Populism

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Wed Feb 15 14:57:48 MST 1995


At 11:12 AM 2/15/95, LAWilliams%Faculty%MC at athena.manchester.edu wrote:

>TimW's comment on developing a left-populist appeal is right on target.  We
>have to recognize, as have Bowles and Gintis, that liberal discourse does
>have some potentially liberatory aspects to it.  In other words, it contains
>some cultural or ideological seeds necessary to promote and nurture
>collective action on a variety of fronts.
>
>Indeed, in many respects, we have little choice but to approach our political
>and economic thinking and acting from within our own culture.  It is no
>accident that American radicalism has had a populist, even liberal tinge.  It
>is also important to acknowledge one of the signal contributions of New Left
>thought; namely, that no matter how radical or Marxist we may be, we still
>have to "speak American" if we expect anybody to follow our lead.

Let's leave Herb "Hayek was right" Gintis out of this. He recently
distinguished himself on the Post Keynesian Thought network by arguing that
advertisers don't affect editorial content.

Or maybe we shouldn't. To a Marxist, vulgar or not, the idea that
advertisers have no influence over editorial content is ludicrous. Only a
liberal could believe otherwise - and I don't mean that in the ad hominem
sense. A liberal is full of high-minded notions of disinterest - a virtual
dictionary illustration of false consciousness if I ever heard one.

What do we mean by populism? A love of small business, small towns, and
easy credit? But small business is one of the most reactionary social
forces around; small towns, sentimentality aside, are hotbeds of
superstition and suspicion of difference; and easy credit is an American
variant of the Proudhonist delusion that anyone literate in Marxism should
be able to debunk in a second. Do we mean resentment of privilege?
Suspicions about Jews, foreigners, and big cities?

Now I realize that any American Marxist has to contend with our
inheritance. But liberalism is a wreck, and populism an extremely ambiguous
thing. Both thrive on individualist notions about life that are poison in
themselves, and certainly far far removed from Marxian thinking. Liberalism
and populism are more deserving of critique than of emulation.

Doug

--

Doug Henwood
[dhenwood at panix.com]
Left Business Observer
250 W 85 St
New York NY 10024-3217
USA
+1-212-874-4020 voice
+1-212-874-3137 fax




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