Sunday, April 2, 2023

Trump, Johnson, Netanyahu and other elitist populists

The academic literature on populism in political science and economics has converged around an accepted definition of populism (the one first coined by political scientist Cas Mudde) as "a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite,’ and which argues that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people."

Some aspects of this definition seem to me undisputable, as the reference to a “thin-centered” ideology that can be adapted to different projects, or the references to the will of a pure people that leaves no room for pluralism. 

Many of these movements also include an emphasis on a “corrupt elite,” like for example the Spanish party Podemos, with its initial reference to the battle between the “caste” and the people.

However, some of the most iconic examples of populism would have a hard time portraying themselves as part of the people as opposed to a distant corrupt elite, because it is implausible to take the view that they are not part of this corrupt elite. I have in mind Trump, Johnson, Netanyahu, and also some of the leaders of Catalan national-populism that are not in the global news but that I know well.

Trump, Johnson, Netanyahu and some of our local populists that I have in mind come from privileged families, and most of them have received an elitist education. Johsnon went to Oxford (read Simon Kuper’s book “Chums”), Netanyahu went to the MIT, and one of the most disruptive Catalan national populists has a Phd in Economics from the University of Minnesota. All of them are part of the dominant ethnic (or ethno-linguistic, or demographic) group and live in the neighborhoods of the rich and not the working class.

Here are the most important characterstics of their behavior as I see them:

-Victimization to confront judicial problems.

-Devaluation of institutions.

-Placing themselves beyond the rule of law.

-Disruptive promotion of Polarization.

But not being anti-elitist in any sense. Is this important or am I just obsessed with a few examples?

It could still be that an anti-elitist rhetoric is part of most populist movements, but anti-elitist behavior doesn’t seem to be a fundamental trait of some of the most important of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment