David Goodhart is an English journalist who founded and formerly edited the left-leaning, albeit contrarian, Prospect magazine. Now he’s described as a “post-liberal.” Or, as he says, something of an apostate.
And Goodhart’s new book will do nothing to alter that changing reputation. The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics enthusiastically wades into the nationalism versus globalism debate.
As is evident in the Brexit decision and the election of Donald Trump, the debate has caught conventional wisdom flatfooted.
Goodhart develops his analysis around two archetypes, which he calls Anywheres and Somewheres. Although both groups include a mixture of social types, they view the world differently.
Anywheres have “achieved” identities whereas the identities of Somewheres are categorized as “ascribed.” The difference essentially comes down to rootedness.
Anywheres tend to be better educated and more economically successful, characteristics that give them a sense of portability. Confident in their prospects and comfortable with novelty, they’re the sort of people who are likely to see themselves as outward-looking citizens of the world.
Somewheres, in contrast, tend to have had a tougher time dealing with economic change. And they put a much higher value on traditional group identity, what Goodhart describes as the national social contracts of faith, flag and family.
Although Somewheres are more numerous, Anywheres tend to dominate culture. This means that the attitudes and narratives propagated by much of the news and entertainment media are at odds with the perspectives and values of Somewheres. Taken in conjunction with the inevitable cultural change associated with mass immigration, this can make Somewheres feel like aliens in their own country.
Then there’s the matter of whose interests governments should prioritize.
If asked, I suspect most people would instinctively answer that the interests of a country’s citizens take precedence over those of foreigners. Indeed, the answer would seem so obvious that people would wonder why the question was even being posed.
Goodhart, however, suggests that chunks of elite opinion take a different view. Drawing on private conversations with the great and the good, he detects an attitude that would be overwhelmingly rejected by voters were it ever openly expressed as a ballot question.
For instance, Gus O’Donnell – at the time Britain’s most senior civil servant – said this to Goodhart several years ago: “When I was at the Treasury I argued for the most open door possible to immigration … I think it’s my job to maximize global welfare, not national welfare.”
And lest we think of O’Donnell as an elite outlier, consider that The Economist’s critical review of Goodhart’s book expresses the same perspective. To quote: “Saying it is ‘common sense’ that ‘national citizens should be ahead of non-citizens in the queue for public goods’ merely begs the question.”
In Canada, the National Post’s Andrew Coyne recently wrote something similar. Arguing against limitations on immigration, Coyne dismissed the idea that Canadians collectively “own” Canada. And if they don’t “own” it, they should have no automatic right to determine who can and can’t come here.
Effectively, O’Donnell, Coyne and others assert that countries are merely legal structures with specific territorial jurisdictions. The traditional idea of countries as organic expressions of shared history, heritage and culture cuts no ice with them. Indeed, their perspective is that if you belabour that traditional notion too long, you’re probably a closet racist!
Goodhart freely acknowledges that many people have a blend of achieved and ascribed identities. Rather than being uncompromising Anywheres or Somewheres, they’re perhaps best described as Inbetweeners. Still, they can only be pushed so far.
But sometimes the most important issue isn’t even the one that everyone talks about. The perspective of Michael Caine is a case in point.
A successful actor and married to Guyanese model Shakira Baksh for 40-plus years, Caine defies the stereotype of the Brexiteer. Clearly, he’s neither a loser nor a frightened xenophobe.
Here’s how Caine explained his choice: “I voted for Brexit. What it is with me, I’d rather be a poor master than a rich servant. It wasn’t about the racism, immigrants or anything, it was about freedom.”
Troy Media columnist Pat Murphy casts a history buff’s eye at the goings-on in our world. Never cynical – well perhaps a little bit.