AEI: Elites Need to Talk to Populist, Nationalist in ‘Respectful.. Understandable’ Way

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Leon Aron writes at the American Enterprise Institute: 

From Alabama to Denmark, Nevada to the Netherlands, and from Arizona to Sweden and Germany, Hungary and Poland, voters are flocking to right/left populist, nationalist, isolationist, and nativist demagogues, parties, and movements.

The trend sweeping Europe and the United States is broader and deeper than politics. The attraction of these suddenly popular phenomena appear to stem in a larger measure from an enormous gap between the beliefs of the “post-modern” and largely post-Christian Western elites (political, media, cultural, academic), on the one hand, and their countries’ hoi polloi on the other.

This chasm is not merely ideological. It is ethical, linguistic — almost anthropological.

For the elites, nothing, or almost nothing, is “written in stone.” Everything is fluid, situational, pragmatically determined. As the founder of existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre put it, “existence precedes essence.” With “God dead,” as Nietzsche famously proclaimed, ethical absolutes are no more. Values are a matter of personal choice — and one is just as good as another. Nothing and no one is better or worse. Just “different.” There is no “truth” but multiple “truths.” And, following another postulate of post-modernism articulated by Nietzsche, “there are no facts, only interpretations.” Hence the on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand approach of elite media which gives equal credence to, say, democratically elected governments and unelected dictatorships.


The “cultural” difference between the elites and the “people” has always existed. But the size of the gulf today may have rendered populist demagogues on both the right and left dangerously more attractive.

Let us hope that the Western establishment sees the danger and starts adjusting its vocabulary and values to the point where it can talk to its people in ways that the latter will find credible, respectful, and understandable.

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