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Populism no Honshitsu (The Nature of Populism - Can “political alienation” be overcome?)




208 pages, 127x188mm




September 10, 2018



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Populism no Honshitsu

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In this book, the author discusses the problems shared by advanced democracies worldwide, including Japan, from the perspective of the keyword “political alienation.” Since 2017, the rising tide of anti-establishment politics has been gaining strength throughout the world. One element common to all countries where this is occurring is political alienation. Globalization and technological innovations have made life more convenient. At the same time, however, they have had a major impact on the middle class and caused anxiety and dissatisfaction among those who should have been able to maintain the affluence they enjoyed in the past, which in turn has led to a mistrust of political establishments that have failed to implement effective measures.
If they are unable to rationally resolve their sense of isolation, they turn their backs on politics, blame their dissatisfaction on vested interests and immigrants, and place their hopes on the emergence of a new leader who would be able to completely upturn politics. It is in this way that populism arises.
Chapter 1 is an overview of the political processes and election results in the UK following the 2016 “Brexit” referendum, in which it was decided that the UK would leave the EU. The fact that in the 2017 general election all but the two major parties suffered huge setbacks can be attributed to the election strategy of Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, who supported the first-past-the-post system and engaged in an anti-elite and anti-establishment rhetoric. As we move into the future, there is no guarantee that the spotlight will not be turned on a charismatic, anti-political establishment leader.
Chapter 2 is an exploration of the factors that led to the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency in 2016. The political alienation that spread among Republican voters and the “racial resentment” that was a projection of this alienation prevented them from breaking away from Republican Party members and, indeed, led to Republican victories in contested states.
Chapter 3 discusses the political situation in the Netherlands, where political alienation is not only a force among the domestic political elite but projected even onto the elite of the EU. This feeling of alienation was accepted by the populist Party for Freedom.
Chapter 4 reviews the 2017 French Presidential Election and National Assembly Election, during which both the Socialist Party and the Republicans suffered decisive defeats. At the time, there were intellectual trends that were focused on both “the other” and a political system that was liable to amplify alienation, in addition to an anti-EU stance and opposition to unemployment, immigration, terrorism, while focusing on establishing an identity in opposition to these.
Chapter 5 discusses German politics. In the 2017 general election, the far-right populist party Alternative for Germany achieved rapid success, establishing itself as the number three party in the Bundestag. One element in the long-term structural background of this success was the public’s increasing tendency to demand that politicians project and speak out about the discontent among the electorate.
The final chapter is an examination of ways of dealing with populism, which itself is a consequence of political alienation.
In Japan, there is less urgency, as the existing political system has been able to deal with political alienation. However, Japan and Europe are similar in that there is a tendency of those who reject globalization and technological innovation to have a heightened sense of political alienation. Moreover, when one considers the fact that neither the ruling party nor the opposition parties in Japan have been able to create long-term national strategies—despite Japan being a developed country with a variety of problems, such as the balance of the national debt and a decreasing birthrate coupled with an aging population—it becomes clear that the only difference between Japan and the EU is the presence of something that will ignite discontent. The issue of populism resulting from political alienation, then, is something the Japanese cannot ignore.

(Written by TANIGUCHI Masaki, Professor, Graduate Schools for Law and Politics / 2019)

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