Normalizing Anarchism in an Age of “Populism” and “Nationalist Strongmen”

Much ado has been made in the centrist liberal press regarding the supposed decline of liberal democracy and the rise of supposed nationalist strongmen such as Trump, Putin, Duterte, Modi, Erdogan, Xi (who recently declared himself president for life) or, after the recent elections in Italy, Salvini. This supposed rise of strongmen is alleged to be accompanied by the growth of right-wing populist movements motivated by racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and opposition to All Good Things. Not only the Left but even many mainstream conservatives have engaged in considerable hand-wringing over these trends.

A more realistic view recognizes that the rise of populism and nationalism represents a backlash against the centralization of wealth and political power on an international scale, and on an unprecedented level, and the fact that the political classes of most nations have been complicit in this. Additionally, societies around the world are experiencing unprecedented levels of cultural, social, and demographic change due to technological advancements and the emergence of the global economy. Naturally, when periods of rapid change emerge, a predictable and parallel opposition to such change develops as well. For example, the anti-immigration movements of the West are acting in response to the radical and unprecedented demographic change that is taking place in Western societies. The rise of populist and/or nationalist leaders in other regions of the world is a response to the hegemony of neoliberalism. That most of these leaders are actually accomplices to the global plutocratic class is less significant than the perception of these as somehow being mavericks defying globalist elites. That some of these figures have cultivated a strongman image for themselves reflects an effort to play to popular frustration with the inertia of the centrist political classes.

But the strongman image represents a fundamental conflict with the supposed populism that many of these characters are supposed to represent. In reality, the rising crop of “populist” or “strong man” world leaders resemble nothing so much as mafia bosses. This can only be a positive development for those of us who are diehard opponents of the state. If the objective is the ultimate de-legitimization of the state, then it can only be beneficial when heads of state act like the leaders of organized crime syndicates (which is in fact what they are). We don’t need mealy-mouthed yuppies like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, or Emmanuel Macron as heads of state. We don’t need overgrown frat boys like George W. Bush or schoolmarms like Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel or narcoleptic grandpas like Ronald Reagan. We need full-blown, open, and unapologetic thugs who make no pretenses of being anything other than the gangsters they are. In other words, we need figures heading up states that are easy to hate, and shower with ridicule and scorn. The apoplectic reactions of the liberal class, the mass media, and the academic class to the Trump presidency, for example, has been a wondrous site to behold as have the hand-wringing whines of neocon establishmentarians crying about the coarsening of public discourse.

The intermingling of the political class with the celebrity class is even more wondrous. That Donald Trump’s presidency is little more than an extension of his previous reality TV program is of immense value in terms of the stripping away of the faux dignity of the state. One can only hope that such a trend continues, and that on some glorious day in the future a Kardashian will sit in the White House.

The present convergence of the rise of “strong man” political leaders, populist resentment against political establishments, ideological polarization, vulgarization of political discourse, complete failure of the political class to address serious problems, and unprecedented concentrations of wealth and power present unique opportunities for those of us who favor actual state abolition. If ever there was a time when efforts to normalize anarchism as a legitimate and competitive political position, it would be now.  Of course, most anarchist factions are oriented toward the practice of anarcho-sectarianism , which in turn has the effect of limiting their ability to reach general audiences.

It would seem that at this point it is time for anarchists to begin producing propaganda that is intended for the purpose of de-legitimizing the state, the ruling class, and the power elite on a general level, rather than appealing to any one narrow ideological, cultural, or economic constituency. Interracial relationships, homosexuality, marijuana, and atheism were all things that were considered either criminal or extreme taboos a generation or two ago, but all of these things have increasingly become normalized or at least close to being mainstream in recent decades. There is no inherent reason why the core anarchist idea of abolishing the state in favor of a completely voluntary society cannot follow a similar trajectory in the future, with all of the many contending sects of anarchists representing outlets for different cultural, demographic, socioeconomic, philosophical, lifestyle, psychological or interest oriented tendencies. It is also necessary for anarchists to break out of the various enclaves in which they are currently situated, and began pushing state abolitionist ideas into the mainstream. I’ve offered some ideas on how that might be done., though it remains to be seen as to whether or not very many anarchists will avail themselves of this unique opportunity.