A parody of populist politicans

The League of Youth - William Archer, Henrik Ibsen

I can't say that I am all that familiar with the plays of Ibsen, having only ever read A Doll's House and Peer Gynt and since he was such a prolific writer I am sure there are always going to be ones that I will never get around to reading (if I ever read more than the one's in the collection that I have in the book I am reading, which amount to three, one of them being 'A Doll's House'). Anyway, this is one of his earlier plays, though it is difficult to compare with any of the others due to the limited number to which I have been exposed.

League of Youth is a political comedy about a how a lawyer, Stensgard, seeks to get elected to the Norwegian Parliament and challenge the corrupt conservative rule through a new party called 'The League of Youth'. However, as he gets elected to a local council he finds himself courted by the conservatives and encourage to take of the spoils of office and leave his original ideals behind (that is if he ever had any). However, he is eventually caught out, especially when it is discovered that not only has he proposed to no less than three women, but has also been turned down by each of them.

In a way it has a very cynical view of the political system, suggesting that those who seek to change the way the system works, that is by attacking the entrenched oligarchy and forming a party that seeks to support the people as opposed to the monied interests, will eventually succumb to the corruption and cronyism of office. It is interesting to compare the plot within this play to many of the populists that have arisen in recent years, such as Obama in the United States and Kevin Rudd here in Australia. Both leaders were elected on a popular platform, reaching out to the ordinary people to give them a belief that there is a way out, yet in the end both leaders appear to have come out as great disappointments, Kevin Rudd being dumped by his party and Obama seeming to be forever drifting lower in the polls.

Yet I have at times ventured into to political groups similar to this 'League of Youth', generally made up of young university students (or recent graduates) who seek to stand up to and challenge the entrenched positions, yet I have also heard people attack these groups claiming that since becoming a political influence they have been corrupted by power. The Greens here in Australia are a classic example, with groups further to the left claiming that they have sold out their original ideas and succumbed to the cronyism of the major parties. It would be interesting to see how Alex Tsipras and his SYRIZA party, recently elected as the government of Greece as of this writing, carry out their promises.

However, what many of us don't understand is that change generally does not happen overnight and do not fully understand the power of some of these entrenched interests. People complain how Obama has failed them, and to many it is the case that his campaign struck such a chord in people's hopes, that when they realised that not only was this change going to be incredibly slow, but also misunderstanding the opposition that he was facing, they felt let down. Yet the Wall Street interests in the United States run deep, and the right wing ideology is so strong that not only is it difficult to change the way the government is heading, it is just as difficult to challenge in entrenched belief that a user pays systems works (or rather the idea that if one doesn't use a service then one shouldn't pay for that service because by doing so only encourages freeloading). Mind you, Tony Abbott is finding it just as hard here in Australia to force through his own version of a user pays system when the population not only appreciate it, but openly support it (particularly since Australians appreciate our universal healthcare on the grounds that even though we might not need it now, we will need it in the future, and do not have a problem contributing to it).

However, while a comedy, The League of Youth is also incredibly cynical, suggesting that populists are only ever in it for themselves. In a way that is partly true because there are politicians out there that take the populists approach (such as Tony Abbott), and tap the feelings of the electorate simply to get elected, and once they are they remove the veil in front of their policies that had been hidden throughout the campaign to reveal where they truly stand. While some people argue that the voters tend to be smarter than that, sometimes, when it comes down to two parties, many of them, disenchanted with the current government, select what they believe to be the lesser of two evils only to discover that they are actually the greater. Obviously in Ibsen's play, Stensgard gets caught out before he can do any damage.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1181228217