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Our “Jacobin” opposition

September 7, 2020

In 1975, during the Ill-fated Presidential Administration of Gerald Ford, the late Irving Kristol wrote that “populism”

is an eternal problem for the American democratic republic. It incarnates an antinomian impulse, a Jacobin contempt for the “mere” forms of law and order and civility. It also engenders an impulse toward a rather infantile political utopianism, on the premise that nothing is too good for “the people.” Above all, it is a temper and state of mind which too easily degenerates into political paranoia, with “enemies of the people” being constantly discovered and exorcised and convulsively purged. Populist paranoia is always busy subverting the very institutions and authorities that the democratic republic laboriously creates for the purpose of orderly self-government.

Ten years later, Irving Kristol witnessed the presence of a “new populism”. 

Kristol wrote in the July 25, 1985 edition of the Wall Street Journal that a “new populism is no kind of blind rebellion against good constitutional government. It is rather an effort to bring our governing elites to their senses.”

The year 1985 was mid-way during the Reagan Administration and Kristol sensed that the American people wanted reform of education and control of crime and chose Ronald Reagan to bring that about.

Decades of failure to reform education and deal with crime had aroused a new populism.

That new “populism” or national sentiment is gripping English democracy in the “Brexit” movement, explains the ascent of “nationalist” parties in Eastern Europe and the appeal to “Make America Great” of Donald Trump. All are related.

It remains to be seen whether our “New Class” of educated professionals will be able to suppress this new populism or successfully impose a “Jacobin” contempt for the nationalist sentiments of their fellow Americans.

That is what is being waged in the 2020 Presidential election.

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