Last year I wrote an article regarding an ‘anti-establishment tomorrow’, and how the campaign season theme was the populist right under Trump and the populist left under Sanders. As we know, Sanders was thrown under the bus along with his supporters, and the establishment supported Clinton came out leading. With her failure in the primaries, the multiple protests since then against Trump, the left is fragmented, and the loudest among them are again the populist left.
These two remaining elements are still the most prominent in the current political climate, the populist right and the populist left. While both are forms of populism, they are quite different in nature. In the following I intend to compare and contrast, and conclude why the right is the preferred and most practical of the two.
THE POPULIST RIGHT
The populist right which rejected the GOP establishment, nominated Trump, and ultimately led to his victory is a populism that desires a government that values the everyday citizen over corporate interest and political establishment, that values the American citizen over the foreign individual, that values the interest of Americans over the interest in foreign interventionism, and that values native tradition and familiarity over multicultural experimentation. Comical exaggerations and violent responses based on these exaggerations has produces numerous articles warning of ‘fascism’, of ‘nazism’, and violent rioters who would rather respond with unproductive aggression in the name of ‘fighting fascism’ than engage in civil discourse. It is true that throughout modern history there have been instances of nationalist populism leading to far right and totalitarian regimes. There have been times when nationalism reached the point of rabid jingoism, both in the West and the East. As an excessive and extreme response to this, many have developed an irrational allergy to any form of nationalism. I will elaborate on this irrational allergy later, but I am acknowledging these historical incidences now to state that it is asinine and self-defeating to treat any and all forms of right populism or nationalism as being indicative of the most extreme historical examples. Needless to say, as the populist right has gained tremendous momentum, many have not developed this sickly allergy.
The populist right proudly declares ‘America First’, aside from the historical origin of the phrase which some have inaccurately and ignorantly decried as antisemitic, the phrase itself embodies everything there is to know about the populist right positions.
Differentiation is the essence of appreciation and value. The populist right values the American citizen above the illegal resident, for the latter is indeed illegally residing in the US and has outright intruded into a nation of which it has no permission to be in. To place the illegal resident as equal to a legal citizen, or to not acknowledge a difference between the two at all, is to demonstrate having little to no value of personal citizenship in ones nation. The populist right values citizenship, is grateful and proud to be a citizen of their nation, therefore acknowledges the difference between one who is a legal citizen and one who has illegally intruded. Therefore they see the need to enforce immigration law and border security, for a border, that which expresses differentiation, is a differentiation that the populist right fully acknowledges and cherishes.
Similar is reflected regarding refugees or legal immigration policy. The majority of populist right in the US are civic nationalists, with a minority being ethnonationalist, for the sake of accuracy to this I am arguing from the point of civic nationalism. Many Americans support legal immigration, and will acknowledge how difficult and costly the process is. Many will support an arduous process, for acquiring citizenship into a nation should not be a simple and flippant process. Aside from vetting, to screen out criminal or undesirable elements, the process should be difficult akin to taking a high level university course should also be difficult, as to separate the devoted and qualified from the not so. A sovereign nation has every right to allow or not allow any individual or group of individuals from entering their country. This is a basic inherent function of a state, the ability to discriminate regarding who may or may not enter. The populist right, in cherishing their nation and the quality thereof, fully supports prudent discernment concerning who may enter. Much as one desires a clean water source and filters water before consuming it, a nation should be prudent and wise concerning who may enter and become a citizen. A non-citizen has no right to enter a country of which he or she is not a citizen of.
Regarding refugees, a nation does not have an obligation to accept refugees and has the prerogative to aid or refuse aid. While some nations, including the US, did sign onto the 1951 Refugee Convention which agrees to take in at least a small portion of refugees, honoring that treaty or to what extent it can be applied is an argument for a separate occasion. The populist right is varied regarding taking in refugees, or what refugees should be taken in. Many feel it is a Christian duty to take in the destitute, many feel it is a duty bred into the fabric of America to take in the unfortunate. I believe, generally speaking, it is up to the state and the people to decide who they take in or aide on a case-by-case basis. Duty, whether religious or national, must always comes before humanitarian notions. National interest must always comes before humanitarian notions. Whether a nation has a duty to accept or aide depends on the situation at hand.
The populist right does not desire needless military or political intervention in foreign matters that is not a direct interest or impact on the people. The general right displays their dissatisfaction with the GOP’s neoconservative status quo by nominating Trump. The populist right is sick of meddling in middle-eastern affairs, having it return to us in the form of terrorist attacks, and the citizen’s everyday problems such as unemployment or infrastructure goes neglected as wars are waged in foreign regions. The populist right is not isolationist, though a minority of them may hold that position. Rather they believe foreign policy should be realist, should be based upon direct national interest or an imminent threat to national security, and prudence should be practiced regarding any intervention. The populist right cherishes its military, and holds a deep seated reverence to those who serve their nation in military duty and action. A soldier’s life is the life of our son, daughter, father, cousin, church member, and must not be lightly thrown into battle. Lives lost in military service are never lives wasted, even if the foreign policy is wrong headed, and this is all the more reason why foreign policy must be prudent. The interventionism, and supposed ‘spreading of democracy’ by neoconservative policy makers is not the politics of the populist right. The same goes for Democratic establishment such as Hillary Clinton who was just as flippant regarding lost lives, interventionism, and a warmongering inclination as displayed in her relations to Russia. The populist right holds no devotion to the establishment, right nor left, if said establishment does not hold the interest of the people as the highest interest.
The nationalism so decried by the left, so demonized as being jackboots and hatred, is little more than a people that loves its nation, loves their loved ones, and demands that the nation put its own first and foremost above all matters. That is the essence of the populist right. Regarding social issues, ranging from LGBT to drug use to incarceration rate, one may be surprised to find that the populist right are far more libertarian inclined than the religious right of yesterday. Although the religious right is still a force today, it arguably has less power than it once did, and it is profoundly telling that the nonreligious Trump was elected. Possibly the least religious and most socially liberal Republican to ever be elected president by the political right. Indeed, what we are seeing today, what I dub the ‘populist right’ is a very different species from the ones who elected George W Bush or supported Romney. One could confidently say the populist right today is the paleoconservatism of yesterday, with general libertarian inclinations regarding social matters.
More could be said about the populist right, but I would like to turn my attention to the populist left, and while I may disagree with them wholly, I will attempt to survey it in a fair and neutral manner.
THE POPULIST LEFT
True to the populist term, the populist left has no devotion to the establishment, particularly an establishment that forsakes the people to corporate interest and unnecessary war. Many consider Bernie Sander as the ultimate populist left figure, being completely against Wall Street interest and endless war in the Middle-East. Although due to his support of Hillary Clinton, to a dogged degree, many on the populist left have lost faith in this ‘hero of the people’. Similar can be said of Jill Stein, though she is more divisive of the populist left as she gives credence to anti-vaccine theories and other less than credible fringe positions on science and technology. As it stands, the populist left is without a leader, but that has no dampened their spirit or silenced their voice. Be it through protests, activism, and general outrage. The populist left have made it clear the future of the Democratic Party, of the overall left, must be populist in nature. This is one of many reasons why Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, and why there is great resentment among the left toward the Democratic establishment which they justly feel cost them the election.
The populist right revolves around the particular, and in contrast the populist left revolves around the universal. The populist left, and left in general, minimizes or outright dismisses the differentiation between legal and illegal resident. The humanitarian detail, or the fact the illegal resident is a human in need or suffering, is put above the legality of their residency. Furthermore, the economic detail is put above legality or national identity. Indeed, the most common policies the populist left argues for concerning illegal residents is immigration reform and amnesty. There is also a minority who calls for open borders, or porous borders. The need of the human, citizen and non-citizen, is put above the fact that they are here illegally. The economic benefit, though there are some costs to American citizens, is put above any sense of national identity or national sovereignty. The universal, that is humanity, is put above the particular, that is the American citizen. In other words, what drastically contrasts the populist left from the populist right is the populist left considers itself post-national, either overtly or softly. The populist left considers itself a ‘citizen of the world and of humanity’ first and foremost, and only below this is it a citizen of the US. In the same vein, national and international economy is considered far more important than national identity or sovereignty. As the world economy could safely be considered ‘without borders’, as leftist morality tends to be utilitarian, so too does it see quantified prosperity and elementary well-being to undifferentiated humanity to be the highest good possible.
Following the same reasoning, the populist left see no differentiation or very little differentiation between themselves and non-citizens. Therefore they see no problem with putting a non-citizen’s needs above a citizen’s needs. If the US is a ship, the unfortunates in the world are those adrift at sea, and the populist left sees it as humanitarian duty to take in as many of these unfortunates as possible. Be it illegal residents coming in, or refugees, the populist left desire any and all to board the ship. Whether there be mild vetting, no vetting, or a variation thereof, this is considered a footnote detail. According to the left, the US is a well-to-do ship and it is our responsibility to take any and all unfortunate aboard. Whether it be out of messianic sentiment, first world guilt or racial guilt, humanitarianism, or strictly a claim of non-zero-sum economic gain; while the reasoning or intention varies, the ‘welcome all’ position remains the same. Refugees, like illegal residents, are to be embraced. Differentiation between the citizen and the non-citizen is to be minimized or dismissed.
The populist left fully endorses a welfare state and a state which actively polices and educates on matters of social justice. The populist left endorses what could be dubbed a ‘therapeutic state’; rather than the socially downtrodden being those of lesser socio-economic class, the downtrodden are also those who are ‘socially maligned and oppressed’. The role of the state is not simply a welfare state, from healthcare to social services, but should also play the role of social justice arbiter on cultural matters. This is the result of the shift from class politics to identity politics. The state is not only a provider of financial security, but also the role of a school councilor or therapist in social matters. The populist right varies on the spectrum of negative liberty to positive liberty, but is primarily inclined to negative liberty, and that cultural matters should be left to the people and states.
One common ground where the populist left and populist right may agree upon is non-interventionist temperament. Both are exhausted from the vain wars in the Middle-East, from the backlash of meddling in others affairs and bombing foreign regions, and the people’s needs being neglected by the establishment all the while costly bloody intervention and corporate welfare is attended to. It must be said though that while the populist left is indeed exhausted by this, their penchant for humanitarianism is an all-too-ready opportunity for interventionism, as neoconservative and neoliberal administrations have proven. The optimism for ‘spreading democracy’, again a humanitarian sentiment, is an easy opportunity for militant intervention and political meddling that we have paid the price for dearly.
It is no mystery now why the phrase ‘America First’ does not resonate with the populist left. Perhaps a phrase that would better resonate with them is ‘Humanity First’. For the left, the universal will always be put first above the particular. And though the populist left and populist right both share the ‘populist’ foundation, that is that the people should come first before corporate welfare and interventionism, with no devotion to establishment official that does otherwise, they are in stark opposition in many others matters.
With this brief survey of both presented, I will conclude as to why the populist right is the stronger and preferred of the two. James Burnham once said, “Liberalism is the ideology of Western suicide.” With those who advocate for open or porous borders, for mass immigration, for unchecked illegal residents pouring in, for a state which dictates what the conscience should dictate, for the preference of an undifferentiated humanity over individuated peoples, it is not a far cry to draw his conclusion. Differentiation produces quality and the particular. Non-differentiation, or willing dissolution, is indeed the suicide of a nation or people or culture. Each nation that is sovereign must put its own first, strengthen and affirms its own existence, and must not yield to disintegrative or dissolving forces. As does an individual must affirm his own existence and individuate, so too must a nation and people.
Dissolution, the opposite of individuation, is to render itself an undefined mass, that which is without form or identity. Under the facade of humanitarianism, a moral siren song that prizes itself as the moral good, it advocates policies that would indeed lead to a ‘Western suicide’, better put, the dissolution of a civilization. It is the will-to-suicide which drives a people to cease to differentiate between the citizen and the non-citizen, to renounce national identity, to condemn the aspiration to strength and affirmation, to desire the end of borders, to embrace all, to put the alien above the familiar, to put others above ones own, to slavishly villainize ones history, to ultimately and in the long run put a final end to the particular for the sake of the universal.
Each nation must put its own first and foremost, must affirm the particular above the universal, must individuate and affirm itself, must aspire and praise strength, and as each nation practices this so does each become rich in identity and being. This does not reject alliances or interdependence, but praises each nation aspiring to its best without the slightest guilt nor self-deprecation. A people which loves their nation, which loves their culture, which loves one another, will have no qualms aspiring to cultural excellence and national individuation.
SALUS POPULI SUPREMA LEX.