be a big surprise to the working classes that the new (elite) masters have very, very little interest in their actual needs or welfare.

      • Anthony

        Been holding on to this for a few days (waiting for opportunity to send on to you): https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-willing-accomplices-big-business-by-ian-buruma-2017-12

        • FriendlyGoat

          Flake, Corker and Collins had the brakes for the runaway train, but chose not to use them.
          I can’t explain that. Only Republicans can explain their lockstep in the present scenario.

          • Dale Fayda

            High-end tax cuts!!! Yipeeee!

          • Tom

            Because they think the train is going somewhere they’re okay with going? Now, I realize that YOU don’t think that your countrymen are capable of deciding how best to spend their money, and on that we agree. However, for some reason, you seem to think that people in government are smarter than the rest of said countrymen.
            They are not.

          • Anthony

            Well, the enablers are all there if one looks. Still, hecate9 makes an insightful point: structural electoral disabling morphed into enshrinement.

  • Anthony

    The author clearly distinguishes Central/Eastern Europe from other Democratic Liberal Sovereigns representing his central argument: the Western elite’s populism-as-fascism meme is neither accurate nor helpful. The author’s argument is basically framed in a European context (counter-majoritarian institutions induced popular pressure which led to anti-populist narrative). The author makes a respectable case, though his essay could be interpreted as a paean rationalizing (justifying) a view of populism premised on a variance of Liberalism.

    Still, political ideas have had limited shelf lives – some politicians today may declare we are living in a populist moment (how long a shelf life one may wonder). Populism may not really be the problem; human life must be lived on a human scale – the essay references some of that; more importantly for American purposes, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (split lives) has resonance.

    “Historical compromises and prejudices burden all the nations of the world, and make nations mixed blessing, at best. Might we find release from the unbearable weight of our national histories by looking beyond them, to an imagined world community that is stainless and pure, not least because we have not yet achieved it? There lies the temptation of the globalist, who believes enlightened elites can manage our affairs from on high and free us from the ambiguous inheritance of every nation. When we turn our attention from our nations to ourselves, the frenetic pace of everyday events and the numbing anonymity in the modern age never quite allows us to get a fix on who we are. Might we finally discover a stable resting place in a comprehensive ‘identity’ that no one dare doubt or challenge? There lies the temptation of identity politics, which provides solace in the imagined world we construct either in solitude or in solidarity with like-minded others – but in both cases out of sight with our real-world neighbors, who remind us that there are others not like us in the world to whom we must nevertheless attend….”

  • Marathon-Youth

    Populism cannot include illegals. They are not part of the population.
    Populism cannot support Open borders for it has to be limited to citizens of a nation
    Populism should not be circumvented by special interest groups and Lobbyists.
    and I prefer Nationalism over Populism.

  • Angel Martin

    “In Europe, in particular, anti-populist discourse often evokes memories of the final days of the Weimar Republic. ”

    Act like Weimar politicians – get the post-Weimar result.

    Imagine what the “populist threat” will look like if there is another major economic downturn like the 1930’s.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The EU has no Constitution, no contract between the different peoples. Imposing draconian immigration laws, and flooding communities with criminal aliens sucking on the public teat. Is like an “act of war” on the working classes.

  • Boritz

    “Did I say “ignorant”? Yes, I did. It is necessary to say that people are deluded and that the task of leadership is to un-delude them.”
    –James Traub

    ” you gonna get your mind right.”
    –Captain, Cool Hand Luke

  • hecate9

    Looks like I may be the lone dissenter here. There was some light shed by the author- particularly on the situation in Eastern Europe- but much more heat. The parallels between Eastern EU populism and US populism are particularly weak.
    Speaking of Europe, he says: “The people… feel that their habits, customs, and traditions are constantly being ridiculed by an oligarchy that acts as if it has a right to dictate how people should lead their lives and behave toward each other.”
    I think this is a wild exaggeration. Talk about “moral panic”!
    Lets ground this discussion with some basic facts:
    The comparison of the EU- which is a political association built of mainly economic convenience- and the US, which is a nation in its own right, is highly problematic. The US has a central government, such as it is. The EU does not. Poles or Belgians or Irish or Frenchmen didn’t cede their national sovereignty when they joined the EU. It is entirely natural and normal and justified that Hungarians or Spaniards or English should balk at some bobblehead in Brussels or Stasbourg when he/she issues pronouncements on the latest cultural or political policy of the EU. And if they feel the EU no longer works for them, as an association, they have the right (as Brexit shows) to leave- and bear the economic consequences.
    The USA however, is not the EU-it is a nation. We don’t have an “oligarchy” that “dictates” to us. We do have elected officials who occasionally have the temerity to try to do their jobs, but they are NOT oligarchs. Even Trump is not an oligarch (though he admires them) and he doesn’t “dictate” to us. At least not yet.
    Nor does Europe, in fact, have true “oligarchs” that” dictate” how people should live their lives. Yes, it does have laws, etc. but those are the product of, by and large, elected assemblies. It also, rarely, has continent-wide problems (refugees, climate change, etc) that it tries to deal with collectively-but not very effectively (because it is not a government). The only “oligarchs” (or oligarch-wannabes) are the guys like Orban, for whom the author has such Burkean admiration, and the nude guy on horseback farther east.
    Now- are there annoying, mostly self-appointed propagandists of various persuasions- left and right- who want to tell you what is progressive, what is moral, how and if you should worship, what is good for you to eat, how you should have sex, etc.? Yes, or course there are. They are found in Universities, but also in Big Box Churches; writing for the New York Times and for Breitbart. Some went to “elite schools”- some to no school. Are they “elites”? maybe- but that’s hard to define in such a diverse, multi centric culture such as ours (and Europe’s). A culture makes its own elites. Are they influential? Do they “ridicule” others. Absolutely- but that is a truism. That’s how culture works. Do they in any sense “dictate” to us? Absolutely not, in any concrete sense. They may” feel they have the right” to dictate to me – but so does Gwyneth Paltrow feel she has the right to tell me what to do with my genitalia. Annoying- but we don’t have to lose sleep over it.
    Finally- is Populism Fascism? No. populism- in the US or Europe has a long way to go to become fascism. But populism in some of its more eccentric manifestations-both here (Charlottesville) and in Europe- has made direct, unblushing appeals to fascism (usually to big “F” Fascism and Adolph’s undying charisma to young white males). These are “dog-whistles” to a certain small coterie of would be brown shirted enthusiasts for whom the “FuhrerPrinzip” and a “good man with a gun” never went out of style. If you believe (quoting Spencer) that the “White Race” is “dispossessed” and that they need a “White Ethno-State” to act as a bulwark against the “hordes” of muslims, Chinese, Latins, “mongrels”, etc etc. waiting to overrun Western Civ then the only cavil you have with Goering and Goebbels is, perhaps, their methods. In Russia, Aleksandr Dugin (who is as powerful there as Richard Spencer is marginalized here) argues for the “Eurasian Orthodox Empire” which will be a “bulwark” against “liberal values” which he, rather oddly, conflates with America. Fascism reborn need not be Teutonic.
    Food for thought.

    • Tom

      Your linkage of a “good man with a gun” with “FuhrerPrinzip” belies your pretentions to bipartisanship.

      • hecate9

        The FuhrerPrinzip and the “good man with a gun” ideas are not causally related. You could believe in one and despise the other. But right now they are temporally related. The guys at Charlottesville dressed in camo and tactical vests and sporting assault rifles clearly see themselves as “good men with guns”- as does the Georgia Security Force III%, the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, the Bundy militias, and even the idiot who shot up the Comet Pizza in DC with his AR15. This idea that a few “good” men with guns and anti-government ideologies can “cut through the crap” and solve our problems is an old theme in American mythology but it never was normative behavior. But take a look at any banana republic and you will see what happens when a weak state concedes power to these clowns. And in Charlottesville they are marching with other clowns wearing swastikas.
        I didn’t think this was a “partisan” opinion. Guess I was wrong. Good to know where you stand.

        • Tom

          Errr…are you attempting to imply that we are in serious danger of the Charlottesville crowd being anything more than a minor nuisance?
          Good night, you’re delusional.

          • hecate9

            No Tom- I’m not implying that. (I may be delusional though). I think they are mostly a nuisance at this point. I called them clowns. But they are definitely “good man with a gun” believers and they’re marching with Fuhrerprinzip guys chanting “blood and soil!” and giving “heil!” salutes, who are reading pamphlets and blogs written by “Clash-of-Civilization” ideologues like Bannon and Dugin, looking for the next White Ethno-State or Orthodox Eurasian Empire. How prevalent and popular they are is another question- I don’t know the answer to that (do you?) but I suspect-like you-they’re a minor phenomenon at this point (2017)- but a very photogenic one.
            I thought we were talking about the confluence of ideas (fascism and gun violence). I think those ideas HAVE come together in parts of America circa 2017- small parts I hope.
            And there are many people who are gun rights advocates and anti-fascists. I don’t mean to imply a causal connection.
            Good Night top you as well.

  • Martin Jennerson

    Unbelievable – this intelligent, well-researched and sane article on politics was written by an academic employed at a university. The last thing I expected.

  • Populism is commonly defined as “support for the concerns of ordinary people” by “mobilizing the animosity of the commoner or the people against privileged elite”.

    What exactly is so wrong about that, honestly? Isn’t that the essence of Western democracy at its core?

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