*Me the People: How Populism Transforms Democracy*

By Nadia Urbinati, I think of this book as the next step after Martin Gurri.  Here is one bit:

…the massive usage of the internet — which is an affordable and revolutionary means of interaction and information sharing by ordinary citizens — has supercharged the horizontal transformation of the audience and made the public into the only existing political actor outside institutions born from civil society.

But more significantly, populism is so diverse and the word is so often misused, how should we best understand it?  First, by breaking down parties, the new internet populism raises the status of personalized individual leaders, such as Trump and also AOC.  Thus:

…populism in power is actually a new form of mixed government in which one part of the population achieves a preeminent power over the other(s).  As such, populism competes with (and, if possible, modifies) constitutional democracy in putting forth a specific and distinctive representation of the people and the sovereignty of the people.

Populism also has a hard time giving up power, because the rhetoric is purifying, and the pretense is that the current government does in fact represent a more or less unitary “will of the people,” enemies of the people aside of course.  Elections are about revealing a majority opinion that (supposedly) already exists, and thus populism does not fit entirely easy into standard democratic practice.

Here is more:

As such, populism is more than merely a movement of contestation or mobilization, and it should not be confused with social movements in civil society.  Populism is a movement of contestation against the existing political establishment, but one that seeks a majority that would rule with unchecked ambitions and plan to remain power for as long as possible, though without revoking political liberty or eliminating adversaries.  The “benign” aspects of populism in power include its dwarfing of the opposition and minorities by humiliating them and creating an overwhelming propaganda campaign that endlessly reinforces the power of majority opinion.

Populism is not just a style of politics, so you can’t expect a successful and truly left-wing populism, nor will populists end up as a successful vehicle for “right-wing” ideas either.  Beware!

There is too much political science jargon in this book, and many of the paragraphs are too long or too circuitous, and furthermore much of the best content is difficult to summarize.  Nonetheless this book makes more sense to me than the treatments of populism I read in the mainstream press or in “intelligent” magazines, and I found it genuinely insightful throughout.  Recommended, at least if you are up for a particular kind of read.  You can pre-order the book here.

Comments

Liberal constitutional democracy is when the right candidates win elections. Populism is when the wrong candidates win.

Is perhaps "Populism" an actual political philosophy, sort of another name for Peronism? That is protectionism, strong social welfare, corporatism and so on. I can see that is different to neolibral, or standard conservatism.

Respond

Add Comment

Mr. Sailer, since G. Washington and John Quincy Adams times the promotion of democracy has been an US foreign policy tool. The "city upon a hill" and all that rhetoric.

During the 19th century, it was a soft power policy where efforts were limited to moral support to the 2nd French Republic or selling arms to Mexico to defeat the French invasion.

During the 20th century, democracy promotion was pushed via hard power meaning military intervention. As Lenin talked about world communist revolution, socialism needs to be global or it's not socialism, FDR talked about "that the United States will never survive as a happy and fertile oasis of liberty surrounded by a cruel desert of dictatorship". Just after WW2, H.S. Truman successfully converted 4 fascist governments into democracies: Germany, Italy, Japan and Austria and W. Europe was rebuilt without communism. There's a long list of military interventions in Latin America "to protect democracy". The epitome of this policy is the Vietnam intervention to protect democracy meaning to prevent some elections taking place where the communists may win.

Indeed, democracy in the foreign policy context is when the US supported candidate wins. Don't be surprised if the democracy promotion policy is aimed at US citizens now. Albeit, be worried.

'There's a long list of military interventions in Latin America "to protect democracy". '

Since you have quotes around protecting democracy, I'm guessing you are referring to the overthrow of the democracies of Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Brazil. For the record, the US never said in those days they were protecting democracy but stopping communism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_involvement_in_regime_change_in_Latin_America

"Stopping communism" in Latin America meant protecting United Fruit and other big business interests. That's why "stopping communism" never happened with China. Big businesses found a way to trade there.

Respond

Add Comment

President Bush said it's about "defending democracy" in Panama https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/december-20-1989-address-nation-panama

President Reagan said it's about "restoring order and democracy" in Grenada
https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/october-27-1983-speech-nation-lebanon-and-grenada

So, what did the US never said?

Don't forget the Great war.

Respond

Add Comment

So, you were in favor of Cuba's invasion of Grenada???

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

We invade the world because we invite the world, Axa. Don't get squishy on us.

Or, as Samantha Powers would no doubt agree, US foreign policy is idealistic, not realistic.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

It can even change from an election to the next. Case in point: When Ciudadanos has no one in the left (PSOE -socialists- was in crisis), they are the liberal constitutionalists. When PSOE recovers, they become populist and right wing nationalists. Same people, but they suddenly became thugs.

Respond

Add Comment

Yes. The naked illustration of this since 2016 is an embarrassment, far more embarrassing than anything the president does.

Meant in reply to Steve Sailer.

It occurs to me a simple way to weight the vote toward younger people, per today's other post, would be to redesign the ballot to resemble these comment threads. I'd probably choose my candidate successfully about half the time - I am not yet elderly.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

"Populism is not just a style of politics, so you can’t expect a successful and truly left-wing populism, nor will populists end up as a successful vehicle for “right-wing” ideas either."

I'd like to see the reasoning behind this. Not that I disagree but it isn't obvious why this is so. Also, do you think America has become like Latin America now that we elect populists for leaders? I bet the pro-Trump crowd hates that but it is kind of true.

Trump did about as well among Hispanic voters, perhaps slightly better, than did the patrician Romney.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Populism is simply nationalism, a 19th century construct.

Bonus trivia: Moby Dick is about globalization says the Economist.

It's been around in various forms since Classical Antiquity.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

"The “benign” aspects of populism in power include its dwarfing of the opposition and minorities by humiliating them and creating an overwhelming propaganda campaign that endlessly reinforces the power of majority opinion."

Isn't power of the majority still what we are trying to do? How does a society find a consensus and a way forward, if it does not reinforce things that the majority wants?

'How does a society find a consensus and a way forward, if it does not reinforce things that the majority wants?'

Well, the Founding Fathers seem to have come up with something of a partial answer in the Constitution, where the majority is explicitly forbidden from forming a consensus and a way forward in many areas.

Ask the Mormons about the 1st Amendment, if you wish a practical example. One that includes historical violence and a number of various tribulations until the Mormons became impossible to distinguish from the 'majority' in the sense of their American citizenship, regardless of what many other American citizens think of their religion and its various tenets.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

'enemies of the people aside of course'

Like anyone who has recently immigrated to the U.S., or even arrived as a child, due to having parents who were not born in the U.S. in the first place.

That someone like Prof. Cowen actually cares about such rhetoric enough to openly and clearly oppose it is for loyal readers to judge. Or possibly, those who immigrants, or whose parents were not born in the U.S., are in an even better position to judge.

Respond

Add Comment

Seems heavy on the assertion and minimal on the evidence and argument and persuasion.

(How do 'populist' movements seek more permanent hold of power relative to parties within 'constitutional democracy'? How do 'populist' movements seek to allow "one part of the population achieves a preeminent power over the other(s)" in more of a way than 'elitist' movements? And so on, to essentially every, contestable point of the author's text.)

I would presume that evidence and argumentation that strives to be free of assertions of bias does presents itself in the full text, or else it shall be very, very negatively reviewed (one would hope, in any politically sane world, a series of assertions presented as academic text would be negatively reviewed).

But in the form of the excerpts presented, the burden is not on defenders of putatively labelled 'populist' movements to refute assertions provided without evidence, and in questioning these assertions, the author frankly isn't replying to this comment thread.

So it seems there is not much to say further about these excerpts.

How many times have you seen the Fox -> President -> mob -> Fox news cycle run?

If you prefer, President -> mob -> Fox news -> President

Or mob -> Fox news -> President -> mob

Trump isn't great at many things, but he really is great at being a placeholder for the mob as a whole

You've slipped into pure delusion.

It has been documented many times that Trump tweets something he sees on Fox, creating a populist media cycle. In fact, I might as well give it to you straight:

Lawyers say pipe bomb mailing suspect radicalized by Trump tweets, Fox News

But more generally:

I’ve Studied the Trump-Fox Feedback Loop for Months. It’s Crazier Than You Think.

See what I did there? Links. No claim of personal expertise.

Respond

Add Comment

".. journalists at CNN, the Washington Post, and New York magazine, among others, have compiled lists of Trump tweets they believe were inspired by Fox."

Respond

Add Comment

There are no Right wing mobs rampaging through the streets.

Excuse me?

Respond

Add Comment

PD is right, but I was speaking more of the social media mobs, what in 2016 were called the:

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/bmvnq4/understanding-trumps-troll-army

Hostile social media brigading with silencing intent tilts Right? What kind of crazy world is that true in?

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Hmm.... What's your connection with either Tyler's post or my comment here? I'm struggling to see one.

Trump's re-tweeting of random unsourced Fox News / other tweets isn't a very appealing trait, of course ("No go zones" and other easily debunked information), though not clearly more harmful than left wing credulity on Black Lives Matters* and SJW/woke nonsense.

But whatever that is, it doesn't really connect too obviously to Urbinati's assertions.

*BLM being statistically a sham - https://phys.org/news/2019-07-white-police-officers-minorities.html -
1) "an independent database Cesario and his team created that catalogued each police shooting from 2015... found that the race of the officer doesn't matter when it comes to predicting whether black or white citizens are shot ..."
2) "Many people ask whether black or white citizens are more likely to be shot and why. We found that crime rates are the driving force behind fatal shootings," Cesario said. "Our data show that the rate of crime by each racial group predicts the likelihood of citizens from that racial group being shot. If you live in a county that has a lot of white people committing crimes, white people are more likely to be shot. If you live in a county that has a lot of black people committing crimes, black people are more likely to be shot."

This new populist news, popular opinion, policy cycle is different in kind to past administrations. No matter whether you are talking Republican or Democrat, more thought and think tanks were involved.

You can't name *any* past president who spent his days reposting partisan news on social media.

That's huge.

Don't let current comfort with current madness blind you to it.

The platforms to allow direct communication did not, so they could not.

There isn't necessarily anything too bad in such direct communication.

But in any case not much to evidence any of Urbinati's assertions, which is the only way this could connect to the blog post.

Seems to me that you ignore the elephant in the room, Trumpian populism's historically unique (Fox and) social media footprint, and then say "so, I see nothing."

THIS ISNT WATERGATE. We did not have echo chambers w pre-defined reinforcing narratives and 24/7 messaging. We had 3 networks anchored by a number of actual journalists. No Fox. No Facebook. Hell, some people watched the hearings on b&w tvs. A different strategy is needed.

https://twitter.com/ThomboyD/status/1154408909831933954?s=19

Thomboy has a flamboyant Twitter style, but when he's right he's right. A lot of people aren't going to know the facts certified yesterday, because it is so easy now to cocoon in social media that never tells you anything uncomfortable.

In the sense that everything is unique at the technological frontier, sure, and that the populism is a well formed identification, sure, it is "historically unique".

But "populism" is not new (and you have acknowledged this by qualifying "Trump's populism", and the rest of the assertions do not really stand ("populism in power is actually a new form of mixed government in which one part of the population achieves a preeminent power over the other(s)", etc.)

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Old man shouting at cloud, not as some fringe comment voice, but as actual President of the United States:

"So Democrats and others can illegally fabricate a crime, try pinning it on a very innocent President, and when he fights back against this illegal and treasonous attack on our Country, they call It Obstruction? Wrong! Why didn’t Robert Mueller investigate the investigators?"

That is definitely different government, in kind.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

There is free lunch when it comes to caricaturing the nationalist right. Liberals in Europe and America are very very eager to highlight the most radical elements and anecdotes of right wing militants, and generalise that behavior to the whole group. Looking really hard for anti-gays in Poland or angry faces in nationalist demonstrators.

The truth is there has been very few incivility instances coming from the right wing, while we omit on a daily basis violations of free speech, explicit and tacit coming from the left wing.

I take my hat off to the commentator who said about Trump that his opponents take him literally but not seriously while his supporters take him seriously but not literally.

Huh? That's kind of a dumb line. Of course his opponents take him seriously. Too seriously in fact.

Truncating his words, and adding to them meaning that only exists in your head is not 'serious'.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Cowen: "First, by breaking down parties, the new internet populism raises the status of personalized individual leaders, such as Trump and also AOC." Trump and AOC are equivalent? Trump is president of the United States, while AOC is a first-term member of Congress from a Congressional district in the Bronx. The Republican Party is a unified populist party, while the Democratic Party is a splintered party representing a cross-section of political views, the populist view a small minority.

Urbinati describes populism as "benign", even as she describes its means of obtaining and maintaining power to include "dwarfing of the opposition and minorities by humiliating them and creating an overwhelming propaganda campaign that endlessly reinforces the power of majority opinion". Benign?

Gurri, to his credit, is exceptionally honest, as he is a "dynamic actor" in the right-wing populist movement, which he hopes will displace the current "elites", in government, academia, old media, and the other institutions that bind us together, to be replaced by the "elites" in the libertarian-authoritarian axis, including Gurri and his libertarian friends. Gurri may be honest, but he is not naive: he would sacrifice liberal democracy for the libertarian utopia that he promises, a utopia that will never materialize from the chaos that results from the destruction of liberal democracy that Gurri disdains.

"Urbinati describes populism as "benign", even as she describes its means of obtaining and maintaining power to include "dwarfing of the opposition and minorities by humiliating them and creating an overwhelming propaganda campaign that endlessly reinforces the power of majority opinion". Benign?"

There's plenty of populist moves like this that have had what we would consider benign results. FDR's famous fireside chats and appeals to "the forgotten man" were classic populist moves, and a clear form of propaganda (my grandparents could all remember them vividly from their time as children in the 1930s), pitting the broad cross-section of American society that was suffering under the Great Depression against entrenched minority interests in the form of the uber-wealthy and banks. Some of his rhetoric was certainly humiliating to these interests, who had been held in very high esteem by the inside establishment of both parties; part of the appeal of populism is its tearing down of sacred cows. Not all "humiliation" needs to be extreme stuff the far-right or far-left would do, like forcing political enemies to drink castor oil in public or firing guns and canons at religious icons and monuments.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

the new internet populism raises the status of personalized individual leaders, such as Trump and also AOC.

The new internet populism is simply the new media being delivered by a different method. The personalized individual leaders are click bait, material for media companies with a minimal cost, as has always been the case. AOC and the "the Squad" are a tiny, relatively powerless and intellectually deprived sliver of the national electoral scene. There are 537 elected to national public office. Why are the blatherings of this little group so important?

I agree, step one is abolishing the primary system.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

The right wing loons shooting up mosques and synagogues weren't very civil. Freedom of worship is too much for them.

Nor the more common left-wing loons.

The left-wing ones throw things and punch people, the righties mass murder worshippers and blow up government buildings in Oklahoma.

A Bernie bro shot up Republican Senators playing baseball.

Fortunately, lefties don't know how to shoot. I never see any lefties at the range, but I see lots of NRA stickers and such.

The Bernie bro who couldn't even hit anyone. As I said, and you just implicitly agreed, the right-wing loons are more deadly. They are better shooters, and more importantly they are far more WILLING shooters.

TMC, like you, is as hyperpartisan as they come. So his reply about the 'more common' lefty loons needed context. Sure, there's more lefty idiots shouting and throwing stuff. The righty ones kill.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

34 quid on Kindle? At this price point it won't trouble populism.

Respond

Add Comment

These excerpts make her writing seem embarrassingly shallow.

"Populism is a movement ... that seeks a majority that would rule with unchecked ambitions and plan to remain power for as long as possible, though without revoking political liberty or eliminating adversaries." This is indistinguishable from every other political actor in American history.

"a new form of mixed government in which one part of the population achieves a preeminent power over the other(s)." She finds it new and remarkable that one part of the population has power over another? Seriously, this is parody, isn't it?

Tyler's commentary doesn't help. There is zero evidence in American history of a populist resisting the orderly, constitutional transfer of power. As we've seen from the FBI's recent conduct, that's a phenomenon of the political elite, not the populists. Tyler's sniffing at the fact that the people who won the 2016 election actually expect to given only reinforces this point.

And the parties simply have not broken down. Trump won the presidency through the Republican party's primary structure, and the Democratic party just shut down a populist push for impeachment.

This is a good point. Go look at some of the frankly disgusting tactics plutocrats used to keep the populist of the 1890s out of power. The Pinkerton detective agency existed basically for that purpose.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

"Populism also has a hard time giving up power, because the rhetoric is purifying, and the pretense is that the current government does in fact represent a more or less unitary “will of the people,” enemies of the people aside of course. Elections are about revealing a majority opinion that (supposedly) already exists, and thus populism does not fit entirely easy into standard democratic practice."

This urban myth about how elections put representatives in their seats as some "will or the people" or "mandate from the people" really should be shown for what it is -- a myth and nothing more.

Most of the elected official have a mandate from about 30% (generally less) of the eligible voters. So 70+% have either shown no support or actively oppose the person in the seat.

Maybe we could ask for some truth in advertising from both the politicians and the media/journalist/talking heads on this.

Just replace "will of the people" with "will of the people who give enough of a shit to actually vote". The rest obviously don't care, so they have no will in that regard. Or they are hindered in voting by various means (cf North Carolina)

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

I put this on the other "Gurri" thread, but it belongs at least as much here:

Social media is bad, and for the reasons those thoughtful and hyper-educated elites call out. To give it a pithier thumbnail, we discovered that opinions really were like ass holes. Everyone had one, and was not just willing to share it, but to shout it.

Many to many doesn't really work. There are too many, especially cranks who think they crushed an argument by repeating nonsense. And that now includes state actors who crank up nonsense for political ends.

Note that bloggers like Alex and Tyler implicitly know this. They could publish in a "flat" media space where their comments are equally placed and weighted with us all. They prefer hierarchy, as they should.
And they should probably prefer hierarchy further down in their domain.

When we emerge from this age of static it will be with better structure, and some kind of gatekeepers (probably distributed and multi-sourced) reinstalled.

So I guess I'm on the same vibe. I can readily agree that this new populism is a new artifact of a new media structure, itself an outgrowth of a new technological age.

I hope the hell we grow out of it.

Respond

Add Comment

"Elections are about revealing a majority opinion that (supposedly) already exists, and thus populism does not fit entirely easy into standard democratic practice."

Not sure what 'standard' is, but this sounds exactly like democracy - the will of the people. Seems like democracy's handlers aren't too happy with the people getting their way.
Maybe if government weren't 40% of GDP all of this wouldn't be so important.

If government were less monolithic, the stakes would be much lower.

But it's still not too much to ask for both sides to be civil, fair, and thoughtful. Not that it will ever happen.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

He's saying that democracy is theoretically policy first, rather than (party) identification first.

Respond

Add Comment

The excerpt seems to be identifying populism with charismatic leadership. Since at least the time of Reagan and Thatcher, left-wing attacks have focused on the individual leader. Most recently allegations that the leader is secretly influenced by a foreign government seem to be routine. Even a leader prone to needless self-doubt might wish to erect some sort of public front in self-defense, if they were not deterred from joining the fray by the anticipation of the onslaught.

Respond

Add Comment

In practice, populism is never anything more than just sorting out everyone into Ingroup and Outgroup.

The essential part of speaking for The People is deciding who gets to be part of The People, and who is not.

In other words, it's not really about Ideas; it's about Who has them, and gets to implement them. In the end, there's really no such thing as a Proposition Nation.

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment

Respond

Add Comment