Populism for all the people

By Jim Dagg

I don’t know how it feels to everyone else but, as a Canadian who believes he lives in a mostly just pluralist welfare state… left-wing populism seems to make a lot more sense than right-wing populism. Characterized as wanting to address socio-economic challenges, rather than socio-cultural ones seems clearly the better way to deal with societies ills. If people are working and/or feeling supported by their government, then they have less to be resentful about.

The inclusionary vs exclusionary comparison further validates this viewpoint. Where the left tends to want the state to provide material support to the poor (“including” them in beneficial policies), all the right seems to offer is an enemy (“excluded” immigrants and assorted others) on which to place blame for their problems.

Further, the targeting of elites seems so much more natural for the left. Neo-liberalism, as a jobs-killer is an excellent external elite. Also large corporations which don’t pay enough taxes and don’t give their workers a fair wage are great targets. On the right, when they want to make enemies of immigrants and others they have to blame someone for the policies that permit such things to happen. When the right is in power, that could be trouble. Luckily in Europe you can always blame the EU – which is so naturally an elite.

I appreciated the authors (Fieschi and Mudde/Kaltwasser at least) who spoke about populism’s relationship to democracy. It can be “both a threat and a corrective for democracy”. Because they give voice to groups that feel ignored by government, populist parties can alter the political discourse in a positive (say corrective) way. Mind you, they don’t necessarily want change (particularly on the right): they benefit from a thriving resentment.

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