In my opinion populism is pandering to the masses, democracy though should be able to contend with this and come out healthier. To be fair to the populists most politicians use populism to gain favour in some form. Populism though seems more concerned with gaining power through popularity regardless who it abuses.
Populism is a problem because the populist leans to the will of the people. Concerning themselves with the will of those who will vote for them. There is an illusion of leadership but underneath a consolidation of power.
Populism would not be a problem if we lived in a society that was made up of educated people. I don’t just mean people who had gone to school, I mean people who take an interest in issues. Not just the self serving issues but those that have less impact on you.
The optimists believe populism will be defeated by the good will of the people, what seems apparent to me is that the will of people often is bad. The question I have is simple: should the ill will of the people be done? If so where does the responsibility of its outcomes lie? If not who would be tasked with making the “right” decisions?
To the broad question there are three consideration:
1. Should the majority view be enforced in all occasions?
The majority rule is the bedrock of democracy, that the will of the majority should be done. (Obviously this is a simplistic view and there are complexities but lets focus). Majority rule is not without problem, considerable problems when the population is decisively split. Particularly when the majority is small and the minority vehemently oppose it. It is even more complex when the majority is just the largest minority. Should the majority view always be what is enforced?
If you said yes, like many strong advocates of a democracy what do you say when the majority view discriminates against you as a minority? This happens all too often, the same-sex marriage debate in Australia is nothing more than discrimination. Up until this point the majority has discriminated against the same-sex community. It is democracies right to discriminate isn’t it?
The thing with discrimination is that it is built on views that will undoubtably be irrelevant in time. Are we saying that for democracy to work that there should be suffering and suffering that will be irrelevant in 20 years? If it doesn’t affect me is democracy really my concern?
Populism is creating an environment where people are discriminated upon so leaders can consolidate power. There is nothing better than naming your enemy, nothing brings the masses together. I feel too much has been compared to the nazi’s lately but there is a reason. Look at the picture below, that is populism. They had an enemy, the jewish people, the government was just doing their will. They may not have know the detail of the holocaust but they knew Jewish people were being attacked.
It may be an extreme case but it demonstrates the evil of the human spirit and the power of populism. Showing the grip of fear and the way that people can be manipulated. If you were in pre-nazi Germany would you think that the ill will of those people should be enforced? And who would should stop them if not?
2. Populism: the best argument against democracy?
With the rise of the current wave of populists and the destruction of the populists from the past. Is populism the best argument against democracy? The Russians believe that to be so with the help they provided to Trump. Are they right, is democracy just another ideology set to fail?
Populism shows the biggest weakness of democracy and it is not those who gain power through it. It is the same reason that any other ideology should work but doesn’t, people. People are easily manipulated, we respond to authority almost blindly. Stanley Milgram’s experiment on obedience shows this (read here).
Populism highlights this problem: in the best of times we are the best of people, in the worst we are human. Democracy works well when we are prosperous but does not when we are challenged.
Populism asks the question what do you think and the answer seems always to be sad. People, for all the complexities we exhibit are really simple. We have our base needs and everything we do is an attempt to fulfil these. The higher mind is hostage to this, that is for those who use it.
Populism doesn’t just show us that democracy is flawed, it shows us that we are flawed. Both the leaders and followers. If it is people en mass who are the problem with democracy who should we rely on to make the decisions?
3. Who should make the decisions?
For me it is clear that people are the problem for democracy. That the majority does not make the best decisions. Should we then appoint a ruler with absolute power? I think the clear answer is no and that is the problem.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it seems that it is a human failing. This is a genuine question that I keep asking myself. I wait for a future when humans are taken out of the decision (stay tuned for a future article), but for now there are no good answers.
How do we make the best decision, not the most popular. Who should be tasked with making the choice. Bias enters every person and even those with the best of intentions will be bias in their decision.
Who do we say should be trusted to make decisions that could end a life? If I asked you would you sacrifice your life for the lives of many would you? How about your iPad for the better life of an immigrant? Should you be the one to decide?
Democracy is the will of the people, that is what it should be. This makes the very big assumption that we are good and of sound mind. I don’t believe democracy surpasses the human life. If the will of the people is to harm than democracy should be suspended. The elections in France shows us that the human memory is faulty. Le Pen’s populist rhetoric echoes that of the Nazi’s who invaded her country. She makes these statements without irony.
In my view populism is the ill will of the people laid bare. It is shown with pride and an absence of logic. Those who profit from it are fallible people claiming to be gods. They are people who are fearful and express this with force.
The world should be like a playground. If a child stopped another from playing because they liked having more playground to themselves a parent would step in. The child would be chastised and the wrong would be righted. Who in the world can be our parent? That is the questions we should ask. Who will stop the nasty actions and tell the tyrant no you need a nap.
The ill will of the people has to be suspended and replaced. This may be the next step in the evolution of our species. To think without the shackles of fear, to advance without the weight of prejudice.