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Populist reason and bourgeois rationalism

Populist reason and bourgeois rationalism

June 12, 2024

I am writing this article in conjunction with the recently published "What is really populism?" of the companion Albert Borràs .

If Albert has chosen an analytical, descriptive and explanatory perspective of the concept of populism, I will choose a political perspective of the same.

Populist reason breaks in Spain

Much in vogue in the mass media and in the political and business elites of our country to try to discredit Podemos, the reviled populism seems to return to the order of the day. There has been a lot of talk about extreme right-wing populism in Europe and now it seems that the political winds of Latin American left populism are blowing strongly in our territory.


Why is populism so criticized?

As Albert explains well, he is usually equated to demagogy (win political support through favors to the people) but it has, obviously, a very different component. There is something common to extreme right and extreme left populism that is often overlooked: both born of the political passions of the "people ”.

What has the passions traditionally opposed? To the reason, and, more concretely, to the scientific and bourgeois reason born of the French Illumination. The debate of passion / reason or rationality versus irrationality has long since been overcome but we still suffer its impacts. If you criticize populism so much from the financial and political elites of our country is a structure of thought that comes from afar: the passions would be the "lowest" of the human being and the reason would be the highest, almost the very essence of the human condition, that which would distinguish us from the "beasts", from the animals.


For me, one of the most abject essays that clearly reflects this thinking is Mass psychology of Le Bon. The masses have always been assimilated to irrationality and low political passions. This has always been opposed by an elite of privileged, an elite of people who will be positioned above the crowd and who will believe the owners of the Truth and Reason, always far away and necessarily independent of the multitudes. And that, therefore, they stand as our sovereigns and as our rulers (and I add, to control ourselves).

When we read and interpret society following the classical and modern scheme of an uncultivated, passionate people, under against / opposed to a rational elite, "meritocratic" and separated from the crowds we find ourselves with the hard core of the debate that we have right now about populisms. It is the very scheme of modern sovereignty that we also find in the analysis of our own psyche (the will of our "conscience", our "rational" conscience to be sovereign over the body, over our decisions, over our "instincts" to the which would oppose).


What is so fascinating about the National Front? Why is it so strong among the French working classes?

The conventional argument to explain these phenomena is: "simple and miraculous solutions are offered to complex problems". We have to avoid this type of explanation for two reasons that, in my opinion, reinforce the current structure of domination.

First reason : By stating that people are convinced with simple things in front of complex problems, it is implicitly affirming that people are stupid and that they are not capable, on their own, to understand this world and what it suffers. That is, you are saying that you, as a well-lit one, are smarter than the rest and that we should leave the space of political decisions to technocrats who do understand the complexity of our world. This is a very classic right-wing paternalism, which was used as an argument to prohibit voting for the poor, African-Americans, women and children during the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Second reason : When conventional wisdom states that "to complicated problems, simple solutions" is affirming more its own framework of analysis than the idea that is transmitting. This framework remains that of bourgeois rationality: I make an observation of reality, I being an element external to it, and I can classify, describe, certain problems. This reproduces the illusory position of the observer who observes without influencing the process itself (an idea that quantum physics already denied).

People suffer in our flesh the effects and oppressions of this system. Nobody has to come and tell us how or how oppressed we are, it is something we already know. If the National Front has won an election it is not because it offers solutions, it has to do with a different political rationality that starts from the demos themselves, from the people themselves, although in this case it has a character of social decomposition.Marine Le Pen does one thing that other politicians do not have us used to: it speaks with passion. He talks as many of us talk in our streets and neighborhoods. It is aggressive. Many people from the popular classes can feel identified with it because it uses the same expressions, the same passionate force that already exists in the streets. This is neither bad nor good per se, has a very transgressive component, which is to combat bourgeois rationalism, that false set of interests and university people and well domesticated who would sit around a table to discuss the evils of the world while sipping their coffee cups or hot tea.

Whatever the social origin of Marine Le Pen is indifferent, it is enunciated and spoken as it is spoken in the popular classes, while generating a new framework of oppression. And for that reason it is a danger, for that reason it has strength and for those reasons in France they are going to have a huge problem. Few people, and even less in the political arena, seem to recognize Le Pen as having the merit of having created a terrifying link with the popular, middle and high classes of France. It is always attacked from a position of liberal elitism instead of recognizing it as an adversary, as a party and ideas that go as equals. We must not put ourselves hierarchically or intellectually above Marine, because we fall back into the game and into the realm of liberal parliamentarism, we must fight it from the popular and oppressed classes. It is a real threat, a threat that resides in the sad passions (in the spinozist sense) of the crowd.

We can and the populist rationality

We can, on the other hand, go much further than that. It does not make a passionate exaltation of rags and a hatred towards social minorities . We can create and realize through a populist rationality, a rationality that emerges from the demos, from the crowds. If the National Front stays in the populism of the modern people - of ONE people, with ONE idea, that takes ONE decision, that is closed and limited in itself, that creates a separation between its people and the rest of the peoples - Podemos abre to the people so that there is a multitude, so that there are no sovereign folds, so that many decisions are made and many rationalities arise. In addition to this, it reinforces cheerful passions, generating social composition and increasing collective power.

The populism of the National Front aspires to return to make of the many a first, pre-conflictual state unit (pre-class struggle constitutive of the capitalist order). On the other hand, as Paolo Virno says in Grammar of the crowd: "the multitude is furrowed by antagonisms, it can never be a unity. The many subsist like many without aspiring to state unity. "

Channeling and trying to confine the passions of the multitudes towards a game of liberal and bureaucratic interests is a crude attempt by the elites to manage and subjugate us with the subterfuge of the bourgeois reason (Cartesian, enlightenment, elitist). So that everything can become identifiable and can be fixed, so that everything enters into its rules, so that they are the ones that determine those rules and for those who can use them without changing those who continue to decide from above how to govern us. It is an update of the Platonic Idea. Reason and passion are always chained and juxtaposed.

The problem is never what is rational or what is irrational but who determines what is rational or irrational and in view of what objectives or in order to justify what social structure .

We, the citizens, the multitudes, generate political reason from below, a new "reason" far from the usual mechanisms of libidinal repression. We separate ourselves from the old axes: reason / passion, rational / irrational, left / right. We want to constitute a new world of the commons and for that reason we also carry out and continue the relevant criticism of those structures that are arbitrarily erected above us, be they kings and absolute monarchies that were carried out for divine reason, that is, by a hierarchical positioning of a a certain type of Reason, of pure reason that imposes a false dichotomy between reason and passion but which in truth remains its bourgeois reason against our reason of the people, of the multitudes.


Money as a Democratic Medium | History and Theory (June 2024).


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