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A few months ago, someone asked me what were the errors in populism. That prompted me to think. The below is a first result of that thinking. I will speak about populists (people) rather then populism (abstract) because I hold that we humans all hold responsibility. However, the abstract idea of populism is a perspective that many hold together, often tacitly rather than agreed as any perspective is, and it affects the way those humans think. My thinking is of course guided by the kind of person I have in mind who is a populist. One is some who rail against things like climate and environmental responsibility, but I try to take others into account.

# First, what is right with populism? Sometimes the populist does us a service in revealing elitism. Often the elitism is arrogant and narrow, and the populist shines light on an aspect of reality that elitists ignore. However, the way populists do this has made faults, making them ultimately ineffective in countering elitism, in my view. (I need to do a critique of elitism similar to this, but won't here.)

# Basic beliefs. What populists believe to be meaningful is often very narrow. They focus on one aspect of reality to the exclusion of others. This affects their logic; see below. Often this narrowness takes the form of stubbornness, a refusal to consider other things as meaningful. For example, some populists focus on the economic aspect, and a narrow version of that, on 'the economy'.

# Attitude 1. Populist attitude is often ungenerous in the following sense. They usually don't try to see the validity in what their target is saying. Especially, when their target is trying to say something but not very well, they do not help them to express it better, but use that 'not very well' for their own advantage. Whereas the God [Note: God] shown in the Bible "does not break the bruised reed not quench the smoking flax," populists trample and quench. They want to put their own ideas forward regardless of others. They are not willing to see the other person's point of view, except to destroy it (c.f. Injustice 2). (Is not the idea of destroying all others a rather pagan idea, rather than of Christ?) They want to win rather then find truth and reality together.

# Attitude 2. Populists are often self-pitying at root. I perceive that many so-called right-wing populists feel the so-called leftists have dominated and they see it as war and want to 'turn the tables'. (There may be some validity in their feeling that, but I believe the validity is not what populists think it is, but that's for another debate.)

# Injustice 1. Often populists feel an injustice has been done to what they believe is important. (As I say, there is some validity in that feeling.) However, their reaction shows that they are not interested in justice but in merely winning. Many of them might recite the verbiage of justice but it's usually only in relation to the supposed injustice they themselves are feeling. Self-centred? True concern for justice would be generous to aspects of life they don't acknowledge, and to the people they are attacking.

# Injustice 2. In their desire to fight and win, populists often do not do justice to the other point of view. They misrepresent and mispresent it. Often they get near to trying set up a 'straw man' to fell. They often do this by limiting the argument to their one favoured aspect.

# Harmony. Populists often have a fragmented view of reality. They refuse to consider the harmony of meaningfulness that constitutes the glory of God in Creation. They usually over-simplify. This goes with their ungenerous attitude. A generous, shalom-oriented view of reality would acknowledge what the elitists see as important but widen it, but populists want to deny it. Denying it might bring a Satanic satisfaction of battle-winning but generous acknowledging brings the harmony that Christ brings (Ephesians 1:10).

# Logic 1. Populist logic is often sharp in highlighting inconsistencies in the elitist perspective. But it is itself narrow.

# Logic 2. Populist logic is often not only narrow but, I find, bullying. It bullies us into focusing on only one aspect of reality and not others. (I don't say the populist people are themselves intending to bully, but that the logic they use is often bullying.) Indeed, their logic often, in effect, blinds us to other aspects, sometimes deliberately ("Never mind about that; what about ...!"). Often their logic is rigid, in disallowing nuances. When talking with, or listening to, them, I often find myself agreeing with them at the front of my mind, because what they say makes sense, but I am sometimes aware that it's somehow 'not quite right' but don't, in the midst of their arguing, know why. However, when I come away, I realise their logic has bullied my thinking, and I realise their argument, while showing some validity, has forced me to ignore other important aspects. On 'breathing fresh air' again, the 'pleasant aroma' of those other aspects steals back into my mind. I begin to see clearly the relationship between arguments in all other aspects, theirs and others.


Note re God and Bible. I have referred to God and the Bible. Readers may ignore that if they wish. Many populists call themselves Christians. I am an evangelical Christian, but in a different way from most populists. If you wish to see what I am like, see Andrew Basden's Christian Writings.)

Note re basis of thinking. In teasing out the issues above, I have let my thinking be led by Dooyeweerd's aspects - fifteen ways in which reality might be meaningful, of which I consider the pistic, ethical, juridical, aesthetic and analytical aspects.)

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Created: 1 June 2020. Last updated: 25 June 2020 changed copyright file.