Scott Sumner  

The new fault lines

If You Hurt Us, We're Going to... An Intruder Confesses...

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 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.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (22 to date)
Matthew Moore writes:

Interesting. Makes me see Brexit as an uneasy coalition of nationalists and liberals, united in opposition to left-wing (super-)statism.

Iskander writes:

That altruist-narcissist comparison seems a bit weak.

Positive sum, working together and improvement are not uniquely altruistic. Self interest has been a greater factor in cooperation and improvement than altruism. This is the message of Adam Smith.

The attributes associated with narcissists apply to nationalists and far left types.

Perhaps the real split is between liberals and nonliberals.

I've found that the Economist has gone significantly downhill recently, which is a shame.

Ted writes:

Interesting, to me the Left hits 7 out of 8. Basically immigration is the only thing where they are on the altruistic scale. Everything else has them spot on.

This makes me wonder about how much our personal perception has to do with it. Having grown up in socialism, I naturally hate the Left and perceive them as State Control and Poverty, instead of the state-enforced niceness as many young people today seem to do.

Scott Sumner writes:

Matthew, I believe that most liberals oppose Brexit. And those who think it will allow Britain to turn into a sort of Hong Kong are misguided. Corbyn is the future of Britain.

Iskander, You said:

"Perhaps the real split is between liberals and nonliberals."

I believe that will be increasingly true in the future.

Ted, In Eastern Europe it is the right that is now the most statist.

Lorenzo from Oz writes:

I would agree the communism/capitalism split was important, continuing until the end of the Cold War and socialism lost traction as a serious economic option. (Current polling sympathy does not translate to seriousness unless there is a political infrastructure to go with it.)

Globalisation generates nationalism. Globalisation 1.0 (1820s-1914) did, particularly in its later period. Globalisation 2.0 (1945+) is also.

The difference this time round is that nationalism is no longer the default ideology of Western state building, which affects the political infrastructure available to nationalism. Indeed, in a sense, contemporary nationalism is a revolt against the default diversity/globalism which is more likely to be the path of Western state elites (or, in the case of the EU, the supra-state elite).

Nationalism which is in tension with much of the operation of the state is a somewhat different beast, but could be a disruptive one. Ask the rulers of the supranationalist states in 1914 and how many were still around in 1919 and how much the problems of such led to the deliberate population homogenisations of 1945-50.

Thomas Sewell writes:

In terms of existing Parties, it seems the Democrats are primarily the left-wing statists, while the Republicans are the nationalists and the classical liberals. The LP might once have adopted that, but they've proven useless enough that there are way more libertarians in the GOP than the LP.

If the libertarian/conservative wing of the GOP were to split from the nationalist/populist wing, they might attract some of the left-wing libertarians.

If the left-wing Statist/populist members of the Democratic Party were to focus on populist issues, they might make common cause with the nationalists, but that doesn't seem as natural a pairing, with immigration probably the biggest issue for them to overcome.

Really, with the system designed for two-party rule in the House/Senate/pretty much all States, I don't see a viable third party existing for more than one election. Typically, things coalesce back into two parties pretty quickly. We may see a lot more fighting between the factions within the Parties for control of the Party, resulting in situations similar to what we have now, with Trump representing a more nationalist/populist view, while large numbers of his Party in Congress don't necessarily agree on his various initiatives and thus either groups make more common cause between parties on specific issues, or else with 3 groups there isn't enough agreement on many issues to get past the majority mark in both the Senate and House.

Lorenzo from Oz writes:

Those deliberate population homogenisations were likely also a factor, as national identity was far more coterminous with state boundaries, so not a salient point of difference.

I am also increasingly sceptical about the diversity state, since it organisational manifestations seem to be deeply intertwined with patterns of unpleasantness -- on university campuses, in corporate HR departments, and so forth.

One remembers that imperial states like "multiculturalism", as it creates "problems" to manage and breaks up solidarity which might "get in the way" of what is convenient for state apparatuses.

Scott Sumner writes:

Lorenzo, You said:

Ask the rulers of the supranationalist states in 1914 and how many were still around in 1919 and how much the problems of such led to the deliberate population homogenisations of 1945-50.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding your point. But the deliberate population homogenisations of 1945-50 were caused by the two World Wars, right? Not the problem with the multiethnic empires. The Austro-Hungarian empire was not perfect, but surely much better than what came after.

Thomas, You said:

"In terms of existing Parties, it seems the Democrats are primarily the left-wing statists, while the Republicans are the nationalists and the classical liberals."

At one time the GOP was more classical liberal than the Democrats. But that's no longer true.

The parties are changing fast, I'm not sure everyone is keeping up. The GOP is no longer the small government party---they don't even favor smaller government than the Democrats.

Lorenzo from Oz writes:

Scott: Yes, the homogenisations were are result of the World Wars, but those Wars were, in turn, significantly caused by the problem of multi-ethnic states in a demotic age. Hence the postwar homogenisations.

Regarding nationalism in contemporary Europe, the failure of multiculturalism, very intelligently discussed by sociologist Kenan Malik, is part of the mix.

BTW, really liked the study of ideology in China.

Curmudgeon writes:

Lots of Muslim immigrants "add variety" in Europe?


Just pleasant "variety"?

Come over here and see by yourself.

Shane L writes:

One curious thing about British politics is that, despite their first-past-the-post system in common with the US, they have tended to have some smaller parties who still win seats. In the 1906 election, parties won seats as follows:

Liberal: 59.3%
Conservative and Liberal Unionist: 23.3%
Labour Representation Committee: 4.2%
Irish Parliamentary: 12.2%
Independent: 0.9%,_1906

The 1983 election:
Conservative: 61.1%
Labour: 32.2%
SDP/Liberal: 3.5%
Ulster Unionist: 1.7%
Others: 1.5%,_1983

In 2015 the combined totals of the two largest parties (Conservative and Labour) came to just 86.5% of all the seats won. Part of this is down to UK's historical regionalism. In 1906 the Irish Parliamentary Party was dominant entirely in the area of Ireland that would later become independent. In 2015 the Scottish National Party won almost all Scottish seats (although this may be somewhat different from the US because Scotland also has a parliament of its own).

Hence it's interesting that the US and UK share the first-past-the-post system, and it tends to produce two powerful parties in both, but in the UK some important smaller parties consistently win seats too. I'm not sure why the US has not had strong local parties, i.e. a Hawaiian Party dominating Hawaii or something.

Roger Sweeny writes:

Like some of the other commenters, I'm not sure how useful that altruist/narcissist dichotomy is. Using the excerpt above, lots of environmentalists score as narcissists.

Philo writes:

You see a political struggle between: "Socially conservative authoritarian statists, and socially liberal free market supporters." I see it, rather, as between: "Socially conservative authoritarian statists, and socially libertine authoritarian statists."

And "where will the liberals end up in America?" On the sidelines; marginalized. The hope is that the different kinds of authoritarians will not be able to agree on what sort of regime to impose, and so a fair amount of freedom will survive.

TMC writes:

"At one time the GOP was more classical liberal than the Democrats. But that's no longer true."

This is still very true. The GOP hasn't been great in this respect lately, apart from Trump's dismantling of the regulatory state, but the Democrats have been significantly more authoritarian. Both have moved to the left, but the Dems much more so.

Hazel Meade writes:

Personally, I think it we will be more likely to have something like a phase shift - a jump from one attractor state in a complex system to another. Our electoral system forces us onto a two-party dynamic, a multi-party system is unstable, but the definitions of the two parties could realign.

I'm pessimistic though, because there do not appear to be many signs of the two parties realigning in a direction which brings one of them closer to "liberalism" (in the European sense).

The recent election of Trump made the Republicans more nationalist and less liberal in many ways, but there are few signs of the Democrats realigning to become more liberal in response. The change is just that they have always been better on civil liberties and that hasn't changed, so they're now closer to "liberalism" only because the Republicans have moved so much further away.

Mark Z writes:


"This is still very true. The GOP hasn't been great in this respect lately, apart from Trump's dismantling of the regulatory state, but the Democrats have been significantly more authoritarian. Both have moved to the left, but the Dems much more so."

My attempt at a synthesis of yours and Scott's claim: The GOP, on average, has become less classically liberal, and may be no more so than the Democrats at the moment (difficult thing to quatify); but at the extremes, the most libertarian members of the senate and the House are still basically all Republicans.

There's a libertarian wing of the GOP that has no counterpart in the Democrats; but it has little influence in the party at the moment.

Related to Hazel Meade's point about the Democrats and civil liberties: paradoxically, the best elected officials in congress and the senate on civil liberties are (as far as I can tell) Republicans, namely Paul, Amash, and Massie; but the median Republican is worse on civil liberties than the median Democrat. In particular, I mean Jeff Sessions and his ilk. Of course one could argue Sessions is more extreme than the median Republican, but given the disproportionate power he and like-minded Republicans currently wield, let's call it the 'weighted median.'

In any event, I'm led to question Scott's prognostications of a realignment occurring. The GOP is extremely fractured right now, and the leftward consolidation of Democrats makes it less likely wealthy, urban, classically liberal Republicans are just going to jump ship and become Democrats. I think it's impossible to confidently predict what the GOP will look like after Trump's tenure ends. I think it's fairly it'll just revert back to the 'traditional GOP.'

Antischiff writes:

Yes, now most classical liberals in the US are independents. They're fine with much of social liberalism, but cannot tolerate the Democratic economic agenda. The Libertarian Party is not an option for most of them, as it's never been competently run and faces the same structural limitations every other third party faces in the American system.

Of course, we learned that many who used to claim to be libertarians were actually just right-wing bigots, and they've never been happier as Republicans.

The Democratic leadership it's still so out of touch, they don't realize that Sanders has the heart and soul of their party. They are creatures of 90s centrist politics, and could not get out of the past, even if their personal career interests dictated they do so. They still think corporate money is where it's at, despite Sanders outraising Clinton in donations in the latter months of the primary, and Trump beating Clinton with only about half of the money she raised.

Sanders didn't have a superPAC and lived almost entirely on small donations.

The old paradigm for winning national office has changed, and Party leadership on both sides have been slow to recognize it. It is clear, for example, that most of the current Republican leadership merely exists to promote plutocratic interests, but many of them will soon be gone, being replaced by white nationalists.

Antischiff writes:

I should also point out that I don't think we'll ever have another neoliberal period as much of the world benefitted from, starting in the late 70s and ending around the time of the Great Recession.

The future is about how much more and what kind of socialism we'll have. That doesn't mean more GDP has to go to government, as efficiency gains may allow for more state support for individuals with lower real costs. It does mean though, that by fits and starts, bootstrap economic individualism is dying a slow, but accelerating death. The laws of economics will not change, but our view of work and who deserves what is changing and will continue to change. Eventually, people will wake up to the fact they can legislate a better quality of life, in the form of more recreation, with zero concerns about merely making ends meet.

Hazel Meade writes:

I think many of you are overstating the degree to which the Democrats have become less liberal. I realize that there is a strong amount of antipathy for the left within the libertarian movement, but we should try to be objective about this. The Democrats are essentially the same big government welfare state proponents they've always been. They wanted universal health care 30 years ago, and they still do. Yes, there is the Bernie Sanders faction, which is slightly more democratic socialist, but they didn't actually win. Hillary Clinton got the nomination, and Bill Clinton did welfare reform. They're center left.
And yes, also there is the illiberal campus left, but let's not confuse academic activism with mainstream Democratic party politics, either. The views held by campus progressives don't represent the views of actual Democrats that hold office.

Hazel Meade writes:

@Thomas Sewell:

If the left-wing Statist/populist members of the Democratic Party were to focus on populist issues, they might make common cause with the nationalists, but that doesn't seem as natural a pairing, with immigration probably the biggest issue for them to overcome.

I actually think it is a VERY natural pairing. The Democrats have not always been pro-immigration. They've historically been more anti-immigrant than the Republicans because immigration is a threat to domestic working class labor. The immigration laws (which prevent low skilled immigrants from legally coming to the US) were largely written by Democrats at the behest of domestic labor interests, and can be viewed as a kind of regulatory capture.

Now, the Republicans have always had an uneasy alliance with right wing nativists, and the Democrats have made an uneasy alliance with liberals on immigration in more recent years, but those are not actually the more natural groupings. The old labor union left could very naturally line up with populists and nationalists. That is sort off what has happened, and the uneasy alliance is now between a white-working-class-labor-populist nationalism, and what's left of the conservative-libertarian parts of the Republican party. That is now the unnatural pairing.

So what would happen if the nationalist/populist faction of the Republicans and the labor union parts of the Democrats got together?

My guess is that conservatives would find their way to staying with Republicans, and libertarians would be out in the cold. Maybe some left-libertarians would find their way to allying with the liberal internationalists left in the Democratic party and advocate for a UBI or something to reform the welfare state. If the labor unions became Republican, the Democrats might become more liberal on trade and immigration. And that would be it. We would have two big-government parties: one a sort of European style liberal internationalist welfare statist party, one a nationalist populist party. And the only issues on which libertarians would have a meaningful choice would be civil liberties.

IVV writes:

I've got to ask this question:

Why does the ascension of internationalism through about 2011 cause such a successful nationalist backlash throughout the world in recent years?

I mean, yes, ask the man on the street and they'll let you know how much less financially secure they are today compared to 2008, and they'll question how the majority of the benefits have accrued and continue to accrue to the elites while he's feeling further impoverished. But what makes the nationalist solution so successful these days? Where's the leftist-statist solution? Where's the internationalist solution? Why aren't they gaining traction?

Jeff writes:
The parties are changing fast, I'm not sure everyone is keeping up. The GOP is no longer the small government party---they don't even favor smaller government than the Democrats.

But pretty much everyone who favors smaller government is a Republican. Or at least they vote for Republicans. There are no elected libertarian Democrats that I know of.

I do expect that the anti-immigrant stance of the GOP is going to hurt it electorally for a long time. I base that on what's happened in California, where Pete Wilson's vocal support of Prop 187 led eventually to Republicans becoming a small minority party.

It may be that the GOP after Trump will repent. But I don't expect Hispanic and Asian voters to believe them.

If the Democrats can find a candidate less horrible than Hilary Clinton, they might even defeat Trump in 2020. If they nominate an identity-politics candidate like Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren they will lose. But someone like Senator Mark Warner of Virginia or Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina could defeat Trump.


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