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Keys to Understanding the Warfare Between Populists and Progressives

Globalización y futuro redefinirán el campo de la izquierda y la derecha. Imagen: Unsplash


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Globalization and future are two key elements to understand the new political struggle, which is moving away from the traditional definitions of left and right, while priorities are being rewritten and our societies are entering uncharted territory.

And not for the first time.

The battle lines of political conflict are much more dynamic than might appear at first glance. Think, for example, of the last 500 years, where the major factions have been defined on the basis of aspects as different as religion, possession or lack of titles of nobility, ownership or lack of land, nationality or ideology.

Now those lines are changing again. The struggles between capitalism and socialism, which defined the post-war world, are being overtaken by a new panorama whose nuances are still being discovered, especially around the concepts of globalization and the future, as the basic scenarios of a controversy whose resolution will define the rest of our lives.

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Who are those contenders, then? The progressives and the populists. On both sides, we will find some flags and tendencies previously identified with the left and the right, but which are realigning around new realities, priorities and alliances with various nuances throughout the world.


There are things that should be known about today’s left.

First. It’s profoundly globalist. They have inherited and consolidated the cosmopolitan arrogance that characterized certain European and American elites since the end of the 19th century. They consider themselves “citizens of the world” and do not feel particularly attached to a specific nation. That is why, in America, they jubilantly tear down monuments of George Washington or Elizabeth II.

Second. It is intensely technocratic, for its ranks are nourished by high academic and economic standards. It is also why it is arrogantly optimistic about its own capabilities; the Progressive is determined to destroy old loyalties and structures, because it is convinced that its intelligence, talent and goodness are sufficient to control the new world that emerges as a result of its designs.

Third. It has a profound rejection of the old loyalties. Progressives consider traditional identities (religious, national, gender and civilizational) as a fence that encloses them and prevents them from the full development of their personality, which for them requires absolute freedom to define themselves and modify that perception as many times as they wish.

In other words, progressivism (the ‘woke‘ pack) considers all elements of identity, even the most basic ones (for example, being a man or a woman) as a consumer good to which the person has the right to adapt to his or her taste, as he or she would any other of the products he or she buys on the Internet.

This explains, for example, the paradoxical pro-green alliance between the elites and those who theoretically seek to eliminate the “structures of privilege”: The elitists are sure that in the “new” world they will triumph (at least) as much as in this one, and the others are betting on gaining a position of dominance by taking advantage of the troubled river.

Fourth. It has a deep contempt for nearby traditions, which it considers old-fashioned and boring, but ironically pays apparent respect to non-Western traditions that it considers “wise”.

At bottom, what progressives seek to do is to consume these external traditions, instrumentalizing them to differentiate themselves from the hicks within their society. They take excerpts from Gypsy, Islamic, pre-Hispanic, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. culture, but never fully engage with them; they simply take the rituals or symbols and turn them into a product to consume within a new humanist and globalist worldview.

The mixture of the “values” of progressivism results in a self-righteous morality that does not seek to please God, but rather to strengthen its own status through actions that allow it to boast virtues to the rest of the world, the first of which is to “validate” the “vulnerable groups” unjustly relegated by the old regime.

At this point, progressivism becomes even more intensely moralistic and persecutory than the Pharisees themselves of old, since the Pharisees claimed strict adherence to a set of immutable and pre-given rules; on the contrary, progressivism claims strict adherence to a set of rules that is constantly being modified.

What is the reason for this phenomenon? A mixture of optimism, consumerism, and humanism. Progressives consume and presume their moral status in a race whose leadership depends on showing the strictest compliance with the new values of the new world, which are renewed with each change of season, ostracizing those who lag behind, in a spirit similar to that of the Chinese Cultural Revolution or the Trotskyist permanent revolution.

In short, they want to control both globalization and the future.

Globalization and the future, between globalist humanism and popular reaction. (Unsplash)

The populists

Then, as explained, there are the populists.

First. They have a comparatively more pessimistic outlook on “progress,” and are therefore unwilling to be swayed by the sirens that sing of globalization and the future. For them, the fences of old identities and loyalties are not a prison, but (literally) a protective wall that protects a predictable and understandable world within.

Second. They share a certain conservative sensibility with much of the traditional right, since they see traditions as a valuable legacy, worth fighting for. They are unwilling to rush into the promises of the future, leaving everything behind.

Third. They are concerned about the speed of the social, economic and political changes that are occurring. They look around them and see a world that is increasingly dynamic, hysterical and incomprehensible because, unlike progressives, they do not have the arrogance to visualize themselves as the automatic winners of a new environment.

Fourth. They are nationalists. Even when they support international trade, they do so on the assumption that such trade must take place between nations with internally defined structures, identities and rules of the game; unlike the progressives, who are committed to mechanisms of global governance that intervene more and more actively in the internal life of countries.

Fifth. They view with growing distrust the large corporations, whose alliance with progressivism is increasingly open. The populists consider that the giants of the new industry, such as Amazon and Google, are nurturing a new reality where they will concentrate the social status and economic power that today is still relatively dispersed in local and national nuclei.

This implies a very interesting breaking point for the right-wing, which for decades made blind trust in the private sector one of the pillars of its discourse. Globalization and the future now provoke conflict.

Now, as the differences between large private corporations and large governmental corporations become blurred, a schism seems to be approaching: the technocratic corporatists will align themselves with the progressives, while the traditionalists and nationalists will move towards a populist approach, where they will find surprising allies among part of the old left.

The future is not yet defined. (Unsplash)

Globalization and the future

Progressives perceive globalization as an inevitable and desirable process, which is necessary to achieve a humanistic, consumerist and moralistic world peace. They basically re-edit, refine and perfect the vision of the utopians and “citizens of the world”. For them, the future is an exciting place of opportunity, a territory they will be able to dominate as kindly tyrants.

The populists view globalization with varying shades of distrust and are unwilling to be swayed by it in exchange for their traditions, identities and loyalties. For them, the future is a place of opportunity, but also of grave danger, especially that automation, the concentration of capital and the fourth industrial revolution will put power in the hands of a handful of moralistic corporate tyrants.

Who will triumph? The redrawing of these battle lines in the political struggle is a process that is just beginning. Likewise, the technological and social changes that will give rise to the automated and domesticated future that the progressives long for and the populists are wary of are just beginning to take hold, so the coin is still in the air.

However, if history tells us anything, it is that, at the end of the day, the future never conforms strictly to the visions of either side. The world we will live in will include some things that the progressives hope for and the populist fear, but it will also have many other things that neither of them envision.

Globalization and the future are at stake, and we will have to live, and fight, to see where this story ends.

Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”