Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite
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In addition to agreeing on the general principle of opposition to elite rule, both left and libertarian populists agree on many specific issues. Both opposed the Wall Street bailout; and similar to most left populists, many libertarian populists oppose the US government’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well its war on drugs.
There are of course issues that divide many left and libertarian populists, but I believe it’s possible to have discussions around these issues that create greater unity. To do so, we must keep in mind that some of these issues are fairly emotional ones that need to be addressed with sensitivity.
Gun control is one such personal issue that divides populists to their detriment. Many libertarian populists will tell you something like, “Hang out in rural America, and you’ll see that a gun is just a tool, no different from a hammer or a chain saw, and even among those of us who have stopped hunting, we have fond memories of hunting with our family and buddies, and gun-control liberals are screwing with something very personal here.” For many left populists, gun control may also be a very emotional issue, and they might tell you something like, “My dad killed himself with a gun when the bastards took away the job he’d had for twenty years, and I have two close friends who have had family members who also did themselves in with a gun when they probably would still be alive without such an easy way of committing suicide, and, not living in rural America but in urban America, what I see is people using guns not to hunt deer but to hunt one another.” However, when both sides stay respectful, I have also seen them reach agreements on reasonable gun policies that don’t deprive people of either liberty or life.
Often the most emotional divide between left and libertarian populists is the divide I noted earlier on their view of human nature. All of us have a tendency to focus on one aspect of human nature at the expense of others. Not only can respectful communication on the multiple dimensions of our humanity help unify populists, but it can also strengthen individuals, marriages, families, and communities.
Hillel, the great Jewish scholar who lived around two thousand years ago during the time of the Roman Empire’s domination, respected both the libertarian and left understandings of human nature and, in a sense, challenged people to respect both aspects of their own humanity and unify them so as to gain strength. Specifically, Hillel said:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And, if not now, when?
So libertarian populists are right when they say, “If I don’t financially take care of myself and my family, then I will not only lose my self-respect but will be a burden to others.” But left populists are also right when they say, “If I am only for myself, then I am some kind of sociopath, like a Wall Street banker ripping off everybody, and if everybody acted completely selfishly, we could never have the cooperation necessary to defeat the elite.”
It’s my experience that when individuals follow Hillel’s advice to care about both self and others, they gain greater wholeness and strength, and they are more capable of uniting with others.
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