The Circle of (Political) Life by Aimee Brown

I’m going to use a metaphor from one of those bloodthirsty Discovery Channel nature shows. Fascism is the lion. It sees the wilder beast (democracy, work with me here), runs it down, and tears its guts out. The lion only cares about other lions, it thinks that it is totally justified in doing whatever it takes to keep lions on top of the food chain, and it enjoys murdering that wilder beast. Violence is beautiful and democracy exists to be dismembered (Paxton, 41). Populism is the hyena. The wilder beast was already down when the hyena showed up. It isn’t dead, but it looks pretty sick. If it weren’t already sick, the hyena wouldn’t have been able to feed on it. Populism doesn’t hunt democracy down to destroy it, it’s a symptom of democracy’s pre-existing problems of income inequality and democratic illegitimacy (Finchelstein, 5).  And frankly, the hyena is not totally wrong about the whole “people versus the elites” interpretive paradigm. The elite are a mostly-closed group of the affluent and privileged who engage in the depoliticization of politics by shifting some political issues into the realm of law and declaring others to be beyond debate. (Mudde, 581). Where the populists tend to run into trouble is in their definition of ‘the people’. Populists do not like diversity and, for them, ‘the people’ is always a homogenous group which should have absolute democratic power as the majority, regardless of minority concerns. The hyena can still be deadly. And as long as the wilder beast is sick, it’s not going anywhere.     

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