According to Clegg, both the Conservatives and the Labour Party are living in the past. They are both too wedded to the nation and the nation state. Clegg believes that people have become liberated from membership of nations, through such things as technology and immigration. Therefore, what matters is a flow of power upward to global governance and downward to individuals. The new ideal is the empowered, transnational individual and the global state:
We live in a more atomised society where people are no longer rigidly defined by class or place. Our society is no longer trapped by a culture of diffidence and hierarchy.
The capacity of the nation state to act for its citizens has been dramatically diluted as globalisation has undermined its powers. The increasing accessibility of international air travel and new technologies like the internet have radically stretched people’s physical and conceptual horizons. New forms of religious and ethnic identity have dissolved the traditional glue that held the identity of nations together. In short, we live in a more fluid, less deferential world ...
This is Clegg's criticism of the Labour Party:
Labour has lost its ideological way ... They are unsure how to deal with a globalised world in which the nation state is no longer the correct locus of power. They are unsure how to react to the way people have been empowered by technology, travel and prosperity and are no longer willing to subordinate themselves to a collective whole in the name of a supposed ‘common good’ ...
"We live in a more atomised society" begins Clegg. You might think that he would take this as a negative feature of modernity and suggest a remedy. Instead, he thinks of it positively as a form of individual emancipation.
There's a logic to this. If you are a liberal like Clegg you'll believe that self-determination is the highest, overriding good. This means that we cannot be defined by anything that we can't immediately choose for ourselves. We can't be defined by anything that is traditional or biological or even, as it seems, social. If we are defined in some way by the particular society we live in, then we have been "trapped" or "rigidly defined" by the place we inhabit.
An atomised individual is not defined by his relationship to others in a society, nor by an attachment to a particular community. He is a kind of blank slate, an empty canvas ready to be self-authored. He fits in better with the liberal ideal than someone who takes part of his identity from the particular society he lives in.
So for Clegg, the modern atomised individual is escaping "subordination" to a collective whole.
Is such an individual free? What is there left for him to choose to be? He has to keep himself radically unsituated in any place or society, otherwise he is being other defined rather than self-determined. He is free to be not much at all.
It's better to take what is best and deepest in our constituted selves with us, so that we get to be free as men and women, as Swedes or Japanese, as Richardsons or McGregors.
Then there is Clegg's attitude to the common good. For Clegg, there is only a 'supposed "common good"'. He is clearly sceptical that it's possible to speak of a common good at all.
But again he is following a tradition within classical liberalism here. John Stuart Mill, for instance, once wrote that:
The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way.
There is no recognition here that at least some of our purposes in life are rightly directed toward a common good, such as the improvement and perpetuation of our own particular community, society, civilisation or tradition.
Steven Kautz is an American academic who writes in defence of classical liberalism. Here is how he describes the rejection by classical liberals of a common good:
It should not be surprising, even to partisans of liberalism, that a world dominated by liberal individualism has given rise to longings for lost community. Classical liberalism is a doctrine of acquisitive individualism, and teaches that man is by nature solitary and selfish, not political or even social: the most powerful natural passions and needs of human beings are private. Human beings are not friends by nature.
This harsh moral psychology is, at any rate, the fundamental teaching of classical liberalism. As a result, the idea of community is always somewhat suspect for thoughtful liberals. Liberals are inclined to view partisans of community as either romantic utopians or dangerous authoritarians.
If there is no natural common good, beyond peace and security, then invocations of the spirit of community are either foolish or fraudulent, impossible dreams ...
But without recognising a common good, how can we set out to maintain the communities and traditions we identify with? It can't be done in principle (as I explain further here).