The explanation for the French uprising, Brexit, and Trump is simple, and straight from The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, which seems to have been forgotten soon after it was published.
It’s not nationalism, it’s not populism, it’s not a cult of personality; it’s not racism or fascism or Nazism or bigotry or uninformed rubes voting against their own self-interest. It’s none of the things the left likes to use to pejoratively describe it. It’s just us chimps ganging up to take down the abusive alpha male of elitism/globalism/leftism.
“Alpha male chimps are not truly leaders of their groups. They perform some public services, such as mediating conflicts. But most of the time, they are better described as bullies who take what they want. Yet even among chimpanzees, it sometimes happens that subordinates gang up to take down alphas, occasionally going as far as to kill them. Alpha male chimps must therefore know their limits and have enough political skill to cultivate a few allies and stave off rebellion.” – Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind
It’s the moral intuition of liberty/oppression pushing back against the tyranny of the top-down social engineering and the coercive power of the state.
“The Liberty foundation obviously operates in tension with the Authority foundation. We all recognize some kinds of authority as legitimate in some contexts, but we are also wary of those who claim to be leaders unless they have first earned our trust. We’re vigilant for signs that they’ve crossed the line into self-aggrandizement and tyranny.”
It’s human nature rebelling against the artificial social constructs that suffocate it:
The founders saw it, and described it in The Declaration of Independence:
“When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
THAT is what France, and Trump, and Brexit are about.
Calling them populism or nationalism or any of those other things is a temporally myopic perspective that misses the forest of the evolved psychological mechanisms of “why good people are divided by politics and religion” for the trees of trendy pop-psych platitudes that by some wild inexplicable (not really) coincidence just happen to fit the leftist narratives of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” or “Conservatism as motivated social cognition.” It does precisely what Haidt said his own discipline of social psychology does:
my field is not very scholarly. We are focused on experiments and methods. We are not even scholarly about the experiments and methods used 30 years ago; we are too caught up in the present.
It’s just so frustrating to see the lessons of The Righteous Mind so glibly ignored, and infuriating to see the continued labeling of conservatives with leftist dog-whistle pejoratives like nationalist, populist, and the rest. We’ve tossed aside the Rosetta stone of insight gleaned from Haidt’s study of human nature and gone right back to the same-old arguments, albeit better camouflaged behind the façade of sophisticated “academic” language, as Haidt also described:
“Smart people make really good lawyers and press secretaries, but they are no better than others at finding reasons on the other side. Perkins concluded that that “people invest their IQ in buttressing their own case rather than in exploring the entire issue more fully and evenhandedly.” – Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind
This, this intellectualism, this academicism, is a kind of bias among academics, left-leaning punditry, and elites (but I repeat myself) that is far more pernicious and far more harmful than mere partisan liberal bias. Would that it were so obvious and so simple.
No. It’s more subliminal and more subversive than that. It’s imperious, patronizing, condescension hiding behind the smoke and mirrors of haughty academic intellectualism.
It’s demeaning, belittling, dismissive, insulting, and disenfranchising of EXACTLY the people wearing the Gilets Jaune and voting for Brexit and Trump; and it’s PRECISELY why they’re doing so.
> It’s not nationalism, it’s not populism, it’s not a cult of personality; it’s not racism or fascism or Nazism or bigotry or uninformed rubes voting against their own self-interest.
I agree that the “the revenge of the forgotten class” isn’t encompassed adequately by those things, and I sympathize at the Trump movement being both misinterpreted and overly generalized. I see and hear it all the time with my liberal friends. But the movement most certainly includes every one of those things you mentioned, even if they are all subsets and together don’t fairly circumscribe the movement. You’re fond of ignoring that terms you disparage have reasonable definitions, that you’re effectively saying things like, “there’s no such thing as nationalism, populism, etc.”; you like to ignore those definitions on the way to making larger points. But those operating concepts are exactly out there, and working actively, along with people who aren’t at all well-circumscribed that way. Locked away from all your writings is any mention or treatment of extremism strains of the right; rightist revolt is always justified, always appropriate, and always the only salve for society’s ills, caused by the universally-extremist leftists,
In fact, there’s very much a leftist version of a forgotten class as well, talked about and deeply motivating in the exact same way. There’s a symmetric feeling among a different demographic (city, minority, the young) that their government isn’t listening, and that a radical takeover of the affair is all that will work. It’s not just a wackier version of the wacky left, with a conservatism that hovers at the center of all things morally and rationally, devoid of any extremism worth considering. The left’s version of a “forgotten class” response isn’t necessarily wondrous, either, made up of most of the often extremist and unrealistic Bernie Sanders fans. I like your and the referenced article’s use of the term revenge, because it implies what I see a lot on the left and right: there’s not a tremendous amount of clarity of purpose or care around alternative results, but more of an emphasis on upending what’s maddening. You’re describing remarkably symmetric aspects of extremism from one far side of the court, and seem utterly blind to any symmetrical aspects. It’s all smarty-pants and socialists that cause all the problems, you contend, unfairly using Haidt as a logical anchor; revenge, you contend, is the province of the right, and it simply means better, and will result in giant improvements if only given the chance.
This is your common delineation of Haidt’s work as an anthem for conservatism, when in fact it was a quite reasonable attack on the excesses of the left, and a reasoned justification for principles that are shared by left and right. The perspective falls out of your ‘liberals don’t value loyalty’, etc., the long-discredited (by Haidt himself) dualism that stakes a rightist claim on decency, where useful care, helathy loyalty, and a sense of the sacred is almost exclusively conservative. You like to go boolean in a world of relatively slight tendencies; important differences, to be sure, but not differences of kind, not opposites, not great vs sucky, not sensible vs extremist.
You mentioned globalization, elitism, and an intellectual class as the bugaboos in the picture. The left’s version of this complaint you see as so unique to the right is globalization (global capitalism), elitism (via wealth), and an anti-intellectual class. An irony of your one-sided castigation of the left and lionization of the right is the fundamental symmetry that is inherent in a great deal of Haidt’s work and, more broadly, political psychology in general; that symmetry feels self-evident to me in this concept of revenge. There is no moral advantage inherently more correct in either form of revenge, though of course we all have our opinions on what’s on the mark and what isn’t. The point in doing the extremism you’re typically lionizing in the most generalizable way possible is mainly to get to something, anything different, the same way Lenin wanted something different than the czar, the same way Poland revolted against leftism and put in a government that tried to destroy the independence of their courts.
“Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program; in its paternalistic, nationalistic and power adoring tendencies it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism; and with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual, and often mystical propensities it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place.” F A Hayek, The Road to Serfdom.
You’re right to point out the more likely, fundamental role of social chimp traits that we have by nature. And BTW I greatly appreciate your work exploring the applications of Moral Foundations Theory beyond narrow academic studies. Nevertheless, the chimp-trait theory risks becoming too ahistorical or acultural. For example, the geopolitical analyst George Friedman makes a strong case that, in the western world since the 19th century, the principle of self-determination of peoples has always tied *liberalism* (true liberalism) to nationalist anti-imperialism, i.e., liberalism was born as the idea that distinct groups—bround by a common language, history, and *fate*—ought to be free to choose their own national leaders, and those leaders ought to remain accountable to the nation, unlike the remote, imperial administrations which Europeans fought for hundreds of years. Friedman’s argument is that the recent globalization project of US & EU elites is just the latest iteration of repeated attempts to bring diverse nations under imperial control.
The Necessity of Nationalism
Budapest, 6 Nov. 2018
Excellent comment with which I agree.
I chose to keep this post relatively short and to the point. The description of how nationalism is really just human groupishness adds a level of nuance, and therefore length, that I was afraid would detract from my message.
But perhaps leaving it out does the same thing. You make a good point.