647. Coming to meet (XII)
Carlsbad has recently pinned down the history of “populism” as a concept—its migration from left to right in America, especially in the 1980s when the New Right attempted to co-opt a formerly leftist term to refer to an uprising by the “little guy” against the state; for my purposes, I will use “populism” as it is currently understood: I take it to refer to a movement by the middle—the group squeezed, per Jouvenel, between decadent elites and their underclass allies—against their disprivileged status in the political system; essentially, the proverbial economic backbone—plumbers, electricians, carpenters—against the decadent elites and their underclass allies. In line with Carlsbad’s observation that “populism” was once associated with a French literary movement in the interwar period that sought to represent ordinary people in a non-Marxist way, contemporary populism as a political movement appeals to common sense and how the proverbial plumber sees the world—as opposed to the government-backed expert.
Essential to the way contemporary populists define themselves is the notion that they are “peasants”—and this view is particularly prevalent among the “popular populists”, such as Paul Joseph Watson & Co. The term is somewhat suspect because it contains resentment and self-pity: obviously, a successful electrician is not a “peasant” as usually understood—not uneducated, not poor. Yet the term emerges organically because that is how the middle feels: put-upon and disdained as a bit smelly for their England flags, their disinterest in LGBT issues, and their trips to Wetherspoons—it refers to their low social status. “All we do is keep the fuckin’ lights on, not that anyone listens to us—we’re just the peasants.”
However, the term has a deeper salience. The left has revolutions, the right has revolts—peasants’ revolts. The difference is that a revolution seeks to totally transform a system, whereas a revolt seeks to return a system to its legitimate origins from which it has departed—as such revolts are always limited in objectives, whereas revolutions are expansive and total. Movements like the gilets jaunes in France are not, as sometimes people even on the right say, “revolutionary”—they are revolts.
The left actually misunderstands the concept “revolution”: the term in politics comes from a turn of the wheel, a turn of the seasons—a turn of the zodiac, the stars above us. In this sense, the pre-modern sense, the wheel turns full circle—fortuna turns and keeps on a-turnin’. The left, influenced by Christian eschatology, claims that there will be a final turn “the end times” when all problems are resolved permanently and forever—Jesus comes, the end; the proletariat triumphs, the end; the US triumphs, the end (of History). The right is always pagan really, the old wheel keeps on turnin’—there is no “final solution” to our problems, and the belief there is leads to millennial movements that advocate total destruction and social rearrangement.
The revolt, by contrast, has no desire to change the system; it merely wants, in a masculine fashion, redress for specific wrongs—it is not a demand to “change the system”, indeed the concept “change the system” would have been meaningless for a medieval peasant. The peasant revolt holds that the king is just, so if he makes bad decisions he has merely been misled or deceived by wicked advisors—hence in Russia, an absolutist system, “good Tsar, wicked advisers” is a recurrent theme. Peasant revolts conceptualise themselves as movements to “save the king”—as in The Lord of the Rings, where wicked Grima Wormtongue enchants the king of Rohan. Even today, I doubt Queen Elizabeth II approves of what has happened to Britain during her reign—yet she is constrained or misled by those around her, such as those who control Prince Andrew by various means.
A peasant revolt usually has a charismatic leader who draws everyone together—a PJW or a Trump, sometimes even a dissident aristocrat or priest who sympathises with the peasant position. This is what populism is today.