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We need to recognise cultural as well as economic concerns to defeat populism

24 Dec 2018 6 minute read
Populism by John Hain

Benjiman L. Angwin

Wales is particularly vulnerable to the rise in populism. We are a relatively poor country in the context of the rest of north-west Europe.

Our politics are stagnant. A lackluster Labour party has a lackluster new leader, who seems so apathetic towards his new role that he turned down a meeting with the Prime Minister.

Labour’s own apathy towards governing is only matched by the apathy of the Welsh population towards them.

As Keith Darlington noted, fewer than 35% voted for Labour at the last election.

Fewer than 50% in Wales felt their vote mattered enough to bother.

After 100 continious years of Labour power in Wales people have lost faith in politicians’ ability to do anything about the nation’s problems.

It is no surprise therefore that those who feel that they’re being left behind economically or culturally, with no hope of improvement, are turning to populist groups like UKIP and Ein Gwlad.

Easy solutions

Matthew Goodwin, in National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, talks about ‘National Populism’.

He defines it as a new ideology which prioritises “the culture and interests of the nation, and promises to give voice to a people who feel that they have been neglected, even held in contempt, by distant and often corrupt elites”.

He argues that it has arisen due to a liberalism which has neglected cultural preservation and economic redistribution.

From Poland to the United States, populism has rushed into this vacuum, offering easy answers to complex problems.

Our world is becoming ever more complex and interconnected. There is no avoiding that. But liberals such as myself have made a catastrophic mistake: We forgot that we are a human society, and human society developed tribally, not globally.

Populism is a backlash against the cultural homogenisation of the global village and the feeling that individual national governments have lost control of countries’ economic destiny.


Some think that the answer to the rise of the populist Alt-Right is to pull in the completely opposite direction and offer a kind of populist socialism.

Groups like Momentum, Spain’s Podemos and Greece’s Syriza are a product of this way of thinking.

Momentum’s rise coincided with the rise of the Alt-Right in England. Podemos came to power as Francoists began marching through Barcelona.

Popular Socialist Syriza was founded in 2012, the same year the ultranationalist group Golden Dawn became Greece’s official opposition.

But in truth, this thinking makes our society worse by dividing it into two hostile camps, National Populists and anti-Nationalist Populists.

Every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction. Ein Gwlad’s Nationalist Populism in Wales came about because Plaid Cymru jerked, if temporarily, further left.

Left-wing anti-National Populists offer simple answers in a similar way to National Populists. They both blame a shadowy global elite for our problems.

But while Anti-National Populists are right in resisting National Populism’s xenophobia, they fail to address the underlying issue which has given rise to National Populists: human beings are tribal and globalization is not.

They seek to eliminate differences between working-class groups across national borders.

They want to create a society where cultural liberalism, which David Thoreau described as, ‘the right to march to a different drummer’, is viewed as divisive.

They connect cultural difference with inequality and as a result the word equality comes to mean ‘sameness’.

They attempt to solve the economic concerns that gave rise to populism but do little to address the cultural concerns, and actually make them worse.


Key to solving the problem of populism is to create a globalized society each individual’s tribal identity can be a part of without feeling threatened.

To do this we need 3 things:

  1. We need to acknowledge the concerns of the Right by accepting each human tribe has the human right to a homeland where its identity is protected, and that failure to do so will cause National Populism.
  2. We need to acknowledge the concerns of the Left by accepting each human has the right to be free from poverty where healthcare, food and housing is protected, and that failure to do so will cause anti-National Populism.
  3. We need an education system which focuses on creating tribal citizens which understands every human tribe has the right to an independent homeland.

If we look to the French and Catalan speaking worlds, we can see the beginning of Nationalist Liberal ideas pushing back against Populism. Here are three examples:

When Donald Trump came to power Prime Minister Justin Trudeau realigned Canada economically with France and its new centrist president. He also travelled Canada and made Canada’s bilingualism and 1st Nation communities a focus. That is Nationalist Liberalism.

In Catalunya Carles Puigdement led a Liberal-aligned government to declare independence from a Spain caught between Populist Left Podemos and the Francoist Right.

What makes Catalunya so radical is that it is centrist in an age when people are pulling to extremes. If Populism is the direction of flow, radicalism is now centrist.

In France Emmanuel Mácron kept National Populism and xenophobia from taking over his country by becoming the first clearly Nationalist Liberal leader of an independent nation in the world.

His slogan, ‘La France, un chance pour chacun’, translates as: ‘France, an opportunity for each and every one.’

It is a directed attack upon populism of Right and Left. It allays both tribal and economic fears.


Despite an occasional overture, neither Mácron nor Trudeau have made the full leap into full-on Nationalist Liberalism. Mácron has promoted stronger French regionalism, whilst Trudeau has strengthened Canada’s 1st Nation communities and the French language.

Both of these actions are short of the protections which will outright stop National Populism, that requires independence. And so Wales needs to look to Carles Puigdement for a Nationalist Liberal role model.

Caught between Podemos on the Left and the Partido Popular on the Right, Puigdement and his party Partit Demòcrata Català have managed to direct a popular movement without the hatreds of populism.

This was achieved by enabling grassroots organizations independent of the party to go do their own thing. YesCymru could fill this role if it does not fall prey to the conformity of the Left or the xenophobia of the Right.

We must accept we made a mistake by not including tribalism in the building blocks of our global community.

In fact, that may just be the road out of populism on both sides and back to sanity.

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