Last week, at the John Adams debate caucus, several critical questions were asked of neopopulist speakers. These questions were asked in a time where the people hold Congress and the President at historically low levels. Here is a recitation of those questions and written responses.
Question 1: What evidence would it require for a neopopulist speaker to admit that the speaker does not speak for the people?
None. Neopopulist speakers are committed, in the first instance, to speaking for the interests of the people.
This wonderful question is targeted, like an arrow aimed for the bullseye, on a critical, irresolvable political paradox for neopopulists.
How do neopopulists impose their political will through government on the people while still loving the same people? Neopopulists begin with this paradox and admit it is irresolvable. However, admitting this irresolvable paradox is the start, not the end of the debate.
In addressing this paradox, neopopulists admit they do not speak as moral agents for the people. Put another way, neopopulists do not speak as substitutes for the people's voice.
Rather, neopopulists, out of love for the people, speak for the interests of the people. This is the the way in which neopopulists assert their legitimacy, their political will and their love of the people -- all at one time.
The right-wing and left-wing critics of neopopulism will assert that the neopopulist position then can be reduced to its own ideology -- no different in type than their own ideologies. The criticism would reduce neopopulism to individual neopopulists autonomously asserting political will by its own ideology or set of ideologies.
There are many neopopulist responses to this criticism.
First, the critics' assertion that neopopulists operate autonomously, politically and ideologically is not in itself an answer to the irresolvable paradox of imposing political will on your neighbor while still loving your neighbor. Conservative and liberal ideologues ignore this political paradox by operating on an ideological level -- combatants on a political zero-sum battleground. Neopopulists view that political zero-sum battleground as an unnecessary elitist exercise of power. Neopopulists assert their political will differently. Neopopulists view the real battle as ensuring our modern bureaucratic state -- including all the branches of government -- serves the people and respects the dignity of the people.
Second, neopopulists ask the question back to the critics, "Who do you speak for -- the people or God?" Neopopulists out of humility choose to speak for the people rather than God. After all, neopopulists do not assert autonomy outside of the context of neighbor and do not propose universal, systematic principles to explain how humanity and the social order should work. Conservative and liberal ideologues, on the other hand, act as God when they assert autonomy separate and apart from the context of neighbor and propose universal, systematic principles to explain how humanity and the social order should work.
Now, to be fair, neopopulists would agree that there should be an all-inclusive democratic deliberation among the people on the principles to explain how humanity and the social order should work. Neopopulists assert their political will to have this discussion -- separate and apart from the God-talk of the conservative and liberal ideologues. The conservative and liberal ideologues want to turn the people's discussion about the social order into a zero-sum political game because of their ideological and partisan reductionism. Neopopulists disagree.
Third, neopopulists do have a substantive political program addressing democratic deficits in the existing modern regulatory state. For example, neopopulists support: more directly-elected executive officials in the federal and state government; direct election of federal and state judges; more aggressive legislative and judicial oversight of administrative agencies; less delegation of law-making authority to administrative agencies; aggressive facilitation and representation of citizens vis-a-vis federal and state authorities in criminal and civil proceedings to actually effect the rule of law.
As to foreign governments, neopopulists are also skeptical of the European Union being a stepping stone to a federated Europe because of its democratic deficits including the legislative power primarily being left in the hands of the Commission -- 25,000 experts working in Brussels. Neopopulists see the American federal government trending towards the model of the EU expert-laden legislative process -- increasing democratic deficits not minimizing them.
In response to neopopulists identifying democratic deficits, conservative and liberal ideologues have little interesting to say. The ideologues and their political game have become so predictable and dull that not only the newspapers but even the politicians are beginning to become bored of it.
Fourth, neopopulists appreciate the paradoxes involved in the question of the elusive "I." Politically, the neopopulists choose to define the elusive "I" in the context of neighbor -- thus diminishing autonomy of the political actor. Conservative and liberal ideologues have chosen to maximize autonomy of the political actor -- God-talk -- at the expense of the love-neighbor limitiation.
Neopopulists believe that diminishing the autonomy of the political actor by the love-neighbor limitation will result in more people-oriented results. Conservatives may object because tradition - the democracy of the dead -- is a sufficient limitation of the politician's autonomy. Similarly, liberals may object because current constitutional and institutional limits themselves serve to limit the politician's autonomy.
Neopopulists don't necessarily disagree with these objections, they just go futher with the love-neighbor limitation which politically, philosophically and morally limits the politician's autonomy to... nothing?
No, not quite, neopopulists recognize the above-explained irresolvable paradox. If the politician's automony was reduced to self-abnegation, how could the politician enforce his will against another? That is why it is an irresolvable paradox.
Fifth, on the more humorous side, a colleague of mine who agreed with neopopulist principles as to love of neighbor claimed to be too humble to call himself a neopopulist. Neopopulists like this type of person but they make lousy politicians.
Question 2: Which is more manly -- ideological politics or neopopulist politics?
Neopopulists believe that the love-neighbor limitation is more manly than the ideologue's illusion of self-autonomy. Manliness requires authenticity. The ideologue's self-autonomy contradicts experience, coherence and transcendental truths.
First, experience show that people are dependent on each other. Self-autonomy contradicts this shared experience. The love-neighbor limitation is consistent with this experience.
Second, coherence requires intelligible consistency. If we are all self-autonomous ideologues, what need is there for community? Neopopulists, in the first instance, acknowledge community.
Third, the ideologue's automony violates the transcendental truth that man is not God and each man is not his own God. The ideologue's proposal of universal truths explaining the Universe is God-talk. Neopopulists acknowledge they are not gods.
Question 3: Do neopopulist narratives appeal to emotions?
No. Neopopulist narratives are circumscribed to citizen efforts to counteract government violations of the rule of law. Neopopulist narratives are hard-headed and document when the government acts in mediocre, mendacious and/or self-contradictory ways.