Democracy Good, Populism Bad?

“Democracy”  is rule according to the will of the demos, the people,  meaning those citizens who have rights and duties in a polity .  Either directly or indirectly those citizens choose their country’s leadership by force of numbers. Do you agree?

“Populism” is what it’s called when a majority of the people feel they aren’t getting what they want from their government, and begin a movement or profess support for a leader who think she the same. Agreed?

I just read that democracy is a form of government, populism is an ideology.  (But isn’t populism the underlying ideology in a democracy?)

Populism the ideology  can be a corrective in a democratic society, when the means of choosing its leaders and legislators and/or or the protections they enjoy in power insulate them from the will of the people.

But they say, populism is dangerous , leads to autocracy and demagoguery.

Populist leaders might aggregate power to themselves only to frustrate the goals of their opponents and impose their own agenda on the nation.

Well, um……isn’t that what we mean when we echo Buraq Hussein’s immortal words: “I won.  Elections have consequences.”?

Where does this leave us?  People who want to govern in a democratic society like ours, have to, and do, appeal to the electorate, speak to them, win them over.

And so would a “populist”.  Right?

I get that to “compare” democracy to populism is an apples/oranges type thing if populism is “only” a philosophy and democracy is a comprehensive system of government.

And I get that democracy contains checks to prevent “tyranny of the majority”, but it occurs to me that that’s idea might occur to a populist as well: there’s nobody in America, (or there didn’t used to be) who doesn’t see herself as sui generis.  Our most beloved poem, I read somewhere, is Frost’s The Road Not Taken.  We all  like  to think  we took the road less travelled.  Populism as an ideology in America does not mean voluntarily succumbing to mind control; it means the opposite.

So Ratty, I am humbly asking:

Why is democracy good, populism bad?

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10 thoughts on “Democracy Good, Populism Bad?”

  1. Both terms are casualties of progressivism, which first takes the meaning out of formerly agreed-upon words and ideas and makes of them something else. Thus, if a movement arises which opposes progressivism, it is labeled “populist” and bad, counter to “democracy” (as that is temporarily defined by the left). The same is at work when it comes to “ideology,” a word which only recently acquired negative connotations. Note that there are no leftist “ideologues;” the label applies only to the right (just as there are no “extreme” leftists). There was a time that an ideology was a consistent set of beliefs which made for a coherent worldview. Now, through leftist linguistic torture and endless repetition, it is pejorative.

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  2. Thanks @civilwestman!  You confirm my impression:  if one agrees with a popular policy, why, it’s  democracy.  If not–it’s populism.

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  3. One must simply reject the premise. As Civil Westman (@ateransere) points out, the Left has corrupted the language so as to interfere with discourse. The Left can’t win by using reason and facts so they fall back on obscurity and deception. One even sees this at work in the co-opting of the term liberal, forcing true lovers of liberty to adopt the term libertarian.

    This was on display in the recent debate between Steve Bannon and David Frum. I only listened to a few brief excerpts but the debate was framed as populism vs. liberalism, as if there were no leftist* populists. As an aside, the audience was openly hostile to Bannon (surprise!) and had to run a gauntlet of angry, chanting protesters to get in the hall. During Bannon’s opening statement, some harpy in the audience started yelling and had to be escorted out of the hall.

    *current meaning of liberal

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  4. Yes, and I think we should be making more out of the phenomenon that there are no “extreme Left” kooks who can be found to be called out as such in mass media.   “Extremist” is a word reserved only for conservatives.

    We should be asking “what is the difference between ‘center-left’ and ‘extreme left’?” at every opportunity.

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  5. I agree with the OP and the comments, of course.  Democracy and Populism are identical to me, to the degree that I care.  Democracy as a form of government is one step removed from anarchy; it is the lowest form of organized government which can be considered organized at all.  It is the rule of the mob which does not have to pick up rocks.  Once they pick up rocks, it’s anarchy.

    I view the Republic, in particular OUR Republic, as a local maximum in a domain proven to cover all that is possible for the human condition.  Analogous to a Laffer curve (for familiarity)  in which all of the freedom and none of the freedom are identical on the axis which matters — once the mob picks up rocks it has all of the freedom possible, but we do not value this.

    Sorry — rambling.  Democracy bad — Populism bad.  But neither are the worst thing.

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  6. Haakon Dahl:
    …once the mob picks up rocks it has all of the freedom possible, but we do not value this.

    We do not value this because, as conservatives, we care about outcomes.   If you only care about that marvelous street-protest vibe that gets your outragey feels all worked up, then you may not be the sort of person who knows that it always ends badly.

    Anarchy is not sustainable.   Everywhere we saw anarchy, within just a few days we see order begin to emerge from chaos.   Usually it comes in the form of gangs of thugs.   Feudal society results, with a gang lord serving as the feudal master of each little bit of turf.

    Since conservatives do not want to emulate Somalia, and can think about likely outcomes, it is up to us to prevent the Leftist emotionals from bringing down Western Civilization.   We need every one of us to energetically do our bit to aid the cause.

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  7. Haakon Dahl:
    I agree with the OP and the comments, of course.  Democracy and Populism are identical to me, to the degree that I care.  Democracy as a form of government is one step removed from anarchy; it is the lowest form of organized government which can be considered organized at all.  It is the rule of the mob which does not have to pick up rocks.  Once they pick up rocks, it’s anarchy.

    I view the Republic, in particular OUR Republic, as a local maximum in a domain proven to cover all that is possible for the human condition.  Analogous to a Laffer curve (for familiarity)  in which all of the freedom and none of the freedom are identical on the axis which matters — once the mob picks up rocks it has all of the freedom possible, but we do not value this.

    Sorry — rambling.  Democracy bad — Populism bad.  But neither are the worst thing.

    Wellsir, I just perused  your post about Scale.  All I can say is: Duh…I like the pretty pictures!  You’re at large in a realm of intelligence (mathematical) which I am not  equipped to enter.

    But “one step removed from anarchy”: to that I can relate.

    Truly, Liberty is the daughter of order and the mother of chaos.  We’ve lived through her sedate, well-monitored childhood in this cycle.

    She has grown into  the wanton Prodigal.   See, she writhes in childbed, and the dreadful midwives have been summoned; they are beating on the door!  “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last”  will burst from her distended belly this time?

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  8. MJBubba:

    Haakon Dahl:
    …once the mob picks up rocks it has all of the freedom possible, but we do not value this.

    We do not value this because, as conservatives, we care about outcomes.   If you only care about that marvelous street-protest vibe that gets your outragey feels all worked up, then you may not be the sort of person who knows that it always ends badly.

    Anarchy is not sustainable.   Everywhere we saw anarchy, within just a few days we see order begin to emerge from chaos.   Usually it comes in the form of gangs of thugs.   Feudal society results, with a gang lord serving as the feudal master of each little bit of turf.

    Since conservatives do not want to emulate Somalia, and can think about likely outcomes, it is up to us to prevent the Leftist emotionals from bringing down Western Civilization.   We need every one of us to energetically do our bit to aid the cause.

    Yeah, I’m with ya bro.  We do not value this — others do.  Some kooks we have known at other sites, who call us statists, specifically because we do not value Somalian anarchy.  Conservatives support limited government — we support it, but within limits.

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