Saturday, December 27, 2014

One More Comment on Right Wing Populism

A quick recap.  I had previously stated that typical populists call themselves the voice of the people and both punch up and kick down.  I defined left wing populism as a populism that predominantly punches up rather than kicking down and "pure" left wing populism that solely punches up.  I further defined right wing populism as populism that predominantly kicks down and commented that I did not know of any "pure" right wing populism that kicked down only without punching up.  As an afterword, I commented that I did not know how to classify a populism that scapegoats a wealthy but politically powerless ethnic or religious minority.  Is that punching up or kicking down?

I later modified my definition of right wing populism by taking into account not only whether it predominantly punches up or kicks down, but who it punches up at.  If it punches up in a manner consistent with Jonathan Haidt's conservative values, it might be right wing.  In other words, to punch up against an outside elite infringing our in-group's autonomy and sovereignty, or against a new-fangled or secular elite that lacks respect for tradition or offends our concept of the sacred, that is consistent with right wing populism.  Left wing populist punching up, by contrast, will mostly be anger at the wealthy and belief that they are exploiting us.

Then I thought about the Reconstruction Ku Klux Klan.  Its main goal was to maintain the traditional racial hierarchy and keep the newly freed slaves in the place.  In other words, it was right wing because it focused on kicking down.  And, unlike other Southern populist movements, either before or after the war, it was in no way hostile to the South's traditional planter elite.  Had I finally stumbled across that elusive creature, a populism that kicks down only and does not punch up? The answer had to be no.  The Klan did not punch up at the South's traditional elite, but it did punch up at a new, non-traditional elite.  It punched up at the Federal Government, at Yankee carpetbaggers, and at southern Republicans (Scalawags).

And then another though occurred to me.  Contrary to what some old Dunning School histories of the Reconstruction might suggest, the Yankee carpetbagger was nothing new.  Long before the Civil War, many of the South's merchants, traders, bankers, businessmen, steamboat companies, insurance industry, peddlers, and many school masters and skilled craftsmen, had been northern.   Southerners considered farming as the noblest profession and all these urban activities as degrading.  These northern businessmen had long been resented and suspecting of exploiting honest but naive farmers. Complaints about the evil carpetbaggers in the Reconstruction were just the same, now amplified in that these Yankees were now associated the Federal Government and racial equality, two things Southerns despised.

And, after all, the Yankee carpetbagger (before or after the war) simply played the same role in the South as Jews in Europe, Arabs in East Africa, Indians in West Africa, and Chinese in Southeast Asia.  In short, punching up that spares local and traditional elites, but targets a wealthy but politically powerless outside group is part and parcel of right wing populism, at least when combined with kicking down.  (Left to be seen: How much does punching out at wealthy outsiders correlate with kicking down and punching up at local and traditional elites correlate with not kicking down).

No comments:

Post a Comment