Friday, September 09, 2005

Against Populism

John Lukacs' new book, Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred, is reviewed on the Wilson Centre site. It is a polemic directed at "conservative" emanations of populism. Thus, Lukacs castigates the current President Bush's motives for invading Iraq as seeking popularity - a charge subsequent developments make distinctly risible.

Lukacs defines populism as the glorification of "ordinary people" at the expense of the undemocratic elite, cut off from mundane concerns. Lukacs' analysis benefits from his knowledge of Nazi-era Germany, and he links the aggressive nationalism Hitler's National Socialism to regimes which perpetuated a similar approach, such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Juan Péron's Argentina.

His anti-populist stance is certainly redolent of a certain stripe of patrician old-school conservatism, with its disdain for the proletarian. And aspects of President Bush's policies, notably the Iraq invasion, don't exactly enthuse traditional conservatives. But one does wonder whether populism is altogether as reprehensible as Lukacs appears to suggest. Surely any democratic political movement needs to be plugged into the demos, and surely this isn't possible without a concomitant commitment to the culture of that demos, and the use of its demotic, too?

Link to Michael Kazin's Wilson Center review:

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