Populism, the Austrian economist and academic vice president of the Mises Institute Joseph Salerno wrote, is nothing by a strategy. It may be applied by individuals advancing both left- and right-wing ideologies, but it is seldom used by those with the right ideas.
Due to its historic connection to ideologies that led to war, mass murder, and economic collapse, however, populism has been erroneously associated with bad politics. Regardless of political preferences, one thing is true: Whenever embraced by charismatic leaders, the populist approach is often the winner, whether it’s used to sell radical left-wing causes under leaders like Hugo Chávez or Republican candidates such as President-elect Donald Trump.
But when it comes to libertarian populism — another breed of populism that has also managed to obtain a great deal of attention in recent history — those who could actually benefit from the popular approach often shrug.
Dr. Ron Paul, the former Republican congressman from Texas, embraced a populist approach from day one, explaining in a simple and accessible way the reason why liberty, and not tyranny, is the best political environment for the individual. As his words began resounding more and more, and as he and his family embarked on a heroic journey to raise awareness to the risks a growing government entails, his popularity shot up, despite the Republican Party’s refusal to give him space.
While Paul did not win his bid to be the Republican presidential nominee his message spread like wildfire, and a new wave of liberty-minded conservatives flooded the U.S. Congress.
At its core, libertarian populism takes a stab at cronyism, making the case that crony capitalism — not free market capitalism — is to blame for all the maladies we face as a nation. To the young conservative or libertarian whose involvement with politics rose from becoming acquainted with Dr. Paul’s message, the idea that libertarian populism has been around for much longer might be a new concept. But to those paying attention, some of the most important and freeing political moments in modern history can all be traced back to populists whose main economic and political ideologies revolved around classical liberalism.
Despite the inconsistencies of leaders who wrapped classical liberal terms and ideals in populist clothing in a logical bid to win the acceptance of the public, ideologically consistent individuals should take note that, when applied correctly, the populist approach helps ideas reach far and wide, bringing individuals who have long lost touch with politics back to the front line of political transformations.
As Professor Kinsella put it, populism is “the only effective political strategy for radical political change.” If classical liberals, whether they call themselves libertarians or liberty conservatives, are serious about bringing about change and helping the country — and the globe — to benefit from the freeing of the economy and the protection of life and property, President-elect Trump’s use of populism should not be seen as a surprise but as an example.
Talking to the common man about common problems is not a racist, sexist, or bigoted approach. And whether you agree with Trump’s choice of words throughout the duration of his campaign or not, the fact he spoke directly to those who are often neglected on the campaign trail should inspire liberty-minded individuals to seek similar strategies to reach out to even more struggling Americans.
After all, all problems the majority of the population now faces can be traced back to the government’s heavy interventionist policies, those who are always implemented by progressive and neoconservative politicians. All the common man needs is to finally be offered a fitting solution.