Friday, October 14, 2022

Planning Ahead - Politics of Grievance

The term populism originated in the USA in the late 19th century.  Populist-like movements, however, have existed in many eras in many places, and today populist movements with their politics of grievance exist in almost every democracy in the world.   

Because it ends with “-ism,” [populism] is often mistaken for an ideology, a counterpart to socialism and liberalism in competition for a coherent governing philosophy. It is no such thing. Instead, populism is best understood as a strategy for gaining and wielding power.” …[P]opulists portray a political reality neatly cleft into two:  corrupt, greedy elite versus the noble and pure—but betrayed and aggrieved—Volk, the people. All the people’s problems stem from the decisions—often conspiratorial, always corrupt—of a venal elite. …Populist leaders portray themselves as embodying the will of the people and championing their cause against the corrupt elite.  (The Revenge of Power by Moisés Naím)

Populist movements don’t fit easily into the left-wing/right-wing model—some movements are clearly left-wing, some right-wing, and some have elements of both—because populist movements are essentially reactive to the perceived political reality and grievance of “the People.”  

Politics of Grievance takes a thought-provoking journey to populism in the USA through the complexity of power dynamics and grievances in Western religious, intellectual and political development.  

Addicted to "Truth"Early Christians wrestled with one another over what constituted true belief, and over time the winners of those contests defined Christian orthodoxy—and over time gained the religious-political power to enforce orthodoxy and control Europe’s political and intellectual life. 

Recommended Reading:  Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (Bart D. Ehrman)

16th Century Grievances:  Protestant Reformers - The grievances of Martin Luther, John Calvin and others ended the religious, political and intellectual monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church

 Recommended Reading:  Luther’s Fortress:  Martin Luther and His Reformation Under Siege (James Reston, Jr.) 

Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650)
17th Century Grievances:  The Enlightenment - The Protestant Reformers were not advocates of religious freedom, equal rights or separation of church and state, but their break with Rome opened the door for intellectual freedom that led to the Age of Enlightenment, the philosophical movement based upon evidence of the senses, science and reason rather than faith and revelation.  Their grievances dominated and reshaped Western thought and politics in the 17th and 18th century.

Recommended Reading:  Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason (Russell Shorto)

18th Century Grievances: The Enlightenment and America's FoundersEnlightenment philosophy fueled America's founders' grievances with British rule and shaped their thinking on government, democracy, human equality, rights and self-determination.

Recommended Reading:  Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (Woody Holton)

19th Century Grievances:  Populism in the United StatesAmericans of the Jacksonian Era demanded that government be taken out of the exclusive hands of "the Elite" and greater power given to "the People."  In the early 1830s, however, Alexis de Tocqueville expressed his concern that the populism he observed in his travels through America during Andrew Jackson's presidency would erode American's foundational ideals of equality and human rights, creating a new form of tyranny and despotism.

Recommended Reading:  The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats Are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century (Moisés Naím)

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Planning Ahead: "Now for Something Completely Different"

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