I’m asking a question now, more forcefully than I did timidly five years ago: Could there be a problem in the demands highlighted by liberals, democrats, and even leftists who argue that no demand is superior to the demands of the working class since the 1960s, and the language they use to defend those demands? And could this problem have led to an accumulation of resentment, culminating in an outburst of anger in less educated and poorer segments of society who feel deprived of the opportunities used by the educated carriers of those demands?
In the primaries held in Argentina this month, Javier Milei, who surprised everyone with a 30% vote share, once again brought up the ‘unpleasant’ issue by showing that populist leaders have a significant resonance in society and became the favorite for the presidential elections on October 22. My latest article was about this: “Now, Milei… 21st Century: The decline of the ‘enlightened’ or the rise of populist leaders” (Serbestiyet, August 21).
In the article, I essentially argued that populist leaders rise to power by surfing on accumulated (sometimes bordering on hatred) anger in society, but the traditional ‘rational’ opposition, which believes that everything is determined by material relationships and material contradictions, is unaware of this. In my introductory article, where I said I would continue the topic, I asked two questions, one at the beginning and one at the end, leaving their answers to future articles.
The first of these questions was: Which accumulated reaction (anger) in society do populist governments use to come to power, and why does this anger exist?
The second question was: Why did the anger of less educated classes against the ‘enlightened elite’ crystallize in the 21st century? And a more specific question: Could this protest and anger have still emerged from the bottle without cell phones, the internet, and social media?
In this article, I will focus on the first question and leave the second question for future articles.
“Trump understood very well that the most threatening set of people for workers was not entrepreneurs but the educated class.”
What motivated me to return to this topic that I love and have written numerous articles about was not only Milei’s surprising election success but also a translation published in Serbestiyet in those days. I had quoted a few sentences from an article titled “What if we are the bad guys in this story?” by New York Times writer David Brooks in my previous article, and in this article, I will draw your attention to these paragraphs:
“Let me tell you about another argument. I want you to consider that we anti-Trumpers are not eternal good guys.
“In this argument, we are actually the bad guys.
“The historical context of this argument begins in the 1960s, when high school graduates had to go to Vietnam to fight, but the children of the educated class got deferments through university documents and didn’t go to war. Similarly, in the 1970s, when authorities imposed busing in working-class neighborhoods in Boston but didn’t apply it to upscale neighborhoods like Wellesley where they lived.
The ideal that we are all in this together gave way to the reality that the members of our social class lived in a different world here, and everyone else was forced into a different world below. Members of the social class we belong to always speak courageously for the marginalized, but somehow always create systems that serve ourselves.”
Brooks, after saying, “Trump understood very well that the most threatening set of people for workers was not entrepreneurs but the educated class,” talks about the fate that awaits the ‘educated, enlightened, and educated’ class, including himself:
“As sociologist E. Digby Baltzell wrote decades ago, ‘History is the graveyard of classes that prefer caste privileges to leadership.’ The fate our class is currently flirting with is exactly this.”
‘Leadership’ (19th century and the first half of the 20th century) and ‘caste’ (second half of the 20th century and the 21st century)
My first article on the rise of populist leaders goes back about five years, to the time when Bolsonaro was elected president in Brazil, despite his intolerantly rude language. Bolsonaro had used such language against his left-wing rival that his victory was considered a defeat not only for his rival but also for liberal-pluralist values. His statement in his presidential speech, “We will save our country from socialism, immoral values, and political correctness,” especially the emphasis on ‘political correctness,’ clearly indicated whom he was targeting.
In my article five years ago, I argued that Bolsonaro reflected an “accumulated and very strong anger” and tried to answer who this anger was directed against and why. (The title of the article was “Elite Social Demands, Disinterested Masses, and Populist Leaders”).
Looking at it now, I realize I gave a rather timid answer to my own question (today I defend the same answer more decisively). I said this:
“Please don’t consider the implication in the title as a conclusive statement; just accept it as a journalistic maneuver to make an issue I want to discuss more attractive to the reader.
Yes, I imply something in the title and ask a question: Could there be a problem in the demands highlighted by liberals, democrats, and even leftists who argue that no demand is superior to the demands of the working class since the 1960s, and the language they use to defend those demands? And could this problem have led to an accumulation of resentment, culminating in an outburst of anger in less educated and poorer segments of society who feel deprived of the opportunities used by the educated carriers of those demands?
Let me ask the question a bit more explicitly: Could the emphasis of intellectuals worldwide on concepts such as freedom, environment, sexuality, and feminism rather than problems like poverty, unemployment, inequality, and injustice since the 1960s have created a perception that intellectuals and the politicians they influence have moved away from their core issues and pushed them toward authoritarian-populist politicians?”
As you can see, I defined a turning point in the process as “since the 1960s”; this could be pushed back a little earlier, but it certainly cannot be argued for the first half of the 20th century, let alone the 19th century. Because that time interval was experienced as a period when those at the bottom believed that the fate of the educated was significantly intertwined with their own fate. In other words, a period when the leaders voluntarily accepted by intellectuals had not yet formed a ‘caste’…
In the last 30-40 years of the 20th century, but especially in the 21st century, significant differences began to emerge between the local-daily-material demands of ‘ordinary’ people and the global-‘noble’ demands of educated classes.
Philosopher Zizek, by complaining about the ‘visionless’ demands of those at the bottom, seems to express this difference most explicitly.
His views and suggestions, which appear to defend the forces of ‘progress’ and ‘enlightenment’ against ‘reactionary bigots and authoritarians,’ will be the subject of the next article.
*Ahmet Görmüş is a Turkish journalist and writer. He previously worked as a columnist for Taraf and Yeni Aktüel. He also served as the editor-in-chief of the news weekly Nokta.
This article originally appeared on Serbestiyet.com and has been translated into English by Politurco.