Meta-Blog

SEARCH QandO

Email:
Jon Henke
Bruce "McQ" McQuain
Dale Franks
Bryan Pick
Billy Hollis
Lance Paddock
MichaelW

BLOGROLL QandO

 
 
Recent Posts
The Ayers Resurrection Tour
Special Friends Get Special Breaks
One Hour
The Hope and Change Express - stalled in the slow lane
Michael Steele New RNC Chairman
Things that make you go "hmmmm"...
Oh yeah, that "rule of law" thing ...
Putting Dollar Signs in Front Of The AGW Hoax
Moving toward a 60 vote majority?
Do As I Say ....
 
 
QandO Newsroom

Newsroom Home Page

US News

US National News
Politics
Business
Science
Technology
Health
Entertainment
Sports
Opinion/Editorial

International News

Top World New
Iraq News
Mideast Conflict

Blogging

Blogpulse Daily Highlights
Daypop Top 40 Links

Regional

Regional News

Publications

News Publications

 
Populism
Posted by: Jon Henke on Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A number of bloggers have been trying to settle on a definition of Populism lately.(e.g., Jesse Walker at Reason, Daniel Larison and Reihan Salam of The American Scene) Will Wilkinson offers this unwieldy definition...
...what is populism anyway? I think of a politics that pictures the economy as a huge zero-sum game, sets social and economic classes against each other, and promises “the people” free stuff at the expense of some other, usually richer, people.
Ross Douthat weighs in with a somewhat better definition...
Broadly understood, I take the term “populism” to refer to any politics that champions issues that have a broad base of popular support but receive short shrift from the political elite.
I think the definitions offered have elements of truth in them, but they are too complex or narrow for general use. It seems to me that populism seeks to enlarge the "democracy" element of "representative democracy" - to subvert the idea of a "government of laws and not of men" by bringing the power of the mob to bear on the creation of laws. That is not to say that every populist appeal is incorrect, but as Dale Franks has written, while democracy "is a wonderful method for ascertaining what the people want, and selecting leaders to carry out the people's will", it is not "in and of itself, a particularly good way of ensuring that what people want is the right thing."

So, I'll propose my own definition.


Populism: the political appeal to, or justification of policy by, "the will of the people", rather than by principle, rectitude or propriety of the policy itself.


I worry about policies justified by populism, for reasons expressed well by H.L. Mencken: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

 
TrackBacks
Return to Main Blog Page
 
 

Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
You have three choices
1) most of the public rules
2) some of the public rules
3) One person rules

They are ugly (and their mother dresses them funny) but #1 is the slowest boat to hell of the three.

The Founders slowed the trip even further via a Constitution and Checks & Balances. But they are being usurped and any ’system’ will alway be usurped.

Integrity & Self-respect of the populous slows the boat even further. But those are gone now in this country, so the erosion of the Founder’s counter-measures is picking up pace.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
Some quote from Lord Woodhouselee about voting themselves largess from the treasury comes to mind, a quote which appears to meet the requirements for Dan Rather’s fake, but accurate.

It’s not so much we who do it, but our representatives who know quite well they ought to and can on our behalf, even if we were unaware of the need.
As a rule it was your representative that voted for waste, and mine who voted for a necessary program (preferrably done For The ChildrenTM).
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Populism: the political appeal to, or justification of policy by, "the will of the people", rather than by principle, rectitude or propriety of the policy itself.

Which means populism is a denigration. This is fine except that it requires the observer be an unbiased expert on principle, rectitude and propriety. Such observers are very, very difficult to find.

Suggest that populism is policy that is reflected in the will of the people irrespective of values.

 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
"the will of the people"
Why did you put that in scare quotes, Jon? Important question.
 
Written By: Richard Nikoley
URL: http://www.uncsense.com
Jon, I think you have it about right. Will Wilkinson is trying to describe the type of thinking that you once labeled "Folk Marxism," but populism transcends economic issues. I think of the current anti-illegal-immigration fervor is an example of populism, for example.

 
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
Populism = finger in the wind... without guiding principle
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Populism is the current rage of the mob that still holds on within the political paradigm (as opposed to rule by riot). In the United States it got big in the West at the end of the 19th Century, particularly in California. Populism is a fever, but the fever is not necessarily the wrong fever. So Populism is a double-edged sword, but in general a bad habit to get into. Perhaps the most famous American populist was Huey Long of Louisiana.

Hitler is best described as a populist democrat, where the demos expresses itself as a mass movement in revolution. (Hitler’s dictatorship was a populist dictatorship. He made himself the will of the people — the volk.)

Populism is real democracy in action. (See: republic.)
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
’"the will of the people", rather than by principle, rectitude or propriety of the policy itself.’

Ergo the people are unprincipled, unjust, and improper?

Perhaps ’populist’ is what people in the minority call people in the majority.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Oddly enough, there already seem to be a number of definitions of populism which, unsurprisingly, differ from the ones presented here.

"populism: Definition and Much More from Answers.compopulism n. A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.
www.answers.com/topic/populism - 166k - Cached - Similar pages"

"Web definitions for Populism
a belief in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people.
www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/publications/riscomm/riscomm_appe.shtml - Definition in context"

Etc.

 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Great site, keep it up!

Would you consider a Link Exchange with The Internet Radio Network?? At the IRN you can listen for free to over 30 of America’s top Talk Shows via FREE STREAMING AUDIO!

http://netradionetwork.com
 
Written By: Steve
URL: http://netradionetwork.com
Populism: the political appeal to, or justification of policy by, "the will of the people", rather than by principle, rectitude or propriety of the policy itself.
Populists: Moqtada al-Sadr?, Hugo Chavez?

I think so.
 
Written By: mw
URL: http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/
Richard,

I can not, nor would I presume to, answer for Jon but I would have put that in "scare quotes" because what is represented as the "will of the people" often enough bears scant resemblance to the actual will of the people. With the weird polls, odd and oft manufactured numbers and media framing it is difficult to discern what people are being (ahem) willed at.

A populist who encounters his message from hanging out in low bars with the people he purports to speak for? My kind of guy, and closer to the traditional definition of populist.

A populist who sows seeds of dissension and unrest to capitalize on those later for political power? Kind of a French Shower in my book.

It depends on where the message is coming from. A real populist is a listener, and generally stays in local government. A soi-disant populist uses the feel-good mental association of the term to expand his influence into a perceived power vaccuum, enhance his personal power and tell the "people" what their "will" is.

Just my take though, consider or discard as you like.
 
Written By: Uncle Pinky
URL: http://
Why did you put that in scare quotes, Jon? Important question.
Good question. There are a number of reasons. For one thing, "the will of the people" is used as a justification regardless of whether it necessarily reflects the actual opinion of the electorate. For another, the "will of the people" is a very nebulous and indefinite thing, subject to change at the drop of a dime...or a slight change in framing. And finally, related to the first reason, the "will of the people" doesn’t necessarily reflect what they actually want; it often reflects what they’ll ask for when no costs are presented.

Of course, I understand that "the people" have no collective "will". But for the purpose of navigating the political process, it’s useful to observe that there is an aggregate impact from individual opinions and their corresponding electoral consequences.
"Which means populism is a denigration."
"Ergo the people are unprincipled, unjust, and improper?"
I would agree that populism is, at least from me, a fairly derisive term, because I think "give the people what they want, because they say so" is a dodgy, dangerous way to conduct public affairs. It’s often a way to simply bully opponents rather than addressing them. That is a criticism of tactics, though, and not necessarily of the unerlying issue that is being demagogued by the populist.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://QandO.net
Well then.

Jon feel free to delete my preceding comment and this one as well. Your explanation nutshelled it a lot better than mine, but I couldn’t leave that, perhaps, serious question unanswered.

Given your skills in encapsulation, care to polish my lamentable looking CV. It’s always too short or too long, never Goldilocks standard (after she grew up and became the head of HR, of course. I think she’s about 380 years young these days, but I still bring her flowers and candy.)
 
Written By: Uncle Pinky
URL: http://
Is everyone who claims to support ’The Will of The People" a populist? Can’t anybody play that game? How do you separate the populists from the poseurs? What is the difference between populism and democracy(or should I say representative government?)? It still appears to me that populism or informed, thoughtful electorate depends on which side you agree with, like Churchill’s comparison of gallant Allied submariners vs. merciless Nazi U-Boats. Unless you wish to use one of those pre-packaged definitions found in various dictionaries.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Is everyone who claims to support ’The Will of The People" a populist? Can’t anybody play that game?
Could anybody play that game? I doubt that social conservatives could credibly claim that banning abortion represents the WOTP. The fundies usually appeal to morality, rather than polls.

As a libertarian, I am painfully aware that my preference for limited government and free markets does not jibe with the WOTP either. Libertarianism appeals to principles, rather than polls.

The Democratic coalition is cobbled together from a hodgepodge of groups united by their common vested interest in the expansion of the bureaucratic state. None of these various interest/identity groups in the rainbow coalition can credibly claim to represent any more than a narrow slice of the electorate, so they usually base their appeals on victimhood rather than the WOTP.

It actually seems to be the exception to the rule when a politician rides into power on the strength of a genuine grassroots movement. On the current political scene, Tom Tancredo is the only such politician who I can think of off the top of my head.

It seems like the two elements that must be included in the definition are:

1. The movement or trend that the populist champions is broad-based.

2. The movement or trend that the populist champions is not well represented within traditional politics, leading to a sense that grass-roots elements are challenging political elites.

 
Written By: Aldo
URL: http://
"Libertarianism appeals to principles, rather than polls"

Right, we plebs don’t have principles. A bit of elitism there, I’d say.

1) Broad based ideas are bad?

2) Challenging political elites is bad?

I am a bit puzzled. It seems to me all this bad-mouthing of The Will of The People, presumably a majority of the people, could be construed as anti-democratic elitism.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Populism = demogoguery

Unless of course I agree with the policy being espoused, then it is an accurate reflection of the desires of an intelligent electorate.

Cap








 
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://
could be construed as anti-democratic elitism
Tim, aren’t you describing the premise for a republic?
We’ve considerably tinkered with the government we inherited have we not?
Were all our tinkerings positive?
For another, the "will of the people" is a very nebulous and indefinite thing, subject to change at the drop of a dime...or a slight change in framing
Jon’s right, the "people’s will" doesn’t always result in the best path to follow.
Surely you can think of people you’d like to see NOT eligible to vote on important issues. I know I can (and at times, I’m probably one of them).

 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Captain Sarcastic beat me to it. Demagogue or rabble-rouser would seem to be more appropriate to what you mean. Populist, as I pointed out, already has a definition. If you disagree with someone, they are a demagogue or rabble rouser; if you agree, they are a populist.


"Tim, aren’t you describing the premise for a republic?"

I don’t think so. I don’t consider a republic elitist. An oligarchy would be.

" Jon’s right, the "people’s will" doesn’t always result in the best path to follow."

Who said it was? On the other hand, it isn’t always the worst, either.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://

 
Add Your Comment
  NOTICE: While we don't wish to censor your thoughts, we do blacklist certain terms of profanity or obscenity. This is not to muzzle you, but to ensure that the blog remains work-safe for our readers. If you wish to use profanity, simply insert asterisks (*) where the vowels usually go. Your meaning will still be clear, but our readers will be able to view the blog without worrying that content monitoring will get them in trouble when reading it.
Comments for this entry are closed.
Name:
Email:
URL:
HTML Tools:
Bold Italic Blockquote Hyperlink
Comment:
   
 
Vicious Capitalism

Divider

Buy Dale's Book!
Slackernomics by Dale Franks

Divider

Divider