England and populism

From the Archives at the Roots of Radicalism website, here’s an article about ‘radical populism’, written apparently in the 1980s (?). In it,, Joe Pearce writes about the meaning of that label, ‘radical populism’ in the English context. Is it compatible with nationalism as represented by the movement known as the National Front?

The NF, as you may know, was often the object of hostile propaganda: just as in this country, insinuations made it out to be a ”far right” extremist group, and the usual associations, just as in this country in our time, were ascribed to the NF.

The term ‘radical populism’ was, according to this article, coined by a writer called Margaret Canovan, in a book title:G.K.Chesterton – Radical Populist, in 1977. So Chesterton’s own political theories inspired the book, and he became associated with a broader populist movement.

In recent times, most obviously during Trump’s term as President, populism, as represented by Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ motto, was being talked about. Searching on the word ‘populism’ turns up mostly negative assessments. Yet the word ‘populism’ derives from the Latin word ‘populus’ meaning people. We remember the phrase ”of the people, by the people, for the people” as being in Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. In fact a number of politicians used the phrase in speeches of their own, prior to Lincoln’s usage, and in fact the great Bible translator John Wycliffe used the phrase:

“This Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.”

Nevertheless how many of our Presidents have been real populists? Not every politician who has a ‘folksy’ manner qualifies as a populist. Pearce in his article identifies a populist thus:

“…[W]e find that a radical populist is one who believes in his people and seeks the root causes for their problems.”

Joe Pearce

Pearce notes that populism is an inherently idealistic and optimistic, being based on a high regard for, and good opinion of the people. In our day, it may not always be wise to be too trusting of everyone, but to maintain a cynicism about our fellow citizens would seem not to lead to the best possible outcome, especially when the nationalist movement would seem to necessitate a feeling of unity and solidarity among a people, a nation.

And yet, what might have been the ideal approach, populism+national solidarity, is made much more difficult in a multi-ethnic, multilingual, ‘diverse’ environment, in many senses an anti-nation. But then it was all planned with that outcome in mind, wasn’t it?

The NF, of course, failed to achieve its objectives, and given the situation, it is not surprising. But please do read the linked article, it makes for interesting history.

One thought on “England and populism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.