5. Flirting With The F Word: The Radical Populist Resurgence
Suddenly the politicians were yelling again. A new wave of ‘strong men’ had emerged and sensing weakness in the Neoliberal world order they pounced on the opportunity to cast themselves as heroes of the people. They forcefully declared their intentions to bring down the corrupt ‘Global Elite’ and were swiftly voted into power all over the world. A new story of Nationalist Populism was taking hold and promised to return our nations to their mythological states of former glory. But as Yanis Varoufakis, the ex finance minister of Greece points out, this new wave of Populism ‘has nothing to do with being popular, it’s got to do with speaking in a language that exploits the fears of the disposed, in order to harness their anger, and then use it in order to usurp power for yourself.’18 It’s a new version of a story we’ve seen many times before.
And at this point in history it appears to prudent to ask ourselves whether or not we are witnessing the emergence of a kind of proto-fascism. In 1974, Primo Levi wrote ‘There are many ways of reaching [fascism], not just through the terror of police intimidation, but by denying and distorting information, by undermining systems of justice, by paralysing the education system, and by spreading in a myriad subtle ways nostalgia for a world where order reigned, and where the security of a privileged few depends on the forced labor and the forced silence of the many.’19 The recent rise of Nationalism Populism has seen the general tone of political rhetoric become markedly more aggressive and insular, with many of the dynamics Levi points to appearing worryingly apparent in the world we live in today. And while we are yet to see exactly what impact the COVID 19 pandemic will have upon the broader political landscape, it’s clear that the ongoing threat of contagious disease will provide ample opportunity for those in power to further curtail our civil liberties in the name of maintaining social stability and order.
Meanwhile, despite all the nationalistic talk of making our nations great again, the wars rage on, ecological destruction continues unabated, and the rich continue to profit while those at the bottom of the pyramid suffer lives of quiet indignity. It seems to be business as usual since the Populists took power, which gives credence to Frank Zappa’s idea that politics as we know it is merely ‘the entertainment division of the industrial-military complex’.20 Indeed the whole transition from Neoliberalism towards Nationalist Populism seems to be a somewhat surface level of transformation, as both narratives appear to be symptoms of an even deeper story that seems to be growing more dominant all the time. And although this story often lurks below the surface, largely unseen, I believe it to be the real spectre of our age.