On the Front National, and EU populism

So Marine le Pen’s Front National has won one in three regional elections in the first round. This reflects a trend across Europe. Populist parties on both the right and the left are on the rise and have been for some time. There are a number of contributing factors, but the main impetus is a sort of inarticulate protest by people who feel ‘left behind’ by globalisation, at the ways in which globalisation is negatively impacting their lives. Things like mass migration, outsourcing of blue-collar jobs, weakening of nation states in favour of regulation at the global level, the widening gap between rich and poor in many countries, the tottering state of social democracy as the welfare state Ponzi scheme starts to come unstuck.

For most people, the willingness to see globalised consumer capitalism as a Ponzi scheme is inversely proportional to how much you expect to gain from the system. That is to say, the more you are likely to get out of how things are, the less likely you are to see anything wrong with it. That’s just human nature. The elites trying to merge the EU as a superstate have everything to gain from continuing as they are; the 50% of Spanish youth consigned to long-term joblessness may take a different view.

There’s also a conflict between the elite view of communities, which sees them as random groupings of people within a specific geography, and that of most ordinary people who experience a nation or their own community as bound by ties of culture, tradition, interpersonal relations and shared practices. That leads to a situation where those in power think nothing of importing a million people from elsewhere – because we’re short of workers and the birth rate is low, so why not? – and those on the ground who feel anxious and threatened by the sudden arrival of large numbers of people with whom they have no shared bonds of family relation, cultural practice or often even language. Then the latter view is demonised, again by the elites, as uneducated, ignorant, bigoted, racist when in fact it’s quite rational on its own terms.

The reaction of many is to look nostalgically backwards to a time when everything was peachy (Even if that time never actually existed) and then to try and reverse-engineer the imagined conditions of that time. This doesn’t work: conservatism after the fact is always doomed. But there’s a real problem brewing in the failure of the elites driving (and benefiting from) globalisation to hear the objections coming from the masses. Ultimately refusal by the ruling class to accommodate the concerns of the people results in civil unrest and even revolution. We’re not quite there yet but the widespread nature of public unhappiness with the direction of travel is very worrying.

Globalisation is happening, whether we like it or not. But what we need is an open discussion about the best forms of social organisation to handle that, and to ensure the interests of ordinary people are taken into account given the huge impersonal forces of global change we face today. The elite viewpoint is that nation states are an obstacle to ‘development’, focusing as they do on the interests of a geography rather than transnational changes or agreements. This underlies the current trend toward neutering and even trying to dismantle nation states; popular resistance to it is demonised as ‘populism’ or ‘racism’, a narrow-minded, uneducated fixation on one nation as opposed to global concerns. But to me, from the point of view of the little guy, dismantling nation states is a major problem. Nation states define a community of interest based in a particular geography; without that definition, how can we have a meaningful electorate, voting for any but the vaguest policies? And without an electorate or proper policies, how can we have any kind of meaningful democracy? The utopian vision of world government looks downright creepy and totalitarian to me, and I’d prefer to keep things a bit messier and small-scale.

I will be very surprised if Le Pen gets anywhere near actual government, at least this time round. But the anti-politics, anti-globalisation, populist trend is there across Europe. Pankaj Mishra argues, in a related theme, that the rise of ISIS is part of the same trend. Though I have concerns about the way these issues get dumbed down into ‘bloody foreigners’ or ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ I think they have a voice that needs to be heard, as they point to a debate that is not being had and whose suppression will result in far worse unrest than we’ve seen yet.

Labour chucks women under the bus. Again

Guido Fawkes reports on yet another gender segregated rally in Oldham, attended by Labour MPs.

Remember, this is the party of the appalling pink campaign bus with the vaguely pornographic name, aimed at making women – those hair-and-makeup-obsessed idiots marginalised by all those nasty penis-owning politicians – engage more in politics because, er, pink. And Harriet Harman.

Newsflash, Harriet. If you showed an ounce of spine in challenging the sort of vacillating, self-interested equivocation that allows an Oldham by-election to be fought in campaign rallies where women sit off to one side – because it’s cultural discrimination, so that’s OK apparently – then perhaps a few women would take you more seriously when you try and pitch yourself as actually giving a shit about women’s rights. But the Left doesn’t give a shit about women’s rights. This fact is well documented. Like all other types of minority rights, the Left is only interested in women’s rights insofar as they can be used as a platform for virtue-signalling and painting the opposition as nasty antediluvian bigots. But when it comes to actually making difficult decisions, involving actual moral principles rather than a wet sort of relativism allied to a ruthless craving for power, what do we see?

Sit over there, sisters, and welcome to the new champions of tolerance and gender equality.

Reading today: We can’t keep the bad guys out; the turn against Marxism; the maintenance of civilisation

Rosa Brooks for Foreign Policy writes on how we can’t keep the terrorists out.

Cressida Heyes for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy discusses the retreat of radical left politics into the American academy as a possible motivator for its focus on identity rather than class issues.

Sam Harris and Douglas Murray discuss migrants, terrorism, Anglicanism and Jack Monroe (podcast, 1:56).

 

Reading today: overproduction of US elites, the ‘global Calais’, scientific motherhood

Peter Turchin, writing in Bloomberg View, blames rich, overeducated elites for the modern fraying of American society.

Pankaj Mishra argues in The Guardian that ISIS is less an ideology competing with Enlightenment values than a byproduct of the thwarted global desire for convergence with the peace and material comfort visible in the West.

Graeme Wood in The Atlantic writes on what ISIS really wants.

Charlotte Faircloth writes in Sociological Research on the scientisation of motherhood and the use of ‘The Science’ as an accountability strategy for mothers.

Jihadi Jez

Following Jeremy Corbyn’s widely criticised equivocations on the killing of Jihadi John and, more recently, of shoot-to-kill policies when faced with violent terrorism, the hashtag #JihadiJez has been inexplicably popular on Twitter and was even picked up by Sky, prompting a furious backlash from Corbynists. What has been missed by many both on the offense and defence sides of this debate, though, is the fact that tacit support for ISIS is entirely consistent with a hard-left viewpoint.

When the Berlin Wall fell, any serious ambitions by Marxists in the West for the realisation of their communist dream in Europe fell with it. Many commentators rather short-sightedly declared that Marxism was dead and social democracy had decisively won. They were wrong, as Nick Cohen argued recently.

Defeated on the political field, Marxian critiques of ideology, power and empire retrenched in the academy, becoming the dominant mode of thought within humanities subjects from literature through history to the many flavours of cultural studies that have spawned today’s corrosive identity politics. Within that comfortably insulated environment, funded academics could critique the hegemonic power of capitalism even as they sucked at its teat.

This worldview sees capitalism as the enemy, pitting groups against one another and spreading insidious lies through the status quo in order to gull the lumpenproletariat into meekly accepting its pyramid of oppression. Shorn by the fall of Soviet Communism of the prime source of opposition to this cancerous social Ponzi scheme, adherents of the Marxian mindset have found themselves allied with any regime or ideology that offers any critique of the horrors of capitalism. The resulting coalition is, as Cohen observes, paradoxical to say the least:

Opposition to the West is the first, last and only foreign policy priority of many on the Left. It accounts for its disorientating alliances with movements any 20th-century socialist would have no trouble in labelling as extreme right-wing.

Not just Corbyn and his supporters but much of the liberal Left announce their political correctness and seize on the smallest sexist or racist “gaffe” of their opponents. Without pausing for breath, they move on to defend radical Islamist movements which believe in the subjugation of women and the murder of homosexuals. They will denounce the anti-Semitism of white neo-Nazis, but justify Islamist anti-Semites who actually murder Jews in Copenhagen and Paris.

But it is only paradoxical insofar as it fails to grasp the underlying paradigm. As Chris Manby points out, there is a hierarchy of oppression, in which rich white people are at the top and, essentially deserve what’s coming to them, the bastards. Within that paradigm, pace our late friend political Communism, anyone who is with us against the lifestyles and ideology of rich white people is ipso facto on the side of the light. However fond they may be of enslaving prepubescent girls for sex or throwing gay people off buildings. It’s perfectly logical, and morally contemptible.

The science of finger-wagging

Not long ago, a relative of mine asked to see me and my husband to discuss ‘a concern’. Somewhat bemused, we agreed; it transpired that what he wanted to raise with us was his worries about what he perceived to be our excessive consumption of alcohol while trying to conceive a child. In essence his message was that we should stop drinking or the result would be a child with behavioural problems and/or special needs.

His concern was, he told us, born of his ‘studies in biology’. He came armed with helpful print-outs of articles from the internet, one for me and one for my husband. He even had notes about ‘the science’.

Never mind the accuracy of his perception that either of us is a raving alcoholic (we’re not) or indeed the validity of the ‘science’ he wanted to share with us (debatable) or indeed the appropriateness of a not particularly close family member attempting an intervention in such a profoundly intimate area of our married life (extremely debatable). The point of relating this distasteful episode in our family life is to exemplify a general trend that has only become apparent to me since notions of parenthood appeared on my radar: namely the co-option of ‘science’ to deliver what are, essentially, moral precepts.

Two things collide here. The first is the general injunction in modern society to avoid being ‘judgemental’, for fear of the cruelties this will supposedly inflict on anyone experiencing moral censure. (Theodore Dalrymple writes beautifully on this subject here, arguing in essence that while the backlash against moral censure is in some ways a justified reaction against past cruelties, determined refusal to apply moral judgement to individuals can result in far worse cruelties especially when institutionalised in the mechanisms of the social state.)

The second is the ebbing away of any source of authority except science. Religions are increasingly perceived as sources less of moral authority than of bigotry; received opinion is ignorant until proven enlightened; we no longer listen to what our mothers told us about childrearing, preferring to rely on ‘guidelines’ issued by bodies such as the WHO. This is by no means confined to child-rearing but assumes particular force  when applied to the sensitive subjects of bringing new humans into the world and their subsequent nurture.

The result is a situation in which moral precepts (women should not drink, at all) piggyback on sensible advice (don’t neck a bottle of vodka a day while pregnant or it will harm your baby) and are delivered in a supposedly ‘non-judgemental’ way via ‘scientific’ studies of dubious validity. The advice they offer is that because it cannot be proven that any level of alcohol consumption in or around pregnancy is 100% safe, it should be avoided entirely. The fact that the same could be said of any number of substances is neither here nor there; the motivation for choosing to focus on alcohol is obscured and the finger-wagging can proceed.

Emily Oster’s delightfully nerdy book Expecting Better provides solid meta-analysis of many of these studies, offering anxious modern mothers a route through the anxious discourse of pseudoscientific finger-wagging. What it has less room for, though, is a critique of the culture within which science is thus weaponised. Frank Furedi notes on this subject that

If science is turned into a moralising project, its ability to develop human knowledge will be compromised. It will also distract people from developing a properly moral understanding of the problems that face humanity in the twenty-first century. Those who insist on treating science as a new form of revealed truth should remember Pascal’s words: ‘We know the truth, not only by reason, but also by the heart.’

It is no surprise that this is evident nowhere more than in discourses around childrearing: all societies feel, justifiably, that they have a vested interest in the processes whereby new members are created and socialised. No area straddles the public and private sphere more delicately. There can surely be few areas where taking a moral stance is more understandable, and the obfuscation of such stances behind pseudoscience is disingenuous at best, if not downright destructive both to meaningful science but also to our shared understanding of right and wrong.

With all this in mind I would have preferred my relative to come right out with the moral stance. I would have disabused him of his mistaken perception of my lifestyle and all would have been well. As it is, the cloaking of morality in science has left an uneasy sense of a misperception impossible to rectify because cloaked, an insulting criticism impossible to challenge because disavowed, and an unhappy rift in my family circle.