On “Technopopulism”

 

Technopopulism by Christopher J. Bickerton and Carlo Invernizzi Accetti is a very interesting book. Different than most, the two authors consider populism and technocracy as faces of the same coin, political sensibilities which share a common root. Both strains consider politics a matter of technical solutions, rather than a battlefield of values and ideas.

I’ve reviewed the book for City Journal. Here’s a bit:

The current debate resembles an older tradition, which claimed that ideologies have come to an end. In the mid-twentieth century, some theorists celebrated the disappearance of ideological politics with relief, as it implied the disappearance of the risk of a totalitarian involution of the West. For these thinkers, such as Raymond Aron or Daniel Bell, the end of ideology was a good thing, since it marked the retreat of fanaticism. Bell was convinced that “the tendency to convert concrete issues into ideological problems, to color them with moral fervor and high emotional charge,” would eventually end. Aron celebrated the fact that “neither Marxism-Leninism, nor fascism, nor liberalism awake the faith which moves mountains any more.” Since ideology had meant a politics concerned with perfecting human beings at gunpoint (and eradicating the imperfect ones), it’s understandable that its alleged death was met with relief.

But Bickerton and Invernizzi Accetti see the end of ideology having different implications today. They reason that “politicians claiming to stand for an unmediated conception of the common good are less likely to recognize the democratic legitimacy of their opponents, compared to politicians claiming to represent a particular interpretation of it.” Polarization and reciprocal delegitimization are common traits of liberal democracies in our allegedly post-ideological times. The demise of organized systems of ideas has not eradicated fanaticism; it has simply given it new clothes. The perfectionism of old ideologies that strove to shape man in their image gave way to a quest for solutions no less ambitious—promising to solve such global problems as climate change and inequality—but focusing on power-holders rather than ideas.

Bickerton and Invernizzi Accetti suggest that polarization in liberal institutions owes not to the intensity of political passions but rather to the weakening of political institutions. Technocracy and populism thrive on the exhaustion of political parties, while the authors of Technopopulism would like to revitalize parties by increasing competition within them. This should allow for parties to internalize conflicts that would otherwise burst out into society, and perhaps to attract people who would otherwise challenge them from the outside. Declining but alert establishments always seek to embrace their adversaries before they become lethal enemies. It could be argued that something similar happened in Spain, where traditional parties succeeded in surviving a populist outburst. In the Anglo-Saxon world, instead of being besieged by populists, traditional parties welcomed them. The results of such a strategy are not always uplifting, however.

I recommend Technopopulism. It is a book you may find puzzling but it offers you a different, seldom heard, perspective on current affairs.