The politics of the raised drawbridge: the rising tide of parochial populism confounds categories of left and right.

Author:Webber, Patrick

Populism is growing across the West. Established political parties are atrophying. Political norms are changing, fast. Traditional parties in Europe and the United States are petrified. The future of the European Union (EU) is in jeopardy. The rise of the nationalist Fidesz in Hungary and the Law and Justice government in Poland have echoes beyond the less established democracies of the former Soviet bloc. The French National Front and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) are now major players. Anti-immigrant populists disrupt the traditionally placid politics of the Nordic countries, the Netherlands and Germany. Ultraleft parties, equally disdainful of the EU and liberal capitalism, are rising as well, most notably Syriza in Greece, but also Jeremy Corbyn's British Labour Party. Across the Atlantic, Donald Trump's protectionist nativist insurgency has engaged millions of traditional nonvoters and thrown the Republican Party establishment into a nervous breakdown, while the Democrats' Bernie Sanders has led a charge that is equally hostile to free trade and international engagement.

Why are these parties and tendencies within parties in the ascendant? Many attribute the populists' success to platforms and policies, but these movements transcend established concepts of left and right. Popular fatigue with the caution and perceived ineffectiveness of mainstream politics and the air of authenticity exhibited by many populists, who dare to say things excluded from mainstream democratic discourse for many decades, partly explain the phenomenon. Rejecting the pillars of post-Cold War liberalism and globalization, they are united by a politics that is, to varying degrees, parochial.

Who are the parochial populists?

The populist worldview champions "ordinary people" over "elites." Seen through the populist lens, elites are not defined by income or social standing, as they would be by Marxists or liberals, but by opinions and tastes. To be a member of the elite is to hold and promote views seen as scornful of or hostile to those of ordinary people--ordinary people being whoever controls the agenda of a populist movement or party says they are. Political operatives, the mainstream media, career civil servants, bankers and lobbyists, artists, university professors and liberal arts students are all the enemy to most populists. Ultraleft populists, who are allied with the academic elites, excise the last few categories from their enemies list but are otherwise aligned.

There is nothing new about populism: it has long been used by centre-right and centre-left parties to mobilize voters. In Canada populism drove the farmer rebellions of the Progressive Party in the 1920s; the CCF in the 1930s and later its successor the NDP; the rural Quebec crusade against urban modernity launched by the Creditistes in the 1960s; and Preston Manning's Reform Party campaign against the Laurentian elite in the 1990s. Given the strength of populism in Canadian politics it is surprising that, so far, Canada has been largely immune from the most recent populist wave.

What is interesting about the new breed of parochial populism is that it explicitly rejects the classical liberalism of the centre-right and centre-left and the basis of the post-1945, and especially post-Cold War, consensus. In the process it has become potentially very dangerous.

That consensus was defined by a series of norms and policy directions--what the Swedes call the asiktskorridor or "opinion corridor." The walls of this corridor included trust in institutions including governments and trade unions, liberalized trade, the dismantling of protectionism, a positive attitude toward immigration, the transfer of national power to international bodies (the United Nations and trading blocs such as the European Union) and (though unevenly) liberal social views and liberal interventionism in foreign policy. The sum total was a drive toward openness and universality. This consensus became dominant with the questioning of Keynesian economics in the 1970s and the collapse of Soviet Communism in the late 1980s, as the second era of globalization (the first having run from roughly 1870 to 1914) took off. The consensus peaked around the beginning of this century, with its symbolic pinnacle on September 10, 2001.

The rise of global Islamism that launched the attacks of September 11, 2001, provoked the last spasm of post-Cold War internationalism, which came to be seen as responsible for bogging the West down in constant and apparently unwinnable war. Trade liberalization is seen as having hastened the disappearance of stable middle-class jobs that could be secured with a high school diploma. The failure of immigrant communities to integrate into local cultures, an outcome often encouraged by state multiculturalism, has increased the anxieties of those who feel the pressure of competition for low-skilled work. Islamist terror attacks by domestic Muslims only exacerbated concerns around immigration. Political institutions, occupied by wealthy and self-appointed elites who dictate to the masses regardless of popular feeling, appear increasingly distant and beyond influence; the unelected and bureaucratic EU probably stands as the ultimate example.

As table 1 shows, populism creates strange bedfellows. At first glance these political alignments look mismatched. Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump in the same category? The post-Communist Left Party next to the National Front? Assumptions that hold these movements to be in conflict stem from the outdated left-right paradigm that underpinned the liberal consensus. It is no longer useful in describing the way voters behave or think, and it is time to retire it. All these groups share some basic attitudes:

* protectionism in trade, and a...

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