Wednesday, June 11, 2014

And Another Thought on Right Wing Populists

All right, I have a few more reflections on the right wing populists who have been so successful in the recent EU elections, including a possible refinement of my definition of right wing populism.  I have commented before that populists don't fit very well on the conventional right-left spectrum.  The usually lean left on economic issues and right on social issues.  They both punch up and kick down.  Identifying populists as right wing or left wing is therefore a relative matter.

The populists who are on the rise in Europe are a classic example.  The both punch up at Eurocratic elites and kick down at immigrants.  The Guardian article naturally is most alarmed at these parties' tendency to punch up at the Eurocratic elite.  But in this, they are doing no worse than the Eurocrats deserve.  The Eurocrats have imposed the euro on an unwilling public and thereby prevented appropriate adjustments by falling currencies; they have egregiously mismanaged the financial crisis; they have inflicted senseless pain on member states and have nothing to offer but ever more pain and empty promises; and they have even overridden the democratic process in some countries to impose policies more to their liking.  It is entirely appropriate to punch up at such an elite.  Besides, the elites are not in danger from mobs in the; they are quite capable of protecting themselves.  The article says precious little about right wing populist parties' eagerness to kick down at immigrants, many of whom are not capable of protecting themselves and are in danger from violent acts.

Likewise the Guardian is so spectacularly obtuse as to define turning left as not Eurosceptic, i.e., not punching up at an entirely appropriate target.  Interestingly enough, such countries include Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy, i.e., the Mediterranean countries that have suffered most from the EU's destructive policies.  Italy has actually suffered the indignity of seeing the EU depose a democratically elected Prime Minister and replace him with someone more to their liking.  By all means, let us applaud these countries to the extent they are refraining from kicking down at immigrants.  But if they aren't as mad as hell at the Eurocrats, what's wrong with them?

Still, it does give me some further food for thought as to defining right wing populism.  (A favorite subject of mine).  It is my hypothesis that typical populist movements both punch up and kick down, and that whether they are defined as right wing or left wing is simply a matter of which is emphasized more.  I further proposed that there are pure left wing populist movements that punch up only and do not kick down, but they usually have limited appeal.  Still further, I proposed that there could hypothetically be pure right wing populist movements than only kicked down and did not punch up, but that as a practical matter, they do not seem to occur in the real world.  But maybe we should define right wing populists versus left wing populists not only by whether they punch up (invariably they do), but what sort of target they punch up at.

Recall Jonathan Haidt's definition of conservatives -- they are people who value in-group loyalty, respect for authority and tradition, and reverence for the sacred.  (Liberals, by contrast, are people who do not value these things).  So when populists punch up, perhaps we should look at whether they are punching up along these lines.  Do the denounce elites who are outsiders infringing on our in-group's autonomy and sovereignty? Elites who threaten traditional values, or lack respect for the sacred?  It may be that this is a specifically right wing form of punching up, as opposed to left wing punching up which is resentment of elites who economically exploit us, or simply who are wealthier than we are.

Something to think about.

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