February 6, 2023

RUprising of the elites and the betrayal of democracy, the last book that the rightly renowned cultural historian Christopher Lasch published shortly before his death in 1994, met with broad approval across the political spectrum. Not only conservative publications generally praised Lasch’s thin volume, the New York Times instructed English political theorist John Gray to produce a stirring homage to Lasch’s insight in uncovering the origins of the greatest danger facing our society. We have been morally and politically abused by wayward, perverted elites who have turned their backs on the good common folk who represented the real America.

Lasch did not live to see the gathering of spoiled hypocrites in Davos, who arrived in private jets to force austerity measures mob, he would not have been surprised by the spectacle. Destroying everything the working class valued, the rich and influential who controlled Western societies had “rebelled” ominously against human decency and what we used to call “family values.”

Lasch (whom I knew) considered himself a man of a particular left, given his dislike of corporate capitalists and their cultural influence until his death. But if he were alive now, it’s hard to imagine that he would side with the populist right. Like James Traficant, the late Congressman from Youngstown, Ohio, who died 20 years ago, Lasch combined patriotism and cultural traditionalism with a working-class affection. Both Traficant and Lasch praised “the people,” by which they apparently meant a specific segment of the American population.

I make this last point because it recalls a bitter exchange I heard between Lasch and the philosopher Claes Ryn 30 years ago. After Lasch mentioned the “people” several times at a conference I attended, Ryn asked if Lasch believed this crowd could govern itself without proper guidance. Lasch responded, obviously upset that anyone would question the ability to rule of those who displayed proven virtues and communal loyalties. At the time, I thought of another question for Lasch that I never had to ask, but which comes to mind every time I hear someone from “the people” speak.

Obviously, when Lasch and our current generation of populists refer to “the people,” they do not mean the entire electorate. Did the majority (if there was one) that voted for the brain-damaged, culturally radical John Fetterman for the US Senate in Pennsylvania belong to the “people”? What about the majority of voters who named Alvin Bragg district attorney in New York City or Larry Krasner in Philadelphia? Were these voters members of “the people”? I heard about how “the people” fell for Lee Zeldin when he ran for governor of New York. But last time I checked, most of the votes in that state went to Zeldin’s admittedly less intelligent and far less skilled opponent, Kathy Hochul. Were Hochul’s supporters part of “the people” or were only Lee’s constituents considered such?

Allow me to provide my own answer to these heuristic questions: Politicians usually make a fuss about doing the will of “the people,” letting us know that what they’re doing is popular with their voters – or his should. These references have no deeper meaning and should not be interpreted as such.

However, when the MAGA crowd refers to “the people,” they mean something more specific. You are not alluding to every eligible (and for the Democrats, non-eligible) American voter. Populists designate a specific demographic that exists both in fact and as an ideal. For Lasch and Traficant, people were workers, church workers who preferably lived in extended families. For the MAGA crowd, they’re pretty much the same as for Lasch, with some modernizing additions, like women and some racial minorities in the workforce. The point is, for populists, not every eligible voter is “of the people.” Certainly not the culturally radicalized unmarried women who figured prominently in last November’s elections.

If I asked a MAGA populist if these college students who voted for the woke left and hoped Biden would cancel their college debt represented “the people,” most likely I would get a blank stare . Those who speak of “the people” have a very specific group in mind, much like the populist political theorist Willmoore Kendall meant when he spoke of a “virtuous citizenship”. It seems to me that those on the left who see populists as socially and culturally right, while speaking for workers, are fundamentally right. The populist concept of “the people” points to the right because the working class, which populists want to protect, upholds traditional values ​​and institutions.

Meanwhile, a culture war overshadows and engulfs older class conflicts. And in this struggle, the populist defense of “the people” inevitably places them on the right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *