The Oxford dictionary defines Populism as the quality of being aimed at or appealing to the ordinary man. Populism in any society would dictate that policies benefit a normal person belonging to that society- not someone who is endowed with an extremely high or low quantum of resources and opportunities to create those resources as compared to the average person of that particular society.
Today’s world has come a long way ahead of the one we had years earlier, where there were aristocratic states, dictatorships, slavery and various other glaring evidences of economic and social inequality. A majority of the world’s countries today are governed by democratically elected representatives, reflecting the will of the people who have elected them. The people supposedly choose their representatives based on their policies, their track record of governance, opinions on important issues etc.
Or do they?
A class in primary school has a leader to monitor the students during break time or between class hours, with the primary purpose of checking bad behavior and implementing discipline. Such a leader has to be capable of handling the students, and might either function by instilling fear or explaining to the students that unruly behavior is truly against their best interests.
There are multiple ways a leader can be chosen in this scenario: the teacher makes the choice herself, or there can be a vote.
All of us would agree that the first system would be more effective- because the teacher has an incentive to ensure discipline, she is more likely to choose someone who will do the job well. In contrast, if there is a vote, the most popular person gets elected though he may not be the best at the job. In fact it is quite possible the students elect a very lenient representative so they can have a good time.
The basic issue here is that the people you need to govern may want something different from what is actually good for them in the long run- students want a lenient leader so they can play and fight, rather than have someone who will enforce the discipline that will actually help them develop character and discipline.
And if you’re wondering how this is related to politics or populism, you just need to understand that these kids were the ones that grew up to be citizens. Their behavior and psychology just never changed in this aspect. And they again found themselves to be in a position where they had to choose their leader- only that the stakes were much higher now.
It has become common practice these days to throw blame on the politicians for the state of affairs in any democracy. Politics is considered a dirty game, to an extent that a lot of people discourage their kids from pursuing a career there. And who decides which politician comes to power? Us, collectively. All of us.
Why will a politician take a step in the right direction if people are going to vote him out of power for it? And why won’t a politician take a very aggressive and hate-filled rhetoric, if people will vote him to power for it? We are all to blame for the actions of our government.
It is worth remembering that it wasn’t Hitler that called for mass massacre of Jews- it was the majority in Germany that did, capitalizing on which he rose to power.
As Jospeh De Maistre, the famous diplomat and writer put it: In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.
The populist sentiment always wins in the real world, if not the ideal one. So if you think there’s bad governance and decision making doing the rounds, here’s the good news: We don’t really have to change the politicians; we just need to change ourselves. We need to be those idealistic students who look at the long term picture, and understand that maybe, just maybe, it’s worth getting over the temptation of wanting to fight, and electing a good leader that helps us build discipline and grow in a constructive fashion.
But hey, here’s the bad news: Those kids don’t realize the importance of discipline until they’re much older- by which time it’s too late. Much like the citizens of today.