One of the most interesting bits of information in the post is this:
There has been a huge gap between our ruling elite’s views and those of ordinary people on the street. This was brought home to me when dining at an Oxford college and the eminent person next to me, a very senior civil servant, said: ‘When I was at the Treasury, I argued for the most open door possible to immigration [because] I saw it as my job to maximise global welfare not national welfare.’Goodhart has written about this before, in an article for Prospect:
I was even more surprised when the notion was endorsed by another guest, one of the most powerful television executives in the country. He, too, felt global welfare was paramount and that he had a greater obligation to someone in Burundi than to someone in Birmingham.
A few years ago I was at a 60th birthday party for a well-known Labour MP. Many of the leading thinkers of the British centre-left were there and at one point the conversation turned to the infamous Gordon Brown slogan “British jobs for British workers,” from a speech he had given a few days before at the Labour conference.I'll write more about David Goodhart in a future post. The point I'll stick to for now is that traditionalist predictions about a civic nationalism are already coming true.
The people around me entered a bidding war to express their outrage at Brown’s slogan which was finally triumphantly closed by one who declared, to general approval, that it was “racism, pure and simple.”
I remember thinking afterwards how odd the conversation would have sounded to most other people in this country. Gordon Brown’s phrase may have been clumsy and cynical but he didn’t actually say British jobs for white British workers.
In most other places in the world today, and indeed probably in Britain itself until about 25 years ago, such a statement about a job preference for national citizens would have seemed so banal as to be hardly worth uttering. Now the language of liberal universalism has ruled it beyond the pale.
My fellow partygoers were all too representative of a part of liberal, educated Britain. Shami Chakrabarti, of the human rights group Liberty, has argued: “In the modern world of transnational and multinational power we must decide if we are all ‘people’ or all ‘foreigners’ now.”
Oliver Kamm, the centrist commentator, said to me recently that it was morally wrong to discriminate on grounds of nationality, ruling out the “fellow citizen favouritism” that most people think that the modern nation state is based on.
And according to George Monbiot, a leading figure of the liberal left, “Internationalism… tells us that someone living in Kinshasa is of no less worth than someone living in Kensington… Patriotism, if it means anything, tells us we should favour the interests of British people [before the Congolese]. How do you reconcile this choice with liberalism? How… do you distinguish it from racism?”
It is not only people on the left who think like this. On a recent BBC Radio 4 Moral Maze programme about development aid, the former Tory cabinet minister and born-again liberal Michael Portillo had this to say: “It is quite old fashioned to think about national borders, and rather nationalistic to say we must help people who are only moderately poor because they happen to be in the UK rather than helping people who are desperately poor because they happen to be a long way away.”
All of the above are, in the formulation of a group of North American cultural psychologists, WEIRD—they are from a sub-culture that is Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic. They are, as we have seen, universalists, suspicious of strong national loyalties. They also tend to be individualists committed to autonomy and self-realisation. Balancing that they are usually deeply concerned with social justice and unfairness and also suspicious of appeals to religion or to human nature to justify any departure from equal treatment—differences between men and women, for example, are regarded as cultural not biological.
Liberals didn't like a traditional nationalism, based on ties of shared ethnicity, because ethnicity is a predetermined quality that we can't autonomously choose for ourselves. So liberals opted instead for civic nationalism, in which national solidarity is based on citizenship and a shared commitment to liberal political institutions and values.
But even a civic nationalism still discriminates between people based on something that we are usually born into (citizenship), so it will still fail the test for the more rigorous kind of liberals.
For that reason, the liberal elite is moving increasingly to a post-national position - one in which they think it is wrong to discriminate in favour of people who are part of your own nation. You are no longer supposed to favour fellow citizens, let alone fellow members of your own ethny.
As Goodhart noted in his Prospect piece, this attitude is emerging on the right as well as the left. There's an election later this year in Australia and so the PM, Julia Gillard, has been trying to win working class support by promising a crackdown on the rorting of the 457 temporary visa system. The message is that qualified Australians should get first go at Australian jobs rather than overseas workers.
That was too much for some on the right. Tony Abbott criticised Gillard for engaging in a "birthplace war" whilst columnist Andrew Bolt wrote that it showed that Labor was the party of "xenophobia" and that it was an example of "moral failings".
The current drift, even on the mainstream right, is toward a post-national mentality, one in which we are not supposed to favour members of our nation.
I don't know how enduring this shift will be: can societies really continue to function well when communal loyalty is considered immoral or outdated? Can a national state prosper when the people running it no longer believe in national loyalties of any kind?