The Politics of National Identity
F. Roger Devlin, American Renaissance, March 1, 2019
Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin, National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, Pelican Books, 2018, 344 + xxxii pages, $16.95 softcover, $10.99 kindle.
Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin are British professors of political science with all the ideological preferences one would expect. 2016 was not a good year for men in their line of work: Virtually all political experts were sure that the British would vote to stay in the European Union, and that Donald Trump would lose the election. Advance polling was not responsible for such certainty. In both cases, close results were predicted; experts fell victim to wishful thinking.
In this book, started in 2016 and published in October 2018, Profs. Eatwell and Goodwin try to explain what happened, primarily to readers who, like themselves, are not sympathetic to the new nationalism. Their first chapter is devoted to refuting what they call myths—superficial rationalizations of recent events that globalists like themselves have proposed. For example, they reject the claim that Brexit and the Trump victory were mindless protests against the establishment:
This ‘protest theory’ is popular because many writers on the liberal left struggle with the idea that people might actually want lower immigration, stronger borders, fewer welfare benefits for recent immigrants who have not paid tax over the years, and more power returned from distant transnational institutions to the nation state.
The authors apparently grasp that voters were voting for these things, not merely against current elites.
Nor can recent developments be attributed to a small group of voters: “irrational bigots, jobless losers, Rust Belt rejects, voters hit hard by the Great Recession and angry old white men who will soon die and be replaced by tolerant millennials.” It should be obvious that the success of any national cause cannot be attributed to just a few types of voters; such victories require broad coalitions.
It is true that the white working class strongly supported both Brexit and Trump, but a study of American primary voters found that “the median household income of a Trump voter was $72,000, compared to $61,000 for supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.” The more successful European national populists have won over small-business owners, the self-employed, and much of the middle class.
A poll of British “Leavers” found that “six in ten said significant damage to the British economy would be a price worth paying for Brexit, while four in ten were willing to see their own relatives lose their jobs if it meant Brexit was delivered.” The “Remain” campaign failed completely to understand this: It focused all its efforts on warning voters of economic problems if Brexit passed, making “a conscious decision to completely ignore the issue of immigration, the top concern for Leavers.”
Nor was national populism a response to the economic slump after 2008. This fashionable theory is based on globalist progressives’ insane notion that populists are the “new Nazis” since the rise of National Socialism in Germany can be partly attributable to the worldwide depression of the 1930s. Studies have consistently found that most supporters of European national populist parties and of Donald Trump in the US are not primarily motivated by pocketbook considerations at all. Moreover, the roots of today’s populist movement go back long before the economic slump:
It was in the 1980s that the most significant national populists in post-war Europe showed up. They included people like Jean-Marie Le Pen in France and Jörg Haider in Austria, who emerged while promising to slash immigration, strengthen law and order and take on a ‘corrupt’ establishment.
One should note, however, that nobody called these parties “populist” back in the 1980s; they were always referred to as “the extreme right.”
An especially self-congratulatory explanation of Brexit and Trump’s election interprets these events as the last gasp of an older generation of white bigots soon to shuffle off into history. Progressives tend to overestimate the importance of generational differences. The authors report that British voters display:
a 0.38 percent increase in support for the Conservative Party as each year passed. This may not sound like much, but over the course of a lifetime it adds up and accounts for most if not all of the gap in support for the Conservative Party between young and old.
Progressives seem to think opinions do not change as people get older. Those who expect soon to be rid of angry old white men may find themselves facing an even angrier new generation of old white men 20 years from now.
The authors claim that education is an important predictor for opposition to national populism. This is hardly surprising when the West’s institutions of higher learning have been hijacked by egalitarians. Is it the acquisition of knowledge per se that biases people against populism, or merely stewing for years in the ideological environment of a university? It might also be worthwhile to disaggregate the data by field of study rather than confounding engineers and physicists with students who majored in feminism and post-colonial studies. For Profs. Eatwell and Goodwin, everything taught at college is equally “education.”
If these attempts to explain the rise of national populism fail, what are the true causes? In a section called “Drilling Down to the Core Concerns,” the authors refer to their own explanations as “the four Ds:” a growing distrust of elites who are out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people, the feared destruction of a national way of life under the pressure of mass immigration, feelings of relative deprivation compared to liberal elites and their foreign protégés, and a process of political de-alignment or loss of loyalty to mainstream parties. A chapter is devoted to each ‘D.’
It seems obvious to me that the second ‘D’—fear of the destructive effects if mass immigration—is the most important, and the other three are largely secondary effects. Nationalists distrust their rulers because they are responsible for demographic replacement; they are de-aligning from mainstream parties for the same reason; and they feel deprived compared to newcomers they are taxed to subsidize and jailed for complaining about. But the authors do not see it this way.
They begin their discussion of immigration by accepting the legitimacy of at least some populist concerns:
We reject the claim that national populism is simply a refuge for racists and people driven by an irrational fear of ‘the other’. National populists often raise legitimate questions such as what number of immigrants can be accommodated, what skill set they should have, and whether new arrivals should have access to the same benefits as long-standing citizens.
Passages as mild as these have earned the authors accusations of sympathizing with national populism. But the concerns they are willing to accept as legitimate do not go beyond economics. They don’t understand that a genuine nationalist doesn’t want to slow down immigration just enough to keep it within the capacity of his nation’s economy and social safety net; he objects to the fact of demographic replacement, no matter what its pace.
Like everyone in the mainstream, the authors freely use the term “racism,” but they do make some effort to explain what it is. First, they call the belief that “blacks are less intelligent than whites” a “classic measure of racism” (adding that “virtually all scholars reject” what Charles Murray says). Second, they claim that the question, “Would you feel comfortable if one of your relatives married somebody from a different ethnic group?” is “a classic marker of traditional racism.” But what’s an “ethnic group?” For an Englishmen, both Congolese and Welshmen might be “different ethnic groups;” is objecting to a Welshman not racist and therefore legitimate, but objecting to a Congolese is racist and deplorable?
It is in this context that the authors’ write that preferring immigrants—of any race—to come with work skills is not “racist,” but such is the fanaticism prevailing in Britain that they have been angrily denounced by colleagues and journalists.
The authors also manage to express a limited sympathy with Europeans and Americans who fear their “way of life” or “culture and values” are threatened by mass immigration, but they show no understanding of why race dramatically increases such fears.
Many small word choices make clear how firmly the authors are mired in mainstream thinking. President Trump’s criticisms of the press are “attacks on media freedom,” while his references to illegal alien crime are “pandering to xenophobic stereotypes.” They write that Dutch populist Geert Wilders “infamously alleges” that Europe is turning Muslim rather than acknowledging that he is obviously correct.
The authors’ first ‘D’—distrust of political elites—is in part due to the undemocratic nature of the European Union.
During the early years, the push for European integration avoided educating the people about what was happening, other than through broad statements about the need to prevent future fratricidal wars. Until the 1990s, there [was] a ‘permissive consensus’ whereby people seemed content to leave complex debates about integration to the politicians.
When Britain held its first national referendum on membership back in 1975, much of the elite “felt uncomfortable, deploying arguments similar to those used by nineteenth-century conservatives to oppose giving people the vote.” As one high-ranking ”eurocrat” said, “I would deplore a situation in which the policy of this great country should be left to housewives.”
Current European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker once explained how the commission operates:
We decree something, then float it and wait some time to see what happens. If no clamor occurs and no big fuss follows, because most people do not grasp what has been decided, we continue—step by step, until the point of no return is reached.
By the turn of the century, the permissive consensus began breaking down. Given the opportunity, voters began saying no to the EU. Elites responded by repeating referenda until voters gave them the result they wanted, which provoked anger and cynicism. The usually low-key Danes actually rioted after one such episode.
In the runup to the Brexit referendum, Prime Minster David Cameron described Leavers as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”—before learning that such people amounted to over half the electorate.
None of this arrogance and high-handedness would outrage ordinary Europeans so deeply were it not for the sharp divide between elite and mass opinion on immigration. One British study found that:
while 57 percent of elites thought immigration had been good for the country, only 25 percent of the public felt the same. Elites were more than twice as likely as the public to reject the ideas that immigration makes crime worse and puts strain on the welfare state. The public were much more likely to want to ban Turkey from ever joining the EU, to feel that their country should not have to accept any refugees, and to want to stop all further immigration from Muslim states, which more than half of people supported.
Elsewhere in Europe, distrust of elites runs even deeper: One poll found that 72 percent of Italians and 78 percent of Frenchmen felt that “traditional politicians do not care about people like me.” In 1964, 76 percent of Americans told pollsters they trusted their government most of the time, but by the time of Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012, the figure had fallen to 22 percent.
We have seen that support for national populism is not primarily motivated by economic self-interest, but the authors add an important proviso:
People’s economic worries are not only rooted in narrow concerns about money but encompass community, self-respect and people’s strong anxiety about their own and their group’s position relative to others.
The authors define what they call relative deprivation:
a belief among certain groups that they are losing out relative to others. They are fearful about what lies ahead for themselves and their children; convinced the past was better than the present and that the present, however bleak, is still better than the future. Most of the people in this category are not on the bottom rung of the ladder. People at the very bottom tend to withdraw from politics altogether, while the unemployed support left-wing movements that do not link economics to immigration.
Most working class and middle-class supporters of populism, by contrast, have:
long been used to difficult financial conditions and even took pride in their ability to ‘get by’ in tight circumstances, contrasting themselves with a work-shy, immoral and welfare dependent underclass. What motivated them [to support populism] was a sense that, relative to others, they and their group had lost out, whether to more affluent middle-class citizens or to immigrants. Not only had they been demoted from the centre of their nation’s consciousness to its fringes, but affirmative action had given further advantages to minorities while anti-racism campaigns had silenced any criticism about these rapid and deeply unsettling social changes.
A good example of the sort of policy that stokes populist anger comes from France, where:
approximately 40 billion Euros were spent between 2004 and 2013 on extensive refurbishing of mainly ethnic-minority housing estates (banlieus), but nothing like this was invested in similarly depressed areas inhabited by native French, fueling resentment against what was seen as favoritism towards immigrants.
In America, polling revealed that
those who felt whites [were] more discriminated against than blacks [and] Christians more than Muslims—were most likely to support Trump. 90 percent of his core supporters believed that discrimination against whites is now a major problem in America, while less than 10 percent of Democrats shared this view. Another study found that when you reminded whites Americans who identified strongly with their group that non-whites will outnumber whites in the US by 2042, this not only led them to become more concerned about the declining status and influence of white Americans but also to be more supportive of Trump, and more opposed to political correctness.
Such observations are apparently not obvious to this book’s primary audience.
Political de-alignment refers to the decline of mainstream parties. This may not be sufficiently distinct from another ‘D’—distrust of political elites—to merit a chapter of its own. In a nutshell, this is the story of de-alignment:
In the early postwar era, political debate was dominated by issues like economic redistribution, jobs, taxation and the extent to which the state should intervene in the economy. People’s opinions on such matters tended to be stable over time, and many voters felt a quasi-tribal loyalty to one of the major parties—a loyalty sometimes inherited in childhood. In the working towns of Northern England, for example, it was commonly said locals would vote for a donkey as long as it were wearing the red Labor Party rosette.
As new issues such as mass immigration arose, this stability broke down. The authors cite survey data showing that the percentage of voters who do not identify with any major party has greatly increased in America, Britain, Germany and Sweden, especially among the young. Increasing numbers of American and European voters either describe themselves as independent or shift their support from one election to the next. One sign of the times is that the French Socialist Party was in 2017 forced to sell its headquarters in the center of Paris to avoid bankruptcy.
It is clear from the last chapter that the authors do not sympathize with national populism—despite accusations to the contrary. They hope for a “post-populist” era in which mainstream parties make just enough concessions to co-opt populist voters. They also suggest a “National Populism-Lite” could arise to take the wind out of nationalists’ sails.
As I noted above, slower replacement is not acceptable. We must restore white supermajorities throughout the West and ensure that they are never threatened again.