The new fault lines
By Scott Sumner
I grew up during the Cold War, when the key fault line in politics was between the left and right. There’s something about politics, perhaps something about life in general, that makes it tempting to think of binary options. But the recent global rise of nationalism has made that sort of binary thinking increasingly misleading, as there are now three major global ideologies. The Economist magazine has an excellent long article, discussing nationalism from many different angles. Here’s an example:
The new nationalism does not just insist on the differences between countries, it also thrives on the anger within them. Michal Bilewicz, a social psychologist at the University of Warsaw, explains this anger in terms of what his profession calls “agency”–the power to control your own life. Nationalism is determined not by patriotic ardour, he argues, but by self-esteem. Loyalty to the nation combined with confidence and trust favours altruism. By contrast, feelings of frustration and inadequacy tend to lead to narcissism.
Men and women lacking in, or deprived of, agency look to nationalism to assure them that, in their own way, they are as good as everyone else–better, even. It is just that the world does not give them the respect they deserve. They are quick to identify with those they see as on their side and to show contempt for others, Mr Bilewicz says. At the same time they are obsessed by how others see them. Their world is that of Carl Schmitt, a German Nazi and constitutional lawyer, who believed such conflict to be the fundamental stuff of politics, both within nations and between them: “The distinction specific to politics…is that between friend and enemy.” In Schmitt’s view, politics is a kind of civil war. Everything boils down to loyalty.
Here is how altruists contrast with narcissists:
Look to the future–Rake over the past
Work together–Gang up
Opponents complement–Opponents are traitors
Immigrants add variety–They threaten our way of life
United by values–United by race and culture.
Altruists acknowledge a chequered past, give thanks for today’s blessings and look forward to a better future–a straight line sloping up across time. Narcissists exalt in a glorious past, denigrate a miserable present and promise a magnificent future–a rollercoaster U-curve, with today in its pit.
Now almost everything I read reminds me of that list. For example:
Poland’s Senate defied international criticism by passing a bill that would make it illegal to suggest the country bore responsibility for crimes committed on Polish soil by Nazi Germany during the second world war.
There are now three global ideologies: nationalism, left-wing statism and “liberalism” (defined in the European sense of the term.) But that leads to a problem; the US does not have a system of proportional representation. That makes it really hard for a third party to gain traction. Even so, David Brooks thinks this will lead to the emergence of a new party:
Eventually, conservatives will realize: If we want to preserve conservatism, we can’t be in the same party as the clan warriors. Liberals will realize: If we want to preserve liberalism, we can’t be in the same party as the clan warriors.
Eventually, those who cherish the democratic way of life will realize they have to make a much more radical break than any they ever imagined. When this realization dawns the realignment begins. Even with all the structural barriers, we could end up with a European-style multiparty system.
I’d like to believe this to be the case, but I’m skeptical. Rather I think that liberals (neo-, classical, or however you want to define them) will battle for a stake in one of the two well-established American parties. But which one?
In Europe, things are a bit more flexible. In France, Macron was able to defeat both the left and the nationalists, indeed quite convincingly. In Spain a similar movement is rapidly gaining ground:
[Albert Rivera] has suddenly become Spain’s hottest ticket, almost three years after he leapt into national politics at the head of Ciudadanos (“Citizens”), a newish liberal party. In December Ciudadanos became the biggest single force in Catalonia at a regional election. Now it is jostling the ruling conservative People’s Party (PP) at the top of the national opinion polls. . . .
Last year Mr Rivera repositioned it as a centrist, progressive liberal party. “We have to move away from the old left-right axis,” he says, echoing Mr Macron. “The big battle of the 21st century is between liberalism and the open society, and populism-nationalism and the closed society.” Ciudadanos is keen on fighting monopolies and on vigorous Scandinavian-style labour reforms to help the unemployed retrain and find jobs. It wants to shake up the political and electoral systems, and education, to tackle Spain’s still-high rate of school dropouts. It is fiercely pro-European. But Mr Rivera says his party is part of a “worldwide movement”. As well as Mr Macron, he cites Italy’s Matteo Renzi, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Liberal parties in Benelux countries and Scandinavia as soulmates.
Normally I’d predict that the Democratic Party would assume this role in the US. But then I recall that the anti-globalization Bernie Sanders is the de facto leader of that party (without even being a member!)
So it’s a puzzle; where will the liberals end up in America?
PS. Why did it take so long for nationalism to emerge as a major force? I’m not sure, but I suspect that WWII had something to do with it. After the war, it was very unfashionable to promote nationalism, for obvious reasons. Instead, the all-important communism/capitalism fault line quickly emerged, and dominated almost everything in politics. Of course before WWII, there was the same three way split as today.
PPS. After I wrote this post I noticed an abstract of a paper discussing political views in China. It seems there is just a two way split in China:
The study of ideology in authoritarian regimes–of how public preferences are configured and constrained–has received relatively little scholarly attention. Using data from a large-scale online survey, we study ideology in China. We find that public preferences are weakly constrained, and the configuration of preferences is multidimensional, but the latent traits of these dimensions are highly correlated. Those who prefer authoritarian rule are more likely to support nationalism, state intervention in the economy, and traditional social values; those who prefer democratic institutions and values are more likely to support market reforms but less likely to be nationalistic and less likely to support traditional social values. This latter set of preferences appears more in provinces with higher levels of development and among wealthier and better-educated respondents. These findings suggest that preferences are not simply split along a proregime or antiregime cleavage and indicate a possible link between China’s economic reform and ideology.
It’s hard to imagine that sort of split here (albeit less difficult than 2 years ago), but I do believe that’s the way politics are evolving in most countries. Socially conservative authoritarian statists, and socially liberal free market supporters.