The Clare Spark Blog

February 2, 2011

“…the legitimate aspirations of the ___ people”

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William Jennings Bryan

[This was originally written during the Egyptian revolt that displaced Mubarak, but remains relevant, especially if we apply it to the Democratic Party or OWS.]

Recall that PLO spokesmen constantly use the phrase “the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people”? This constantly reiterated trope is populist propaganda, pure and simple. We hear it today in cable news and elsewhere, except that the word Palestinian has been replaced by “the Egyptian people.” This is populist talk, and populism is a buzz word that is applied by propagandists of both parties seeking to implant the notion that there is an oppressor whose foot is on the neck of the population at large: it could be “Wall Street” or “The Northeastern establishment” or “experts” or “the Washington DC Beltway.” (See https://clarespark.com/2009/08/19/noam-chomskys-misrepresentation-of-walter-lippmanns-chief-ideas-on-manufacturing-consent/.) The oppressor monopolizes force and has not been elected by the [protesting] people, all of whom are supposed to share the same life goals and interests. And who confers legitimacy? Or is legitimacy irrelevant because populists implicity believe in spirits–vox populi, vox dei?

Such loose talk, resistant to precise common sense analysis, makes it easy to conflate competing factions with incompatible objectives and divergent views of the source of evil. In the U.S. there was a definable populist movement that emerged forcefully in the latter quarter of the nineteenth century. They were small producers, small farmers, and artisans displaced by the growth of big business, and otherwise threatened by railroads and banks. As debtors, they wanted to defend their interests against “monopolies” and to get off the gold standard so that the government could print easy money. (For a defense of this movement, see Michael Kazin’s biography of William Jennings Bryan, a good job of history writing, except that he ignores the antisemitism that was an intrinsic part of the populist movement, and also denies that Bryan was afflicted with it (in an email to me), notwithstanding the rhetoric of his famous Cross of Gold speech. Richard Hofstadter noted the pervasive antisemitism in his ”The Age of Reform” and was heavily criticized for it by New Left historians beginning with Michael Rogin in his book on McCarthyism.)

This blog is primarily a plea for readers to demand that their news gatherers specify the factions in the current Egyptian agitation and describe their interests and objectives. Is this primarily a youth revolt? If so, do these supposedly secular, social-media loving youth share the widespread reactionary Arab resentment of the U.S. and Israel? Do they want to purge the schools of antisemitic propaganda, much of it based on the heavily distributed Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Just asking.

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