Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Dan Hannan on Populism

Dan Hannan MEP has been writing about Populism on a website called "The New Criterion." The third article in the series is called

Populism III: Insects of the hour."

(the title is inspired by a quote from Burke which is given at the end of the article).

Whether you agree with him or not about the EU, the article is interesting, thought provoking, and worth a read.

To give a flavour, here is Dan's commentary on some more lines by Burke which are often quoted, and what happened next:

"In a representative democracy, legislators should follow their consciences. A healthy regard for public opinion doesn’t oblige us to contract out our convictions.

All parliamentarians—trust me on this—go through moments when we think that the majority of our constituents are plumb wrong about something.

At these moments, we like to recall Edmund Burke’s Address to the Electors of Bristol:

'Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.'
 
What we don’t like to recall is what happened next. The Electors of Bristol were unimpressed by Burke’s characteristically high-minded argument. In particular, they resented the way in which his generous championing of the Irish cause challenged the mercantile interests of their city. The poor fellow was slung out at the next election. In his private moments, Burke would perhaps have called it populism, though I have no doubt that the Electors of Bristol would have called it democracy.
 
My point is that populism is not intrinsically a bad thing. It may be either positive or negative according to context. The essential feature of all populist movements is their belief that an elite is governing in its own interests rather than that of the general population. To make an obvious point, the validity of the populist argument depends on the extent to which that assessment is accurate."

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