Monday, May 11, 2015

The Wages of Division

Everyone is tut-tutting about the breakup of national politics in Britain, particularly with the triumph of the Scottish National Party in Scotland. The Labour Party was pretty well eliminated in Scotland in the UK General Election of May 2015.

But really, this is the wages of identity politics. The average grubbing practical politician may not realize it but identity politics, getting people to vote according to class and race and gender, is going to break up the nation state.

The idea of the nation state is really rather new, a few hundred years old at the max. And I suspect that it developed not because all of a sudden people started to believe in nations, but because the logic of interstate politics demanded a bigger military and political unit than the feudal king, the temporary winner in the game of baronial politics and strategic marriage. The political unit had to be large enough to support a significant standing army; it had to be supported and funded by a thriving commercial economy. And it helped to have a single language. In fact, the emerging nation state imposed a common language on its subjects.

In the 18th century you can see that the national politics in Britain was simple faction: one faction of the landed magnates against another. Disraeli fires the last shot in this war in Sybil when he spends a chapter or two drawing up a bill of indictment against the evil and corrupt Whigs; they got their wealth in the plunder of the monasteries in the 16th century, in case you didn't know.

In the 19th century politics in Britain started to show the influence of class. The Reform Bill of 1832 was about extending the franchise lower into the middle class. Later reform bills extended the franchise into the working class. So politicians learned how to make class appeals, and the factional politics of Whig vs. Tory morphed into the class politics of Liberal/Labour vs. Conservative.

The genius of this class politics, we can now see in retrospect, was that it didn't disturb the nation state idea. That was tested in World War I when the working classes of the world identified with their nations rather than with their class.

Responding to this fact after World War I the Frankfurt School came up with a new twist on class politics: what we now call identity politics. The Frankfurt School taught politicians how to divide people not just by class but by any kind of identity that worked politically. The point was to seize the commanding heights of compassion and identify yourself with an historically oppressed group.

In our day this idea has turned into stupidity and the left's support is always for the identified marginalized group: blacks in the US or South Africa; women; gays, Muslims in the West; Hispanics in the US; Catholics in Northern Ireland; Palestinians in the Middle East; Catalonians in Spain.

In Britain, this played out as validating the irredentist yearnings of the Celtic fringes in Scotland and Wales so that the Blair Labour government legislated regional assemblies for the Scots and the Welsh.

Well, golly gee. Now that brilliant plan has developed into full-on Scottish nationalism and a movement for Scottish independence. Be careful what you wish for.

So what did the Frankfurt School geniuses think they were doing? I imagine they thought they were building a global over/under coalition between the enlightened educated and Marxist avant-garde and the global under-privileged whoever and wherever they were. And this wave of the future would throttle the evil and oppressive rule of the international bourgeoisie.

Allow me to propose my own view against the world view of the educated ruling class of gentry liberals.

The global gentry liberal elite establishes and maintains its power by a cynical revival of pre-modern instincts in its "under" supporters, and it obstructs the "unders" from taking their rightful place in the middle class. Of course it does. When the working class worked its way up into the middle class it stopped voting for the parties of the left.

The whole panoply of administrative welfare state politics and government encourages people to identify as subordinate subjects, clients to a political patronage machine, grubbing for free stuff from a great lord. The subordinate subjects, in the limit case of the African Americans in the United States, end up as a dysfunctional under-class in some declining city where the women don't marry and the men don't work.

The science ought to be settled by now. The way to a meaningful life in the modern world is to climb out of the underclass by getting an education and getting a job. Then you abandon the culture of subordination and take on the armor of responsibility. You shuck off the culture of the people of the subordinate self and you join the people of the responsible self.

Now people of the responsible self are natural citizens of the nation state. They want to work and thrive in the market economy and they want to marry and have children and they want the state to protect them from enemies foreign and domestic that might interfere with their day-to-day work of wiving and thriving. They take pride in taking care of their own and they also extend their circle of caring to other people that need help because that's who they are.

The gentry liberal ruling class is at war with the people of the responsible self because the people of the responsible self want nothing from the political class except peace and security. They don't want free education; they'd rather buy their own and get the right education for their individual children. They don't want a state pension; they'd rather save their own money and retire when they want to rather than when the government wants them to. They don't want government health care; they'd rather pay for their own and get what they need, not what a cabal of political activists wants them to need. They don't want and army of experts regulating everything and "keeping us safe." They prefer to make their own mistakes and learn from them.

On this view you can see that the gentry liberal ruling class has done a pretty good job of marginalizing the people of the responsible self and riling up the tribal instincts of the people of the subordinate self. Nothing remarkable or scandalous about this. They are just following the logic of their political needs.

But the problem is the law of unintended consequences. Politics is division. The more politics, the more division, and for the gentry liberal ruling class politics is everything. We are now seeing the long term result of ruling class identity politics. The result is the breakup of nation states into smaller states, smaller states that cannot swing their weight in international affairs.

It's all very well to have a Scotland. But what happens if the Russian bear should come calling? It's all very well to encourage African Americans in racial pride; but what happens when a Detroit or a Baltimore self-destructs? It's all very well to encourage a Latino identity in Hispanic immigrants; but what happens if, say, California decides to secede.

Our liberal friends have the conceit that their superior intelligence and evolved culture makes them the natural cultural leaders and political authorities, and equal to every political challenge. Don't worry; they can handle the elements of their coalition of the fringes.

But suppose they can't? That's what the collapse of the Labour Party in Scotland suggests. Once the lordly liberal elite has taught the Scots or the Muslims how to organize and protest for their rights there is always the possibility that their students will strike out on their own and start their own activism schools.

And then what?

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