Just Plain Folks


Populism’s anti-“Eastern” prejudice is a prejudice; it also points up the fact that America would be a good deal more healthy civilization if its resources were spread so as to develop all regions and all classes more equally. The populist quest for the good, simple life easily turns into a bore. Yet so do the patterns promulgated by a number of advanced thinkers, who seem to have a genius for devising doctrines that remove all meaning from living in a bathos of self-indulgence and delusion.

Those magicians who wrote the Constitution of the United States—and they seem more prescient with each passing decade—recognized the potential for good in all groups and set up a governmental system to give it outlet. They also faced the selfinterest and purblindness of every faction, and in the end depended less on the goodness of man than on restraining his evil. Warily, they constructed a government of checks and balances.

The long war between the established classes and populism has proved a nongovernmental, unofficial supplement to these checks and balances. The clash has been helterskelter, often bitter, at times nonsensical, but it has checked and balanced. Over the centuries the populist-minded have aided notably in blasting the established from their certitudes and self-interest, and the established have just as surely been helping to save “the people” from themselves.