A Vaccine Against Populism 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The book 'The Populist Deception' was published this spring by Ediciones Planeta Colombia
The book ‘The Populist Deception’ was published this spring by Ediciones Planeta Colombia

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 24 October 2016 — While it may be considered tacky to reveal the trick with which a circus magician entertains his audience, it is very useful to expose the tricks used by a fraudster to deceive his fellow man. This seems to be the public utility of El engaño populista (The Populist Deception), a book by Axel Kaiser and Gloria Alvarez published this year by Ariel publishers in collaboration with Planeta Colombiana Publishing.

In 15 sections grouped into three chapters, these essays present factual information and philosophical and political arguments in a balanced and convincing way.

The book exposes the populist as a political figure who promises a host of social benefits that can only be provided by an omnipotent state. This will be the paternal state that defends the helpless citizen from the shellfish appetites of capital, and from some external enemy that threatens the sovereignty of the nation.

In just two hundred pages, the authors describe the state designed from the populist perspective. Like any authoritarian father, it nullifies the individual who tries to differentiate himself. To do this it spreads the obsession for egalitarianism and the idea that all accumulated wealth is the fruit of plundering others. This phenomenon is identified with concrete and contemporary examples. Chile, Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela, and even the Spain proposed by the Podemos Party, find amazing coincidences and common points of departure.

One of the most striking aspects of this book is the definition of the role played by “organic intellectuals” in the process of building and financing populism. The project, developed by Antonio Gramsci (1891-1927), is based on the assumption that intellectuals can construct a cultural hegemony to sensitize the masses and lead them to socialism.

“Twenty-first century socialism” as an antidote to neoliberalism and the strategy developed by the Sao Paulo Forum are identified in this study as populist developments to which we must pay more attention. The roadmap of Latin America’s leftist movements was drawn in the 1990 Forum led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his Workers’ Party of Brazil — he was then president of the Party and later president of the Brazil. Just when socialism seemed definitively buried, the Forum achieved a renewal of thought among the Latin American left.

If The Populist Deception weren’t so obviously apologetic of liberalism as a political doctrine, it could find a wider audience precisely among those deceived by populism. This, at least methodologically, seems to be its weak point. Demonstrating the dichotomy between freedom and security is, in reality, a false dilemma; the real contradiction is between the proposal of a system that promotes happiness and one that ensures the right to achieve it.

The most valuable thesis of this book may be that populists governments concentrate power in the hands of the state, supposedly so it will have the resources to allow it to deliver happiness to its people; meanwhile “the others” create a state of law in which it is assumed that each person may have at therr disposal the resources to build their own personal happiness.

History has shown that populism does not achieve its goals and ultimately poverty and corruption prevail. But contemporary liberalism also has unfinished tasks. The book that would explain this in detail, free of ideological propaganda, remains to be written.