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The Populist Backlash & Transnational Respectability

We’re pretty clearly in the middle of a global nationalist populist backlash against transnationalism.

If you had to boil the current political climate to one sentence, I think that would be it. It’s not just true in the United States, but across the whole western world. Fighting against globalization is a fool’s errand. Eventually, globalism will win, because it’s technology that’s driving it. The real fight is over whether the global order will be arranged by those who wield economic and political power for their own benefit and for the benefit of people like them, or whether the global order will be democratic and driven and arranged in such a way as to benefit the most people. In either system, the nation state probably becomes less important. In the former system, transnational institutions become less democratic and more powerful as nation states become weaker.

Currently few of our transnational institutions are democratic. The UN certainly is not. The EU has some window dressing that’s democratic, but the EU at its core it’s an undemocratic institution. The transnational corporations at the heart of the global order are not democratic at all, and have hardly any accountability.

People pretty much everywhere are voting the people who have arranged this order out of power. The United States is not immune to the populist backlash, as we learned in 2016. Trump basically took office on a promise to restore strong nationalist institutions in order to check transnational institutions that a large portion of the population believed were stacked against them. Victor Orban of Hungary is cast from the same mold. All Trump’s rhetoric on trade, the wall, immigration, etc, fits that model. It also fits with trends that we see in Europe.

All this nationalist populism is extremely threatening to the people who are arranging transnational institutions to benefit themselves. Everything you’ve been seeing in the gun issue lately fits that. Google censoring pro-gun views? Facebook doing the same? Big transnational companies like Levi’s donating large amounts to gun control? Financial institutions refusing to do business with gun makers, the NRA, etc? NRA not being able to obtain basic business insurance? That’s all been the people who control these transnational institutions attempting to put the brakes on populist sentiment using the institutional power they maintain control over. You didn’t see this happening a decade ago because a decade ago a lot of these institutions didn’t exist, or hadn’t cemented power. Facebook literally went from nothing, to a transnational corporation that can and possibly does decide national elections in 13 years. Think about that.

Very little is more threatening to an established order than the idea that they might be the targets of an armed revolt. Despite what many people think, it’s not because transnational elites want to kill you. Few of them are potential mass murderers, and most of them really do believe the order they are establishing is kind, civilized, and will benefit humanity. In fact, mass murderers have more often been from populist movements. Nazism and Bolshevism were not movements of elites. What transnational elites want to maintain first and foremost is the acceptance and respect of other transnational elites who are like themselves.

In most countries, the established order can keep their thumb on the peasantry to maintain an order to their liking and still maintain respectability. In the democratic countries of Europe, ordinary people can still complain, and still participate in their democratic institutions, but they can’t complain that much. In authoritarian states like China and Russia, ordinary people can’t complain in any meaningful way at all. While China might be fairly concerned with respectability, Russia is not really at all.

It’s a different story here. Our peasantry can complain: with guns and bullets. It’s almost happened a few times recently in the US, so this isn’t some abstract possibility, only applicable in theory. We’ve seen it. And the people who did it are, for the most part, still alive and not in prison. Some people will argue this is a bug. I think it’s a feature. It’s a feature because while I believe in democratic institutions, I don’t worship at the altar of majority rule. We’ve seen that democratic institutions can be coopted. We’ve seen it’s possible for an indifferent and entitlted majority to ignore minority interests completely.

Whether some want to admit it or not, having an armed population is a significant check for minorities against the depredations of the majority. I’m not speaking only of racial or religious minorities necessarily here, though it’s true for them too. It goes back to the old quote from Al Capone: “You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.” To the kind of people arranging the transnational order, this is the Worst Thing Ever. Not necessarily because it threatens their power in the immediate, but because it threatens their respectability with other people like them.

Cliven Bundy and his family are still alive. Is there any reader out there who thinks Eric Holder couldn’t have given an order to ruthlessly crush the Bundys and anyone who came to their aid? Almost certainly he could have. Whether that would have set in motion a chain of events that would have escalated toward a much wider conflict I think is debatable, and I think it probably would have. But in the immediate, Holder could have wiped them out. There would have been bloodshed on both sides, but in the short term, Holder would have won. But he didn’t give that order. Why? Because he would have lost all respect from other transnational elites. Ruthlessly crushing rebellions isn’t a respectable business these days in those circles. That kind of thing might get you respect in Moscow, but not Davos.

They hate your gun because your gun is a threat to their respectability. They can never be the equal to the European transnationalists, because no matter how carefully things are arranged, as long as you remain armed, you get to have a say. You can force them to risk their respectability by behaving more like Tsar Vladimir, or having to actually listen to you and take your interests seriously. They find both options distasteful. Most pro-gun people intrinsically understand this. And yes, many anti-gun folks do as well. Bloomberg, I’m convinced, understands this completely.

13 Responses to “The Populist Backlash & Transnational Respectability”

  1. RAH says:

    Not only are the Bundy family alive but they won the court cases. Why? Because the citizenry supported them over the federal government. Once by coming out with guns and numbers and second by refusing to convict them

  2. The_Jack says:

    This also fits with how so much of gun control is a-okay with sufficiently rich people having and carrying guns.

    Whether it is discretionary or costly permits, expensive training requirements, complicated purchase processes, restricted, and thus pricey, supply of weapons (think Hughes or fancy hunting guns), mandating membership in clubs.

    Things that keep “the proles” or “the wrong sort” from /legally/ having guns are just fine with that “respectability”.

    Even things like background checks and registration have the “mother may I” of the common rabble asking their betters if they can have a gun, and justifying to the state a need.

    Note the legality. Commoners having illegal guns. Well, that’s a different kettle of fish.

    Legality implies respectability. Sure they don’t /like/ toughs having such things, but the criminal element will always get them. And while criminals may be glamorized they aren’t /respectable/.

    Hence why, for example, the mass number of unregistered, illegal guns in France is met with a shrug by the “respectable” folks. But that Joan Random Public might be able to carry a wheelgun after a handful of background checks and where the State has to give a permit if her record is clean, is met with howls of indignation.

  3. Stacy McMahon says:

    The elites you’re talking about are the same kind of people who were aristocrats in the old days. Those, like Bloomberg or the Kennedys, who come from old money are entitled and disconnected from the experience of the proles. The new money like Bezos or Zuckerberg are in thrall to the old because of the respectability that can only be conferred by them. And yes, an armed citizenry upsets the applecart at some point because it reminds everyone that the elites who see themselves as natural rulers don’t truly have unlimited arbitrary power.

    It’s human nature to have a ruling elite, but it’s also human nature that the elite needs to be actually benevolent towards the masses, or the masses will rebel and elect a new elite. We are in that stage now.

  4. Richard says:

    The transnational elites have to park their butts and their money somewhere. There is really no place where sufficiently motivated and powerful nationalist forces can’t get at them. For powerful entities like the US, Russia and China, it is just a question of motivation. Nationalist leaders like Putin who just don’t care about respectability in elite circles scare the hell out of the oligarchs. To a certain extent, Trump fits this mode as well though he is much more restrained than Putin. Thus, they hate and fear him. I keep hoping that Trump will make a spectacular example out of one of the billionaires.
    Soros would be good and it would be an object lesson for the rest. Hard to imagine them being more hostile, much easier to imagine them being more afraid. Xi seems to be focused on oppressing the Chinese people rather than smashing the international order thus he is not really on their radar yet.

  5. Erl says:

    The only thing that is going to preserve the rights of the individual in the United States is keeping those firearms as well as other individual rights upheld. That is going to take reminding people constantly. But the education system and mass media is far more happily cooperating shifting us toward some softer version of Huxley’s A Brave New World type scenario.

    The key at the moment is money. So how does the independently minded, Constitution respecting average citizen preserve their rights when the entire system seems on attempting to slowly flense them away ? So far the shouting loudly and fighting in the courts and ballot boxes has worked some. But as you said, the corporations seem intent now on undermining the financial aspect of gun rights. That is harder to counter.

  6. Peter Schiavo says:

    The issue of immigration has taken over the GOP and is hurting the Dems badly. It is also sweeping through Europe, driving out left and right of center political parties.

    People want to live in a culture that they were born in. Mass immigration threatens to destroy the existing culture.

  7. National Observer says:

    “Nazism and Bolshevism were not movements of elites.”

    I think you are wrong there, at least about the Nazis. Nazism was very much a movement of the elite. More precisely, the elite recognized the gains to be made from the right wing populist movement being promoted by Hitler and decided to take advantage of it, in part to thwart the threat to their elite positions offered by the left. While Italian Fascism differed from Nazism differed from Spanish Fascism, there very much was an International Fascist movement as much as there was an International Communist movement. It was driven primarily by the industrial elites. That included in the United States. The American Legion, for example, endorsed Italian Fascism as a desirable model for a system to supplant our existing constitutional system, and while it is perhaps coincidence, the American Legion had been founded by no lesser elites than the DuPonts, to provide a disciplined and trained paramilitary counter to the left wing populism of the labor movement. The Legion more than once invited Benito Mussolini to be the keynote speaker at its national convention. In 1933 in the United States would come the so-called “Business Plot” to overthrow the Roosevelt Administration, and while the degree of threat that actually posed is not agreed upon, most historians agree that something appears to have been afoot, and it wasn’t a conspiracy of street thugs. Marine Corp Major General Smedley Butler claimed to have been approached to lead the coup by members of the industrial and banking power elite.

    That the Nazis were fueled by street thugs is just a comforting myth. Analysis of 1930s German voting records has shown that it was the upper middle class and municipal bureaucrats, who found their own comfortable positions most threatened, who supported them. The street thugs only found the NSDAP a source of camaraderie, status and employment – funded by the power elite.

    The term “populism” is if anything a less precise term even than “fascism.” Wikipedia provides one definition as follows:

    A common framework for interpreting populism is known as the ideational approach: this defines populism as an ideology which presents “the people” as a morally good force against “the elite”, who are perceived as corrupt and self-serving.

    Wikipedia goes on to say there is both left wing and right wing populism, but I believe a tactical distinction is necessary; in the 20th century, right wing populism, that generally was used in support of fascism, was a conscious tool of the power elite to manipulate the masses. Left wing populism was arguably more authentically directed against power elites, at least until entities like the Bolsheviks and other authoritarian communists/socialists became power elites of their own, in which case they became the manipulators. The “populist” movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States were generally leftist in orientation, often cross-fertilizing with the concurrent socialist movement.

    At present the worldwide “populist” movements you cite are almost entirely right-leaning, i.e., using what is regarded as right wing rhetoric and causes as their mass manipulating motivators. I don’t believe that is coincidental.

    As I mentioned above, there has always existed an International Fascist movement as genuine as International Communism. The end of WWII found it not defeated, only substantially discredited by its excesses. After the war, the ambivalent west, rushed to embrace many of fascism’s former personalities in the name of standing up to International Communism. When not the personalities, certainly the tactics. Our CIA has seldom shown any qualms at overthrowing democratically elected “leftist” regimes and installing right wing dictators who would make any of the 1918 – 1945 fascist dictators blush with envy. Almost always that was coincidentally in the service of a global power elite, often but not always the petroleum industry. Chile in 1973 was an example, and Pinochet, much admired by our contemporary neo-Nazis, was the man installed. One theory is that the disastrous 2003 Iraq War (unique in being the U.S.’s first unprovoked military invasion of a sovereign country) was, not to “take the oil,” but to “stabilize the international oil market” in which Saddam Hussein was becoming too loose a cannon. But, it was the global elite who would be served.

    So, my theory is simpler than yours: It took seventy years of low-level probing, testing and tweaking, but International Fascism has again found its feet. The use of the never-fail tactics the early 20th century fascists used so effectively to manipulate the masses became irresistibly tempting – when surrendering any power at all was the alternative — and the available artifices for applying them just too obvious. Muslim refugees in Europe and Mexican “rapists” here were an obvious substitute and stand-in for the “International Zionist Influences” Hitler cited when sealing Germany’s borders.

    The one refinement being incorporated in today’s fascist rebirth is a more sophisticated utilization of religion. While early 20th century fascists made hammer-handed and often self-contradictory attempts at using religion, Russia’s contemporary fascist movement (already solidly in control of their state) has used the Russian Orthodox church adeptly, as have the evangelical and apostolic Christian movements been incorporated in the United States.

    • Joe says:

      Fascism is a form of government where the economic ways and means of production are controlled by a central military and/or paramilitary force headed by a dictator. Your rant against the ‘populist right’ just shows how ignorant you are.

      The various Right Wing Populist Movements led by those such as Trump in the USA, Bolsonaro in Brazil, the 5-Star Movement in Italy, Swiss Citizen’s Party in Switzerland, Sebastian Kurz in Austria, are backlashes against the internationalist, “progressive” movement, spearheaded by the Islamonazis of the Middle-East, the Eurocrats of the EUSSR, and Communist China, that seeks to impose a global government based, institutional, command and control, system of economic central planning that as Sebastian himself pointed out in his initial blog post is completely ANTITHETICAL, of Democracy, Republicanism, Federalism, Individualism, and the concepts of Natural Liberty and the NATION-STATE, that are both (supposed to be) central pillars of Western Civilization.

      If globalism does indeed win out, you and every person on Earth will be living under the Communist Chinese system of government.
      Either you understand that or just give yourself up to what’s antithetical of Western Civilization. Don’t go dragging down those whom care about Natural Liberty with you.

      • National Observer says:

        Mmmmm. That’s some tasty Kool-Aid you got there.

      • Richard says:

        I don’t think he is ignorant. He is intentionally trying to mislead people. The “Business Plot” is a favorite lefty conspiracy theory of yesteryear. The alleged conspirators were a bunch of household names (J. P. Morgan, Prescott Bush, the Duponts etc.) Needless to say, none was ever arrested much less convicted of anything. Of course, in conspiracy theory world, this is just proof that the conspiracy is all powerful. The main witness was Smedley Butler-a genuine war hero (two Medals of Honor) but a notorious left-wing figure who claimed he was approached by the conspirators to lead a coup. J.P. Morgan was a lot of things but stupid wasn’t one of them.

        • Joe says:

          He yaps off scripted Democrat Party Talking Points to a “T”. Ironic you bring up Smedley Butler, as he was a figure in the U.S. Government, in collusion with Walter Durante of the NYT, in covering up the Holodomor.

          Also interesting to note that FDR based his “New Deal” off of the Economic Central Planning Model that Mussolini institutionalized in Italy, minus the Military Dictatorship part.

          Funny also to the Leftist talking points of the “Business Plot” against their Leper-Messiah FDR would’ve ushered in a system of Economic Central Planning through a Military Coup that would impose the Military Dictatorship, not a Capitalist System.

  8. Lucky Forward says:

    “Despite what many people think, it’s not because transnational elites want to kill you.”

    Based on the ravings of the anti-Kavanaugh crowd, and the ongoing, organized, police-permitted street-fighting in Portland between Antifa and Trumpers, I think the elites do want us dead. (Portland is another example of an increasingly “hot” civil war.) But otherwise, this is really a thought-provoking, excellent article.

  9. Hektau says:

    When I went through the Boy Scouts to get my Eagle I took the Marksman Merit Badge.
    I did not need to join up to the NRA, it was just a person that knew guns and used them for many years. He volunteered his time to teach the Merit Badge. He helped me pass the requirements to get the badge.
    Course that was last century around the 60’s. Things were very different then, unfortunately these same things now are a lot worse to get through or are not there at all anymore.

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