Monday, April 14, 2014

Julius Caesar, Starring Marlon Brando

Our reading of Julius Caesar is now over.  But we did see a movie of it, not one of these modern, "innovative" interpretations of Shakespeare that are all the rage, but but a fine, traditional version, the 1953 version, starring Marlon Brando as Mark Antony.  My comments on the movie:

Crowds are bigger in movies than they ever could be on stage.  The opening sequence, in which a cobbler jokes with two tribunes, punning on cobbler as meaning either bungler or shoemaker is cut short, and rightly so.  The pun just doesn't hold up so well.  When the tribunes go to take the crowning off Caesar's statues, his soldiers stop them and march them off to an unknown fate.  It works well, much better than the play in which it is simply said later that they were "put to silence."  In fact, Caesar's soldiers seem to be all over and it is not safe to speak too freely in public.  Very effective, both in creating an atmosphere and playing to the anxieties of a mid-20th century audience.  (And to us today, as well).

Brutus' wife, Portia, begs him to tell her what is going on, but does not reveal that she stabbed herself to test her tolerance for pain, nor do we see her totally freaking out the next day.

The movie does not mind men declaring their "love" for each other, but scrupulously avoids any use of the term "lover" to mean friend.  (And no matter how often the play used the expression, or how close together, my book  felt the need to explain the proper meaning of "lover" every goddam time it was used!)  When Artimedorus gives Caesar the letter warning of the conspiracy he simply signs it "Artimedorus," while in the play he signed it "Thy lover, Artimedorus."  Brutus simply addresses the crowd as "Romans, countrymen," instead of "Romans, countrymen, and lovers."  Instead of saying, "I slew my best lover," he says, "I slew Caesar."

The actual assassination is powerful.  As the conspirators attack Caesar, Brutus stands aside, some distance off and takes no part.  Caesar puts up a ferocious struggle and manages to break free and make his way over to Brutus, his best friend, seeking his protection.  And Brutus pulls his knife and finishes him off.  The emotional impact, the horror of the scene is intense.  It makes you understand why Dante put Brutus in the bottom ring of Hell, chewed on by Satan for all eternity.

When Brutus addresses the crowd, they are portrayed as initially hostile, which is appropriate, artistically and historically.  He wins them over, although a woman in the crowd screams when Caesar's body is carried out. (There are women as well as men in the crowd).  As for Anthony -- well, when he says, "Bear with me/My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar/I must pause till it come back to me," he turns away from the crowd and pretends to cry, but is really listening for their reaction.  Yeah, that sounds about right, based on his later behavior.

The utterly baffling two announcements that Brutus' wife Portia is dead are cut down to one.  And, again, I think wisely so.  Unless you can somehow convey a good reason for the double announcement, leave it out. When Brutus sees Caesar's ghost, you get the distinct impression that his real fear is not that he will die in the upcoming battle than that he is losing his mind.  (Or does he, after all, hope that he is losing his mind because that means he might survive the upcoming battle?)

As for the final battles, they are much abbreviated and, I would say, wisely so.  The ebb and flow of it is simply confusing and reinforces the impression that the play is falling apart.  Instead, they show Antony's forces attack and the conspirators' forces defeated.  Various individuals dying, either in combat or by their own hand, is cut down, to just Cassius and Brutus.  I did miss Brutus' epitaph for the dead Cassius, "Friends, I owe more tears/To this dead man than you shall see me pay./I shall find time, Cassius, I shall find time."  I always thought this was a beautiful expression of intense emotion by restraint, as grief for a friend struggles against the urgency of the situation.

And at the very end, when they come across the body of Brutus, the speeches of Antony and Octavius are reversed.  In other words, in the original, Octavius (as the future Emperor Augustus) is given the privilege of speaking last.  Antony gives a eulogy of Brutus, followed by Octavius proposing that he receive an honorable funeral, which sounds cold and jarring immediately following Antony's moving epitaph.  So the movie puts the honorable funeral speech first and closes with the epitaph -- an improvement, I would say.

In short, I appear to regard this as a good adaptation.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Obamacare: A Personal Note

Well, I am now signed up for Obamacare, although I really can't afford it right now.  I must say it has been a frustrating experience.  I delayed a long time between initially starting my account and actually signing up because I did not know what my income would be.  Now I know, and I really can't afford, it but we will see what happens.

The website works better than it did in the beginning (less time staring at the green circle going round and round).  The the @#$%^&!!!! thing is still terribly designed!!  I show up and log in.  Good enough.  I am then presented with a screen that has several links that I can click.  First there is a label saying "View my current applications."  Below it is a box that says "2014 New Mexico application for Individual & Family Coverage," together with a status and application number.  To the right of the label is the option to apply for new coverage.  Below the box is a link allowing me to "Find my application."  "Apply for new coverage" leads me to a link below that says "Apply and shop for coverage for me and/or my family."  Well, I kept clicking on that link and it kept leading me into a closed loop that wouldn't let me @#$%^&! apply!  It got so frustrating that I finally called the help line, only to be told to click on the box that said, "2014 New Mexico application for Individual & Family Coverage," which led to the incomplete application.

Okay, it is a small thing, and easily resolved, and maybe it shows me as dense.  But it was really difficult for me to figure out and blocked my application for days!   How many other people have had similar frustrations just not knowing which link to click, I wonder.

View my current applications
Status: Complete
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Need to find your application? Take the next steps here if you applied with a paper application or the Marketplace Call Center, or you were referred by your appropriate state agency. Find my application. 


If you were referred here by your state agency and something's changed since you applied – like your income or family size – select "Apply for new coverage" instead.

Apply for new coverage
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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Julius Caesar, Continued

Julius Caesar readers are now moving on from the first three acts to Acts IV and V, which just aren't very satisfactory and have the feeling of the play falling apart.  (MacBeth has the same fault).  Acts I through III are neat and tightly plotted.  The conspirators conspire, Brutus is brought into the plot, Caesar is killed, Brutus tries to justify the assassination to the crowd, but Mark Antony fires them up with one a the greatest pieces of oratory ever written, and the mob goes on the rampage.  The characters have recognizable personalities. Caesar is the most pompous and arrogant embodiment of hubris and/or ego ever to walk the stage.* Cassius is simply Iago (we read Othello right before Julius Caesar).  Casca is a sneering cynic.  Antony is a rabble-rousing demagogue, who nonetheless seems deeply devoted to Caesar for some undefined reason.  And Brutus -- well Brutus is the perfect demonstration of why the man of flawless character and irreproachable integrity that conspirators want as their figurehead should not be involved in the sordid, squalid business of actually conspiring.  He makes consistently bad decisions while Cassius constantly gives him advice that, although often immoral, makes good tactical sense.

That last trait (Brutus has much worse judgment than Cassius but keeps overruling him) continues in the last two acts.  Otherwise, the play just loses steam.  The rival sides fight a civil war and also quarrel among themselves.  The conspirators lose and kill themselves.  The plot loses its focus, and the characters become less focused, as well.  Antony, whatever his faults, seemed deeply and genuinely devoted to Caesar.  He won over the crowd, in part, by showing that Caesar left his fortune to The People.  He then starts meeting with his allies, Octavius and Lepidus and trying to figure out how to avoid actually having to pay, to say nothing of drawing up hit lists and bartering over who is to be killed as calmly as over a sack of flour. Meanwhile, Brutus and Cassius get into a quarrel with all the emotion maturity of a couple of toddlers, then kiss and make up and decide they need a drink.  And Brutus makes yet another decision so stupid that even his enemies can't believe he was that dumb.  And Cassius keeps going along with it, out of devotion that overrides common sense.  I suppose you could call this character development.  Mark Antony is a cold-blooded cynic who was apparently just putting on an act before.  The noble Brutus is not above childish tantrums.  And Cassius is not, after all, Iago, but has a real devotion to the man he so cynically manipulated in the first act.  (They are brothers-in-law, and address each other as brother).  But as anyone who reads me knows, I make a sharp distinction between character development and character violation.  What Shakespeare does to his characters in the second half of the play borders on character violation, especially for Cassius.  In the early part of the play, Cassius is shown as intensely resentful of Caesar being top dog. That is his real motive for the assassination, plain, pure and simple.  So why is he so submissive to Brutus as top dog, even when Brutus proves time and again that he is completely unqualified for the job?  I think it would be possible to give Cassius better character development, somehow, but Shakespeare signally fails.

_________________________________________
*We had a sort of debate what is the difference between these two types of arrogance.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bitcoins and The Free Banking Era

I do not claim any special expertise on Bitcoin, but because it is in the news, I will weigh in.  As I understand it, Bitcoin is a digital currency that exists only as electronic ledger entries.  It is "mined" by doing complex mathematical equations to qualify for a bitcoin.  The makers of Bitcoin have put a ceiling on the number of bitcoins that will be released.  It is beginning to spawn on-line imitators.  Oh, yes, and its biggest fans tend to be libertarians who hate central banks.

In some ways, this is downright amusing.  After all, one of the big complaints Austrian-style libertarians have about central banks is that they reject the intrinsic value of gold and instead issue fiat money that is just so much designer toilet paper.  But really gold is fiat money too.  You can't eat it, burn it, wear it or build with it, and it is too heavy and too soft to make good tools.  It is useful to plate against corrosion, conduct electricity, and various purposes that call for a highly malleable and ductile metal.  And bitcoins are the ultimate fiat money, not even useful as designer toilet paper.  Granted, bitcoins have two other properties Austrian (or Austrian-esque) libertarians value.  They will be released in a limited supply, which will protect them against inflation.  And they are not controlled by any government.  I suspect that libertarians may be in for a lesson in why these can be problems.

Certainly, Austrian-esque libertarians have an extreme aversion to inflation, which they see as an immoral confiscation of people's savings.  They see opposition to inflation in absolutist terms, not as part of a complex framework of tradeoffs.  (See here for a most amusing discussion of why prioritizing zero inflation above all else makes no sense at all).  And they are not sensitive to the hazards of deflation.  If bitcoin works as it is supposed to, it will constantly increase in value, which sounds like a good thing until one realizes that this means it will experience constant deflation.  And libertarians may learn the nature of a deflationary spiral -- as a currency's value rises, people will be reluctant to spend it and its circulation will decline, causing its value to rise more until it becomes hoarded and ceases to circulate altogether.  Fortunately, there will still be old-fashioned national currencies around, so the deflation of Bitcoin won't actually harm anything.

As for keeping the government out, Bitcoin appears to be going to the opposite end of anti-central bank libertarianism from the one that wants to rely on gold -- the one that wants to return to the free banking era. In the free banking era, there were government issued gold and silver coins, and sometimes even government bank notes.  But these were not the only currencies.  Each bank issued its own.  If your primary goal is keeping government from having a monopoly on money because you think this gives government too much power, then I suppose free banking is an excellent system.  If your goal is much of anything else, then the advantages of free banking are less clear.  It turns out that private banks, if allowed to issue their own currency, are prey to the same temptation as central banks -- to issue too much.  And private banks did, quite regularly, issue too much currency with all the evils that Austrian types warn about -- inflation, speculative bubbles, and a boom-and-bust cycle.  In addition, bank failures were common, so that people who put their money in the wrong bank could lose their entire savings.  People who accepted notes from the wrong bank might see them turn into designer toilet paper if it failed.  Also, exchange rates between the currencies of different banks fluctuated wildly, so people never knew how much the money in their pockets would buy at any given time.  (Financial newspapers posted exchange rates daily).  Oh yes, and the system was rife with fraud.  Otherwise, it worked very well.

My guess is that if Bitcoin succeeds and inspires imitators, we will see something similar happen with digital currencies.  Many will succumb to the temptation to issue too much and see their digital currency endlessly depreciate.  Others will resist the temptation and fall victim to Gresham's law; their currencies will be hoarded instead of circulating.  Weaker currencies will fail and cost people their savings and not even leave them designer toilet paper.  Exchange rates will fluctuate wildly.  (They already do).  And the system will be rife with fraud. A lot of people will learn the hard way why the free banking era wasn't so great.

Monday, March 3, 2014

One Last Question Before I Take a Break

I should make one last comment on my proposed series on how democracies fail before leaving it for the time being.  My preliminary hypothesis that the danger generally lies on the Right.  My point is not to deny the very real horrors of violent revolution from the Left, simply to say that those horrors do not seem to occur in democratic countries; that violent revolution from the Left only occurs against authoritarian regimes.

But in modern times, the leap has not generally been from one to the other.  At least some interim period of democratic rule usually intervenes.  Just how long does it have to be to count?  The case of Russia may seem straightforward.  Revolution against the Czar erupted in the end of February (old calendar; mid-March by the new calendar).  The Bolsheviks took over in late October (old calendar; early November by the new calendar). The interim provisional government was wracked by chaos and turmoil.  Nothing like a functioning government, let along a recognizable democracy existed.  Compare that to Weimar which, however turbulent its birth and and troubled its adolescence, at least drew up a constitution and functioning government and held numerous, regular elections.  Weimar endured only fourteen years and was never a mature or healthy democracy, but it was hardly comparable to Russia during those few chaotic months.

But what of, say, the French Revolution?  It took several years to swing badly out of control and managed to hold elections and write a constitution.  Even if one dismisses the several years of chaos, ultimately France did establish an elective Directory that managed to run a functioning government until Napoleon overthrew it. Why not include it?  I do intend to include the subversion by Communists of nascent democracy in Eastern Europe after WWII, which took about three years.  Why not the French First or Second Republic?  In other words, how long does a democratically elective government have to endure to say that it failed, rather than that it just never succeeded?

My answer has to be, I don't know.  Maybe I will include some of these other examples later one; who knows.  But I do intend at least one rule -- that a failed democracy must last at least long enough to but up and running and then fail in order to count.

And now I mean to drop the subject for a while until I have learned something about the Greeks.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fascism and Failures of Democracy

One of the subjects I intend to give a lot of emphasis is fascism.  Famously, fascism is one of the ways that democracy can fail, but only one.  One of my great inspirations here is a comment to one of my blog posts on the Tea Party and fascism.  The commenter said that just because the Tea Party is not fascist does not mean that it is not dangerous.  Why can't American fascism be different from classic European fascism.  So I intend to compare a lot of failures of democracy to that great iconic failure in fascism and see -- how many traits of fascism are generally common to failures of democracy in general and how many are unique.  Or put differently, have there been other, semi-fascist movements that usually go unnoted.

So what is fascism?  I intend to go over its traits as set forth by professionals, but also to address some of its other traits as well.

Fascism is a middle class populist movement.  Like populist movements in general, it does not fit easily on the right-left spectrum.  It both punches up and kicks down.  But like middle class populist movements in general, it was driven first and foremost by fear of displacement from below, and therefore focused more on the kicking down.  Furthermore, in no country did a fascist party ever gather enough votes to win a majority and come to power entirely on its own.  In most countries, this prevented true fascists (as opposed to more broadly generic right wing dictatorships) from coming to power.  When fascism did come to power, it was by cutting a deal with entrenched, powerful interests to protect them from revolution from the Left.  As such, it had to curtail the punching up.

Fascism is driven by both fear and ambition, but fear predominates.  This is closely related to the previous point.  Clearly, Mussolini and Hitler were charismatic leaders of overweening ambition.  They also attracted some lower class followers (particularly as street thugs) by appealing to their ambition for a better life, and an opportunity to tear down people above them.  But first and foremost, they appealed to middle class fear of revolution from the Left.  Ambition gave fascism its leaders and its street followers, but its success as a mass movement and at the ballot box came from fear.  All of this should point up something important.  The middle class is typically fairly content with the social order and not driven by ambition to pull down the class above them and take their place.  It is driven far more by the fear of being pulled down from below.  This is (presumably) why the danger lies mostly on the right.

As for professional historians, this one describes the concrete institutions of fascism as, "a paramilitary party that has taken over the state and claimed an effective monopoly of political activity, the abrogation of the procedures of liberal democracy, the actual militarization of society, the successful penetration of the state into the everyday life of the individual, and a very significant degree of actual state regulatory control over the economy."  All but the first are traits of fascism after it has seized power, and I am more interested in how fascism seizes power than what it does when it gets there (except as a continuation of how it seized power).  Even before fascism comes to power, it is characterized by a paramilitary party that aspires to take over the state and claim an effective monopoly of political activity.  But an out-of-power fascist party is not just any paramilitary.  It is an association between a paramilitary and a political party.  In other words, the rebels in the hills seeking to overthrow the government outright are not fascists.  A fascist paramilitary is associated with a political party that competes in a democratic process.  But it does not play fair.  It uses violence to intimidate its opponents.  Nor paramilitaries that are simply hired guns for the powerful fascists.  The Pinkerton Detectives or a Latin American death squad are not fascists.  A fascist paramilitary is a populist paramilitary outside the control of either the state or the powerful.  This understandably makes powerful interests extremely leery of fascists unless they are able to cut a deal behind the scenes.

So, middle class populist movement, driven primarily by fear, but also by ambition, and a combination of political party and populist paramilitary.  These are traits I will hold up for comparison in seeing how much various anti-democratic movements resemble true classical fascism.

And now for the old standbys.

From Stanley Payne, in Fascism: Comparison and Definition (1980):

A. The Fascist Negations:
-- Anticommunism.  I will amend this to anti radicals who threaten the social order.  This is something I expect to see very commonly in right wing anti-democratic movements in all times and places.
-- Antiliberalism.  I will amend to add inability to distinguish between radicals and liberals, and as a result, gross exaggeration of the dangers posed by even moderate reformers.  This is another trait I expect to see a lot of in right wing anti-democratic movements.
-- Anticonservatism (though with the understanding that fascist groups were willing to undertake temporary alliances with groups from any other sector, most commonly with the right).  I do not expect to see this in most right wing anti-democratic movements.  I expect most to range somewhere from conservative to reactionary.

B. Ideology and Goals:
-- Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state based not merely on traditional principles or models
-- Organization of some new kind of regulated, multiclass, integrated national economic structure, whether called national corporatist, national socialist, or national syndicalist
-- The goal of empire or a radical change in the nation’s relationship with other powers
-- Specific espousal of an idealist, voluntarist creed, normally involving the attempt to realize a new form of modern, self-determined, secular culture.

Based on what I have seen of dangerous right wing movements in the US and (to a lesser extent) in other countries, I do not expect to see these traits very often.  Most right wing anti-democratic movements are driven by a desire to protect existing structures of power and privilege.  Most left-wing anti-democratic movements are driven by a desire to pull down the powerful and rise up to take their place.  These (rather vague) goals may very well prove to be unique to classical fascism.

C. Style and Organization:
-- Emphasis on esthetic structure of meetings, symbols, and political choreography, stressing romantic and mystical aspects.  No idea whatever how common this will be.
-- Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and with the goal of a mass party militia.   I expect to see a lot of this in anti-democratic movements, right and left, overall.
-- Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use, violence.  Ditto.  I fully expect private armies and political violence to be a major symptom of failure.
-- Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing the organic view of society.  I don't have a good sense of this one.
-- Exaltation of youth above other phases of life, emphasizing the conflict of generations, at least in effecting the initial political transformation.  This, I suspect, will be a trait mostly limited to classical fascism and not much seen in any other anti-democratic movement.
-- Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command, whether or not the command is to some degree initially elective.  Well, yes authoritarianism is sort of inherent in all anti-democratic movements and I expect to see it quite regularly.  As I have said before, the charismatic, personal style is something I expect to see primarily on the left, though it may exist somewhat on the right as well.


Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, and the "nine mobilizing passions":

-- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;  I expect to see this in all anti-democratic movements, but would expect it to be stronger on the right than the left, because the right is apt to be more fear-based.

-- the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual, and the subordination of the individual to it;  to be honest, I don't have any sense how often we will see this.

-- the belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group's enemies, both internal and external; this is another one I expect to see a lot of, right and left.  The difference will be that it will be more justified  in a situation of punching up than one of kicking down.

-- dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences; ignore the part about "individualistic liberalism, class conflict and alien influences."  I don't know how much we will see of this.  But dread of one's group's decline, like the sense of overwhelming crisis, is something I expect to see a lot of in right wing anti-democratic movements.  Fear, often grossly exaggerated, will be their defining trait.

-- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary; tough to say.  On the one hand, this sounds like a sort of reactionary desire to turn back change that one would commonly see in right wing movements.  On the other hand, it sounds a lot like Payne's ideology and goals of fascism -- a trait largely restricted to classical fascism.  I guess we will see.

-- the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny;  I expect the emphasis on charismatic leaders to be more characteristic of left-wing anti-democratic movements than right wing.

-- the superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason; ditto.

-- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success; yep, I imagine we will be seeing a whole lot of this from all sides.

-- the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess in a Darwinian struggle.  This is a bit extreme, and I don't expect to see it much outside of true classical fascism.  But I do believe that there is a strong tendency among right wing anti-democratic movements to confuse the interests of the elite with the common interest, and threats to their domination (seen as natural and right) with madness, anarchy, Bolshevism, or whatever.  In other words, I expect to see a lot more of this when driven by fear than when driven by ambition.

In short, while I emphatically do not accept the Liberal Fascism hypothesis that fascism is a movement of the left, I do expect it to differ in a number of ways from the typical right wing anti-democratic movement and even to have traits more typically characteristic of the anti-democratic left.  Typical right-wing traits of fascism are its deep-seated basis in fear, especially middle class fear of displacement from below, its fondness for kicking down, and its hatred and fear of radicals and liberals and inability to distinguish between them.  But it also has some traits more characteristic of the anti-democratic left, particularly its dependence on charismatic leaders of insatiable ambition, its willingness to punch up, and its desire to transform society, albeit not in the way the left would wish to transform it.  

So, I will be running the various anti-democratic movements through these criteria to see how much they resemble classical fascism.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Note on Terminology

So, in my last post, I made extensive use of the terms "right wing," "left wing," and "populist."  These terms get used a lot, but they are sufficiently vague and abstract that they need definition.  So here goes.

On economic issues, right wing can roughly be defined as meaning upholding the status quo of power, while left wing would mean opposing the status quo of power.  Obviously, opposition to the status quo of power can cover a wide range, from moderate reform to all-out revolution.  In one way, these are very important distinctions -- they are the distinction between the reformist left and the revolutionary left, the loyal left and the disloyal left.  But if my hypothesis is correct, in another way the distinction may not be so important. One sign that the right wing has become dangerous is that it loses its ability to distinguish between the radical and the moderate left and starts panicking over even moderate reformers.  On social issues, the right upholds traditional values while the left is critical of them (again, to varying degrees).  The right is often driven by fear of change; the left by ambition for something better.

But above all else, and central to the definition I expect to use here, the left wing punches up; the right wing kicks down.  I don't mean that either does so exclusively.  Any John Birch Society, Austrian School, or Mises Institute site is rife with punching up against evil banks (and government, of course).  And the history of the labor movement has plenty of kicking down against immigrants and minorities who threaten to undercut unions.  But right wing fulmination against evil bankers is balanced by anger at anyone who would infringe on the freedom of non-financial capitalists to pursue profit as they wish.  And militant unions never forget that the boss is their primary enemy.

I should add here that I think we liberals are a little to quick to romanticize punching up.  Inciting anger against the powerful appeals to the same base instincts as inciting anger against the powerless.  There can be no doubt that powerful are often corrupt and abuse their power, that reforms are sometimes needed, or that punching up can be appropriate.  But some reforms are ill-advised or dangerous, and punching up can bring on a terrible confrontation.  We liberals should be cautious with it.  But we are absolutely right to condemn kicking down.

Populists movements are ones that claim to be the voice of the people.  The term is often used as a pejorative to suggest that populist movements appeal to the people's resentments rather than their hopes, or that they appeal to base instincts.  I hope to look at the degree to which that is true.  But for right now, I would say that populism does not fit easily of a right-left spectrum.  On economic issues, it opposes the status quo of power.  On social issues, it upholds traditional values.  It both punches up and kicks down.  Whether a populist movement gets classified as right or left is a matter of emphasis.  What does it emphasize more, criticism of the economic status quo of power, or calls up uphold traditional values?  Does emphasize punching up or kicking down?

My next post will be on fascism, the most slippery concept of all.

PS:  And then there is the nebulous matter of scapegoating a wealthy but politically powerless minority.  Is this punching up or kicking down?  It has elements of both.

PPS:  I should add two more thoughts.  First, one of the great evils of punching up is not just that it can bring on a terrible confrontation, but that it can unleash a mad frenzy of nihilistic destruction -- think peasant revolts, slave revolts, Communism, etc.  It is too often driven, not by people's aspirations for something better, but by people's hatred and desire to tear down the people above them, not a desire to raise themselves up.  So punching up is a thing that can be necessary and useful, but must be very carefully controlled, and not romanticized.

The other is a note on terminology.  I have already said that I define left wing populism as one that primarily punches up, even if it also kicks down, and right wing populism as one that primarily kicks down, even if it also punches up.  I will speak of "pure" left wing populism as one that punches up only and does not kick down.  Thus by my definition a "pure" left wing populism may be socially conservative.  It may have its primary base among people who are not at the very bottom of the social ladder, and it may do little or nothing for people below its primary constituency.  But it does not kick down, that is it does not treat people below its primary constituency as scapegoats, or incite hostility toward them, or seek to lower their status even further.  "Pure" left wing populism exists, or at least has existed, but it generally has limited appeal because the seductive allure of kicking down is just too great.  A "pure" right wing populist is one who kicks down only and does not punch up.  They may exist, but if so, they can't be very common.  The basic desire to be a scrappy underdog fighting the mighty powers arraigned against one is simply too important a part of populist psychology for a "pure" right wing populism to work very well.  So most populist movements will both punch up and kick down, and the important distinction will be on the emphasis.

PPPS:  This is perhaps the ultimate description of the psychology of right wing populism:
The salient fact of American politics is that there are fifty to seventy million voters each of who will volunteer to live, with his family, in a cardboard box under an overpass, and cook sparrows on an old curtain rod, if someone would only guarantee that the black, gay, Hispanic, liberal, whatever, in the next box over doesn’t even have a curtain rod, or a sparrow to put on it.
Just fill in any other nationality and whatever groups they prefer to kick down on, and it will fit just as well.

PPPPS:  And punching up at its worst means living in a cardboard box under an overpass without sparrows or a curtain rod and wanting only to destroy your neighbors sparrows and curtain rod instead of to have one's own.