I write this article in connection with the recent “What Is Populism Really?” of the partner Albert Borras.
If Albert chose an analytical, descriptive and explanatory perspective of the concept of populism, I will choose one political point of view of the same.
Populist reason bursts into Spain
Much in vogue in the mass media and in the political and business elites of our country in an attempt to discredit Podemos, insulted populism seems to be back on the agenda. Much has been said about far-right populism in Europe, and now it seems that the political winds of left-wing populism in Latin America are blowing hard in our territory.
Why is populism so criticized?
As Albert explains, it is often equated with demagogy (gaining political support through favors to the people) but obviously has a very different component. There is something common to far-right and far-left populisms that is often overlooked: both they were born of the political passions of the “people”.
What are the passions traditionally opposed to? To reason, and more precisely to scientific and bourgeois reason born of the French Enlightenment. The passion/reason or rationality versus irrationality debate has long been outdated but we are still suffering from its impacts. If populism is so decried by the financial and political elites of our country, it is because of a structure of thought that comes from afar: passions are said to be the “lowest” of human beings and reason is said to be the highest. , almost the very essence of the human condition, the one that would distinguish us from “beasts”, from animals.
For me, one of the most abject essays that clearly reflects this thinking is Le Bon’s Mass Psychology. The masses have always assimilated irrationality and base political passions. It has always been opposed by a privileged elite, an elite of people who will stand above the crowd and who will be believed to be the possessors of Truth and Reason, always aloof and necessarily independent of the crowds. And that, therefore, they stand as our sovereigns and as our rulers (and I add, to control us).
When we read and interpret society according to the classical and modern pattern of an uneducated, passionate people, low against/opposed to a rational elite, “meritocratic” and separated from the crowds, we find the hard core of the debate that we are currently having on populism. It is the very pattern of modern sovereignty that we also find in the analysis of our own psyche, the will that our “consciousness”, our “rational” consciousness be sovereign over the body, over our decisions, over our “instincts” to the one who would oppose it).
Why is the Front National fascinating? Why is it so strong in the French working classes?
The classic argument to explain these phenomena is: “Simple and miraculous solutions are offered to complex problems. This kind of explanation should be avoided for two reasons which, in my opinion, reinforce the current structure of domination.
first reason: By asserting that convincing people with simple things in the face of complex problems is implicitly asserting that people are fools and are not able, on their own, to understand this world and what they themselves are suffering from. same. In other words, you are saying that you, as a good enlightened person, are smarter than others and that we should leave space for political decisions to technocrats who would understand the complexity of our world. It is a very classic right-wing paternalism, which has been used as an argument to ban the vote of the poor, African Americans, women and children during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
Second reason: When conventional wisdom affirms that “complicated problems, simple solutions”, it is to affirm its own framework of analysis rather than the idea that it conveys. This framework remains that of bourgeois rationality: I make an observation of reality, I being an element external to it, and I can classify, describe, certain problems. This reproduces the illusory position of the observer who observes without influencing the process itself (an idea that quantum physics has already denied).
People suffer in their flesh the effects and oppressions of this system. Nobody has to come and tell us how or how oppressed we are, it’s something we already know. If the National Front has won an election, it is not because it is proposing solutions, it is because of another political rationality which starts from the demos themselves, from the people themselves, although in this case it has a character of social decomposition. Marine Le Pen does something that other politicians are not used to: she speaks with passion. He speaks as many of us speak in our streets and neighborhoods. She is aggressive. Many working-class people can identify with her because she uses the same expressions, the same passionate force that already exist in the streets. It is neither bad nor good in itself while sipping their hot cup of coffee or tea.
Whatever the social origin of Marine Le Pen is indifferent, it is stated and spoken as it is spoken in the popular classes, while generating a new framework of oppression. And that’s why it’s a danger, that’s why it’s strong and that’s why they’re going to have a huge problem in France. Few people, let alone in the political arena, seem to give Le Pen credit for creating a terrifying bond with the working, middle and upper classes in France. It is always attacked from a position of liberal elitism instead of recognizing it as an adversary, as a party and ideas that go together. We must not place ourselves hierarchically or intellectually above Marine, because we fall again into the game and into the domain of liberal parliamentarism, it must be fought from the popular and oppressed classes. It is a real threat, a threat that resides in the sad passions (in the Spinozist sense) of the crowd.
We can and populist rationality
We can, for our part, go much further. He does not make a passionate exaltation of rags and a hatred of social minorities. One can create and realize through a populist rationality, a rationality that emerges from the demos, from the crowd. If the National Front remains in the populism of the modern people – of ONE people, with ONE idea, which makes ONE decision, which is closed and limited in itself, which creates a separation between its people and the rest of the peoples – We can open to the people so that they become a multitude, so that there are no sovereign retreats, so that many decisions can be made and many rationalities can arise. Moreover, it strengthens happy passions, generating social composition and increasing collective power.
The populism of the National Front aspires to remake the masses into a first pre-conflict state unit (pre-class struggle constitutive of the capitalist order). On the other hand, as Paolo Virno affirms in Grammar of the crowd: “the crowd is crisscrossed with antagonisms, it can never be a unit. Many remain like many without aspiring to state unity. »
Channeling and trying to confound the passions of the masses into a liberal and bureaucratic game of interests is a crude attempt by the elites to be able to manage and subjugate us with the subterfuge of bourgeois (Cartesian, Enlightenment, elitist) reason. So that everything becomes identifiable and fixed, so that everything enters into its rules, so that it is they who determine these rules and for those who can use them without changing them those who continue to decide from above how to govern us. It is an update of the Platonic idea. Reason and passion are always linked and juxtaposed.
The problem is never what is rational or what is irrational but who determines what is rational or irrational and for what purposes or to justify what social structure..
We, the citizens, the crowds, generate political reason from below, a new “reason” far from the usual mechanisms of libidinal repression. We separate ourselves from the old axes: reason/passion, rational/irrational, left/right. We want constitute a new world of the commons and therefore we also make and continue the pertinent criticism of those structures which are arbitrarily erected above us, whether they are absolute kings and monarchies which have been made for divine reason , that is to say for a hierarchical positioning of a certain type of Reason, of pure reason which imposes a false dichotomy between reason and passion but which in truth remains its bourgeois reason against our reason of the people, of the multitudes.