truck protest convoy ottawa
© AP / Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press
Protesters walk past trucks parked in downtown Ottawa. February 2, 2022.
In recent years, there has been the Velvet Revolution, the Orange Revolution, the Cedar Revolution, and even the Singing Revolution.1 Leave it to Canadians to create the Nice Revolution. As though driven to live up to their national stereotype, the Canadians who have gathered in Ottawa to protest their government's draconian COVID measures have displayed a massive outbreak of niceness, kindness and hugs. As some of the signs say, it has been the winter of love. Yes, this is what a populist insurgency looks like in today's Canada.

Now, it hasn't always been quite like that. As it happens, I wrote my doctoral thesis (for all the good it did me) on the Canadian populist movement of the early 20th century. In large measure beginning as a spillover event from the U.S. populist insurgency of the late 19th century. That was a movement fueled by farmers, rather than truckers. And when I pick up the occasional signal from the trucker protest suggesting that it may not be enough to simply have the mandates repealed; that the political system which allowed these draconian measures to be initiated must be reformed; I reflect fondly upon the agrarian populist movement of a hundred years ago. A sterner bunch than those joyously dancing for freedom at Parliament Hill in recent weeks, they were laser focused on the need to reform the very core of Canadian governance to create a more grassroots democracy.2 How that farmers populist movement eventually failed is an interesting and instructive story, which I will explore in a future post. For today, though, I want to reflect upon the lessons I've learned of value to contemporary populism, seen through the lens of more recent study on the circulation of elites and the dangers of pathocracy.

Today, a populist insurgency must meet two conditions to achieve a success that genuinely relieves their distress and gives them some hope of a better life some time into the future. (My rough estimate would be a couple generations is likely the best-case scenario.) These two things are: first, they must create sufficient and appropriate incentives to lure a surplus of the ruling class elite to take up their cause as a rebel faction within their own class; second, they must avoid the capture of their movement by psychopaths. As will be seen, these two imperatives can be complementary or antagonistic. The realization of the first could either support or undermine realization of the second, depending upon the strategy pursued. All of this will be unpacked over the course of the coming weeks.

Since the Conservative Party of Canada deposed its leader, who had been entirely on-board with the Liberal Party's COVID regime, and at best lukewarm toward the trucker convoy as it rolled across the country, new faces are moving into the leadership limelight of that party that are willing to condemn the mandates and support the truckers right to protest. Understandably, though, some in this new trucker inspired populist uprising have expressed skepticism about some of these people, feeling that they've only come over to the anti-mandate cause once it had clear national momentum. I'm not saying this isn't a legitimate criticism, and certainly not that one shouldn't be leery of politicians. It's foolish though to throw out the baby with the bathwater. As I've pointed out repeatedly, the way in which a populist insurgency wins is by creating sufficiently enticing incentives for some elements of the ruling class, particularly (though not necessarily exclusively) if they're part of Turchin's surplus elite, to abandon their reflexive class interests, and instead ride the populist movement as a means to improve their personal position within the hierarchy of the ruling class.3 [3] The question isn't whether a politician is principled, or has your best interests at heart. That's fairy tale stuff; it's another variation of Mosca's "political formula." The question is whether a populist insurgency can induce them to act on its behalf. Certainly, there is a difference between a distinctly surplus and oppositional faction of the ruling class, such as the divide between the globalist and nationalist factions of the managerial class, and politicians, positioning for short term career advantage. But if the populist movement can effectively hold their feet to the fire, all such managerial class dissidents from the ruling faction can be helpful. Creating such incentives is central to the success of a populist insurgency.

The trick is that the very incentives that a populist insurgency provides to attract dissident members of the managerial class, personal empowerment and the promise of a regime more suitable to their own dispositions, likewise attracts psychopaths who would capture such a movement toward their own ends. As we've seen, exploring the ideas of Andrew Lobaczewski, psychopaths have an interest in imposing pathocratic regimes, in which their style of rule creates a milieu more congenial to their disposition and destructive of the social norms of clinically normal people, who otherwise would resist and even punish such psychopaths. Furthermore, the homologous modus operandi of both the managerial class and the manipulative psychopath greatly facilitates such capture (see here and here.) When such pathocratic capture is successful, history shows that the outcomes can be horrific in their genocidal atrocities (see here).

However, and this is decisive, not all populist-driven movements are equally attractive to psychopaths. After all, the whole point of their pathocracy is to exercise sufficient power to impose the psychorium (see here and here), creating levels of psychological havoc and social chaos that allows them to maintain power. Violent atrocities do not merely facilitate the practical means of imposing the psychorium and the pathocracy, in so far as they contribute to mental distress, fear and anxiety, they are constituent elements of both the psychorium and the pathocracy. Such efforts toward these ends though presume that the populist movement the psychopaths would presume to capture actually provide the means for wielding such power and violence. That is not a given; specific strategies in fact can insulate such insurgencies from psychopathic capture.

So, while it's true that the qualities of a populist insurgency that successfully attracts a leadership cadre from the surplus, rebel faction of the managerial class is always in danger of also attracting the psychopaths who would twist that movement toward their pathocratic ends, such an outcome is never a fait accompli. It is not inevitable. The question of central importance then is what strategic ethos, or tactical means, might a populist insurgency embody that simultaneously attracts its valuable leadership cadre from the surplus elite of the managerial class, while - despite their shared modus operandi - simultaneously generate an inhospitable political climate for psychopaths: one that creates too much friction for them in their search for an exploitable niche?

I've been dancing around this question since November, partially in the interest of fleshing out more of the theoretical ground for addressing it, partially in my own efforts to clarify the question and its answer in my mind. Now, though, the example provided to us of the Canadian trucker movement presses upon us the necessity of answering this question so urgently, that the dancing needs to end. While, from the perspective of most people, neither the managerial class nor psychopaths are necessarily attractive allies, but despite their common modus operandi, they are not the same. And it should be possible for a populist insurgency like the Canadian truckers' movement to generate a strategic ethos that attracts rebel factions of the ruling managerial class while simultaneously discouraging the exploitive attentions of manipulative psychopaths.

So, unless there is some further dramatic turn in the trucker protest4 requiring comment, or some other pressing and relevant development - things seem to be coming so fast these days - next week I will finally publish the long promised, lengthier exploration of the nature of power. It will be important to be clear about what I mean by this term, and what I consider to be its broader social applications and implications. With that stone in place, perhaps we'll have a sufficient foundation to start building the metaphorical wall. A wall that allows a populist insurgency, strengthened by the leadership of a rebel faction of the ruling class, to stake out its territory, at least plausibly insulated from the corrupting influence of an insidious pathocracy.
  • 1 Yes, I know, these can hardly all be regarded as organic expressions of popular will, being tainted by the interference of various nefarious forces. But let's not let that get in the way of a fun opening sentence.
  • 2 I discovered a while back that McGill University has digitalized my Ph.D. thesis, but it was pretty hard to find a downloadable PDF. I no longer recall how I found it. Still, if you wanted to try, you probably can find it eventually: Michael McConkey, "The Political Culture of the Agrarian Radicals: A Canadian Adventure in Democracy" (Ph.D. Diss, Montreal, McGill, 1990).
  • 3 As I discussed last week, an obvious exception here would be in the rare case that a bourgeois-proletariat alliance might fight back against the managerial class. Even in that case though, the working or middle class can't be naïve about the motives of the bourgeoisie for joining such an alliance.
  • 4 Since writing those words, there of course has been such a dramatic turn with Prime Minister Trudeau's initiative to impose a war time fashioned suspension of Charter rights, which even surpasses the COVID error measures as a challenge to Canadian constitutional order. As these events unfold, the plan sketched in this post's final paragraph may well need to be revised.