Thursday, June 19, 2008

The European World View Finds another Enemy

Populist movements are a threat not because they raise the issue of direct democracy, but because they advocate nationalist mobilisation based on xenophobia, writes Antony Todorov. Given the failure of the leftist projects of the twentieth century, it is telling that far-right populism is more anti-democratic in the new democracies of central and eastern Europe than in western Europe. Is populism identical to the crisis of democracy or rather a symptom of it?
It’s a specious argument that assumes that people left uncrushed will show themselves to be nothing but wife-beaters, racists, and chainsaw-wielding embarrassments to them in diplomatic dinner parties while chatting with the Burmese, Zimbabwean, or Venezuelan 3rd Secretary.

That enemy is “direct democracy” which is code for “actually paying attention to the public.” Couched in a miasma of people discrediting each other with the broad-brush of populism and anti-populism, it’s been reduced to this in the zeitgeist: they are so far gone and simplistic, that democracy itself has become a left-right issue with the left, after all this time trying to conceal (or at least obscure) it’s proclivities for central planning and control.
Above all, populism is defined as a strategy that gives priority to the need for direct contact between the elite and the people, without the mediation of institutions. This implies that populist strategies question one of the main characteristics of modern democracy, or at least of modern democracy as defined by Tocqueville. Tocqueville speaks of the "intermediary bodies" (the aristocracy in Europe, political associations in America) that serve as a mediator between the citizens and the government, ultimately keeping the power of the executive within acceptable limits and preventing it from becoming tyrannical.
This school of thought seemes to prefer the unelected corporate-shakedown, bribe and donation-driven entities in the form of NGOs and lobbyists, over the actual institutional pillars of democracy: in the case of the US, that’s the Supreme Court and the Legislature.

Sorry, but they have NOT come a long way, Baby...

More interesting yet, is that the article referenced came before the Irish No vote on the Lisbon Treaty, because it supports the view that entertained later by the yak-arati about the Irish being some kind of simple yet charming cave dwelling people. In fact a personal inventory needs to be taken by that same humorless class of critics, because what they were after was the same sort of popular mandate that the likes of those Todorov cites argue against for what seems like no reason other than the kind of yearning for politesse.

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