“Self-pitying vanity”

I’m not particularly fond of Anne Applebaum’s writings but this is a great observation:

Populist activists are outsiders only in that they feel insufficiently rewarded. And their opponents should never underestimate what their self-pitying vanity can make them do.

I suspect it’s unoriginal – someone must have said this before WWII – but as long as it remains relevant, it’s worth repeating, especially if backed up by personal experience.

Among her friends who became the servants of authoritarian movements, Applebaum sees the consequences of the lust for status among resentful men and women, who believe the old world never gave them their due.

They were privileged by normal standards but nowhere near as privileged as they expected to be.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they are mediocre or untalented. They might well be, of course, but they might as well be underappreciated geniuses. Merit is a tricky concept, and under normal circumstances mediocrities with strong social skills are more successful than unsociable talents. Nick Cohen, the interviewer, takes things further in the wrong direction with this remark:

Hannah Arendt wrote of the communists and fascists that they replaced “first-rate talents” with “crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity” was the best guarantee of their loyalty. She might have been talking about contemporary Poland, Britain and America.

The Bolsheviks deliberately decapitated the old intellectual class, and the Nazis incapacitated it by persecuting its Jewish members. In contrast, Trump had a pretty deep pool of dissident or maladjusted intellectuals at his disposal but, contrary to my expectations, he has not made much use of them. He’s good at alienating allies.

Ironically, Cohen manages to sound self-congratulatory and self-pitying (and probably vain to boot). Someone should tell him and others who imagine they owe their moderate success in life purely to their own awesomeness: You may be the best and the brightest, but you failed to see the populist wave coming and got outmaneuvered by the likes of Cummings. Perhaps even the best and brightest are not that good and that bright.

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