When you look around the public square, you can’t help but notice that the number of interesting and insightful people seems strikingly low. It’s like television where expanding from three channels to three hundred resulted in 297 channels of crap, in addition to the previous three channels. The democratization of the media has not opened the field to new and interesting people and ideas. Instead, it has allowed in an army of mediocrities who repeat all the same stuff everyone else says. It is a sea dull-witted conformists.
A post like this in the American Spectator is a good example. There is a worthy discussion, maybe even a debate, to had over the role of populism in a modern western society. It’s a debate we will have to have, one way or the other. Populism is not an unalloyed good. It can run amok, like we saw with Hugo Chavez, where it turned into a cult of personality that has lived on after his death. Granted, it is Venezuela and western style liberal democracy is a poor fit, but populism seems like a poor fit too.
Closer to home, the Bolsheviks are probably the quintessential populists. There movement was the literal overturning of the old hierarchical order. You can’t get any more populist than that. The Nazis were certainly appealing to populist sentiment. Granted, they were battling the Bolsheviks for popular support, but that just goes to the heart of the criticism of populism in general. When the goal is simply to win enough of the crowd to gain power, populism can easily become mob rule and then authoritarianism.
The point here is that we are about o have a long debate about populism and it would be a good idea if serious people, or at least people with serious pretensions, were capable of discussing the issue like adults. It would also help that the people writing for public consumption knew something about the subjects. For example, there is a lot of overlap between political libertarianism and populism. In both cases, there is a rejection of rule by expert and the rejection of expertise as a requirement for rule.
Even if you think the similarities between populist politics and libertarianism are incidental, the rejection of populism in that post is just crude posing. It is something that has become a common feature of so-called conservatism. It’s a cultivated sneer from people with nothing to show for themselves. What conservatism has borrowed from libertarianism is the dilettantism. They parade around as if they know everything, but they sport of record of failure that would make a Cleveland sports fan blush.
In a way though, studying modern libertarianism a good way to understand why Buckley-style conservatism was a huge flop. Their goal was to engage the Left within the constraints of the political system, designed by the Left. Before long, they turned playing by the rules into a badge of honor, despite getting whipped by the Left, who never abides by the rules. Libertarians similarity shoot themselves in the foot, but always finding someway to remain a marginal player. They take pride in being ignored.