Gareth Morgan has fallen for the oldest populist delusion

In founding his own political party, Gareth Morgan has fallen to the populist delusion that all that is needed is for a great leader to get in who is one of us rather than one of them and she will be alright.

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Source: About – The Opportunities Party.

In common with all populists, Morgan believes there is one will of the people frustrated by a conniving elite rather than many clashing visions of the good life that politicians must balance. Judis explains

Leftwing populists champion the people against an elite or an establishment. Theirs is a vertical politics of the bottom and middle, arrayed against the top.

Rightwing populists champion the people against an elite that they accuse of favouring a third group, which can consist, for instance, of immigrants, Islamists, or African American militants. Rightwing populism is triadic: it looks upward, but also down upon an out group.

Leftwing populism is historically different to socialist or social democratic movements. It is not a politics of class conflict, and it does not necessarily seek the abolition of capitalism. It is also different to a progressive or liberal politics that seeks to reconcile the interests of opposing classes and groups. It assumes a basic antagonism between the people and an elite at the heart of its politics.

John Rawls talked about the need for reasonable pluralism because so many people have different ideas of the way to go forward. Political institutions must be designed with that diversity in mind as David Gordon explained in a book review

The situation that drives Rawls to his theory is that of people in a large society like the United States who are divided by conflicting conceptions of the good. Some of these conceptions may be better than others, and one may in fact be the correct one: Rawls does not commit himself on this question. But none of these conceptions can be shown to be true in the strong sense that it would be unreasonable for anyone to reject it. This state of affairs Rawls terms “the fact of reasonable pluralism.”

Given reasonable pluralism, it would be wrong for the holders of one conception to impose their views on others; respect for others requires that we defend our political views with reasons others could acknowledge.

Our aim, Rawls holds, should not be a mere modus vivendi with those who profess other conceptions of the good. Rather, we should seek a stable society in which people decide disputed questions by democratic discussion.

The idea is to have a political system with sufficient checks and balances that whoever is in power does not do too much harm nor gets seriously out of alignment with the wishes of the electorate. That was the idea behind MMP: divide power between more parties and make all elections close.

It goes back to James Madison’s idea that governments are not populated by angels and so the powers of government and how they are distributed should take account of that. The idea is politicians behave in line with public interest because of the institutions that constrain and shape their choices.

It is wise to design constitutional safeguards to minimise the damage done when those crazies to the right or left of you get their chance in office, as they will sooner or later rather than focus on the powers you and those that currently agree with you should have in your few days in which you fleetingly have a majority.

Too many policies and ideas of the one political party or another assume that they are the face of the future, rather than just another political party that will hold power as often as not and always for an uncertain time. Too many policies and ideas of the Left assume that they are the face of the future, rather than just another political party that will hold power as often as not.

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