Now is the age of the hyperleader of reactionary populism

Today is the age of the hyperleader whose power rests on a superbase of mainly online social media supporters, which is partly eclipsing traditional politicians. To understand the power and appeal of reactionary populism, and therefore what Brexit is about, one needs to get the nature of this largely male beast and its ability to manipulate its following, and the challenge it poses to representative democracy.

What are hyperleaders?

Trump, the Five Star movement and also Salvini in Italy, Modi in India, and to an extent Farage in the UK, for example, are hyperleaders, according to Paolo Gerbaudo, drawing immense empathy and loyalty from their followers, often charismatic, demagogic some might say, very outspoken, often outrageous, presenting themselves as outside the political establishment, claiming to represent the “ordinary person” against the perceived remote and corrupt political elite. They present themselves as “real” people, authentic, down-to-earth, in touch with people’s lives. The superbase of followers crowd enthusiastically around them online. Whatever outrage is made receives adoring support from these people. Such devices as online voting are used by the Five Star movement and such online participation is even proposed as a model for future government decision-making.

It is not as though the left don’t also have such people. One only has to look at Podemos in Spain or Bernie Sanders in the US. It is that the reactionary populists of the far Right who are arguably having the most impact, and from the point of view of representative democracy, pose perhaps the biggest challenge.

It is these people who are making the running in politics, and leaving traditional parties standing. This is an age that demands leadership, and leadership that can bring about real change. There is a vacuum waiting to be filled.

Farage and Brexit

Farage’s Brexit Party rose rapidly in part due to a slick online performance, recruiting supporters and gaining a large number of small donations. While the real source of some of these funds is in question, there is no doubting the large following that exists, and it probably enabled the BP to top the poll for the European Parliament elections in the UK. Farage has made outspoken attacks on Parliament and suggests that this body that was elected in 2017 somehow is “betraying” the “will of the people”, the latter presumably ascertained in a questionable plebiscite in 2016. Thus the demagogue with a strong and devoted following can potentially upend traditional representative democracy.

One must ask, is this how we should be governed? Is this to be the vision for our democracy going forward?


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