Authoritarian Populism

  • Posted on: 28 July 2017
  • By: benfell

Image: Tom Tomorrow, October 21, 2014, fair use. (Image1)

Authoritarian populists bear more than a passing resemblance to Colin Woodard's Greater Appalachians people;2 they are most prominently marked by hierarchically invidiously monistic thinking; they readily see the world in terms of good and evil and of ‘us’ and ‘them’, with stigma attached to the latter of each of these binaries. They are intensely patriotic, and were historically known as anti-communists; however, if the identification of authoritarian populism as originating with Greater Appalachians people is correct, their legacy may date back a millenium.3

They generally distrust intellectuals, the federal government, and the elites; however, they were, until the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, manipulated by functionalist conservatives who relied on authoritarian populists and social conservatives for votes to maintain power. In turn, functionalist conservatives were presumed to advance the authoritarian populist agenda more effectively than authoritarian populists would likely be able to do on their own.4 Authoritarian populists share much with neoconservatives but do not recognize the danger–a risk which neoconservatives accept–that militarism enhances big government.5

Thomas Frank argues that the Tea Party, a manifestation of authoritarian populism predominant beginning with the presidency of Barack Obama, arises from resentment against the federal government’s response to the financial crisis that began in 2007, which neglected ordinary people and “Main Street” while bailing out–at considerable expense–“Wall Street.” This response, which actually began during the presidency of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, is here seen as evidence of big government collusion with big corporations.6 Because authoritarian populists adopt an extreme vision of the capitalist libertarian economic (but not social) agenda,7 Ayn Rand’s objectivism,8 Frank argues that the fury of what should have been an anti-capitalist uprising was readily diverted into reactionary form,9 embracing what George Seldes labels ‘reactionary’ ideas,10 effectively embracing a political agenda that favors big corporations and the wealthy, especially the extremely wealthy,11 prolonging the orthodoxy of neoliberalism.

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