Where did populism come from?

Populism, in its various forms, is present in many of the world’s most important countries. The list includes what is considered the oldest, strongest and most respected democracy on the planet: that of the United States. Although Trump is no longer the president of that nation, Trumpism is a political force that can return to power at any time. If it happens in America, it can happen elsewhere.

Where did populism come from? He didn’t come down from Mars. Populism arose out of the crisis of liberal democracy. For this reason the defenders of liberal democracy cannot be surprised. It was within that political system that populism was conceived, incubated, and became what it is now. For this reason, we cannot take seriously the widely held view that populism is a kind of temporary anomaly or a temporary disease of politics in a liberal democracy. Populism, I insist, did not come down from Mars. Those who refute populism should take into account the objective circumstances that led to its emergence. Criticizing populism without criticizing those circumstances is a waste of time, a hoax.

There is no going back from populism to the old liberal democracy. The only way to overcome populism is, at the same time, to remove the remnants of the political system in which contemporary populism was born and developed. In other words, the only way to overcome populism is to invent a new form of democracy.

The contemporary world, the sphere of action of global capitalism and the machinery of new technologies, is changing human beings in dangerous ways. The poles of “I like” and “I don’t like” have no place for the moral development of man. To overcome populism we have, for the same reason, to be able to reestablish society as a whole

Each country where the populist option has emerged has its own special conditions that help to understand the phenomenon. However, it seems to me that we can find at least three global conditions that have given rise to populism: the exponential growth of inequality, the systemic corruption of institutional politics, and the disruption of new information technologies in everyday life. I do not intend to examine each of these factors here: I will lack the space and am not an expert in academic subjects to help us understand them. My opinion is that of a philosopher who tries to see the forest above the trees.

I am particularly interested in the communication vessels that exist between populism and contemporary capitalism. I suspect that populism is, in fact, the form of politics of our time: the “I like” and “I don’t like” politics that social networks have accustomed to us. Populism, more than a political regime, can then be seen as an existential position, a welcome one, in which the subject strikes a balance between wildly opposed and most obedient. A situation in which the middle term, the idea, does not fit the terminology that Aristotle spoke of.

The contemporary world, the sphere of action of global capitalism and the machinery of new technologies, is changing human beings in dangerous ways. The poles of “I like” and “I don’t like” have no place for the moral development of man. In order to overcome populism, we have to be able to reinvent society as a whole, for the same reason. There are no easy solutions. Voting for this or that option is not enough. What is imposed on us is the reconstruction of the forms of life that allow humanity to flourish again.

Populism emerged from the crisis of liberal democracy. For this reason the defenders of liberal democracy cannot be surprised. It was within that political system that populism was conceived, incubated, and became what it is now. We cannot, for the same reason, take seriously the widely held view that populism is a kind of temporary anomaly or temporary disease of politics in a liberal democracy.

We have to learn to live together and for this we need to know when it is right to disagree and when it is right to put aside our disagreements. In the last century, the German philosopher Hans Georg Gadamer said that the most important task of humanity was to learn to understand the other. What Gadamer thought was inevitable in the 20th century has now become an urgent necessity in the 21st century. After all, the matter is as usual: knowing how to be human. The high definition screens we carry in our pants pockets are a technological prodigy, but they haven’t made us better people. If we are at the same time suffering from the process of dehumanization, we cannot hope to find a way to real democracy.

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