Trump takes on the experts to save democracy

Trump takes on the experts to save democracy, by Janet Albrechtsen.

[Social scientist Salvatore] Babones’ central thesis is that 21st century authoritarianism is not about Trump, it’s not even right-wing or nationalist or even conservative. The real threat to democracy comes from a form of liberal authoritarianism. “It is the tyranny of experts,” he writes.

His diagnosis of what ails modern US democracy is a warning shot for us. He starts with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: government “of the people, by the people, for the people”.

Babones interprets the celebrated three-part phrase to mean that all three political traditions must be in balance, in healthy tension. “Of the people” implies a classically conservative view of the people as a single society, not a collection of individuals and special interests; “by the people” evokes the historically liberal program of extending equal rights to all; and “for the people” alludes to devising programs for the people, the core of the progressive ­agenda.

Babones presents a sobering account of how the liberal part of the equation has thrown democracy out of kilter. “Political liberalism,” he writes, “has evolved over nearly three centuries from a philosophy of safeguarding freedoms into a philosophy of demanding rights.” …

The new fascism is being challenged by populists:

Drawing on experts is understandable. If you need brain surgery, you ask for brain surgeon. But politics is a unique field of human activity, says Babones. It draws on the consent from the people for its legitimacy.

Here, says Babones, is the new authoritarianism.

“The greatest spiritual danger facing 21st century democracy is that liberal intellectuals increasingly dismiss the moral right of less-educated people to have opinions that conflict with the consensus wisdom of the expert class,” he writes.

And populism is the last-gasp strategy to up-end this liberal authoritarianism. Populism forces lofty-minded experts to engage seriously with the mundane views of ordinary citizens.

Ah, that’s been a bit missing lately … the consent of the people. Brexit springs to mind, for instance.

hat-tip Stephen Neil