Thursday, March 11, 2010

Populism

In their book, Twenty -First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western European Democracy, Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnel define populism as
"an ideology which pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity and voice (p.3)."

The key to populism is the opposition between the common masses, usually seen as good and virtuous, and the elite in a nation, usually seen as self serving, and therefore, bad.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, doesn't like populism, which he links to weakened states. To quote his congressional testimony from today (so far only covered by the Spanish language press and not on the State Department website):
"The lack of strong institutions in Latin America feeds populism....Our commitment is institutional strengthening, which includes the rule of law and attention to the real needs of people."

This sheds some light on why the US State Department was not enthusiastic about Manuel Zelaya Rosales, who was viewed as a populist.

But it also raises the question of how this view of populism relates to support or lack of support for the Frente Popular de Resistencia and other Honduran progressive organizations arguing that existing institutions in Honduras cannot be reformed incrementally. Does that mean supporting "institutional strengthening" means ignoring or even battling against reform movements?

This question is especially urgent because Honduras' governmental system fails minimal tests for democracy. The main editorial in the March 10 edition of El Tiempo (no longer accessible online) points out that Honduras' representational system lacks the core concept of popular participation, without which there can be no democracy.

Instead, the editorial argued, today popular participation is under attack, and "all state policies reinforce authoritarianism, elitism, and autocracy":
The big problem in Honduras is the class politics of the power elite; they lack a democratic culture. They consider themselves the owner of the country and don't recognize the people as the supreme power, as the sovereign state. They look at the grassroots with suspicion and distrust and fear, as an enemy that must be kept from the most basic democratic right, that of self determination. "The village is not ready for independence," they have said from time immemorial.

Is this the populist message Valenzuela wants to eradicate by strengthening state institutions?

1 comment:

phoenixwoman said...

The root of populism is "people."

I think that adequately explains State's hostility toward it.

-Charles