Why We Need Progressive Populism

In (I’m guessing) an over one-thousand word article, NYT wrings its hands over the possibility that Europe is reverting into the perpetually at-war continent it nearly always was. Yet the predominant explanation hazarded for this onrushing tragedy is that barely a handful of people alive today experienced the Great War and even WWII and the Holocaust are only a distant memory for a rapidly dwindling minority.

This is nonsense. For over a thousand years, Europeans were at war with each other. With few exceptions, nearly every last one knew first-hand, or heard, or read (if they could read) what it was like to have their stores raided, their city or village sacked, their sons conscripted, their daughters and mothers raped, and their fathers killed. Yet bloody century followed hard upon bloody century.

The widespread peace among Western European nations in the second half of the twentieth century was indeed unprecedented. But it cannot be explained because Europeans suddenly grew sick of war. They have always been sick of war.

So what can explain Europe’s current fraught state? Besides peace, Western Europe 1945-2000 was characterized by democracy, increasingly widespread prosperity, relative equality, and explicit social compacts that guaranteed citizens health care, education, and a living wage.

In this light, it is easy to see that Europe’s putative death spiral is due to growing income, power, and wealth inequality. Recognizing that they are being exploited by the rentier class to the extent they are not made wholly redundant by $1/hour Asian and Latin American laborers and automation, European (and American) workers are understandably drawn to right-wing populists. Our only hope is progressive populists – Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, anybody.

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3 Responses to Why We Need Progressive Populism

  1. Pat says:

    Another factor causing Europe’s angst is the fear-real or imagined-of the continuing wave of immigrants. This fear has been exploited by the extreme right in so many European countries. Thankfully, they have failed electorally in some countries, notably France and the Netherlands, but so many others are in peril. I’m especially concerned about where Germany will turn when Merkel departs.

    P.S. Happy that you’re posting again, Hal. Your perspective is much-needed.

  2. halginsberg says:

    Thanks Pat. Xenophobia can’t be easily separated from economic injustice. Workers who are exploited and underpaid are more likely to respond to nationalist anti-immigrant appeals.

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