I love the title of his book. Anti Pluralism is the best description of populism. Because populism is opposed to the fragmentation of interests and viewpoints. Populism seeks to distill political decisions into two options. It is easy to confuse populism with democracy. Direct Democracy is a form of populism. Any election where there is a binary decision matches a populist’s worldview. There is a decision. There are two options.
But elections do not come down to two perspectives. An election for representation has layers. Voters base their decision on party, policies, effectiveness or personality. And each of these have layers. Does a voter make their decision based on a specific policy or an ideology? Is the voter committed to a political party or a relevant institution? Is it a combination of different factors?
Pluralism exists when power is fragmented. The fragmentation creates a variety of political interests and perspectives. Populism is a centralization of political interests into a common identity. Political parties have a natural populist element. They centralize a variety of ideas into an organization to elect representatives and enact public policy.
The two-party system leads American political parties to have a populist element. Many American Presidents have been branded as populist such as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. Barak Obama has a populist appeal. But most political parties fall short of true populism because their membership retain other identities.
Populism becomes a danger when identities consolidate. There is a myth about democracy. People believe democracy depends on the similarities of a community. In Federalist 2, John Jay argued the colonies established a nation because of our similarities. But this is a myth. James Madison was far closer to the truth in Federalist 10 when he argued America’s regional diversity was the best protection of the common good.
Madison believed the best remedy against faction was to expand the number of different factions. This solution made every possible faction a minority to the common interest. Democracy depends on the balance of multiple interests. It is a cease fire between evenly matched institutional interests. The state emerges with institutional supremacy because its foundation is law. The rule of law is used to balance competing interests.
Populism becomes Anti Pluralistic because it erases the institutional identities necessary to balance powers under the law. It consolidates power into a single institution whose ambition is to challenge the institutional supremacy of the state. So, populism is not democratic. Populists discard or ignore elections because their principles have no basis in majoritarianism. Their principles are based in the politics of power. And this principle undermines the basis of modern democracy.
William Galston is right when he says there is a populist challenge to liberal democracy. Yet it is about more than identity. The dangers of populism exist because the fundamental basis of democracy is inherently fragile. Liberal democracy requires a stronger foundation. The foundation can never come from its leaders. A political foundation begins with the people. The people must value the democratic process. This must become the moral source for political action. Once democracy becomes a moral principle, populism will lack any foundation.
jmk, carmel, indiana, email@example.com