Andrew talks to Catherine Fieschi, the founder and executive director of Counterpoint, a London-based consultancy on social and cultural dynamics, and the author of the new book Populocracy: The Tyranny of Authenticity and the Rise of Populism, about why populism and populist parties have become a feature of our politics and how new dynamics unleashed by social media have been harnessed by populism.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode with Catherine, you can find out more about her here:
Andrew Keen: Everyone's been talking about the crisis you come up with a book called populocracy, so the masses have won. Catherine, is that is that the message of your book?
Catherine Fieschi: The overall message is that the populist challenge is very much in the democratic tradition. It's just a democratic tradition that we don't particularly want or particularly like … It's unkind to minorities in so many respects. It's not the kind of democracy we want for diverse societies. It's not fit for purpose. For that reason, I say populocracy is that it is definitely one of the dominant forms of political expression at the moment across the world, right? You basically know this reference to the people is a constant almost everywhere we look.
Keen: But isn't that what democracy is.
Fieschi: Well, this is why I think you know it's been so difficult for those of us who were relatively critical of populism to actually address it in constructive ways because, to some extent, it's very hard to stand up as a Democrat and say we don't like you. We don't like your form of democracy. As I said, it's a democracy that basically argues that the will of the majority is everything and even if you have a large majority … you know, Brexit is a case in point where essentially fifty-two percent of the people have spoken and that seems to be enough. This is what I would call populocracy. It seems to be enough to wipe out the opinions, the votes ,the interests, and the desires of forty-eight percent of the population. So it's a very particular kind of democracy, but it's true that in some ways they've stolen some of the best tunes about the popular will, about people being able to make decisions as sovereign, and so on and so forth. It's put I think a lot of us on the back foot in terms of how to argue back.
Keen: What are the intellectual origins of popular populocracy? As everything with democracy, can we trace it back to the Greeks? Or is there something more modern about its origins?
Fieschi: I think that to some extent … the populocracy that I refer to is something that is modern in the sense that it is hallmark of advanced democracies … because to some extent I would argue that populocracy and populist politics are essentially a reaction from people in places where there has been a real democratic promise and where that democratic promise is seen to be broken, whether it's continuous improvement for the middle classes or whether it's increased access or ever-increasing prosperity, and so on and so forth. You know these are things that often go hand-in-hand with mature democracies when they are seen to be stalling. You know this is partly when the kind of populism that that I'm talking about tends to emerge. So I would argue that it's a particularly modern form of politics.
Keen: Who is the intellectual father?
Fieschi: I don't know that there is an intellectual father of of populism. I think what we have is an interpretation of democracy taking it back to its very very basic tenets, which is that the voice of the majority is all that matters and that that majority essentially has a kind of a moral sense and that gives it the right to lord over everybody else. I think that in terms of our democratic tradition and in terms of how we've got to where we are, there's a confluence of things that is interesting. One is that we are living at a time where the digital transformation and digital revolution essentially has created some very valuable tools. But also I think some very pernicious illusions about our capacity to express ourselves very directly with one another. Tacitly to understand very quickly, it's kind of eradicated any sense that actually some things are very very complex and cannot be boiled down to 140 or 280 characters.