The Three Layers of Oppositional Thinking
by Petr Hampl
Petr Hampl explains why widespread public dissatisfaction often fails to lead to significant political change by examining the diverse and conflicting nature of opposition groups and the intricate dynamics that hinder their collective action.
How is it possible that overwhelmingly prevalent popular discontent does not translate into sweeping political change? How is it possible that millions of people, dismayed and angered by the actions of the ruling oligarchy, are prepared to vote for the same parties again?
Sometimes I come across an attempted explanation based on the fact that these people are simply stupid, brainwashed, etc. But mental failure can explain the actions of individuals. If millions of people are behaving seemingly irrationally, it means that there is some mechanism at work that we don’t understand.
I will try to contribute to such an explanation in today’s note. Without claiming to give a complete explanation, I will simply show one factor that plays a significant role.
The opposition to the oligarchy that rules in the West today consists of three groups that are so mentally different that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for them to work together except on the level of individual temporary projects. Viktor Orbán and Giorgia Meloni may vote together in a European dispute, but it is hard to imagine them working together in the same government or even in the same party.
The first layer of the opposition are those who reject some of the concrete steps promoted by the ruling oligarchy (free migration from Muslim countries, compulsory electro-mobility, transgender in primary schools, etc.) but at the same time are staunch supporters of the current political-economic set-up. Occasionally they also call for personnel changes, but only of the type that would replace Joe Biden with, say, Nikki Haley or Mike Pence. Overall, they think things are set up correctly; it is just that some specific measures need to be rejected. This view is sometimes supported by a section of the mainstream press. At the European level, Italian Prime Minister Meloni is such a politician.
Then there is the anti-system opposition. These are the people who believe that the crazy policies mentioned above (free migration, green deal, etc.) are a necessary consequence of the current political-economic order and that it is therefore important to target the overall transformation of society and to break the current power structures. Related to this are the demands for quite radical economic reforms to tame the banks and transnational corporations. The current liberal form of education, media, justice, etc. is also unacceptable to them.
The most prominent representative of this trend is Viktor Orbán. In 2016, it was Donald Trump (before he got domesticated and limited himself to criticizing individual personalities and causes). They seem to have considerable electoral potential, but there is a virtual absence of media and think tanks to support such a view. Perhaps the American outlet Breitbart, and to some extent Arktos. And a few others.
Contacts between the two opposition groups are very difficult. The former consider the latter as extremists and traitors to the Atlantic structures. The latter regard the former as a superficial to fake opposition that is not worth wasting time with.
What makes things even more complicated is that there are different ideas among the supporters of systemic change as to what that change should look like. From a completely free market to an Orbán-esque model of a national mixture of socialism and capitalism to various forms of conservative socialism.
And then there is a third wave of opposition, a very significant one. This is based on the conviction that it is not enough to reject the individual destructive projects of the current oligarchy, and that even a change in the economic-political model is not enough. In their view, the problem is the whole of modern civilisation, including science, rationality, mathematics and statistics, belief in progress, raising living standards, sexual freedom, etc.
Although they also talk about science from time to time (and we can find a few scientists among them), their understanding of the term is completely different from how it has been used in the last two centuries. According to this political alternative, science is one giant fraud whose only purpose is to control people. It should be replaced by “awakened consciousness” or something along those lines.
The most prominent dispute between the alternative and other layers of the opposition was over vaccination. However, it’s not about a few shots. In the background, there is a dispute about the meaning of the whole of modern medicine, hence the whole of modern science. Is this something clearly positive or just a sales tool for pharmaceutical corporations? In recent months, the dispute over the role of Israel or the Jews has become more prominent. For if I believe that the whole of modern civilisation is perverse and dangerous, then the Jews are a worse problem than jihad.
From all of this comes the logical dispute between the anti-system opposition and the alternative. The anti-systemic opposition considers the alternatives to be fools; the alternatives consider the anti-systemic opposition to be useless or treacherous.
At the moment, there are few prominent politicians in the Western world claiming to be part of the alternative. Perhaps the rising star could be the US presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. However, many supporters of this view can be found among the voters of the AfD, the National Rally and other populist formations as well as among the supporters of thousands of miniature parties and activist groups. They are supported by a plethora of alternative projects with a total of tens of millions of readers and listeners.
And the same problem: to those in the first two waves, these people seem like dangerous fools who don’t know what they’re talking about. In the eyes of those in the third wave, the previous waves are useless and superficial at best, but perhaps also treacherous.
Not to put it too simply, a certain symbiosis seems to have developed between the ruling oligarchy and the most radical part of the alternative. Although the alternative is constantly insulted, it is talked about by the big media (while the anti-system opposition is hardly talked about at all). In fact, it is an important part of government propaganda. Is this what you want to be governed by? Then you’d rather have Biden, Macron, Scholz, etc.
It has to do with the mainstream tendency to portray the opposition as much more radical than it actually is. Portraying figures who only slightly violate the canon as anti-system and anti-system figures as alternative.
What does this imply? That the fragmentation of the opposition is not a question of the ambitions of a few personalities. This can be the case with quarrels within one party. But that it fails to unite millions of people who reject the policies of the current oligarchy is more due to the fact that there are principled differences between the various groups. Even in such cases it is possible to build alliances, but it requires great statesmanship.