The populist delusion

In 2016, British voters thought they were striking a blow against the “elites” in Brussels. Six years later, nothing has changed except that the UK has become a bit less open, and a bit poorer than it would have been.

In America, the populists believe that wonderful things will happen if only they can get rid of the elites in the media, in government, in corporations, in universities, and in biomedical research labs. Sort of like the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Even right wing intellectuals that should know better often have strikingly naive views about the role of elites:

Besides Vance and Masters (whose campaigns declined to comment for this story), Yarvin has had a decade-long association with billionaire Peter Thiel, who is similarly disillusioned with democracy and American government. “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” Thiel wrote in 2009, and earlier this year, he declared that Republican members of Congress who voted for Trump’s impeachment after the January 6 attacks were “traitorous.” Fox host Tucker Carlson is another fan, interviewing Yarvin with some fascination for his streaming program last year. He’s even influenced online discourse — Yarvin was the first to popularize the analogy from The Matrix of being “redpilled” or “-pilled,” suddenly losing your illusions and seeing the supposed reality of the world more clearly, as applied to politics.

Overall, Yarvin is arguably the leading intellectual figure on the New Right — a movement of thinkers and activists critical of the traditional Republican establishment who argue that an elite left “ruling class” has captured and is ruining America, and that drastic measures are necessary to fight back against them. And New Right ideas are getting more influential among Republican staffers and politicians. Trump’s advisers are already brainstorming Yarvinite — or at least Yarvin-lite — ideas for the second term, such as firing thousands of federal civil servants and replacing them with Trump loyalists.

Good luck with that!

During his first term, Trump failed in his objective to Make America Great Again. But hope springs eternal. I will watch with detached amusement as all these “new right” plans come undone in Trump’s second term.



17 Responses to “The populist delusion”

  1. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    29. October 2022 at 15:31

    I love the billionaires against the ‘elite.’ It’s like the middle-class people who went to OxBridge/Ivy League and complain about ‘the Establishment.’

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. October 2022 at 18:36

    Tacticus, Yes, like Vance in Ohio. Or people who rage against the media, provided with ammunition they got from . . . you guessed it . . . the media.

  3. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    29. October 2022 at 19:24

    Also, have you noticed that you can’t escape the complaints of those who scream the loudest about censorship online? That’s because, there are plenty of channels to complain through, apart from the ones denied them.

    And, of course, the right wing still doesn’t seem to understand, or perhaps even care, that no large social media company can be profitable if they fail to moderate content in some ways. The advertising dollars/subscribers will simply not pay for an online Hellscape full of offensive content. The idea that ideology trumps profit in media, including social media, is laughable at best.

  4. Gravatar of George George
    29. October 2022 at 21:43

    The anti-populist delusion.

  5. Gravatar of George George
    29. October 2022 at 21:45

    “During his first term, Trump failed in his objective to Make America Great Again.”

    LOL, no he succeeded, so much so that even after being two years out of office he’s still triggering everyone who needs an excuse not to criticize the Biden catastrophe.


  6. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    29. October 2022 at 22:07

    You use the term mistrust of “elites.” Yes, people do mistrust the centralization of power, because it leads to tyranny. Mao was an elitist, centralized thug, who wanted to homogenize culture. Those conservatives who seek to remove themselves from globalized actors are fighting that type of Maoism, not joining Mao.

    They want to choose laws that reflect their beliefs. They don’t want you to choose for them, to impose upon them. That imposition is what is leading to war. How is this not clear?

    The inviolable should not be chosen by one actor and enforced globally. It should be chosen by the communities in which people live. Tens of millions of chinese immigrating to the U.S. overnight, which you have proposed on occassion, would clearly tear at the fabric of society. Just like ten million christians moving to Saudi Arabia would tear at the fabric of their society. Or tens of millions of Japanese buddhists moving into the catholic andes.

    This is the type of liberal imposition that people reject. And they are rejecting it everywhere.

    incidentally, it’s not just spranationals, although that is a big part of this. It’s also MNC’s who seek to homogenize culture, in a mao sort of way, with one standard of set of values, and when those MNC’s move into say — the andes — they are vehemently rejected.

  7. Gravatar of Ricardo Ricardo
    29. October 2022 at 23:27

    Robert F. Kennedy jr was a populist.

    Martin Luther King was a populist.

    George Washington was a populist.

    Reagan was a populist.

    Were any of them adolf hitler, mao and stalin?

    This is why the globalists will lose. Their arguments always descend into madness, as if Hitler is secretly lurking around every corner.

    To even call yourself elite is mindboggling arrogant. It’s so bizarre.

    It’s becoming more clear that Sumner and people like him support the ultra wealthy, tyrannical class, not the working class. High taxes only consolidate industry and benefit the elite. Globalization where a certain few MNC’s play by a different set of rules, in so-called “economic zones” destroys local companies who have to pay taxes and consolidates the industry, giving them way way way too much power.

  8. Gravatar of David S David S
    30. October 2022 at 04:57

    In Trump’s second term we can expect daily attacks by hammer wielding, right wing lunatics against elderly Democrats. And, subsequent acquittals by right-wing judges–assuming that these people are even arrested.

  9. Gravatar of George George
    30. October 2022 at 06:32

    David S:

    I see you’re sourcing your smears from the radical left msm fake news.

    The truth is that the guy was a communist nudist,, with BLM flag, pride flag, wrote ‘Jesus is the anti-Christ”, green party drug addict.

    If you want more drug induced psychosis behavior like this, vote Democrat!

  10. Gravatar of George George
    30. October 2022 at 06:37

    “And, subsequent acquittals by right-wing judges–assuming that these people are even arrested.”

    Accurate description of the lack of arrests of anyone in the Biden family despite proof of crimes on the Laptop from Hell.

    Accurate description of radical left judges and juries acquitting law breakers Sussman and Danchenko.

    The Iron Law of Woke Projection never misses.

  11. Gravatar of George George
    30. October 2022 at 06:39

    You can tell how desperate the Democrats are based on how sloppy this whole attempt to blame MAGA for the Pelosi event has been.

    The guy was a tree-hugging, Green Party, nudist, anti-capitalist. They didn’t think we would figure that out? They must believe they have no choice.


  12. Gravatar of Sean Sean
    30. October 2022 at 16:19

    You should read a little Yarvin. I don’t agree with all his thoughts but he does make you think. Populist always struggle if they don’t control the PMC. It’s tough to enact your platform if those in charge of enacting it are against it even if you win the vote. Even Thiels issues with freedom and Democracy has some roots in Tocqueville.

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. October 2022 at 19:06

    Sean, I have read him—I’m not impressed. He’s smart, as is Theil. But there’s a difference between being smart and being wise.

  14. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    30. October 2022 at 19:31

    Scott, Sean,

    what’s most disconcerning with people like Yarvin and Thiel (and Musk) is how they use some warmed-over ideas that have merit but which they somehow only understood by half. Take Tocqueville and the classical liberals as a whole. Yes, they all pointed out that democracy and liberty are orthogonal to each other. This is why the bill of rights exists, to put limits on what democracy can decide and what it cannot. In other words, what Tocqueville was afraid of, was …. … … POPULISM, duh. And what Tocqueville wrtoe, not in “Democracy in America” but rather in “The Ancien Regime and the Revolution”, was that the recommended antidote to either extreme democracy or autocracy was ELITES. In Tocqueville’s worldview, that was a strong aristocracy that could moderate the people’s will and still be strong enough to stand up to the king. Same thing with Hegel’s “Beamtenstaat”, that the antidote to extreme democracy was a class of highly educated technocrats that can’t be fired by politicians on a whim and would moderate both the whims of the people and the whims of the rulers. That’s your DEEP STATE right here.

    But yea. People good, elites bad, democracy bad, dictator good. Huh? Whatever. It all becomes a complete mush in the mind of Musk and Thiel, nevermind this esteemed blog’s comment section (and I don’t mean you, Sean, nor you, Scott, obviously).

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    31. October 2022 at 08:00

    mbka, Good comment. All I’d add is that while Musk is a great entrepreneur (and very smart), he’s not really an intellectual at all, at least in the sense of Theil and Yarvin. (Or if he is, it’s well disguised in his dumb tweets.)

  16. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    31. October 2022 at 18:41


    agree on Musk. Honestly, even Thiel doesn’t sound like an actual intellectual to me. He does think deep on occasion but he’s not broad enough to see that his points have been made before, in other contexts, and maybe better. Yarvin, I found him entertaining for a while but ended up getting tired of him, a bit of a one trick pony and much of his charm comes from being a gifted albeit bombastic writer. Hence the entertainment factor.

  17. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. November 2022 at 11:32

    mbka, Interestingly, Yarvin suggests Theil is more right wing than he appears.

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