Monday, March 27, 2017

Somewheres vs Anywheres

This is an interesting political conversion story. David Goodhart once saw himself as a member of the London liberal elite but has had a change of worldview. He describes the division in British society as being between "Anywheres" and "Somewheres":
The value divides in British society that led to Brexit, and may now break up the United Kingdom, stem from the emergence in the past generation of two big value clusters: the educated, mobile people who see the world from “Anywhere” and who value autonomy and fluidity, versus the more rooted, generally less well-educated people who see the world from “Somewhere” and prioritise group attachments and security.

Goodhardt believes that those who have "high human capital" (graduates of elite universities) are likely to thrive in open, competitive systems and so are more likely than others to support open borders. Similarly, such people are more likely to look to "achieved" identities (e.g. career) rather than "ascribed" ones (e.g. nationality). He believes, also, that the expansion of higher education has increased the percentage of such people in society, so that:
...over the past generation, it has dominated the political class and the national culture. Anywhere politicians who think they are governing in the national interest are, at least some of the time, governing in the Anywhere interest — in everything from the expansion of higher education to the unprecedented openness of modern societies.

So what led him to change allegiance, and to begin to see things from the point of view of the Somewheres? He believes that part of the reason is that his own upper class/Old Etonian social background always made him something of an outsider, which,
helped to make me aware of the strangeness of some of the instincts of my north London liberal tribe in the 1980s and 1990s: the far greater concern for suffering in distant lands than just around the corner, the blank incomprehension of religious or national feeling and the disdain for the ordinary people we were meant to champion.

Goodhardt wavers on whether he wants to reform liberalism or break from it. At times he writes of the possibility of a less individualistic and universalistic liberalism, one that might still uphold particular attachments and identities:
There were several lightbulb moments as I came to see past the narrative of progress that has helped to form the shallow liberalism that dominates our politics. This narrative sees race and gender equality as a prelude to the transcending of all exclusive communities, including the nation state. But the moral equality of all human beings — the beautiful, once utopian idea that became embedded in many western constitutions in the middle of the 20th century — does not mean we have the same obligations to all human beings.

This vital caveat to universalism keeps liberalism bound to the earth, to the reality of flesh-and-blood humans with group attachments and the need to be valued and to belong. Of course modern politics — the rule of law and more recently the idea of human equality — are partly designed to tame and constrain our tribal and animal emotions. But if politics disappears too far into the individualist abstractions of law and economics it starts to see society as just a random collection of individuals.

From this caveat can flow a more mature and emotionally intelligent liberalism that sees that there really is such a thing as society and one that functions well is based on habits of co-operation and trust and bonds of language, history and culture. Newcomers can be absorbed into such societies, and can retain some of their own traditions, but unless a critical mass of them embrace the broad common norms of the society, the idea of the nation as a group of people with significant shared interests — the idea of a people — will fracture.

...An emotionally mature liberalism must also accept that white majorities, not just minorities, in western societies have ethnic attachments too and an interest in a degree of demographic stability — and it is not shameful or racist for people to feel uncomfortable if their neighbourhood changes too rapidly, whether from gentrification or ethnic change.

Other things flow from the caveat, too — things that do not challenge the core beliefs of modern liberalism but temper and qualify their more dogmatic application. The belief, for example, that men and women are equal but not identical and that some sort of gender division of labour in the home and the broader society remains popular. That order and legitimate authority in families, schools and the wider society are a necessary condition of human flourishing, not a means of crushing it. That religion, loyalty and the wisdom of tradition deserve greater respect than is common among “blank sheet” liberals who tend to focus narrowly on issues of justice and harm.

As Haidt points out — contrary to the old claim that the right is the stupid party — conservatives can appreciate a wider range of political emotions than liberals: “It’s as though conservatives can hear five octaves of music, but liberals respond to just two, within which they have become particularly discerning.”

You do not have to be a conservative or a Conservative to see this and I would regard myself as a centrist, open to ideas from left and right. Indeed I am now post-liberal and proud, and feel that for the first time in my life I have had the confidence and experience to work things out for myself.

Am I trying to save liberalism or bury it? I am certainly trying to save it from the over-reach that has produced the Brexit/Trump backlash and want to convince as many as possible from my old tribe that we need a new settlement that is more generous to the intuitions of Somewheres. Come, join me, you have nothing to lose but your comfortably consensual dinner parties.

I know some of my readers would wish for a cleaner break from liberalism than this, but the important thing is the movement away from a dissolving liberalism and toward a politics that permits the existence of real, particular, localised attachments and identities.


  1. The concept of "Anywheres" and "Somewheres" is quite useful.

    I'm afraid he's going to find out that liberalism can't be reformed. It's a faulty concept from the ground up. It is heartening that there are a handful of liberals who are starting to see that liberalism isn't working. It's a pity that most of them find that abandoning liberalism is just too scary a step.

    Part of the problem is that most people insist on seeing politics in binary terms. You're either a liberal or a conservative, either left or right. That binary view has to be thrown out.

    1. I'm afraid he's going to find out that liberalism can't be reformed. It's a faulty concept from the ground up.

      Yes, I agree.

    2. Yes, when I explained to a freind I was against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as same-sex marriage they couldn't understand. It's a shame public discussion and thinking on what is truly worthy and meaningful is so shallow and bifurcated.

  2. Your link leads to a paywall. Here's the non-paywall link:

  3. I don't think the writer of the article is interested in dissolving liberalism. He writes from the perspective of an Old Etonian elite who have suddenly and abruptly lost control of the system they had dominated for centuries.

    This class was attracted by liberalism in the Victorian age as an ideology which allowed them to throw off Christian restraint and indulge their lust and greed in a highly individualistic manner. This worked well for them as they controlled the country (UK) and its Empire which covered most of the world's population. They could indulge themselves in all manner of excess all over the world. This,however, changed after the 1960s and the Old Etonian elite have lost their power. Initially this was gradual but over the last 20 years has been rapid. Old Etonians are discriminated against in the areas they used to dominate - the Foreign Office, Politics and Finance. Eton itself is a bastion of social engineering with places given to black and other ethnic minority boys on various affirmative action plans with the fees paid in full. The Old Etonians who took it for granted that they virtually owned the school and would automatically send their sons there, find their sons are discriminated against in the application process which favours ethnic minorities. Moreover, many cannot afford the fees.

    Liberalism initially seduced the elites with its individualism and indulgence but it also allowed others to take control of what they thought was always theirs by right. The Old Etonian elite now find themselves insignificant in modern Britain. Now they realise what they have lost, they regret. They want to retake what they have lost by moderating liberalism but not to abolish it. They have become too individualistic to give it up. However it is not possible to moderate liberalism.

    Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

  4. An interesting insight by David Goodhart, as you describe it. It makes sense.
    I envisioned another group; the stuckheres. They are the least happy, because they're so confused and conflicted. They're educated, dedicated and hyper liberalized in their angst. They're stuck in a place that they hate, because they don't have the money to be mobile. They mask their resentment and regret, but It shows through as blame. They'd be gone in a flash if they had the cash.
    With respect to the idea that the binary view has to be thrown out:
    We have two major political parties, both which struggle with their own wide spectrum of left and right. Together they're made up of the so-called "far right" and the loony left. There is no liberal/conservative, left/right binary in the U.S. I wish that there was. The muddle of befuddle is in the moderate middle.
    A friend, who sounds politically savvy (he's an attorney in private practice, who lovingly talks about his early years working in the Clinton White House. He is a savvy establishment apparatchik) threw out an idea to me the other day. Buck, I'm trying to figure out a way to gather the moderate voters into a third party. He believes that most of the voting population is "moderate" and that his moderate party would be much larger than either the Dems or Repubs.
    I couldn't help but laugh. He sounded serious. Which made him sound suddenly naive. I think that he realized that as soon as he said it.
    Like the mythical "moderate" Muslim or those of any faith, the political moderate is by definition incapable of heavy lifting. They blow around with the wind.
    Just for grins, I searched for "political moderate". The results were unsurprising.

    1. There is no liberal/conservative, left/right binary in the U.S. I wish that there was.

      That's true. Political binary oppositions are mostly illusions. In Australia we have two major parties, Labor and the Liberals. They are for all practical purposes interchangeable. Both support crony capitalism. Both believe passionately in immigration. Both believe in joining in every single American war. Both believe in the global warming scam. Both support homosexual marriage and every other socially radical position.

      But what matters is that the voters think there's a choice. They think the two parties represent a significant binary opposition. They think that their vote will make a difference. As long as the voters remain convinced that they can change things by voting either Labor or Liberal they won't go looking for real alternatives.

      It's the fact that these binary oppositions are in reality false oppositions that makes them so deadly.

  5. Goodhart makes some interesting points. His concept of anywheres vs somewheres is very useful.

    But for the rest of it, he hasn't left liberalism. He has simply come to regard its results as intolerable. He does not disagree with liberalism itself - hence his desire to 'moderate' it - but he has come to regard its byproducts as beyond the pale.

    The problem is the results of liberalism are essential to its nature. They aren't some sort of mischance - some kind of intellectual weeds that grow by themselves - they are the direct product of liberalism itself. By emphasizing the individual against all else, nationalism, family, even our sex, are thrown out. This is likely what the Trump and Brexit revolt is about. The average, plain people have had enough of having their nations ripped apart in pursuit of a mad religion.

    Goodhart is a very tiresome sort. They exist all over, especially among older liberals. Somehow the results of liberalism have finally added up. And so they move into a new arena of thought - doubt! They _doubt_ if liberalism, or feminism, or internationalism, are really so good after all. The problem with such people is they will _never_ be any use in the fight against liberalism. They'll move themselves far enough away from liberalism to feel they aren't responsible for its results. But they'll never leave it. They've made too much of a habit of being liberals to think any other way.

    1. Somehow the results of liberalism have finally added up. And so they move into a new arena of thought - doubt! They _doubt_ if liberalism, or feminism, or internationalism, are really so good after all.

      They think that all we need to do is to tinker with liberalism a bit. It's like a car with an annoying rattling noise - all we need to do is find the source of the rattle and it will be as good as new. But this particular car needs to be towed to the wrecker's yard.

  6. Goodhart is typical of his kind in that he holds the mistaken premise that more education implies a superior world-view. In fact, more education does not equal better education and a bad education is worse than none at all. Since education is essentially the propagation of ideas, liberalist education has succeeded in spreading multiple wrong-headed ideas to its recipients who now have a far more distorted vision of the world and how it works than those fortunate enough to have avoided this propaganda.