Popularism: the third threat

The rise of UKIP in Britain is an inevitable consequence of hitting limits to growth and after climate change and  peak oil they represent the next threat to humanity.  Obviously UKIP is not so powerful as to bring the destruction of civilisation to the fore and UKIP as a political entity is not important;  but if the horses of the horsemen of our self induced apocalypse had names one would be after your local popularist political party or movement.

In the US it is the Tea Party, in Britain it is UKIP and both have a language of ‘common sense’ that hides a frightening [although confused] agenda. Unlike minor but growing political parties such as Golden Dawn in Greece and the Popular Party in Spain with open neo-Nazis sympathies, new popularism politics is more subtle but just as dangerous and as close to fascism as you can get.

Fascism is a term banded about with such easy that its meaning has become obscured to be little more than an insult. It has been reduced to a caricature of totalitarian control that is used as an attack by left, right and fascists themselves against their enemies. If we discard the uniforms, the dictators, the theatre and dramatics of fascism and instead focus on its rise and actual politics the picture becomes disturbing in what seems an inevitable political outcome in governance and one we are slowly drifting towards.

Academics and historians have struggled to define Fascism, the Wikipedia entry is as good a place to start. Umberto Eco’s reasoning and definition appears to be closest to the mark, although there are many opinions to choose from

In a 1995 essay “Eternal Fascism”,[24][25] the Italian writer and academic Umberto Eco attempts to list general properties of fascist ideology. He claims that it is not possible to organise these into a coherent system, but that “it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it”. He uses the term “Ur-fascism” as a generic description of different historical forms of fascism.

The features of fascism he lists (original number of features: 14) are as follows:

“The Cult of Tradition”, combining cultural syncretism with a rejection of modernism (often disguised as a rejection of capitalism).

“The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake”, which dictates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.

“Disagreement Is Treason” – fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action.

“Fear of Difference”, which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.

“Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class”, fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.

“Obsession with a Plot” and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often involves an appeal to xenophobia or the identification of an internal security threat. He cites Pat Robertson‘s book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession.

“Pacifism Is Trafficking with the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare” – there must always be an enemy to fight.

“Contempt for the Weak” – although a fascist society is elitist, everybody in the society is educated to become a hero.

“Selective Populism” – the People have a common will, which is not delegated but interpreted by a leader. This may involve doubt being cast upon a democratic institution, because “it no longer represents the Voice of the People”.

Newspeak” – fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.

What I would add is that fascism is a response: it is reactionary politics for people who face transition in their everyday lives. It is a ‘common sense’ revolution. Given that 200 years of relatively stable growth on the back of fossil fuels is coming to an end – either because we have peak in extraction or will be forced to leave it in the ground to avoid AGW becoming catastrophic-  people’s reaction will ultimately be one of a state of shock.

UKIP, being the British example, has been little more than a fringe party with the single issue politics of getting the UK out of the EU. Founded in 1993 it has been a refuge for Euro-sceptic conservatives with a tiny support of just 3%, at most, in previous elections, however, since the economic crisis of 2008 [the first peak-oil shock] and the subsequent lack of economic recovery its support has grown with opinion polls giving it 12% and in some circumstances allowed it to overtake the Liberal party. Britain’s ‘first past the post’ democracy has meant UKIP will not benefit from its current share in Parliament but has made headway at a local level and in the European Parliament elections. Whilst the party can be dismissed at the moment the coming years of guaranteed economic decline will most probably lead to them forming a government.

It may well be that an internal rift will cause the party to implode or that it reinvents itself with a new name or the Conservatives split and form a coalition which is besides the point: what UKIP represent is popularism and it is this that will lead to fascism.

In the lexicon of scary words popularist does not rank alongside Hitler or Nazis or Fascism but it is this apparent benign nature that makes it so dangerous. Read the internet comments of UKIP supporters and a central theme is ‘common sense’. It doesn’t take long to find them- they are the Stupid White Men– who see alternative energy, peak oil and climate change as a hoax perpetuated by eco-fascist-loons in an agenda for world domination. At the heart of many of their arguments opinions is ‘common sense’: it makes common sense that CO2 being so tiny cannot be changing the climate, it makes common sense that if migrants are taking jobs then they are not available to nationals, and the EU is a dictatorship that wants to control our nation so it is a common sense solution to no longer be a member.

Humanity has been successful to a degree in controlling the influence of common sense with the adoption of science and critical thinking which has allowed our society to be free of an imaginary sky god controlling our lives via his selected law enforcers, but there is a prevalence in people that somehow we know best.  ‘I know what I know’ can  make us all armchair experts in everything from art to  managing a football team to climate science to the economy to law and order and such self belief is for a black and white world when the reality is full colour.

All political parties use popularism as do the newsmedia as it makes for an easy short-hand political messages, it is attractive by its very nature and is seductive to the voter: it appeals to our vanity. Where UKIP stray into fascism is making the exploitation of popular opinion or for that matter popular myth, a strategy, for at some point it only makes ‘common sense’ that we all can’t talk at once and that we must allow one leader to do the talking for us. That leader has to be like us but different but not like ‘career politicians’ who reside in ‘the Westminster bubble’ [or Washington Beltway which is the same as using the M25 motorway!] those kind of politicians are just self serving and are disconnected from the people they are supposedly there to serve. What is clear from UKIP supporter’s rhetoric is the threat is not just from immigrants and foreigners but the far more dangerous intellectual elite who let them in.

Nigel Farage  is no Hitler whose mythology was able to craft a careful balance between being ordinary and from a  humble background yet be an extraordinary as a leader, but Farage  does have charisma and his bawdy British humour and plain speaking evidently has appeal. The British popularists are more worrying because they are the Nigel Farages and Boris Johnsons who cover their right wing politics with a sense of humour and are ‘agreeable’. Just as criminals fail to carry bags marked swag so do fascists fail to wear swastika armbands.

Fascism is often equated with militarism, nationalism and the cult of tradition, and such a definition could be applied to the US which has an economy driven a by a war machine and a military to match, they also seem obsessed with the Stars & Stripes, their national anthem and an American identity which incorporates everything from the myth of the Wild West to the American Dream. Insofar as some would consider the US to be fascists it is not entirely an accurate picture as there are differences in that America has always been the land of opportunity for migrants. The US is currently the natural home of libertarianism evident with the emergence of the Tea Party movement, it is a philosophy that UKIP has identified itself with but it is a broad church and the politics of liberty includes everyone from anarchists to Republicans. UKIP want to double UK spending on military and like previous far right and fascist politics they have an obsession with law and order and want to double the number of prisons and police. In typical libertarian fashion UKIP have a confused ideology of both freedom for the common man, opposition to taxes and big government yet has policies that wish to impose more centralised control such as their education policy. However, picking individual policies doesn’t make a party fascist.

In the checklist of – is UKIP fascist?-  we have:

Cult of tradition– Check: the Pound, the British people and British values all have a special value.

Are these values and traditions being undermined? Check: the EU has stripped the UK of sovereignty, of self determination and of freedom. Just as the National Socialists were obsessed with the Treaty of Versailles so too is UKIP obsessed with the numerous EU treaties on closer integration. The other great bug bear is Multiculturalism: UKIP make no secret of their hostility to immigration but there is also the idea that ‘Multiculturalism’ has been imposed on the British people as an intellectual plot. In its most honest form a multicultural Britain is simply one where people have choice, of course it is not without problems [few are in favour of forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killings as a cultural right] but UKIP labels it as having split society. UKIP stand on these single issues as the cause of our decline. Just as fascist Germany laid all the blame on the imposition of the Treaty of Versailles and the Jews who were able to be both lazy and poor and rich and absurdly powerful, so too modern Euro- nationalists are able to scapegoat minorities and single issues.

The cult of tradition also extends to a romanticised view of the craftman, the trader, and the hard working middle classes who are the backbone of morals and society. These people are then pitched against the academics, scientists and intellectuals who are an elite to be mistrusted. Despite supposedly being champions of the people UKIP is more than happy to ditch ‘uncompetitive’ working rights ‘imposed’ by Europe thus return British workers to competing with Chinese and Indians on low wagers and minimal rights. Such inconsistency makes no logic but the great thing with popularism is you can cry out for good change like cutting red tape [and who would be opposed to that] and not have to think the implications through.

Obsession with Plot, Check:- A read of the UKIP energy policy will demonstrate they believe that climate change is a hoax and that Brussels [a.k.a Eurocrats in the EU] is closing down British coal power stations for ulterior reasons. A strongly held opinion exhibited by supporters on comment threads on the internet [the Telegraph is a good place to start] is that there is a conspiracy by the EU – headed by an ironically Fascist Germany- to enslave the British as well as a New World Order of eco-socialism to bring about Agenda 21.

UKIP accepts that the world’s climate changes, but we are the first party to take a sceptical stance on man-made global warming claims. We called for a rational, balanced approach to the climate debate in 2008, before the extensive manipulation of scientific data first became clear. Polls now show a majority of the British people share this scepticism despite protests from another LibLabCon-sensus. UKIP now calls for an immediate halt to unjustified spending on renewable sources that has led to massive energy price hikes and fuel poverty

Conspiracy theory is central to fascism and supporters of UKIP follow this trend. Lord Monckton is a leading UKIP member and believes everything from Obama faking his birth certificate to Climate Change Hoax to the greatest New World Order plot of ‘Agenda 21’.  There are a lot fringe thoughts floating about on the internet including David Icke’s 12 foot lizard people but the similarity between the fringe and the mainstream like James Delingpole [who is now a UKIP supporter] is remarkably close with James being happy to be more open about his conspiratorial beliefs with fellow investigator Alex Jones

The National Socialists [as the Right point out the Nazis had the word socialist in its name] used the faked ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ as proof that there was a master plan to enslave Germany which has been replaced today with  Agenda 21 being reinterpreted as the UN [and the EU and the people hating greens] to be a means to depopulate the planet to enable totalitarian control. UKIP is not so crazy as to promote this junk but its supporters like Monkton are and there is also a hidden story in policy documents. In saying AGW is not an issue and that windturbines and other alternatives are completely useless, that ‘climatgate’ is real, and that 1000s of pensioners die because of the cost of fuel then therefore the EU/climate science/ greens and the government must have some kind of agenda, they open the door for more exotic theories.

The Nazis were active in rewriting science- it was essential to prove that the Aryan people were the master race and condemn others to be sub-human. They used all the latest science [as well as give Darwin a bad name], with a scientific community [free of free thinkers either leaving of their own will or being expelled] that complied with political requests. These atrocities are extreme but in principle UKIP has no problem selecting the ‘science’ on AGW from sources who agree with them. Fascism promotes its own reality- even if it is flawed: Shale gas, nuclear power, and even rewriting economics -where it is possible to reduce taxes and increase spending- are no obstacle.

Fascism has the ability to step outside normal left and right politics as it can become all things to all men. Some interpret the AGW hoax and alternative energy as a means for capitalists to make more money, some interpret it as a means for the state to take more control and tax and others see it as means for communism or fascism or totalitarianism to take hold of our lives. Just like climate fake sceptics who hold contradictory views that can never be reconciled they are united as an opposition. What holds them altogether is an inherent mistrust of government caused by a disconnect from personal determination.

The appeal to the middle class  is a definite check in UKIP policy equating to fascism: Becoming disenfranchised and disempowered is not restricted to the middle-class with any effort made to combat it being a noble cause but fascism exploits it. Fascism like UKIP will seek to lay the blame on simplistic issues and minorities and ultimately fail to solve the genuine concerns of their supporters.

The last few decades of economic stability have ensured that extremist politics  remained a fringe never representing more than a few %. Relative wealth has given the luxury of tolerance but it is when things get bad that people start to feel a personal threat and demand the need for action. UKIP labels the current politics as liblabcon- the old politics that no longer represents the voice of the people, and demands revolutionary immediate action to get Britain back on the rails to success. In the coming years AGW, peak oil and the ensuing end to growth will kick in and threaten more and more people. In Germany the Nazis had less than 3% support but leapt to 37% after the failure of mainstream government to recover from the Great Depression of 1930 and it should be added that the tolerant and cosmopolitan Germany of the 1920s was primarily wealthy because of borrowing.

Unless mainstream politics starts to address the politics of a post AGW, peak oil, post growth world they will fail. Left or right the old economics of either austerity or spending is not going to return us to those heady days of unrestrained oil powered growth. Even then the neo- fascism emerging through parties like UKIP will have appeal, already the groundwork is being laid: those who accept peak oil or AGW are condemned as haters of humanity, haters of modernity who wish to enforce population reduction and return to a primitive enslaved agrarian medieval lifestyle. UKIP offer hope where we can pay less tax and have abundant oil, cheap shale gas and a promise of better things to come. And given a choice who would you vote for- the doom sayers or the optimists?

And of course they will fail- UKIP policies defy any kind of logic and that is where the real danger lies. It won’t take much for a crisis of national emergency proportions to emerge and just as Hitler used the national emergency of the burning of the Reichstag so any failing political leader could also bring about special legislation to limit Parliament  and impose dictatorship within a democracy. You don’t have to look back far into history to see how civil rights have been eliminated by emergency laws to protect us from threat.   By then, getting the bastards out of office becomes even more tricky.

Transition to a low carbon future is humanity’s greatest challenge. We need optimism, and honesty and political giants. What we don’t need is popularism, and that also includes ‘green’ sympathisers who carry on consuming but because they recycle or drive Prius make them immune from reality. Popularism afflicts all parties and blaming Big Oil or Bankers or immigrants or Indians who have ‘too many children’ doesn’t get us very far and in its worst manifestation such as UKIP government would set us back so far we may not be able to recover.

There is one last facet to fascism which is a kind of narrative that leads to a destiny, it is a pseudo religious aspect of  of a once golden age that has been taken away by the enemy [be it Jews or bankers or indeed greens and communists] but destiny will return the people to a new age of prosperity.

4 thoughts on “Popularism: the third threat

  1. Woah, a bit long for my taste but I can’t deny you seem to have covered all the bases. UKIP are indeed a scary bunch. I hadn’t known that the prevaricating peer and the delingbot were supporters, but that makes perfect sense: all the nuts getting together in one basket, and one more reason to avoid UKIP like the plague.

    Tuppence on migrant paranoia: (1) every person on the planet is descended from immigrants (2) every child born is another immigrant onto this mortal plane.

    PS Typo alert (and, sorry, I think I probably missed a few):
    theThe rise of UKIP in Britain is an inevitable consequence of…”
    “… as it makes for an easy short-hand political messages…”
    “… that ‘climatgatewibblegate’ is real, and that 1000s of pensionspensioners die because of…”
    “… Transition to a low carbon future is humanitieshumanity’s greatest challenge.”

    • length is always one of those things that’s a balancing act- I suppose 3000 words isn’t long if the subject is interesting to the reader – and I’m not sure it is possible to communicate complex subjects in 1000 words either. But, yes- it did start to seem a bit on long side even for me about half way through and yet there is so much more to add.

      thanks for the typo alerts- I wrestle with a lifetime of non diagnosed dyslexia.

      • You’re right of course, that size doesn’t matter if the recipient wants the message. Ooerr missus!

        Please don’t take my ‘typo alerts’ as criticism; I’m just trying to help, in my small way. I sympathise with your dyselxia. I suffer from the aural equivalent — also not diagnosed… so it may all be in my mind 😉

  2. An excellent article. I wonder how many politicians know about peak oil, and what they are (privately) planning to do about it. They HAVE to know – the military certainly does.

    The end of economic growth will be a bumpy ride, especially for the impoverished, and for those unaware and unprepared. If only we could agree to discuss and confront the problem rationally, with all the facts – but it is too politically charged. No-one wants to risk career suicide by calling for a reduction in consumption, and so we continue playing our game. My two cents.

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