A few days ago, my friend Ben went to the blog’s Facebook page and asked what my thoughts were on Russell Brand: could his views truly improve the world, or is it just too good to be true? It’s a good question, so let’s delve right into it.
First of all, that Brand’s ideas are extremely appealing is no surprise. He is a comedian, after all, so he is able to bring his message in an entertaining and convincing way. On top of that, he is rather extremely far on the left-wing side of the political spectrum, something that inevitably appeals to me and quite a few of my friends. Because of that, as I watch his videos and read his articles, I find myself nodding along, agreeing with basically everything he says. Fox News is ridiculous, politicians are overly privileged, Muslims are marginalised, and we need change, all ideas I can definitely get behind. But that’s exactly the problem.
Russell Brand is a populist. Despite the fact that that puts him in the same category as people such as Adolf Hitler and Marine Le Pen, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind. He preaches exactly what people (or at least a certain group of people) want to hear, namely that the elites are too powerful and that it’s time for the lower classes and the marginalised to step up and take power. Now who doesn’t want that, except those few elites who are holding us all back? It sounds perfect, and together with the brilliant way in which he brings it and his undeniable charisma, that makes it hard to resist his views, even those as extreme as his calls for revolution.
One thing you might notice, though, is that he keeps going back to the same topics. In particular, consider his ongoing “feud” with Fox News: is it really such a surprise that I, and many others, agree with his views on that topic? Or did he just find a target so easy to destroy from a left-wing mindset that disagreeing is basically impossible? It’s an extremely clever tactic (which, by the way, might not be deliberate), because it very easily convinces the viewer and/or reader that they agree with him. And once you’ve got someone agreeing with you, convincing them of the next point is going to be a lot easier, even if that next point is something a little more doubtful than the validity of opinions on Fox News from a left-wing point of view.
None of this has yet shown that Brand’s views might be too good to be true, though. Instead, it has merely shown that he is a populist, and a good one too, who would be easily capable of convincing us of things that might not be entirely rational. Whether that’s actually what he does is the second question.
Now, like any other person, Brand has plenty of rational arguments backing up his views: otherwise he wouldn’t have believed in them himself. That means that he is certainly not wrong about everything, but I definitely wouldn’t argue that he’s right about everything either. There are some things that, to me, at least, appear incredibly irrational, wrapped brilliantly in a package of populist rhetoric that could fool anyone (including myself, perhaps, had I not been asked to look at it critically).
Most importantly, like any typical populist, Brand does not really offer solutions. He criticises others, but that doesn’t mean that he knows how to do it better. That puts him in a great position, because it’s no secret that democracy isn’t perfect, yet there is no way to prove that any alternative is equally or even more imperfect unless they were put in practice, which they simply aren’t. Particularly his criticism of politicians appears rather one-sided, perhaps even ignorant: he paints a picture of politicians as people looking for power and money, getting rich while the population stays poor. In reality, politicians are human beings too, often inspired by great ideals which are then curbed by the reality of millions of people having completely different demands, restrained further by an awfully limited budget.
That doesn’t take away the fact that the rich and the elite have a disproportional influence on things. I would be the last person to argue that democracy is perfect, after all. Yet still, to paint the picture he paints, to criticise so easily without real solutions, is just too simple. While many of his views are perfectly acceptable, his call for people not to vote is both mindless and a prime example of ignorant populist rhetoric. In fact, that the rich are much more likely to vote than the poor is not a small factor contributing to the gap he so strongly criticises, and it is exactly the lower classes who will be attracted to his ideas.
Ardent supporters might still argue that his call for revolution is the solution he proposes, but that too seems hardly grounded in reality. He hasn’t provided any steps towards that revolution, and even if he did, there is one fundamental problem which throughout history has proven to be a major issue: democracy can function with minimal involvement by the population; revolutions cannot. Perhaps his revolution, much like Communism, truly could bring more equality and prosperity, but just like Communism, it needs cooperation by everyone, and that’s just not going to happen.
What makes democracy function at least to some extent is that all those people with completely different views, from Fox News to Russell Brand himself, can coexist within it. The system does not collapse despite the fact that hardly anyone upholds the same ideology. Revolution and rule by the masses, on the other hand, requires people to agree. In a perfect world, all 7 billion of us would align and work together to achieve that situation, but the world doesn’t work that way. There will never be unanimous consent about any political system, and that is why democracy still rules our lives: because while a revolution cannot exist with major disagreement, a democracy cannot exist without it.
Neither can people. Disagreement will always remain, and as long as it does, calls for revolution, unfortunately, can do nothing more than harm the advances we are already making. Russell Brand’s views, then, are perhaps too simple to all be true, and the world is far from simple.
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More on related topics by Dean Richards:
Democracy Is Destructive and a Bad Solution
How The Gaza Conflict Shows That Independent Press Doesn’t Exist
The Elections That Can Make Or Break Europe: May 2014