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Social democracy versus “populism”

From the Broadbent Institute:

"Contemporary right populism succeeds by weaving together two forces. On the one hand, a sense of identity threat among majorities directed against ethnic, cultural or religious minorities, or immigrants in general; a threat which plays to attitudes that often lie dormant beneath appeals for tolerance and openness. On the other, a sense of grievance at growing inequality, or a loss of status, income, or security in relation to the recent past." Charles Taylor.


After WWII workers and other non-elite citizens believed they could act effectively within the political arena to meet their needs and to invest in a system of social justice. Left, Labour parties in the UK, and social democratic parties in Europe relied on the engagement of people for support and the people believed they had the power and responsibility to be involved by learning about the issues and voting. 

The emphasis on the economy created a fear that social responsibility would make  jobs scarce, and mainstream propaganda ignored voices of reason, and replaced meaningful conversation with sensational coverage of the most demeaning behaviours.  Entertainment promoted "exciting" drama with more graphic violence and pornographic images.  All this lead to people turning away from social organizing and becoming cynical. 

Each decade revealed a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, until the hope that our children would lead a happy, safe and comfortable life was difficult to sustain. Furthermore, people believed this is because media offered what people wanted, therefore this was the choice of the people.  

Charles Taylor writes that we cannot go back to the post-war era of social democracy, but "the work that parties did in that era has to be secured through a synergy of parties, social movements, grass-roots protests, local community organizations, among other instruments."

This means if we don't care enough to work through our social problems, if we don't meet, listen, express ourselves honestly, and organize - the instruments of oppression will make it very difficult to reclaim later.


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