William A. Galston: Populism's Rise & "We, the People"

William A. Galston: Populism's Rise & "We, the People"



there is another piece to the populists story which is less formal but no less important and it goes to the heart of the practical meaning of popular sovereignty the rule of the people who are the people when we say we the people what do we mean we didn't always mean we all the people did we all right you know we the white people we the male people at some point early in our history we the property owning people etc and the democratization of the United States has taken the form of the steady expansion of the perimeter of the people and so it comes closer and closer to corresponding to the people as a totality as you look at populist movements everywhere what you see is that when they say the people should rule they don't mean all of the people they always mean some of the people the people who look like us the people who speak the same language as their first language you know people of the same ethnicity people of the same religion people who have been in the country for a long time as opposed to these newcomers the idea of the people in the hands of the populace is always partial and exclusionary another way of putting this is that populism tends towards an ideal of homogeneity one single popular will of one homogeneous people and that's the gravamen of my deep doubts about populism my sense it's a threat because populism is here and pluralism is here in in reality and in practice you can have one or the other populism is a threat to liberal democracy because populism is to pluralism and modern liberal democracy is inherently pluralistic that's the case I want to make in one sentence now why is this happening I spend a lot of time in the book trying to get my mind around it and I have to say that in the five-year journey that led me to this book I have changed my thinking on more than one occasion so maybe a little bit of intellectual autobiography would be useful I wrote my first article on the rise of populism in 2013 and I was convinced at the time that it was principally an economic phenomenon that what you saw in in Europe and increasingly elsewhere was the breakdown of a the post-war social contract between the people and governing elites governing elites would deliver peace and prosperity and social order and the people would deliver deference to elites in return and when the elites stopped performing their side of the bargain all bets were often the people began to withdraw their consent from from this contract and of course economic stagnation the Great Recession the difficulty that governments throughout the West had and coming up with effective responses to the Great Recession the implementation of austerity at the worst possible time I mean you all know that story after 2015 I began to broaden my understanding of the populist phenomenon because things were going on after 2015 that simply didn't fit into the economic box very comfortably in my judgment one of the hinge moments in this story was German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision an honorable decision a noble decision but an ill-judged decision to open Germany's gates to more than a million refugees from from the Middle East and to some extent North Africa as well that was the decision that created the backlash that elevated Hungary's Viktor Orban into a European folk hero and which sparked the rise of the AFD in in Germany and in many other places and and parallel parties in many other places as well so in addition to in addition to economics we have immigration but you have to understand immigration in mcculloch phenomenon or you have to understand the cultural interpretation of the fact of immigration because immigration in the minds of skeptics is kind of a trifecta of Horrors there's the economic dimension you know they're coming to take our jobs and even if we keep our jobs they suppress our wages the Polish plumbers are driving down the wages of good old British plumbers which to some extent be fair they did in addition to that they come demanding our social services they're clogging they're clogging the health care system and this was this is why the the National Health Service in the UK and you know and freedom of immigration from the rest of Europe became intertwined as a campaign issue and why it was argued that if we get out of the US UK we can take 350 million euros a week and redirect them to the NHS a totally bogus figure but it had great symbolic power right the EU is responsible for undermining social services in Britain there's also a security dimension to immigration both ordinary crime and when in the case of immigration from the Middle East and elsewhere the fear of terrorism as well but third and finally is a cultural dimension to immigration the fear that immigration is transforming the country not only quantitatively but also qualitatively the country is turning into something I don't recognize and there are versions of this proposition throughout the West I feel like a stranger in my own country focus groups are turning up versions of that wherever we look and so the force of the proposition take our country back you have to complete the sentence take our country back from what from whom in the case of the United States we slammed the immigration gates shut in 1924 and kept them shut for 41 years during that period first generation immigrants as a share of the u.s. population fell from about 15 percent to 4.7 percent that's where it was when the heart seller bill was enacted in 1965 guess where it is now it's at 14% so it's basically where it was when the the alarm bells rang in the late teens and early 20s of the previous century and by the way if we keep on going according to a recent report from the Pew the Pew Research Center we will be headed towards 20 percent by 2017 or so but we're not there yet so immigration is a huge part of the populist populist story

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