Legitimate Problems and Illegitimate Solutions by Aimee Brown

While scholars may struggle to define what populism is, it’s a lot less difficult to identify what causes it. Populism is a direct reaction to neo-liberal capitalism. As the Marmonova, Franquesa, and Brooks article puts it, “socio-economic inequalities are the fundamental driving force in defining political cleavages and conflicts in rural Europe today” (1516). Despite the claims currently being made in many neo-liberal democracies, neo-liberal democracy is the cause of, not the solution to, the ascendance of populism. However, as the Molnar article articulates within the context of Germany, in order for this fact to be comprehensible, the hegemonic teleology of neo-liberal democracy must be dismantled. If this is done, then the post-Cold War period “appears less as a redemptive end point and more as a foreboding new beginning” (514). This is because even in a success story like Germany, the application of neo-liberal capitalism resulted in losers as well as winners. Just ask the small farmers of Saxony. Neo-liberal democracy isn’t a centrist and neutral position. Nor is it inevitable or inarguable or without alternative. The alternative is populism. As the Marmonova, Franquesa, and Brooks article illustrates in several countries, while neo-liberalism has been great for agricultural mega-corporations, it has been really bad for small farmers, so why wouldn’t those small farmers look for a political alternative? Similarly, due to the depopulation caused by neo-liberalism, representative democracy no longer works for rural areas, so why wouldn’t the people who live there look for a political alternative? However, that alternative doesn’t have to be neo-fascism. For example, the politics of rural Spain demonstrates that, if the Left can provide a compelling alternative, then they too can be successful. In the absence of a compelling leftist alternative, however, far-right populism wins by default. Unfortunately, far-right populism does nothing for the economically disadvantaged people who support it because, as Bull describes in the Italian context, populism reacts to economic problems not by encouraging class-consciousness, but by creating a consciousness of “the people”. This provides no alternative to neo-liberal capitalism, the root of the problem, but merely an “other” group (southern Italians, Roma, Turks) upon which the problem can irrationally be blamed. In the absence of a credible Left that would identify class as the most useful category of societal analysis, the losers in the rigged game of neo-liberal capitalism are left only with a far-right populism that expresses their legitimate rage using an illegitimate discourse of nationalism and race.

One Reply to “Legitimate Problems and Illegitimate Solutions by Aimee Brown”

  1. I really enjoyed your post! I was enthralled with the readings this week – challenging as some were – but I didn’t extract the meaning you have shown here. You crisply lay the blame for the current populist wave on the inequality that’s built into neo-liberal capitalism. There’s a good case for that!

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