Five hundred years ago this year (2017), Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door of Wittenberg. It was not the first time that theologians and teachers had protested against certain doctrines and dogma of the Roman Church. There had been, to take two notable examples preceding Luther, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. But Wycliffe, like Luther a translator of the Bible into the vernacular, was posthumously condemned, and the preacher and philosopher John Hus burned at the stake. A century before Luther, the Catholic Church boasted that it had quenched what it called “the fire of the Hussite heresy.” But Luther’s protest was not halted. He succeeded where Wycliffe and Hus failed, not because his protest was more eloquent, not because he had better arguments, and not because he was more or less radical or persuasive.
Luther’s success may be put down essentially to two things: he had influential support (German princes who saw how a national movement of protest strengthened their own authority); and secondly, the new technology of printing enabled his ideas to spread with a rapidity unthinkable in Hus’ day. Within two months of Luther’s written challenge, printed editions of his theses appeared in Leipzig, Nuremberg, and Basel. Written by Luther in Latin, the theses soon appeared in printed form in German, thus reaching those only literate in their mother tongue.
It is a moot point to what extent a revolt like Luther’s may create a change in the way people understand their world and the power relations in it, and to what extent technical change made religious rebellion inevitable. Was it Luther who used the means available to him to convey a powerful message which persuaded people to change or convert, or was it rather the means of conveyance itself which empowered people to unfold; which gave wings, as it were, to souls yearning to be free?
Perhaps the printed word first made a new, popular vision of God’s world possible. Be that as it may, the fact is that thanks to printing, the old hierarchy could no longer claim without challenge a mystical, detached, occult access to knowledge, legitimizing its authority over the people by an esoteric claim to hidden verities handed down from the days of the first Pope. Those who still aspired to a hierarchy could no longer do so by claims to esoteric knowledge alone; they were compelled to enter the arena of debate, whence emerged the Jesuits and the Counter-Reformation.
A comparable kind of revolution in communications has taken place over the last twenty-five years, and it is in the process of overthrowing the established parameters of political and social conflict.
The access of almost anyone to a home computer, the Internet, and with it, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, and all the other so-called “social media,” has created an alternative dimension to the mass media of press and television which dominated and directed public opinion for centuries.
Such a development is value-neutral, yet cannot be ignored by anyone concerned with values, because the conflict of values not conducted within the new parameters will soon be as ineffective as swords against tanks. Since the days of the Protestant Reformation and until very recently, power was in the hands of those who controlled the public newspapers and the public radio and television networks. It was a standard, and not unfounded, lament of ethnonationalists from the end of the War to the 1990s that the media were “biased” and in “alien hands.” Indeed, those media protected and supported spokesmen and experts, whether experts in morals, in science, in religion, in the arts, or in any other field of human activity, and these experts were (how could it be otherwise?) nurtured and approved by the brokers of the power system. Attaining power would necessitate the capturing of the citadels of elite power by assault, or infiltration, or a combination of both. Newspapers, doctors, pronouncements, government statements – all these could only be challenged by the acquisition of similar media tools of exclusive communication.
Now, parallel to the rapid development of computer and Internet technology, and in large part caused by it, we are witnessing a massive power shift from producer to consumer, from presenter to audience, from party committee to party member, from the successful expert to the attention-seeking individual, to the performer, to the exhibitionist, to the customer and the loudmouth at the expense of the pundit, the expert, the spokesman, the journalist, the representative, the producer. Established publishers are challenged by print-on-demand publications, and the Internet is abuzz with conspiracy theories and challenges that twenty years ago had been confined to obscure and largely unknown groups and publications with tiny circulations. A case in point: before the days of the Internet, knowledge about the Bilderbergers, even acknowledgment of the very existence of the group, was confined to tiny Right-wing movements which had little hope of bringing their message to the broader public. Since the development of the Web, however, information about the Bilderbergers is available to everyone with online access. The existence of the group has become public knowledge.
Popular skepticism to the point of disrespect regarding the omniscience of elites and experts is now widespread. Such skepticism predated the Internet by decades: the watershed was arguably widespread doubt about the findings of the Warren Commission regarding Kennedy’s assassination. It was the first time in modern history that officially-sanctioned findings by government-appointed experts on a matter of national importance was met with widespread doubt and distrust. In subsequent years, the modern media enable anyone to equip him- or herself with the knowledge necessary to challenge any expert pronouncements. What is now a tidal wave of democratization of the access to knowledge undermines and is set to destroy traditional political structures and vehicles of authority. Those who decry the corresponding rise of political populism, the unfiltered appeal to the people, condemn what they perceive as personalized and thus ignorant political initiatives, a group of especially unscrupulous individuals manipulating the masses by a legerdemain called “populism.”
This critique overlooks the fact that populists are more the result of change than they are the creators of it. Put differently: there were always populists, but the new media have placed them in the limelight and empowered them. Nigel Farage, the sometime leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), and the quintessence of a populist, has often spoken with passion in the European Parliament, but often to rows of empty seats. In pre-Internet days, the absence of a substantial audience of his peers, and above all of the once-mighty press, would have been fatal. It is different today, for his speeches could be and were filmed and posted to YouTube, and thus his denunciations of EU shenanigans “went viral.” Speeches which would have gone unheeded and thus been so much wasted breath became legendary. Farage became the dynamo of a revolt against the EU in large part thanks to YouTube, of a mass revolt against the EU. “No Farage, no referendum,” people say; it would as true to say “no YouTube, no referendum.”
As our time is witnessing a shift away from rock-solid groups, the time of the alliance is coming, and must come for those who seek to influence the world. The referendum campaign in Britain was conducted by alliances, not political parties. In the past, the established media would and could have silenced such initiatives. In fact they did so, but the attempt to silence protest can no longer be effected by the shopworn method of media blackout. A specific example: during the aforementioned referendum (the populist form of election par excellence) on the proposition that Britain should leave the European Union, the Leftist George Galloway made an impassioned speech to the meeting of a group set up by Nigel Farage called “Grassroots Out.” Here is an example from the standard press, in this case The Independent, which in the past would have been all the reporting to which the public would have had access:
An anti-EU rally in London came to a divisive conclusion after over a hundred people reportedly walked out as George Galloway took to the stage as the event’s special guest speaker. The appearance of the Respect Party leader prompted shouted complaints from many people at the QE II Center in Westminster where supporters of Grassroots Out campaign (GO!), a movement urging Britain’s exit from the EU, gathered as the Prime Minister held negotiations to secure an EU reform deal on Friday.
This slanted and brief account, which does not cite a word of Galloway’s speech but instead neatly shifts attention from that speech itself to the establishment’s narrative of the Prime Minister’s negotiations in Brussels, is already largely forgotten. Galloway’s memorable speech, on the other hand, lives on; it is easily accessible on YouTube. YouTube countered the establishment blackout of Galloway’s inspiring speech, which significantly insisted on a broad Left-Right alliance to ensure a leave vote in the referendum.
The technical challenge of the new world is also a massive challenge to political conceptions. The established political parties which presented themselves as small churches, with their rigid hierarchies, are also condemned. Politics is increasingly a conflict of alliances, of shifting immense social and religious (and who knows if not one day ethnic?) movements. These movements are guided not by experts but by sophists, and their appeal is not to a party but to a “community,” and to self-interest or self-interest disguised as idealism. Right versus Left is being gradually, painfully replaced by elite versus demos.
Paradoxically, the new media are taking us back to the times before television, to the 1930s, the days of the passions of the time, of the mass rally and the inspired and passionate speaker, a visionary addressing enthusiastic militants. Since the Second World War until shortly before the turn of the century, the controllers of television, the wireless, and the press effectively controlled political debate, and the parties worked through and with huge vehicles of propaganda; now, in a world where the masses are capricious and demand respect and love from their politicians, where television and newspaper are in freefall so far as influence is concerned, the alliance will more assume the role once held by the party machine and party elder statesmen. The passion of the individual speaker counts once more. The rally matters again. People are drawn to simple messages in politics, yet are much more unpredictable in terms of their loyalty and adherence.
The new populism and the new media which nourish it may be welcomed for the opportunities they present to the marginalized to make themselves heard and to break down censorship and barriers, but those same media also encourage extreme individualism, an inflated sense of entitlement on the part of any citizen, a tendency to negative parasitism, the “bot” in Internet newspeak, who thrives on picking holes in the painstakingly created arguments of others, and the modern media encourage the attenuation of tenacity and painstaking commitments.
The new media are at once more ephemeral and less ephemeral than the media of the past. While on the one hand, people have shorter memories than at any time in human history arguably since the Dark Ages, with an ignorance of national and cultural history never seen since then, at the same time the media of today “capture” statements, images, and pictures forever. Once it has gone viral, a picture or an opinion does not simply diminish in the course of time, for it may be reproduced quickly and extensively. Journalists can summon up long-forgotten statements and incidents at the flick of a hand and torment political spokesmen with them. The past haunts the present. In short, we are living politically, as in other respects, in a more fluid, more nervous, immediate, blurred, spontaneous, image-conscious, and more personal world. Each side in recent political confrontations likes to claim for itself the title of anti-establishment, but the truth is that the modern direction of politics is to undermine the old order of time-honored elites. The recently-successful French presidential candidate is a creature of the elite which always governs France and he was a pupil of Goldman Sachs, but his political appearance and the key to his success was the personalization of his candidacy and his announcement of a personalized post-partisan movement cutely bearing his initials.
The last three referenda (two referenda in effect though not in name) are examples of the new political matrix: the British referendum on the EU, the American presidential election of 2016, and the French presidential election of this year. The fact that an EU referendum in Britain was permitted at all, against the wishes of the decision-makers of the EU, itself arose as the result of a populist revolt spearheaded by the populist Nigel Farage. Farage curried favor with people he didn’t like, sought financial support where he could find it, and was elected to a chamber he despised in order to provide an inspiring and heartwarming performance for his followers. He sacrificed every kind of ideological purity in pursuit of a single goal: to win the right to have a second election on membership in the European Union.
Similarly, the American presidential campaign saw a challenge to the establishment, old-school candidate by a businessman propelled to the position of challenger by a populist mood and using populist means. The American presidential election came in the wake of the discrediting and deterioration of the Republican and Democratic parties.
In France, smarting from scandals and the collapse of the established parties, the economic elite finally moved with the times and put up their own populist candidate – not that their candidate was not a figure of the French establishment, but his post-partisan movement, his stress on his non-ideological personality, and his slick style with its emphasis on appearance, was all in keeping with the new politics. The defeat of Marine Le Pen, ironically, had much to do with her attachment to and association with old and discredited political structures. She also refused to make an alliance or compromise which she needed to give herself the numbers to win, and she did not feel it necessary to reach out to the self-employed and independent businesses, the social group in France whose main concern is neither Islam nor better wages but taxes and regulation. Trump did not make that mistake. And he succeeded where Le Pen failed. Success in politics today is not about intelligence or reason, but about image, alliance, and optimism.
Yes, optimism! The masses are carried on a wave of optimism. Those who preach to them of doom will not be heeded unless the doom is sold in an optimistic package adorned with lessons of brotherly love and sweetness.
The successful modern leader is post-partisan and post-ideological, whatever he or she says about party and ideology; he (or she) is neither the creature of a party nor the priest of a political ideology. The great mass of people in the world of the new media are very simple in their views, their wishes, and their responses, but also extremely fickle and unideological. Politics will be more extreme in that it will be less intellectual and less rational, but politics will also be more moderate in that it will nudge towards compromise, alliance, and talk of hope. People will strive for quid pro quos among friends in a world in which the ideological purist will be marginalized. The ideological purist can only prevail as a priest, the guardian of a religious faith, in which faith is projected by physical force. And the purist will morph into the terrorist. In the modern world, show me a fundamentalist and I shall think terrorist.
The success of the compromiser as opposed to the purist can be readily shown again by taking the example of Nigel Farage and comparing his career and achievement with that of any ethnic or nationalist idealist who has refused to compromise in the post-war Western world. Nigel Farage’s single accomplishment was to take the question of national sovereignty so far into public debate that the establishment was forced much against its will, and to the horror of the conscious bearers of the one-world ideology, to hold a referendum on a key issue of the New World Order program. Farage, with his buffoonery, his showmanship, his bonhomie, his patent lack of any ideology, his moderate and easygoing nationalism, also played a considerable role in the successful outcome of that referendum.
Compare that to the achievements or impact of an uncompromising nationalist partisan and ideological leader in post-war Britain. Some of them were very honorable and dedicated men, but their names are already half or wholly forgotten, their achievements after a lifetime of struggle amounting to precious little, their books unread, their words unheeded. Their accomplishments can be and are summarized in the footnotes to modern history.
Entertaining the masses in the post-partisan world of political hubble and bubble does not make for enduring associations or groups. Movements tend to have shorter lives than parties. The once-mighty and influential UKIP, a movement calling itself a party, may well have reached its nemesis with one electoral defeat. Modern movements have the built-in obsolescence which characterizes the products of international capitalism.
While it is true that the successful politician in the virtual world is one who compromises with or eschews ideological purity, that is not to say that the political message need be or will be restrained or moderate. On the contrary, the masses expect and react favorably to simplicity and extremism; but the simplicity and extremism which the masses favor will have to directly concern them. Idealistic or intellectual projections and analyses will fail to impress beyond the congregations and readerships of the faithful few. Neither new social media nor traditional, open-air mass rallies favor intellectual discourse or subtlety. Seen in this light, it is no surprise that issues will not attract attention which do not resonate emotionally with an increasingly receptive and feminized consumer voter.
The political packet will have to be simple, repeated methodically, and appeal to the immediate interests and needs of the voter/consumer. Both climate warning and race, to take two themes which appeal to dedicated partisan support, do not resonate with the masses, and will bring no political advantage to those hectoring about them. There will have to be a political wrapping which appeals to the modern voter/consumer, “fair distribution of resources” in the one case and “job losses” or “crime” in the other. Hard decisions and above all unpleasant subjects only succeed when wrapped in a friendly, inoffensive packaging. Twitter is no place for an intellectual or complex proposition, nor is the mass rally.
Another paradox of the new media: the open forum of modern social media tends to compel political actors into ghettos (the apocryphal “loser” equipped with nachos and a six-pack, full of resentment, tweeting out of a dark cellar), while the incentive to leave the safety of four walls is mostly about seeking leisure entertainment, the non-political. No politician will succeed today who does not entertain. The great majority of modern voters, especially atheist white voters, are post-partisan consumers, uninterested for the most part in romantic notions of political or religious commitment. The successful populist, and that increasingly will be the only successful politician, will have to start here: simple “moderate” message of good-will hammered hard and mechanically repeated (the populist finds tests effective sound bites and repeats them in the form of mantras to mesmerize and inspire: Trump’s “make America great again” and Corbyn’s “we can do things differently”). Repeated again, again, and yet again, and yet again. Ad nauseam. The mantra is optimistic, as is the wave upon which those who lead the chant will be carried to power.
Idealistic appeals will fall on deaf ears unless those ideals are linked to self-interest and hope. Donald Trump instinctively grasped this and acted upon it, using the vocabulary and statements at the level of an eight-year old to propel his campaign. The populist casts scorn on the expert. Without modern media, Trump’s campaign would have been ignored and allowed to wither by being deprived of the oxygen of publicity, but modern media provide new ventilation systems for the oxygen of populist rebellion.
Those who believe in a return to some form of ethnic separatism need to abandon, at least for the time being, uncompromising and isolating positions and become more fluid and fluent, more outgoing, more social, and less ideological, more passionate but less embittered; in a word, more popular. Expect the established multicultural order to encourage purism and extremism in order to isolate the “virus” of dissent and making it unpopular by highlighting “unsexy” subjects.
Speeches and articles should offer practical ways of moving forward, practical help and assistance, and solidarity born of kinship, not pessimistic views of the end of the world, nor wildly optimistic beliefs in the propaganda of politicians still hampered by an insistence on party political procedures and parameters.
Populism has a liberating but also a debilitating power. The rejection of the expert tempts every Tom, Dick, and Harry to relieve frustration and bile, and encourages the negative by offering everyone to criticize what is presented to them, even on subjects they know little or nothing about. The other negative aspect of the new media is the encouragement to retreat from social life. Much time spent with a computer would be better spent by many in a real social environment.
This brief commentary on the significance of populism may hopefully suggest a new direction forward for those who believe, as I do, that the current direction of events will create the ruin of our planet and the disappearance of the white race. Look at the successful and the unsuccessful, regardless of the content of their politics. Look to see how they succeed. Look and learn.
Michael Walker was the founder and editor of The Scorpion, which was the first publication to introduce the ideas of the European New Right in English, from the early 1980s until the early 2000s.
Enjoyed this article?
Be the first to leave a tip in the jar!
The Union Jackal, November 2023
Counter-Currents Radio Podcast No. 561: An All-Star Thanksgiving Weekend Special
Let Elon Cook
We Told You So, Again
Elon Musk Names the Jew — and Candace Owens Sort of Does, Too
Why Is Support for Israel Collapsing?
Counter-Currents Radio Podcast No. 559: The Return of Tommy Robinson