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Andrew Sullivan On The Importance Of Rediscovering Healthy Patriotism

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To move beyond Trumpism, Democrats (and forward-thinking conservatives) must look to embrace a healthy and inclusive patriotism, and end their love affair with a cold form of globalism which undermines nation states, communities and livelihoods

Andrew Sullivan remains my blogging hero and inspiration, but I must confess that until very recently I have not greatly enjoyed his recent return to semi-regular online writing for New York Magazine. The thinking and prose is generally as fine as ever, but Sullivan’s excessive hysteria (not to say that real concern is unwarranted) in the face of Donald Trump’s election victory and the start of his presidency has been offputting, as has his continued slow drift away from conservatism and overly-enthusiastic embrace of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign.

That being said, last week’s Interesting Times column/diary is vintage Sullivan – beautifully poetic, well argued and undeniably valid.

Sullivan writes of globalisation and urbanisation’s losers, and in praise of patriotism:

I’ve always been unusually attached to places. It’s one reason I still call myself a conservative. Travel doesn’t attract me. I’ve now lived in the same loft in D.C. since I bought it, in 1991 (apart from an ill-fated year and a half in New York City); I’ve spent 20 consecutive summers in the same little town at the end of Cape Cod, and have no desire to go anyplace else. Even when I go home to England, I tend to spend around half my time near where I grew up.

I wouldn’t go so far as Malcolm Muggeridge, who famously said: “Travel, of course, narrows the mind.” (Don’t you love that “of course”?) But I would say that the reverse can also be true. Staying put allows you to really get to know a place deeply at different times and in different seasons, to capture, often serendipitously, a small detail you’d never seen before, or arrive at a street corner and suddenly remember that this was where you first met an old friend.

But staying home brings grief with it as well. Everything changes, and when your beloved tree at the end of the street is cut down, or a new Safeway replaces the corner baker, or, more fatally, the factory that used to be the linchpin of the place lies empty and crumbling, it stings and wounds and demoralizes. When I’ve visited my own hometown in England, so much is the same. And yet, on closer inspection, many of the once-vibrant shops are selling secondhand clothes, or given over to real estate offices. My old church has a broken window where the rain comes in. The services have dwindled to near nothing. Maybe it’s being away for so long, but it seems familiar and yet a little empty, as if something in it has somehow died, a continuity somehow lost.

And more and more, I suspect, the shifting winds of this merciless global economy and the impact of mass migration are bringing about similar changes all over the West. This beautiful but deeply sad story about how a provincial town in France has slowly died — as its young people flocked to cities, as its shops were supplanted by a supermarket, says a lot about the moment we are in: “Down another street is the last toy store, now closed, and around a corner is the last independent grocery store, also shuttered. Walk down the empty, narrow streets on some nights and the silence is so complete that you can hear your footsteps on the stones.” The town, Albi, is not alone.

In America, as Charles Murray has shown in his extraordinary book, Coming Apart, the young and the smart and the talented — the people who would once have formed the core of these small towns — have long since fled to distant colleges and cities. They don’t come back. They would once have been the police chief or the town librarian or the school principal. They once helped make the town a well-run place with a clear identity, where the same families and networks lived together, died together, belonged together. These connections have attenuated … as economics supplants culture, as efficiency erases the individuality of inefficient places, as Amazon rips the heart out of shopping districts, as the smartphone removes us from physical space, and as many more immigrants and their culture alter the feel of a place in ways that disorient those with memories and loyalties.

I don’t think we can understand the politics of this moment — Brexit, Trump, Le Pen — without noticing this abiding sense of loss. The middling city and small town are going the way of the middle class. Patterns of farming in rural America are being devastated. I loved this English farmer’s account of the changes he is seeing: “The future we have been sold doesn’t work. Applying the principles of the factory floor to the natural world just doesn’t work. Farming is more than a business. Food is more than a commodity. Land is more than a mineral resource.”

Jobs are vital not simply because of money — but because they give lives meaning, a meaning that now seems so remote people medicate themselves with opiates. People are grieving for a lost way of life. This is not racist or retrograde or even backward. It is, rather, deeply human. For it is in these places that a deeper identity forms, that Americanness, Britishness, la France profonde, endures. And what we’re seeing right now, across the developed world, is a bid to retain the meaning of a culture and a way of life in the headwinds of faceless, placeless economics.

And Sullivan’s conclusion:

Nationalism is one response. The answer to it is not globalism, which is as cold as it is remote, but patriotism, that love of country that does not require the loathing of other places or the scapegoating of minorities or a phobia of change, that confident identity that doesn’t seek to run away from the wider world but to engage it, while somehow staying recognizable across the generations. If the Democrats hope to come back, that patriotism is going to have to define them once again. But can they get past their racial and sexual and gender obsessions and reach for it?

This is the distilled question of our times.

The answer is not globalism – Sullivan is quite right. This does not mean a rejection of capitalism, globalisation and international free trade, on which our prosperity depends, but it does mean acknowledging that there are negative externalities to all of this aggregate economic progress. We accept that this is the case with the environment, and take measures to restrict environmental damage caused by economic activity, but until now governments have scarcely acknowledged the impact of globalisation on local communities, national identity and cohesiveness, let alone formulated meaningful ways to protect what we are unwilling to lose while still unleashing the best that globalisation has to offer.

This is a challenge – as I have repeatedly acknowledged on this blog – which falls hardest upon conservatives and small government advocates such as myself, who traditionally envisage a very limited role for the state in our lives. If corporations and cross-border economic activity create negative externalities as well as create wealth and material abundance, who if not the state will keep those externalities in check? Left-wing politicians can simply wave their hands and promise new economic programs to retrain workers or encourage labour mobility, inefficient or fruitless though they may ultimately prove to be. We on the Right have a more difficult job, relying as we prefer to do on individuals and the institutions of civil society.

And this is why Sullivan’s enthusiastic embrace of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign depressed me so. I also preferred Clinton to Trump because of the latter’s self-evident deficiencies in temperament, knowledge and ideological sincerity. But Sullivan was strongly for Clinton, and I found that fervour to be inexplicable. As Sullivan rightly notes in his latest column, the answer to nationalism is not more cold globalism. And yet that is precisely what Hillary Clinton and Democrats of her type offered. It is still all they offer – she who spoke openly of her desire for a borderless world where plane-hopping elites treated global megacities as their playground while the impoverished servant class were rooted to their dying towns.

Sullivan is quite right that patriotism – “that love of country that does not require the loathing of other places” – must be embraced again by all sides, not weaponised as a unique virtue by the Right or demonised as evidence of inherent racism by the Left. But right now we are moving away from that goal.

For as long as so many Republicans remain seemingly in lockstep with the Trump agenda, despite the president’s frequent deviations from conservative principle (let alone the normal standards of presidential decorum and basic decency), they effectively lend their tacit support to the administration’s more uncomfortably nationalist behaviour and rhetoric. And for so long as the Democrats and others on the Left choose to double down on their repellent formula of Maximal Globalism + Identity Politics, putting forward candidates like Hillary Clinton who are utterly incapable of speaking authentically to Middle America and the suffering working classes, their actions will continue to signal that they view rural and small town America as expendable so long as wealth and opportunity continue accruing to the urban, coastal elites.

For better or worse, the Republican Party seem to have made their choice. Though they may grumble about the ObamaCare repeal and replacement (or RyanCare, as some Trump loyalists insist on calling it) and some of the administration’s other ideas, it is hopeless to look to the GOP for an alternative to Trumpism so long as their man occupies the White House and they hold both houses of Congress.

That leaves it to the Democrats. The ideologically bankrupt, morally compromised Democrats, whose first response to a stunning repudiation by voters at the ballot box was to swiftly reconfirm all of the main architects of that defeat back into their gilded leadership positions, and who are too busy worshipping at the altar of identity politics to pay attention to the fears and aspirations of Trump’s America.

In short, embracing a healthy new sense of patriotism seems like a grand idea, and a necessary one – but Lord knows who in the American political and media class possesses the wisdom, foresight and bravery promote it.

 

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Defenders Of The Nation State Are Not The Authoritarians Here – That Would Be The Unrepentant Globalists

One does not need to be a snarling authoritarian to reject the anti nation state, globalist worldview – and if being wary about the survival of our rights and liberties in a post-patriotic world makes one a populist then so be it

During his recent Intelligence Squared debate/discussion with Nick Clegg on the causes of the populist backlash currently roiling British, European and American politics, Jonathan Haidt makes an interesting observation:

Once you have these incredibly prosperous, peaceful, progressive societies, they people there begin to do a few things. First off, not everybody has those values. Everybody in the capital city and the university towns, they have these values. So if you look at our countries, in America we’re pretty retrograde in some ways, but if you look at our bubble places they’re just like Sweden. And that means that these people now think that, you know, nation states, they’re so arbitrary. And just imagine if there were no countries, it isn’t hard to do. Imagine if there was nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too! So this is the way the values shift, and this is what I and others are calling – the new left/right is the globalists versus the nationalists.

And so the globalist ethos is “tear down the walls, tear down the borders, nation states are arbitrary, why should my government privilege the people who happen to be born here rather than people who are much poorer elsewhere?” And so you get this globalist idea, you begin to get even a denial of patriotism, the claim – there are some pictures going around right wing media now in the United States of anti-Trump protesters holding signs that say “patriotism is racism”. So you get people acting in this globalist way, inviting immigration, spitting on the nation state, spitting on the country and people who are patriotic, and very opposed to assimilation when there is integration because that, as people on the Left in America would say that’s cultural genocide.

So you get wealthy, wonderful, successful societies that are so attractive to poor people around the world you get a flood of immigration, and they are met by the globalists who say “welcome welcome welcome, don’t assimilate because we don’t want to deny you your culture”. And this triggers an incredible emotional reaction in people who have the psychological type known as authoritarianism.

Now it’s a very negative term, but there’s a lot of psychological diversity in this world; there are some people who are attracted to the Lennonist vision, the John Lennon vision and there are other people who are more parochial – I don’t mean that in a bad way, I mean there are people who really care about hearth and home and God and country, and they are actually friends of order and stability, and they are friends of many good things about civic life.

But when they perceive that everybody is coming apart, that the moral world is coming apart, that’s when they get really racist, homophobic, they want to clamp down, they want to restore moral order, and if anybody here saw Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Committee that’s exactly what he said, he modelled himself after Richard Nixon’s 1968 speech, a time when cities are burning, there are riots, and Nixon came in – law and order will be restored, and that’s basically what Trump’s whole speech was.

So what I’m saying is successful democratic capitalist societies create – they change values, they generate wealth, they invite people in and then they make some of the people act in ways that trigger the other people to be furious, and those other people actually have a point because you have to have trust and social capital to have a redistributive welfare state. My point is that yes the economy matters and economic changes matter, but they matter in ways which always run through psychology.

I follow Haidt’s argument, but I do not see myself or many others of my acquaintance in the binary model he describes. For a start, I see nothing particularly liberal about the starry-eyed EU-supporting globalists, particularly when one examines the full palette of their typical political opinions. And there is certainly nothing inherently authoritarian about being a small-c conservative and fearing the jettisoning of the nation state in favour of an ill-defined globalism built upon the foundation of supranational institutions which are flawed, remote from the people and totally lacking in democratic legitimacy.

I and this blog are about as far from authoritarianism as it is possible to get, despite being staunchly pro-Brexit and anti-elite. I alternately use the labels conservatarian and libertarian to describe this blog’s desire for a much smaller state and greatly enhanced personal liberty – give me classical liberalism or give me death! The difference is that I see a strong and healthy nation state as being essential to the defence of these personal liberties, while the globalists (as described by Haidt) seem to lazily imagine that these liberties will automatically continue to endure beyond the era of the nation state.

Our experience with supranational governance – whether the United Nations or, more viscerally, the European Union, has not been a pleasant one in terms of democracy, accountability or the amount of control that ordinary people feel they have over their lives. Perhaps there are ways to reform those institutions in theory, but in practice they are loath to change and almost allergic to close scrutiny. Recall, even the prospect of losing its second largest economy and most powerful military member could not persuade the EU to consider the smallest of meaningful reforms.

Thus the European Union plods blindly onward towards a federal destination set decades ago by grey old men who presumed to decide for us how we ought to govern ourselves in the years following the Second World War, but who never thought to ask our permission. And the result is a remote and unloved supranational government whose “founding fathers” are unheralded and whose true leaders lack all accountability.

More worryingly, the ability of organic popular movements to influence the direction of supranational juggernauts like the EU is almost non-existent. Whether it is anti-austerity movements in Greece or the need for domestic industries to influence vital global trading rules in forums at which the EU speaks for all of us while really representing none of us, it is almost impossible to get the attention of EU leaders or encourage them to change direction. Just ask Greece’s Alexis Tsipras, or anybody who used to work in Britain’s beleaguered fishing industry.

I am patriotic because I love my country and consider it special and exceptional, yes. But I am also patriotic because I believe that the basic unit of the nation state remains a crucial building block in the world order, essential to the defence of our rights and liberties, and will remain so until humanity finds a way to make the various supranational institutions now undermining nation states more democratically legitimate and more responsive to popular opinion.

And so when confronted with a movement full of people who talk eagerly about being post-patriotic, who revel in being “more European than British” and who want to dissolve our democracy into a remote and dysfunctional supranational government of Europe without a second thought for our own distinct history and culture, I oppose them. Because however well-intentioned they may be, they are actively undermining the one institution (imperfect though it may be) which has thus far kept us relatively free and prosperous for centuries – our own nation state, the United Kingdom.

Does this make me an “authoritarian”? I hardly see how. While Britain has its share of authoritarian tendencies (which I despise and frequently campaign against), these tend to be even stronger on the continent. If hate speech laws seem draconian here, they would only become stricter if we were to harmonise our laws with those of much of mainland Europe. Want the police to regularly use water cannon to break up public protests? Again, look to Europe, not Britain. Much of Europe is ambivalent about property rights, to the extent that no watertight right to property is truly enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

And putting all that aside, the vast majority of people in this and other European countries, when asked, do not want their countries to become dissolved into a federal European government and assume the subordinate rank of American states. Maybe rejecting this Utopian vision is backward and foolish, but a fully federal Europe is not what people want (which is why the EU has been forced to move in this direction by unapologetic stealth and deception for over half a century). So since the majority of people in the countries of Europe are not yet post-patriotic, how does opposing an institution which seeks to covertly undermine their wishes make me an authoritarian? And how does it make the people who know the truth but still support this vision enlightened “liberals”?

So much as I admire Jonathan Haidt, hail his work in exposing the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics and agree with most of his diagnosis of the reasons behind the current populist backlash, I cannot support his conclusion because it totally fails to take into account people like me and other liberal Leavers and Brexiteers.

Indeed, Haidt’s usual perceptiveness appears to desert him when he suggests that something simply snaps and makes people “get really racist, homophobic” when confronted with pro-globalism policies and sentiments. That is simply not how it works. All racists may be anti-globalist almost by definition, but that does not mean that everybody with reservations about globalism (as it currently exists) is remotely prone to racism.

Clearly there are other reasons for opposing globalist projects (or the current state of globalism, at least) that have nothing to do with authoritarianism, including those I have outlined here, which Haidt fails to take into consideration.

The full picture behind 2016’s populist backlash has yet to be fully understood.

 

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A Crisis Of Identity: When Global Elites Forget How To Be Patriotic

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The global, liberal elite are increasingly transcending any lingering commitment to patriotism and national identity, setting them on a collision course with the small-c conservative majority

Michael Lind has an unmissable essay in the National Review this week, entitled “The Open-Borders ‘Liberaltarianism’ of the New Urban Elite“, which manages to explain so much about the rise of Donald Trump and the growing inability of political elites in America and Britain to speak to whole swathes of the country they supposedly control.

The crux of Lind’s argument seems to be that the educated, liberal (to use American parlance) inhabitants of the large cities have increasingly taken on what were always fringe libertarian ideas about open borders and the irrelevance or undesirability of the nation state, leading them to pursue policies and espouse values which alienate the more suburban and rural population.

Key quote:

To date, the public conversation on both sides of the Atlantic has been dominated almost entirely by the elite inhabitants of Densitaria, interrupted only by occasional populist revolts such as the Trump phenomenon or the Brexit vote. In a relatively short period of time, a new elite ideology has emerged that contrasts the dynamic, multicultural, libertarian city-state with the allegedly anachronistic and immoral nation-state. This ascendant worldview unites the open-borders economics and cosmopolitan, utilitarian morality of old-fashioned libertarianism with an idealization of the largest cities and their denizens.

In the 1970s and 1980s, libertarians made all of the major arguments heard from globalists since the 1990s: Favoring citizens over foreign nationals is the equivalent of racism; national borders impeding the free flow of labor and goods are both immoral and inefficient; the goal of trade and immigration policy should not be the relative security or relative wealth of particular countries, but the absolute economic well-being of all human beings.

Until the 1990s, this was an eccentric minority perspective in the U.S. and other democracies, encountered only in small-circulation libertarian journals or in the work of the occasional unworldly academic theorist of cosmopolitan ethics. But in the 2000s, as affluent whites from the professional class and their Latino, immigrant, and black allies displaced working-class whites as the base of the Democratic party, the traditional labor-liberal opposition to low-wage immigration and offshoring of industry was replaced by a new open-borders progressivism distinguishable from traditional libertarianism only by its unworkable combination of support for unrestricted immigration with a generous national welfare state.

This certainly accounts for one of the main reasons behind the Labour Party’s civil war in Britain – from the Blair era onward, Labour has been entirely captured by the open-borders progressives and increasingly turned its back on its former working class voter base. Even under the current Labour leadership election, both candidates hold open borders convictions to their core, even if only Owen Smith is stupid enough to rant about overturning the EU referendum result in public.

It also accounts for the increasing public rage (among non-progressives) about immigration in America, where the Democrats are proud and unrepentant in their support for illegal immigration while the Republicans have talked a tough talk for decades yet done nothing, precisely because the Republican political elites benefit from the current immigration status quo as much as anyone. Enter Donald Trump to an arena where nobody else is even seriously talking about the impact of mass immigration on wages and cultural cohesion, and one cannot be surprised when his crude, simplistic solutions gain political traction.

More:

The combination of open-borders “liberaltarianism” and trendy urbanist hype might lead one to wonder whether leagues of dynamic city-states should replace moribund modern nation-states. Benjamin Barber has published a book titled If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. Barber is one of the founders of the Global Parliament of Mayors, which, according to his website, can help “fill the void left by nation states who [sic] are increasingly dysfunctional.” The economist Paul Romer has proposed boosting Third World development by means of semi-autonomous “charter cities,” which to his critics look remarkably like Western colonial enclaves.

Not even Barber and Romer propose actual urban independence. While cities may teach one another best practices, there is not the slightest chance that leading American cities will secede from the United States, link up with other city-states around the world, and form a new, global version of the Hanseatic League or the Delian League.

We saw the same loose talk after the EU referendum vote, with many Londoners (most of whom have no conception of what the EU really is or how it works) furious at having part of their cosmopolitan identity ripped away from them (as they see it) suggesting that London should somehow secede from the rest of the “backward” United Kingdom and become its own independent city state.

Of course this would never actually happen, but it shows just how disconnected the metropolitan elites are becoming from the country as a whole, and the sheer contempt with which they regard other regions which dared to express their patriotism and belief in self-determination by voting for Brexit. It is also misplaced arrogance of the worst sort – the lights would go out and people would begin to starve in London within days were it not for the arterial links of people and goods from the supposedly terrible and backward rural and suburban regions.

And it is this continual feeling of disrespect, I think, which does so much to drive populist insurgencies like the rise of Donald Trump, and (if I am honest) even those populist causes that I actually agree with, like Brexit. People in the industrial and commuter heartlands, as well as rural folk, are getting increasingly sick of being told that they are too backward, too intolerant, too racist, that their own priorities and concerns do not matter and that they should be led in all regards by an urban elite who don’t even seem terribly attached to the country that gives them life and liberty, and who find the slightest display of national pride or patriotism almost painfully embarrassing.

I’m fortunate. I got into a good university and managed to embark on a career which has seen me work in numerous countries across three continents. But if this had not been the case – if, like many of my peers, an international business career was either never on the cards or simply not what I wanted to do – then I would probably be quite put out by people whose interest and commitment to any one country seems transitory at best telling me what I should think about immigration, global governance and democracy.

Now living in remain-voting West Hampstead, I am surrounded by the kind of people who are aghast at the Brexit vote and who consider it a calamity brought down upon the heads by the kind of ignorant, unwashed oiks whom they would never normally speak to unless they were fixing their car or serving them a burger. I can see how it must grate with Middle England, because it grates with me.

Lind goes on to touch on this point:

What appears to be a debate among globalists and nationalists, then, is really a debate about the structure of the 21st-century nation-state. There are real dangers associated with the coalescing elite ideology of post-national globalism or, to be precise, national-elite pseudo-globalism.

One danger is groupthink resulting from the attempt by the new globalists to equate even enlightened and civic nationalism with racism. When the economist Larry Summers, nobody’s idea of a pitchfork-waving populist, tentatively called for “responsible nationalism,” he was criticized by The Economist, whose open-borders libertarianism, once eccentric, has become near-orthodoxy among the trans-Atlantic elite.

And closes with this stark warning:

The most significant threat is the possibility that the abandonment of national patriotism by many elite citizens of the nation-state for make-believe cosmopolitanism will weaken national unity, to the benefit of sub-national racism, ethnocentrism, and regionalism. The loyalties that succeed national solidarity are likely to be narrower, not broader. If history is any guide, the victims of tribalism and illiberal populism are likely to include would-be citizens of the world who despise the nation-states that make possible not only their wealth but also their security.

Absolutely. This blog has been banging on for years about the continued importance of the nation state as the final guarantor of most of our most precious rights and freedoms. But the nation state is also, in the democratic age, a relatively harmless way of allowing people to feel and express a sense of belonging and community pride without tipping over into other, much darker expressions of identity.

Those weepy europhiles mourning Britain’s imminent departure from the EU because they consider themselves “European citizens” might want to pause and think through the consequences of further undermining the nation state, which is the primary aim of their beloved project. Because enlightened, one-world government is a few centuries away yet, and whatever crops up to replace the nation state that they so eagerly undermine will likely be unpleasant, even violent.

And while it may not be purely libertarian, this blog would much rather live in a world of moderate, familiar nationalist rivalry than descend into the known horrors of ethnic or religious sectarianism. We already see the early fruits of this blinkered commitment to “multiculturalism” in self-segregated and un-policed communities here in Britain among certain immigrant populations. We don’t need to extend those delights to the entire population.

What is the solution? Michael Lind does not offer one, and this blog does not see an easy fix either. But when global elites (Davos Man and the like) and the next tier down (those with international lives and careers) have more in common with each other than with those of other socio-economic groups and communities in their own countries, it is a recipe for political alienation and the eventual fracturing of our civic life.

To avoid disaster and a true crisis of democracy, our ruling elites in the political and commercial sphere must somehow learn to be patriotic again – for if the nation state has no champions it will go on being relentlessly undermined on all fronts. But right now there is little evidence that they are remotely interested in bridging the growing chasm between their own interests and those of the people they supposedly “serve”.

This leaves the field wide open for the likes of Donald Trump and UKIP 3.0 to make inroads with voters left cold by the other options available to them. And the time may soon come when the political elites sorely regret ceding this territory.

 

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Bottom Image: Stefan Molyneux, Globalism versus Culture

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