For Populism. Against Centrism. A big thesis made in seventeen short points.
Please tell me which of these arguments do you disagree with?
1) Democracy is where the best-achievable consensus among the populace get the governance that they actually want to have over a period of time.
2) Electoral politics (with a few caveats in a good representative democracy) is where we all get the government that that the voters (often a minority) *say* they want on one particular day. It’s not exactly the same thing as “democracy”.
3) If you wanted to design a process that gave, to the best-achievable consensus among the populace, the governance that they want to have, you would find it very easy to design something better than electoral politics these days. It’s not rocket science any more.
4) It was once the case that ‘electoral politics’ was the best way of delivering democracy. This isn’t so now. The maturing Internet, and mature capitalism have combined to make electoral politics easier to corrupt than ever. See ‘dark money’, ‘astroturfing’ ‘fake news’ etc.
5) As a result, electoral politics has created a veiled plutocracy, dominated by lobbyists and a systematic, expensive misdirection of voters as Simon Wren-Lewis has outlined very well here.
6) It’s not all bad news. The mature internet, and mature capitalism have also created the skills, knowledge and tools that could be used to create something better than electoral politics.
7) If those skills could be moved out of the marketing department and put at the disposal of the populace, democracy would move on to a new, better phase. This is where the opportunity for democratic innovation arises.
8) Crude populism is absolutely dependent upon this debased version of democracy called electoral politics. It will inevitably get worse. Unless we find a better version of democracy the d-word will soon be entirely discredited. This is a huge threat to human progress.
9) Some people who claim to be anti-populist democrats wouldn’t want to live in the kind of democracy that I have described in my first point here either. They would worry about quality and competence. I would describe these people as managerial technocrats.
10) For managerial technocrats (or, more succinctly in many cases, “centrists”) it’s more important to have ‘good government’ – the government that we ought to have according to the empirical evidence that they are aware of – than that we have the governance that we want.
11) A significant portion of people who are very keen on representative democracy (as I always have been) are really people who have made peace with technocracy. I think that this is a mistake.
12) Because “populism” is a contested concept, it should be appropriated by supporters of my opening proposition. The consistent thing with populism is that it always claims to be the most real version of democracy. It’s time to take back control of that appeal.
13) We can’t keep ducking this argument because it’s too complicated any more. We can attack crude populists for their outright dishonesty now because this argument is easier to make than it ever has been in the current circumstances. More people are ready to get it now.
14) As a populist, (“Real Populist”?) I can also criticise centrists for their arrogance, and for labouring under a delusion that they are not self-interested (basically a Marxist argument about ideology – a bit ‘tu quoque’, I admit, I’m really going for brevity here – gimmie some slack?).
15) I admit that the weakness in my argument is that my version of democracy is a bit of a shot in the dark. We’ve not really tried ‘democracy’ yet – only electoral politics. But centrists should have the decency to stop calling themselves democrats now – if the Brexit referendum achieved one thing, it is to have clarified this.
16) They should also put all of their energies into opposing crude populism – not accommodating or normalising it. They can have that cause in common with us Real Populists.
17) If my version of populism is tried and shown to be a mirage, I would then be prepared to settle for small-c conservative techocracy legitimised by representative democracy. But not until then.
This is all the thrust of my book. Buy it here!