Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 17 May 2023


 "A more honest account of events would go like this. A large minority of the public need no manipulation to vote for populism. While some have obvious grievances, not all do. (I am waiting to hear from economic determinists why lots of prosperous people voted for Trump and why, in the UK, the home counties voted for Brexit.) Yes, there is such a thing as elite mismanagement, and it can explain why a voter might, with a heavy heart, try a radical alternative. It cannot explain why someone might giggle as an accuser of sexual assault is called a “whack job” by a former president. No, that is a straightforward case of civic irresponsibility. Or nihilism.

Blaming the elites alone is soothing because it offers the illusion of control. If the cause of populism is top-down, the solution must be too. It is just a question of finding and applying a technocratic fix. The alternative interpretation, that modern politics is more like a team sport than anything rational, and that Trump is one team’s beloved “captain”, commanding unqualified fealty for as long as he is around, is much scarier. It suggests a problem with the demos itself: one that exists before, outside and above the doings of the governing class."

- Janan Ganesh, in the Financial Times

The most crucial component of the Western demos, the backbone of representative government, has been the organised working class. This was the social class that the capitalist elites, the Western bourgeoisie, chose to annihilate politically when it embraced the truculent Chinese dictatorship as its dominant industrial vehicle for profitable investment from the 1980s onwards. The absence of the working class in the West since that time has turned our electoral constituencies - the demos - into a directionless mob easily distracted by red herrings such as the identity politics of wokeism in the broad 'left' and the symmetrical populist reaction on the 'right'. The centre - the decimated and emaciated middle class of 'white collars' - simply could not hold under the colossal assault of capitalist globalisation.

But the 'hollowing out' of our political and social structures through the 'deindustrialisation' of Western capitalism has now rendered Western bourgeois nations almost helpless, certainly powerless, effectively and strenuously to check or defeat, still less to crush, the autocracies that this 'off-shoring' has so thoughtlessly fattened and empowered - to the point where they now challenge and threaten to overthrow 'the international established order'.

Wokeism and populism are two faces of the same medal, that is, the strategic disempowerment of the Western working class and the simultaneous 'distraction' and deviation of the central class antagonism in capitalist society to effete, irresoluble and terminally divisive clashes over identity, race, sexuality and the environment. We are now reaping the consequent whirlwind...

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