Saturday, May 20, 2017

A field manual for Theresa May

Amazon link

Here's a summary:
"Several decades of greater economic and cultural openness in the West have not benefited all our citizens. Among those who have been left behind, a populist politics of culture and identity has successfully challenged the traditional politics of Left and Right, creating a new division: between the mobile ‘achieved’ identity of the people from Anywhere, and the marginalised, roots-based identity of the people from Somewhere. This schism accounts for the Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump, the decline of the centre-left, and the rise of populism across Europe.

"David Goodhart’s compelling investigation of the new global politics reveals how the Somewhere backlash is a democratic response to the dominance of Anywhere interests, in everything from mass higher education to mass immigration."
and here's the author bio:
"David Goodhart is the founding editor of Prospect magazine and one of the most distinctive voices on British politics today. He is currently head of the Demography, Immigration and Integration Unit at the think tank Policy Exchange, and was previously director of the centre-left think tank Demos.

"His last book The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration (2013) was runner-up for the Orwell Prize in 2014 and was a finalist for ‘Political Book of the Year’ in the Paddy Power Political Book Awards. David voted remain in the EU referendum and has been a mainly inactive member of the Labour Party since he was a student."
I was afraid I was going to get a typical liberal hatchet-job on Brexiteers and oiks. The familiar stuff about that section of the population notorious for being stupid, reactionary, nostalgic for times-long-gone, and so forth.

I'm pleased to say that David Goodhart's book is considerably better than that: it's well-written and quite a page-turner, despite a fair degree of repetition and the occasional splash of necessary but dry statistics.

Goodhart is open-minded, understands Jonathan Haidt's work on the differing moral foundations of liberals and conservatives, and sees how much light this sheds into his 'Anywheres' and 'Somewheres'. And although he never leaves the outer boundaries of the liberal paradigm, he does acknowledge innate differences in cognitive, personality and gender attributes (normally denied by liberals) and sees atomised individualism for the fanciful illusion it is.

Jonathan Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory: liberal vs. conservative values

Using an approach grounded in history, economics and sociology, his book details the damage that decades of neoliberalism has done to the fabric of non-elite life across the world. Goodhart's 'Anywheres' are deliberately myopic about this - they either do not care or think it's actually positive.

He makes a further very telling point: with the demise of the mass-unionised manufacturing sector, the elites are no longer afraid of the diminished and fragmented working class. They pursue their own agendas with impunity.

Those chickens finally came home to roost with Brexit, Trumpism and the generic rise of 'populism'.

Goodhart is keen to propose a political solution: essentially Blue Labour or Red Toryism .. which happens to be the position Theresa May has adopted in the current election campaign. He favours policies for strengthening technical education, controlling permanent immigration and improving integration, reinforcing the family and encouraging job/career opportunities for the 'non cognitive-elite'. You can already hear the condescending insults of the 'Anywheres' to such 'reactionary tosh'.

I don't want to get into his detailed policy prescriptions (which in any case seem to have mostly ended up in the Tory Manifesto). His general approach is what Tony Smith would probably call 'the social state', a recasting of 1950s social-democracy for the modern age.

It may well be the least bad option we currently have, even though I'm sure the British elite will put up the same contemptuous, disparaging resistance that the US elites are currently inflicting on the Trump Presidency. (It won't be so strident over here since things are not so polarised and May is a far less abrasive and aggressive politician).

Goodhart is detailed and descriptive, but with insufficient analysis as to why the extraordinarily silly ideas of the 'Anywheres' (expressed most clearly and absurdly in the 'political correctness' of 'social justice warriors') have become the entrenched ruling ideology of the age.

The answer is surely that they happen to express the entrenched interests and practices of the globalised elites themselves. With such powerful economic buttresses, coolly rational critical thinking from people like David Goodhart has hitherto found little purchase. Any influence he may yet develop will depend upon the 'populist' masses in motion - which do seem to be unsettling the elites, judging by their reactions. So although I read the book with much interest, I didn't feel in the end much of a wow-factor, as if I had suddenly understood the world in a new and more profound way.

It's more like David Goodhart, Ambassador to the 'Somewheres' from the 'Anywheres', returned to write down his considered thoughts, careful not to appear to have gone native.


  1. This binary distinction "Somewheres" vs "Anywheres" appears elsewhere too. As an example just as Parliament has Committees which take expert evidence, so does the EU Parliament, which recently interviewed one of its own (sociology?) professors on Brexit issues.

    Mention was made of the distinction between two types of EU Citizens: "mobiles" and "non-mobiles". The latter are only interested in the world immediately around them. The view was that the non-mobiles were not seeing the benefits of the EU.

    So one question is what else does this binary distinction correlate to : is it just "education", or "location type", or "Internet access", or "job type", or Myers-Briggs type, etc?

    1. Interesting point. As I mentioned in the post, the 'Anywheres' - 'Somewheres' distinction seems to map closely to Jonathan Haidt's liberal-conservative dimension in Moral Values space: Haidt is on record as speculating that Moral Values attributes are c. 50% heritable like most psychological traits.

      More speculatively, I'd map liberals predominantly to the Myers-Briggs/Keirsey NF/Idealist temperament. NT Rationals tend to the libertarian while S (sensor) types are often more Haidt-conservative. N is really 'Openness to Experience' - which correlates reasonably with IQ.


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