What is technopopulism?

Wolfgang Streeck

Angela Merkel made the state seem like a service company, ready to fix people’s problems so that they could continue to live as they pleased. This helped to counter a perception of the world as fundamentally incoherent. No large plan, no holistic approach can be of help in such a world, only fast and flexible responses to dangers as they arise, carried out by an experienced leader with a strong capacity for improvisation. Can this be considered technopopulism? In a sense it can. For the new conservatism, crises arise from disorder, not from a wrong order, and their handling should be entrusted to technicians in command of special knowledge, whether scientific or magical, or both (they are hard to distinguish for the political consumer). Merkel never claimed to be an economist, or a lawyer, or an expert in foreign policy or military strategy. She did, however, have herself described by her communications team, and sometimes described herself, as privy to knowledge of a special kind: that of a scientist trained to solve problems by analysing them from the desired outcome backwards.

 

Letters to John McGahern

Colm Tóibín

McGahern was amused by many things and people. There was no telephone in the house in Leitrim on my first visit (‘I’m uneasy on the phone,’ he wrote in 1998. ‘I think it comes from having to “mind” the phone when I was a boy in my father’s police station’) and I noticed no television. I realised that he had no interest in music as he was tone deaf. But most of all, he had no interest in Dublin.

 

Malcolm Bull’s Optimism

Terry Eagleton

Because the social world is constructed, Bull’s sceptical stance can be transformative. You can ‘make less’ of society, in the sense of questioning its apparently inexorable laws; and if enough people do this it can make a difference, in a way that questioning the existence of marmalade doesn’t. You need to loosen things up, weaken their force, inject more uncertainty into our knowledge, so as to bring the world into line with our experience of it as ambiguous and contingent.

 

Anti-Vax Sentiments

Rivka Galchen

In the late​ 1840s, the Hungarian obstetrician Ignaz Semmelweis oversaw two free maternity clinics in Vienna. The clinics accepted patients on alternate days. At the first clinic the mortality rate was 10 per cent; at the second, it was 4 per cent. The clinic with the low mortality rate trained midwives. The clinic with the high mortality rate trained medical students. Fear of the medical...

 

Mesopotamian Ghostbusting

Moudhy Al-Rashid

At the back​ of the British Museum is a cavernous room lined with hundreds of cased wooden drawers supported by a central architrave. Each drawer contains tens of glass-topped boxes of various sizes with neat, typewritten labels. The boxes contain clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia, around 130,000 of them, inscribed in cuneiform, many broken and eroded. An agricultural boom at the end of...

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To Serve My Friends

Jonathan Parry

Oliver Dowden​, the co-chairman of the Conservative Party, appeared twice on the Today programme late last year. First, on 15 November, he answered questions about his party’s handling of the corruption allegations against the MP Owen Paterson, and then again on 17 December, he discussed the loss of Paterson’s North Shropshire seat at the by-election necessitated by...

 

Smashing Images

Erin Thompson

Onthe evening of 22 August 1566, a crowd gathered in the town of ’s-Hertogenbosch to listen to an open air sermon by an itinerant Protestant preacher. Afterwards they rushed from church to church, singing psalms and smashing images. Two days later, the reformers held their first sermon in the town cathedral, now purified of the paintings and statues they believed tempted churchgoers...

 

Nissan Rogue

James Lasdun

Late​ in the evening on 29 December 2019, two men posing as musicians wheeled a pair of large audio equipment cases to the gate reserved for private jet passengers at Osaka’s international airport. The cases were too big for the regular X-ray machines, and the airport staff, no doubt exhausted from a long day processing holiday travellers, waved the men and their cargo through. Out on...

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