Left and Right

Book review: The Populist Delusion by Neema Parvini

Neema Parvini, The Populist Delusion, Imperium Press, April 2022, paperback, 166pp, $20, ISBN 978 1 922602 442. You may purchase the book here.

In The Populist Delusion Dr Neema Parvini examines the myths regarding popular sovereignty that are held by those on the political left and right. Namely, the myths that society can exist without a state, that the state is neutral, that a free market could ever exist and the idea that powers of the state could ever be effectively partitioned. The greatest myth is that the populace can ever rule itself. Parvini draws on political theory stretching back to 1900 to propose that there can be no populism because all revolutions are manoeuvring of rival elites. Any movement that shapes discourse or takes power will eventually serve some vanguard. This analysis is called elite theory.

Parvini is well placed to conduct such an introduction to elite theory. His YouTube channel “Academic Agent” has for several years presented aspects of elite political theory, featuring discussion regarding the thinkers whose writing appears in The Populist Delusion. These are Gaetano Mosca, Vilfredo Pareto, Robert Michels, Carl Schmidt, Bertrand de Jouvenel, James Burnham, Samuel T. Francis and Paul Gottfried. They thought that although governments were run by elites governing their own interests, they required the consent of the population, even without the active support or electoral mandate of that population. If discontent grows too great, a rival elite will mobilise a section of society sufficiently to seize power.

It is significant that these theorists tend to approach analysis free of idealism; they describe how things are, not what they ought to be. Some theorists definitely approve of what they find in society and recommend leaders understand patterns described. The natural order manifests itself in different forms but conforms to recurrent patterns in every society over recorded history. It is Burham’s The Machiavellians (1943) which sets out the first comprehensive historical survey of elite theory, which Parvini here sets out to update.

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