the politics of the poor


To some ears it will sound paradoxical or even dangerous for intellectuals to champion populism. Can there really be such a thing as an intellectual populism, an internationalist populism, and a populism of civil liberties? The record of some historical populisms would cast doubt on these possibilities. But the same possibilities are the moment’s necessities, and already they are being embodied by the Occupy movement. A people, in the populist sense, never includes everybody, and any decent American populism will have to guard the rights of the persons falling outside of its shifting self-definition; one task of the 99 percent, if it ever attains power, will be to ensure the protection of the 100 percent. The responsibilities of power remain, however, a long way off. The battle of the moment pits domination by corporate persons against an emergent democratic people. A movement is finding out who it is. That it couldn’t say at the start means only that it is learning, listening, thinking, growing. “This country has not fulfilled the reasonable expectations of mankind,” Emerson wrote in 1838, when the US was still a very young country. Maybe we’re not yet 100 percent too old.

more from Benjamin Kunkel and Charles Petersen at n+1 here.