8 feb. 2017

Assault of Populism on Individualism

Gästinlägg om hur individens frihet och demokratin hotas av vår tids populism:

Nuten Özkoray
Nurten Özkoray*

Populist discourse in democratic countries lately started to expand its territory at the expense of individualism, one of the most important values of democracy. Populism of our day   makes use of a simplified version of conservatism loaded with bigotry. Individualism on the other hand embodies pluralism, a hard-won element of contemporary secular democracy, which ensures the protection of differences in ethnic, racial, sexual, political and religious sense.

The nature of a political regime and its ideological devices make their impact on the development of individualism. In countries where individualism and secularism are highly developed (i.e. Scandinavian countries), the danger is less, but nevertheless exists.

A structural dichotomy is present in every political system: The private realm of the individual with freedoms and rights, interacting with the boundaries, duties and obligations of the public realm. Naturally, there is a tension between the two realms both trying to expand at the expense of the other. In authoritarian regimes, the public sphere surrounds and eventually invades the private sphere. “The positioning of private and public realms with respect to each other reveals the nature of the political regime and its distance to democracy” as Prof. Faruk Birtek asserted in his book Enlightenment, Citizenship and Political Regimes. Therefore, we must be careful not to let the private realm of the individual be invaded by the public realm through the surge of a populist wave looming in the dark corners of the contemporary democracies.

The growing influence of populist right wing parties in recent years seems to be based on the fascination of the masses with ready-made identity constructs that aim to manufacture their consent. This is helped by the disappointment caused by the failure of socialist promises in some European countries like France and Italy. Also, as the backlash of global capitalism, the exploited workforce and consumers with shrinking buying power are attracted by protectionist, introverted and nationalist conservatism. This kind of ideology makes a vicious attack on the individual diversity which aims to make individual powerless and paves the way for fascism. As Erich Fromm says in his book Escape from Freedom: “Fertile soil for the rise of fascism anywhere is the insignificance and powerlessness of the individual”. He described how submission to the authority of a higher power to escape the complexities of personal freedom would ultimately lead to destruction as the painful events in the European history displayed.

The immunity of liberal democracies seem to be weakened from within, as the effects of globalization coupled with the refuge crisis and terrorist threats.

These events started to channel discontent and fears of the masses into xenophobic responses which were effectively used by populist right wing parties in Europe. On top of this, they are emboldened by the victory of Donald Trump. The vitality of liberal democracy with its positive freedoms for the human welfare came immediately under attack with the discriminatory, prejudiced, sexist practices of the new president of the world’s most influential democracy. These practices are a direct assault on the diversity, free speech, freedom to circulate and free choice which are important assets of individualism. With its multiplying effect, media power and role model positioning, it is likely to spread into the rest of the free world with the likes of him having a ball with great expectations to set up their own dystopia.

According to Economist Intelligence Unit, only 8.9% of the world population live in fully democratic countries. Democratic freedom of the individual is an inalienable right and took ages of costly struggle to attain, therefore too precious to be lost. The purpose of the totalitarian ideologies and forces is the disintegration of democratic societies and supranational organizations as the EU. It is no surprise that discriminatory and isolationist rhetoric helps the objectives of the radicals (Islamist jihadists and authoritarian countries) who target the western civilization. Democratic forces should find a formula to offset the appeal of the populism for the masses who look for a solution to escape from their fears and insecurities before it is too late to lose the hard won liberties.

*Nurten Özkoray, sociologist, lecturer, author of “Individualism and Democracy in Turkey” 2012, co-author of “Gezi Fenomeni” 2013 by Idea Politika Publications.

2 kommentarer:

Kristian sa...

Detta med betydelsen av individualism är mycket intressant.

Jag kom att tänka på skillnaden mellan att tala om "pluralistiskt samhälle" och "mångkulturellt samhälle". Ett pluralistiskt samhälle omfattar naturligtvis en öppenhet för många kulturer, men också en öppenhet för alla andra sätt som människor är olika på.

Problemet med att fokusera på ett enda sätt som människor kan vara olika på, såsom kultur, är att det är fullt kompatibelt - och till och med kan tänkas gynna - ett kollektivistiskt tänkande där människor antas kunna delas in i distinkta grupper. Men med "pluralism" går det inte att dela in människor i kollektiv.

Så man kan tänka sig att begrepp som "mångkultur" och "mångreligiöst" bidrar till ett kollektivistiskt tänkande, medan "pluralism" bidrar till individualism.

Detta är ju lite grann också en skillnad i hur vänstern och klassiska liberaler har debatterat mot populism/nationalism. Vänstern har i stor utsträckning använt begrepp som kan bidra till kollektivistiskt tänkande, så att debatten mot populisterna blir en fråga om huruvida vissa kollektiv är bra eller dåliga. Ett mer klassiskt liberalt svar skulle vara att istället fokusera på människors individualitet, och det felaktiga att alls klumpa ihop människor till kollektiv.

Om man accepterar kollektivistiska resonemang är risken att man i högre grad spelar på nationalisternas egen planhalva, då de ju är starkt nationalistiska. Risken med individualistapproachen blir istället att liberalerna ur nationalisters/populisters perspektiv kan utmålas som en "elit" som har ett annat språk, en annan begreppsvärld, jämfört med vad de själva kallar "vanliga" människor.

Vet inte vad ni säger, men jag tycker att denna skillnad inte riktigt kommit fram i debatterna.

Nurten sa...

Kristian thank you for your comment. The bridge between multiculturalism and pluralism is democracy with strong secular principles. Without secularism, democracy can not prevent bigotry and xenophobia popping up time and time again. As for the contrast between individualism and collectivism, there can be pleasantly nice exchange between them as we see in the Swedish society: social solidarity is higher where individualism is developed.

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