My take on the potential and the flaws of populist backlash politics is up at Culture11 .
4 Comments To "Populism In A Crisis"
#1 Comment By Adam01 On September 30, 2008 @ 6:45 am
“what we see as a matter of practice is that the populists rage against this or that symptom of structural flaws and lose patience in building and sustaining an organized reform movement.
Populist abdication leads directly to empowering the very kind of political class that disdains and ignores the populists. Until populists begin developing a coherent alternative agenda and start serving as a credible alternative source of leadership, the rift between the government and the public will remain, making effective responses to any true crises nearly impossible.”
Interesting point, but isn’t the American political system, with its “first past the post/winner take all” arrangement, de facto set up to thwart a populist consensus from ever taking hold? It strikes me that the political playing field is tilted (baked into our Constitutional cake) to encourage the very sort of establishment consensus that you (rightly) point to as the source of a fair number of our problems and a never ending bad-idea factory, with the occasional pressure release valve for a widespread populist sentiment to break through like we saw yesterday and on the immigration bill. Is it this particular political/economic establishment that is the problem, or does the fact that populist campaigns never gain any purchase point to a deeper, systemic problem?
#2 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On September 30, 2008 @ 8:06 am
Remember the  of Robert Michels.
If you organize a movement effectively, it’s going to be dominated by its leadership, and will tend to come to resemble the existing establishment.
#3 Comment By Adam01 On September 30, 2008 @ 8:40 am
Grumpy Old Man,
So we always get assimilated into the Borg Collective? That is my instinct as welll.
#4 Comment By Daniel Larison On September 30, 2008 @ 8:57 am
Mosca also argues that an elite of a relative few will necessarily come to dominate in any system, and that ruling class will have a justifying mythology to give legitimacy to their rule in the eyes of the many. Any political leadership will tend towards pursuing its own interests, creating barriers to entry into that class and distinguishing itself from the rest of the population, but political leadership that becomes openly hostile to or divorced from popular interests/sentiments ends up losing confidence and thus loses authority. This latter situation is what distinguishes oligarchy from aristocracy. In a system where the justifying mythology is the sovereignty of the people, there is a greater danger of degeneration into oligarchy.