Is Cosmopolitan Communitarianism still Possible? Was it ever?

by Rich Yeselson on April 30, 2015

The migrant crisis in the Mediterranean is a tragic variation of a phenomena we have seen time and again around the world: the indifference, deep ambivalence or, at worst, rage directed at “others” from homogeneous, native populations in the advanced nations. This is a defining social condition of Western Europe, the UK, and Scandinavia today and there is no need to rehearse here the many episodes that fall into this category. Influential splinter parties from UKIP in the UK to the venerable National Front in France to the Danish People’s Party to the Netherland’s Party for Freedom have constructed potent working class voting blocs around anti-immigrant and anti-Islamist platforms.

In the United States, of course, the “splinter party” is, in fact, one of the two major parties, the GOP. Millions of white, working class Americans and owners of small businesses advance a restorationist ethno-nationalist politics, not only opposed to Latino immigrants, but also to native “others”, like African-Americans and single, sexually active women who, in their view, unduly benefit from government “handouts”, be it health insurance or birth control. All the while, elderly whites vehemently defend their own welfare gerontocracy of Medicare and Social Security, which they believe they have rightfully “earned.”

Such conflicts are not merely endemic to advanced nations, but also extend to hybrid emerging polities like South Africa. Recently, violent demonstrations broke out in Johannesburg and Durban against immigrants, often from other African countries, whom native South Africans fear are taking their jobs. http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/16/africa/south-africa-anti-foreigner-attacks/ While counter-demonstrations expressing social solidarity have also been held, the pattern seen elsewhere has recurred: dominant native populations fear the loss of economic and cultural privileges—even “privileges” which themselves are, at best, relative, as in the case of South African’s black working class—to either endogenous or externalized “others.”

As a matter of historical development, we have seen welfare states and social democracies developed in then ethnically/racially homogeneous countries (UK/Western Europe/Scandinavia) and a highly federated and partial welfare state developed in the US, in which rabid resistance to its expansion is a dominant feature of the political culture. We have the interesting case of Australia, in which a welfare state has, with many challenges and continued racism, only somewhat incorporated the Aborigine natives, and where, also, the conservative major party (the Liberals, as it happens) is the only one among the advanced democracies to rival the radical extremism of the American Republican party. So Australia, too, does not quite pass the test of a fully cosmopolitan communitarianism. Perhaps Canada comes closes among today’s advanced nations, but its level of social provision is far below that of many European nations.

European welfare states/social democracies were created at a time when national populations were almost entirely native and white. For example, the Attlee/Bevan moment in the postwar UK occurred when the non-native population was less than 2%. Today it’s more than 13%. Could the NHS have been created in today’s UK or would it have faced the hysterical opposition that even the modest and incremental private insurance based Obamacare  confronts in the US? To put it somewhat differently: If in 1951, the UK’s non-white population had been what it is today, would the Conservative Lion, Winston Churchill, in his last term as PM, have, instead of retaining NHS, rolled it back if he had encountered an aroused working class constituency who resented benefits conferred upon the non-white population?   The same questions might be asked about the historical inception of Germany’s “social market” (with grim ironies noted) and the Scandinavian social democracies.

In what surely would have prompted the Milton Friedman of “Capitalism and Freedom” to say, “I told ya so”, the insularity of the anti-immigrant, anti-”other” working class/small business political cultures in the advanced nations is today often countered, in part, by the deracinated cosmopolitanism of the capitalist professional-managerial class. As Christopher Lasch noted decades ago (and, well, Marx, many decades before that), the capitalist class knows no national boundaries and now views any potential market, regardless of its demographic profile, as fair game. The cultural/gendered/racial anxieties of threatened workers and small business owners (who practice what the historian Steve Fraser has called a parochial “family capitalism”) are, simply, bad for transnational corporations. We need look backwards only a few weeks to the controversy over the passage of Religious Restoration laws in Indiana and Arkansas to see a salient example of this: the titans of corporate American, from Eli Lilly to Apple to even “down home” Walmart, rallied to oppose anti-gay discrimination—really just another way of imposing the hoariest of business nostrums: “The customer is always right.”

Of course, while capitalism is very good these days at expressing this kind of anodyne cosmopolitanism, it has never been so good at the communitarian portion of my post’s title. This is supposed to come from “the people,” via the second phase of Polanyi’s “double movement,” designed to tame a market economy that threatens to devour civil society and the family itself. But if the people are themselves riven by age-old fears of difference—some cultural, some economic, some, in context, entirely understandable—where will the communitarianism and its political cousin, egalitarianism, come from in the 21st century? In short, can nation who have constructed communitarian economies and cultures sustain them in the face of threats from cosmopolitanism? And can those—perhaps principally the United States—who have, in may ways, enviable, if still fraught, multi-ethnic/racial societies, ever attain the levels of communitarianism and egalitarianism reached by many European nations when they were, in fact, far more ethnically homogeneous than they are today?

These are the questions I wish to raise with my colleagues at CT and its readers.

{ 57 comments }

1

Mark Field 04.30.15 at 4:24 pm

I don’t pretend to have a definitive answer, but I’m pretty confident of one factor: economic security. If there’s one lesson we can glean from the past, it’s that people generally are less willing to support a comprehensive social safety net when times are hard. The best way to create that support, then, is to create economic conditions in which people feel secure and prosperous.

And yes, this is a chicken and egg situation.

2

Thomas Beale 04.30.15 at 4:49 pm

…have constructed potent working class voting blocs around anti-immigrant and anti-Islamist platforms

This sloppy formulation belies the weakness of this analysis, which is that today’s social tendencies fit neatly in to either a capitalist class or ‘working class blocs’. Many European countries are anything but homogeneous. Citizens are belatedly struggling to remember and safeguard the the pillars of their modern secular democracies we owe to the enlightenment period and subsequent revolutions. Various basic freedoms of thought and action are now cast in stark relief against dangerous ideological Islamism.

It’s true that not all reactions to Islamism are thoughtful or practical, confusing ideologues with the waves of immigrants escaping the very carnage which so rightly repulses all decent people. In the US things are even worse – there is so little clarity of thought on the importance of protecting secular democracy (including for protecting the rights to private observance of the religious) that many are persuaded that the answer is a retreat into bellicose religiosity not far removed from that of the likes of al Qaeda and ISIS, the purported enemy.

This is all conflated with fears of domestic job insecurity / precarity, largely a result of various forms of corporate attack on the economy: offshoring; tax evasion; unbalanced worker contracts and of course the 2008 depression, created by the perfect storm of de-regulation, incompetence and unfettered greed.

‘Capitalism’ is almost too abstract a concept to usefully talk about these days. We would be better to talk of the ‘corporate plutocrat class’ – uber-CEOs sailing from one meaingless corporate assignment to the next; uber market players and hedge-fund owners; and uber-bankers – a class of people steadily extracting biblical amounts of personal wealth from the working economy and salting it away in a private second world of yachts, premium real estate, art, casinos, diamonds, tropical islands and mountains of cash.

3

Scott P. 04.30.15 at 4:49 pm

I think the answer is yes, it is possible, and it’s important to keep in mind that from the perspective of 100 years ago, to have come even as far as we have would have been considered impossible.

It just won’t happen quickly. My standard prediction for communitarian cosmopolitanism to become the global norm is around 300 years.

4

BenK 04.30.15 at 5:21 pm

It does seem pretty straight-forward: the broadest options are between a have/have not system that is, say, 80% haves and 20% have nots, or a system that is 1% haves and 99% have nots. The forces that keep those two going are very different. The first is driven by loyalty, tribal/community identity; the second is driven by global scaling and long tailed distributions. The first is democratic and tyrannical in that sense, the second is plutocratic and tyrannical in that other sense. The first is tolerated by the majority because the majority is in the haves. The second is because the majority can imagine itself among the haves.

There is no other robust stable state given fundamental principles. Even random fluctuations are enough to generate self-reinforcing deviations from some awkward equality of either opportunity or outcome, or even a ‘meritocratic’ adjusted form that takes into account health challenges at birth, to the 80/20 or 1/99 situation.

5

david 04.30.15 at 5:39 pm

belgium’s pretty ethnically fractious. it nearly broke down in civil war in 1968. how’s its welfare state?

6

MPAVictoria 04.30.15 at 5:49 pm

“If there’s one lesson we can glean from the past, it’s that people generally are less willing to support a comprehensive social safety net when times are hard.”

Do we know this? The New Deal was implemented in the 30’s and NHS was implemented in a Britain that was still recovering from WW2.

7

Rich Puchalsky 04.30.15 at 5:57 pm

The fundamental failure of past left analysis is looking to the working class as the progressive or revolutionary force. It clearly isn’t. The reliable left-leaning classes are the professional and creative classes below the 1%: the cosmopolitanism of capitalism together with the inability to loot that makes communitarianism possible.

8

Mark Drugee 04.30.15 at 5:58 pm

“anti-Islamist platforms.” on the one hand and “single, sexually active women”. Sounds like the islamists need to join the UKIP /Republican parties?

A society that doesn’t share a common belief or value system will struggle to accomplish much of anything, especially in an era when political minorities often have vetos against the majority (speaking for democracies only, obviously).

What do I share in common with a law breaking immigrant who comes to this country in search of a better life? Physical space and our shared humanity. Kinda like what those Christians shared with the Muslims on the life boat in the Mediterranean, till one group decided they didn’t need to share the space with the other.

9

geo 04.30.15 at 6:00 pm

Scott P @2: I’d say 325 years is a more reasonable estimate.

10

L2P 04.30.15 at 6:09 pm

“Do we know this? The New Deal was implemented in the 30’s and NHS was implemented in a Britain that was still recovering from WW2.”

Thats’ true. I think the argument isn’t about any welfare state, but a welfare state in a non-homogeneous state. For example, the New Deal was notoriously racist and drafted to exclude blacks from vast amounts of social welfare. A New Deal in prosperous times might have looked more like inclusive. The NHS, on the other hand, was created in hard times in a homogeneous state and excluded no one. So the theory is that a homogeneous, but not a multi-ethnic, country can have a decent welfare state in times of trouble. And the hope is that a prosperous, multi-ethnic country might be able to have an inclusive welfare program despite all the lingering racism, resentment, etc.

11

TM 04.30.15 at 6:21 pm

Neoliberalism by and large promoted capital mobility without also meaningfully reducing barriers to migration, except for a small segment of elite migrants (well educated, entrepreneurial etc.). The somewhat exception to the rule is the EU, which on the one hand has surrounded itself with a huge wall and moat to keep out non-EU citizens but has also established unprecedented freedom of movement within the union, now consisting of a motley assortment of more than 20 members. How has that affected the welfare states? Clearly homogeneity is not an option any more in any member state.

12

TheSophist 04.30.15 at 6:31 pm

Judt argues in Postwar that it was the very deprivations of WWII that made it possible for (eg) the NHS to be truly universal – the idea that the entire population had suffered together, and now they could all benefit together. Coates developed this point in one of his essays on Postwar in The Atlantic (too lazy to dig out a link, sorry.) A phrase that sticks in my mind is that “war and welfare went hand in hand”.

13

Trader Joe 04.30.15 at 7:53 pm

@9 a good point

It will be interesting to see how the EU responds to the likely outflow of population from Greece should that country be forced to exit the Euro. You have the potential to create actual intra-EU economic migrants which in theory advanced should be just as unwelcome as their darker skined counterparts from North Africa and the ME.

14

lurker 04.30.15 at 8:00 pm

‘ A phrase that sticks in my mind is that “war and welfare went hand in hand”.’ (theSophist, 10)
The Germans have a word: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schicksalsgemeinschaft

15

Bruce Wilder 04.30.15 at 8:17 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 6: The fundamental failure of past left analysis is looking to the working class as the progressive or revolutionary force. It clearly isn’t.

I don’t understand why so much of the Left has so much trouble understanding that the working classes are composed of followers. They’ll mount the barricades when they are starving or angry about some salient and dramatic injustice that resonates with their own precarity. Neither political philosophy or program design occupy their off-hours.

I also do not understand why solidarity is always posed as a problem of race and not class. Maybe, the NHS could be introduced in a poor Britain after the enormous collective effort of WWII because it was one of the rare moments in British history when a vampiric hereditary upper class wasn’t draining the lifeblood out of the country.

Yes, the globalized, college-educated corporate class is carefully cosmopolitan in their manners, but who do we think is driving the privatization of public education? who runs the payday lenders?

The misplaced agency of the OP is remarkable. The Rich might have something to do with increasing inequality. Just a thought. (And, has anyone looked at what has happened in once socialist Sweden over the last twenty years? Do we really think this is about race, but not money?)

16

Bruce Wilder 04.30.15 at 8:20 pm

Trader Joe @ 11: It will be interesting to see how the EU responds to the likely outflow of population from Greece should that country be forced to exit the Euro.

This will be different somehow from the outflow of population driven by stubbornly staying in the Euro?

17

Ronan(rf) 04.30.15 at 8:21 pm

I don’t know. How could you answer the question in any sort of a convincing manner ? How do we define solidarity, communitarianism or even homogeneity in a clear way? I think focussing on race* or ‘othering’ obscures a lot here. A lot of European countries (as david implies) had internal regional, ethnic, class based divisions that were every bit as deep (deeper really) as the differences we see now. Looking at ‘foreign born’ solely as an indicator of potential societal division I think leaves out a lot.

I think it leaves out a lot of the context aswell; 2 world wars, the beginning of mass politics, the rise (and decline) of extremist politics in Europe, millions killed upsetting the demographic balance, the structure of the political economy better suited to mass political involvement.etc Surely cause and effect is backwards here ? ‘Solidarity and communitarianism ‘ was a result of the political economy rather than vice versa ? **

* I dont think race explains a huge amount about hostility to immigration either. I mean it obviously explains bits, but class (IMO) is much more important. In the UK the hostility is primarily levelled at those from Eastern Europe, in Southern Europe perhaps from Africa, but how the anti immigrant rhetoric works is largely dependant on migrant numbers and the socioeconomic make up of those migrants. Islamaphobia seems to be ideological more than racial, although there are obvious racial connotations.

** I also wonder about the US. My understanding is that a lot of the union building and working class politics was done by Catholic and Jewish immigrants ? Or is that just because they happened to be the urban working class at that time ? Is part of the reason (as well as race) that the US didnt have as all encompasing a welfare state because you had two relatively culturally distinct regions at different stage of economic development ? (ie a rural south and an industrialising north. A semi comparison here might be between mainland UK and Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century. Also, maybe not)
Those are genuine question by the way, I’ve always wondered about the answers.

18

Z 04.30.15 at 8:45 pm

European welfare states/social democracies were created at a time when national populations were almost entirely native and white.

I think there is an element of circular logic in that affirmation which, when unraveled, provides a very distinct perspective. In the case of France, it is arguable (and has been argued for instance by G.Noiriel in his momentous État, nation et immigration) that it is the inception of the welfare state in the time-period 1880-1930 in the most basic form of primary education (provided in exchange to enrollment to military service and national taxation) that transformed the denizens of France, many of whose spoke no or little French either because they spoke regional languages or because they were immigrants, into French citizens and not vice-versa. The further expansions occurred immediately after WWII and during a period of mass working immigration doubled with the return of one million pieds noirs so can hardly be said to follow from the particular homogeneity of the French society.

Noiriel showed in particular that it is the existence of clearly identified, tangible common good (in that particular case, education) that triggered the personal investment of people into the state, making them entering willingly into activities which in turn made them citizens. It is easy to speculate that, conversely, the end of the expansion of the welfare state and its roll-back under neoliberalism reforms coupled (in the EU) by the total lack of any tangible good the EU can claim to have provided for a significant percentage of the population of Europe in compensation to the real power it exerts on the lives of citizens is the cause, not the consequence, of the rising political expression of nationalistic xenophobia.

But if the people are themselves riven by age-old fears of difference […] where will the communitarianism and its political cousin, egalitarianism, come from in the 21st century?

Same it always did, if Noiriel is right: create a collective political institution that provides a tangible, concrete good to the public, and people will collectively invest in it, thereby becoming member of a new collective. In the case of the currently existing EU, the obvious proposition would be a single organization managed and funded at the EU-level providing social welfare, especially unemployment insurance.

19

bianca steele 04.30.15 at 8:52 pm

Ronan,

Part of the very short answer to your footnote is that the craft unions were initially reluctant to admit unskilled industrial workers and also to admit Catholics.

20

Chris Bertram 04.30.15 at 10:09 pm

I think it is easy to be misled by short-term trends here. “Nativist” parties have received a big boost since the 2008 crash because “others” are visibly someone to blame for the world been scary and out of control and because “the left” has been short on solutions. But I’d question the assertion of the OP that UKIP has constructed a “potent working class voting bloc” – it isn’t all that working class, and it isn’t all that potent.

Viewed from the UK at least the OP reads the reaction to the Mediterranean crisis wrongly. The public, as far as I can see, hasn’t reacted to it with rage or indifference. What they have done is to see it as a “humanitarian” crisis, somehow disconnected from concerns with immigration, which they are otherwise exercised about. That depoliticisation of the crisis may not be terribly rational, but I think it has wrong footed politicians somewhat.

As to the general thesis of the OP, that diversity can’t sustain the solidarity necessary for a welfare state, I’d say “not proven”. The strains on the welfare state are also about demography, about having an ageing population etc. Immigrants, who are younger, on average, than the relevant European populations and who pay in more than they take out, can be part of the solution to that.

21

Metatone 04.30.15 at 10:16 pm

Z makes a good point – the Bismarckian project (which while not socialist, did include elements of a welfare state) was a nation building project. The welfare state was part of the apparatus of creating a nation out of people who imagined themselves to be disparate (whether or not they look disparate to us now.)

On that point, I think the vast chasm that is the racial divide in the USA has obscured theorists there to how much antipathy can exist between regions of skin-tone homogeneity. Flemings/Walloons would indeed be the archetypal example of the moment – although you could invoke the Catalans and the Madrilenos too, or the English and the Scots…

All of which is to say (that which I usually end up saying) that the right tends to use sociology and culture very loosely, defining homogeneity as essential to socialism when it suits the right and then diversity as a threat to conservatism too…

It suited Friedman and others to claim that a “melting pot” couldn’t sustain social solidarity, less on evidence and more on principle. The evidence of the growth of the nation state seems rather in the other direction – every solidarity is constructed. Genetic similarity solidarity (bolstered by cultural forms, as seen in my native land, Yorkshire) stretches about 20 miles. What Friedman denies in claiming that it is the only form of solidarity is not only socialism, but any kind of democratic legitimacy.

Is all this to say that racism etc. is no problem? Not at all. But it does say that it is not an insurmountable problem. And that matters, because it is the trick of the right to claim that things are “impossible” and so that we must resign ourselves to a nasty, brutish life…

22

Chris Bertram 04.30.15 at 10:18 pm

Ryan Pevnick’s paper on social trust and the welfare state seems on point:

http://as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/11429/socialtrust.pdf

23

bob mcmanus 04.30.15 at 11:15 pm

“Is Cosmopolitan Communitarianism still Possible?”

Of course it is, and is already happening. In global cyberspace. I’m pretty close to saying “That is all” and pointing at the libraries/internet for the literature, observation and analysis. We need new transnational Lefts, the right is somewhat ahead of us.

I am certainly not a techno-utopian, nor can I provide all the answers as to how the new globalized communities work, or will work, or can be made to work. It/they will certainly look very different than the Bismarckian model, and will benefit unevenly, as the older communities did. It will not bring peace and prosperity to all, but more likely new forms of geographically distributed conflict and competition.

But I have no doubt it can and will be done, especially and necessarily if we can distribute the resources and wealth more evenly.

24

bob mcmanus 04.30.15 at 11:23 pm

Perhaps the last of 22 seems like begging the question, so I will rephrase the question.

How can the transnational cosmopolitan Left take from the rich and give to the poor, understanding of course that the TNCL should have no respect for the property laws within and between nation-states?

In a way, neo-liberalism should set us free.

25

Matt 05.01.15 at 12:09 am

The strains on the welfare state are also about demography, about having an ageing population etc. Immigrants, who are younger, on average, than the relevant European populations and who pay in more than they take out, can be part of the solution to that.

I had to quickly check the EU youth unemployment rate to see if I had missed a major development.

http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1036

No, youth unemployment is 21.7% by the most recent numbers provided. There is indeed an imbalance between increasing needs of people past working age and decreased contributions from people of working age. But to call this problem a “labor shortage,” as if wages were briskly rising and youths merely had to decide which employer-suitor’s offer to accept, is a serious misnomer. It’s going to get even worse as the labor intensity of the economy decreases while taxes on wages are still expected to provide for people past working age.

There are good reasons to support more immigration. “Labor shortage” isn’t one of them. Neither the USA nor the EU has had a problem of too many jobs for prospective workers in some years.

26

name withheld by flying saucer 05.01.15 at 12:42 am

I used to think that capitalism as we know it would be over in 100 years, but now I think that a widespread reconfiguration of the human prospect is right around the corner, perhaps within 20-30 years. There is an inflection point coming, when people will realize that money is no longer directly related to an individual’s economic value. This big change may seem unlikely, because money has a strong psychological hold, and because certainly we have been in the modern capitalist period for almost 300 years, and so we tend to think that the present time is just another tick of the clock in a stable era which is going to go on for a lot longer, and so we will continue to blame each other and continue to be forced into wars, and on and on. I doubt it, and I think that the logic and evidence leads in a very different direction. The exclusion of the Other, even where it is accomplished, does not stop the long-term disconnection of wages from productivity growth and the resulting growth of inequality in the advanced countries, and the developing countries surely will follow this trend. The first symptoms of it in the advanced countries are now appearing more frequently and, if there is no big war to divert the attention, they will continue to grow: 1. calls for greater taxation of the rich to support the needs of general welfare (which already polls at 70-80% “strongly in favor” in the US, as well as in almost every other nation) and 2. calls for a guaranteed universal income (which already come from voices not only on the left, but also on the right) which would give everyone a basis for developing their lives without the necessity of finding a vanishing job to survive. Other symptoms are beginning to surface, such as: 3. calls to greatly reduce the patent lengths on certain intellectual property especially software and medicines, and 4. growing discussion of what to do, when people are living a lot longer (a reality which now appears to be imminent), robots are able to do most of the productive work (give it 15-30 years; machine learning will even replace many or most white-collar jobs) and pharmaceuticals make everyone equally smart (hard to tell when, but probably a lot closer than we think). These numbered clauses may seem like rather disparate examples, but there is an underlying result in all of them: the public disconnection of money-value from a person’s worth. I think that this overall trend toward “utopia” has been hardwired since the early modern period, and of course many people have already expressed the logical conclusion, or various forms of it, since the 19th century, whether fancifully or seriously. I think we are all going to start taking it a lot more seriously. We are going to have to, because the implications are becoming important right now, because we need to start changing policy about the future of the kids, and money is at stake right now in education and training. Indeed cosmopolitan capitalism cannot help but aid this whole process, cannot help but engineer this outcome, because it must follow its own rules to expand markets, while this is still the main game (another version of its “contradictions”). Yes, there are a lot of blustering knuckleheads and big-money political donors who are annoying the rest of us, and there are going to be big bumps along the way, but the choice isn’t simply between A. anti-“other” labor/small entrepreneurs, on the one hand, and B. the anodyne cosmopolitan capitalists, on the other hand. In fact, the great majority of people are NOT haters, and also do not ascribe the tenets of modern economics to the category of “scientific truth”, if they think about it at all. So we will be ready to throw the new “ancien regime” overboard.

27

Nick 05.01.15 at 2:42 am

This is probably a profoundly stupid take on this issue — but I think that ‘communitarianism’ is very difficult, in an era of high housing prices. In Canada, to purchase a house requires a large down payment and a very long mortgage — anyone who aspires to live independently has to accept debt, and a basic commitment to work that lasts many decades. Reject this, and you find yourself outside of the housing market in your mid-30s, unable to find enough resources to buy a real house, and past the age when you want to live in a condo, or a starter house. Losing a job in this system is a disaster — and years of wretched growth have made good jobs difficult to come by. The dignity of an adult life is not universal.

I’ve never read a utopian anarchist fantasy where housing prices were high and people had to work to stay in their homes — usually in those people wander around freely and live with each other in easy casual arrangements (e.g. Anarres). In the developed world, you can’t do that without getting shut out of the ‘respectable’ life path; but the migrants coming into Europe are trying to. It’s a form of freedom, picking up and leaving your home — but they’re coming to a place where that kind of freedom is not broadly available.

28

Rich Puchalsky 05.01.15 at 2:46 am

Bruce Wilder: “The misplaced agency of the OP is remarkable. The Rich might have something to do with increasing inequality.”

Of course they do, but I think that you’re assigning the working class too little agency. The elite could not successfully increase inequality without the active agreement of major parts of the working class. Inequality is useful both to the people at the top, who get to control society, and to people near the bottom, who get to control the people just under them.

The left critique of the elite is pretty much known to everyone by now, and major voting blocs don’t go along with the right merely because they’re “followers”. They actively disagree with the left critique. Chris Bertram @ 19 writes that the left has been short on solutions, but the reason for this is that the left thinks of itself as being in service of a group that exists pretty much only in its own imagination.

29

Brett 05.01.15 at 3:51 am

Aren’t most US and European cities a refutation of the idea that you need homogenity to get communitarianism? They tend to have high levels of redistribution/social welfare policies along with more diverse populations.

30

John Quiggin 05.01.15 at 5:51 am

The Australian conservative parties are a mixed bag. There’s an influential subgroup that’s pretty much an offshoot of the US Repubs, .ut their support base is much smaller – for example, Christian conservatives are a fringe group in Oz politics, unlike the US>

31

SN 05.01.15 at 7:15 am

Do certain states in the US confound this at all? Some US states are much more generous in their social welfare policies than other US states and this does not appear to track diversity–but it does seem to track ethnic and racial tension to some degree.

32

Nick Rowe 05.01.15 at 12:25 pm

“Perhaps Canada comes closes among today’s advanced nations, but its level of social provision is far below that of many European nations.”

Far below?? I’m not even sure it’s below the average European level.

Maybe the difference is that most Canadians mostly feel that immigration is mostly under our own control, rather than being imposed as an elite project or an unstoppable tide. If you feel you have *invited* people to live with you, it makes a big difference to how you think of them.

33

Ronan(rf) 05.01.15 at 12:32 pm

Bianca @18 – thanks. I actually remember you making that point on a past thread where I asked the same question (but by the time I got back the thread had closed) I might be back in a bit to ask a follow up ….

34

Watson Ladd 05.01.15 at 2:14 pm

In 1917 a multiethnic empire became a socialist state, and the population of Germany revolted in support. We also should not naturalize racism: someone teaches the workers to be racist, as opposed to banding together for support.

Even as late as the 1960’s segments of the labor movement supported the Civil Rights movement.

35

bianca steele 05.01.15 at 2:20 pm

Ronan, thanks for letting me know–sometimes it’s tough to remember what comments I posted and what I decided to leave for another time.

36

Alex 05.01.15 at 2:59 pm

The emergence of a multicultural society in the UK happened literally in parallel with the construction of the welfare state – the Empire Windrush arrived in the same year as the NHS, to dramatise the point. As in France, rather than a country with no immigrants setting up a welfare state, the arrival of immigrants and the expansion of the welfare state literally happened at the same time. I don’t know quite where you’d put the end of the expansion of the welfare state – the mid-70s things like the Equal Pay, H&SW, and the 1978 Rent/Housing Acts? or do we include the big university expansion under Thatcher? – but it’s hard to match it to any particular event of immigration. (The Immigration Act ’71, which ended the big postwar wave, is from 1971 as it says on the tin; the big central/eastern European wave starts in the 1990s, post-Thatcher.)

37

Dan Kervick 05.01.15 at 3:17 pm

But if the people are themselves riven by age-old fears of difference—some cultural, some economic, some, in context, entirely understandable—where will the communitarianism and its political cousin, egalitarianism, come from in the 21st century?

Well, I suspect war has been a big nurturer of community spirit and egalitarianism historically. If we want to find non-military replacements for that force, we need to build solidarity around other large and ambitious national projects – strategic plans for transformation and development requiring a patriotic spirit of commitment, and defined medium and long term objectives. Powerful and enduring communal bonds can’t be maintained around goals and ideals that don’t extend much beyond the sphere of fleeting, merely personal gratifications. The historically recent obsession with ideas like “self-organization” and “emergence”, and the hostility to planning of almost all kinds, leads to drift, purposeless and dissolution.

The rise of nativist parties and factions is a predictable reaction to decades of neoliberal social destruction, with its free flows of capital and people, its radical individualism in the sphere of personal relationships, and its hostility to political communities that seek to achieve anything beyond the role of property-rights referee and interpersonal dispute arbitration. The zany, laissez faire idea of completely open borders, an extension of the neoliberal ethos popular in some quarters, if it were ever to come to pass, would finally reduce nearly all relationships to commercial and opportunistic ones, solidify the emerging world system of hierarchical control by concentrated and organized private capital, and ring the death knell of democratic political communities that play anything beyond an atavistic ceremonial role.

Preserving some measure of healthy and sustainable liberality in the area of immigration requires preserving some rules about the pace and quantity of population flows, expectations of assimilation and defined political community identities. It really is possible to do this without tilting over into extreme ideas about The Other, or positing an exclusively valuable Us against a worthless Them based on racial or other biologically inherited identities.

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JohnD 05.01.15 at 3:41 pm

Watson Ladd, I’m not sure which multi-ethnic empire you’re referring to, but I think we can agree that the subsequent (very short) histories of both free Russia and non-Hapsburg Austro-Hungary do not give unqualified support that democratic multi-ethnic nations work. At all.

Also, the whole socialist revolution in Germany (a) failed dismally and (b) was in the context of millions of workers actually starving and dying every year in the service of a lost cause. I think the fact that they kept at it for 4 years suggests that Dan Kervick’s thesis of ‘war as the great unifier’ is a more plausible hypothesis than ‘workers will revolt in favour of oppressed masses elsewhere in normal circumstances’.

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David 05.01.15 at 4:09 pm

Lots of good points made already but for what it’s worth:

– the NHS and the Welfare State were both part of a larger design. The idea was simple: full employment and high economic growth meant that poverty would fall, health would improve and social services costs (unemployment benefit etc) would be very low. This system actually worked very well until the 70s, and could have been continued. It was dismantled for ideological reasons, and the enormous strains placed on the Welfare State by neoliberal policies have been used as a justification for dismantling it even faster. The post-war economic policies created a boom which actually required immigrants to fill gaps in the labour market. This is obviously no longer the case.
– I agree we should be careful about simply dismissing white working class voters as racists. In fact, the few journalists who have bothered to interview prospective FN voters in France have discovered that their main concerns are economic insecurity and a sense of complete abandonment by the French political system to an incomprehensible mishmash of European regulations and faceless multinationals. Immigration is feared primarily as an attempt by employers to cut costs still further by bringing in cut-price labour from abroad and force down wages and benefits even further. (The evidence for this is mostly anecdotal, but it does appear to be happening to some extent). FN voters tend to be younger than average (unsurprising when unemployment among young people is officially 25%) but also relatively well educated.
– It is of course part of the neoliberal design to destroy communities, and solidarity between and within groups. Only when everyone is the enemy of everyone else will the perfectly rational economic model work properly. It’s not a bug in the modern world, in other words, it’s a feature.

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Rich Yeselson 05.01.15 at 4:42 pm

a) Of course, not all white working class people are racists, but that’s not even the point. In fact, the reference I made about South African **black** working class people protesting immigrant workers argues that the logic is about socio-economic “othering”, not just white racism, per se, which is just one large component of othering.

b) Many people have made a variation on the point about “neo-liberals” or capitalists practicing divide and conquer strategies and and undermining social solidarity in various ways. Um–yes. That’s a given! So acknowledging ruling class determination to inscribe hierarchy merely makes my point in a different register. Given that a powerful, considered elitist opposition to solidarity is, in fact, a given, those advocating for the second half of the “double movement” have a very great challenge. This isn’t a matter of **who is at fault.** Blaming the bad guys doesn’t change anything–it only underscores how difficult the challenge is. The bad guys will always be bad, after all (*by definition*, they’re at fault)–the question is: what will the response be? What will it look like–what will be its strategic logic?

It’s kind of like saying in 1955 or so, “Well, white Southern Apartheid has systematically terrorized and controlled black people in the South for many decades, and before that there was chattel slavery. So nobody should be surprised that black people have not risked their very lives to topple it.” No–nobody should have been surprised. Social struggle, pitched at that world historical level, is very hard. But, as Dr. King, Bayard Rustin, Fannie Lou Hamer, Robert Moses and others understood, that is what was required. Merely citing how profound and relentless is the opposition to social change only begs the question of how that opposition is to be overcome.

If there weren’t such intense opposition from those in power, the whole thing would be pretty easy–so recurrently noting that doesn’t get us very far.

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Rich Yeselson 05.01.15 at 5:01 pm

One other thing. If the response to what I just wrote is, “It’s not a question of ‘bad guys’, it’s the **structure** of [capitalism/neo-liberalism/white supremacy/patriarchy]”, again that doesn’t change how great the challenge is–that only changes the language we use to describe it. I’m happy talking about either historical actors or the structures those actors are embedded in and, sometimes, transcend.

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Rich Puchalsky 05.01.15 at 5:43 pm

I don’t even like the terms “divide and conquer” or “social solidarity”, because they beg the question. Are elites practicing divide and conquer strategies? That only sets up the elites as the important actors, while the elements of the working class that are divided and conquered are merely fools and patsies. But what if some parts of the relationship are the other way around? Perhaps a mass followership creates an elite that will predictably act to increase hierarchy (I agree that it doesn’t have to be a classic racial hierarchy: it can be based on anything) that will comfortably set them up with the only social rewards that they really want. Maybe they really don’t want social solidarity, not because they’ve been fooled, but because they really don’t see why an equal share of society is better for them than being one step up.

What would really be easy would be if the intense opposition was “from those in power”. The left knows how to deal with that. But the left can’t even get a reliable electoral majority.

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Z 05.01.15 at 6:43 pm

Many people have made a variation on the point about “neo-liberals” or capitalists practicing divide and conquer strategies and and undermining social solidarity in various ways.

I’m not sure I’m supposed to count myself in these many people, but if so, I would like to record that I don’t think this describes accurately my position. As many people wrote (and as is argued at length in the link from Chris @21), homogeneous communities are not natural phenomena, they are engineered processes. Saying that neoliberal policies jeopardize the social conditions that historically lead to the engineering of the political communities we are accustomed to and that conversely an expansion of the welfare state would probably trigger the emergence of new political communities is 1) an empirical statement with a well-defined truth value 2) very different from saying “”neo-liberals” are bad guys” (BTW, I don’t understand the need of scare quotes around neoliberal, especially as nobody actually wrote the words neo-liberals in the thread as far as I can see) or “neoliberalism is a bad structure.” That said

[W]hat will the response be? What will it look like–what will be its strategic logic?

If one believes the above empirical statement is true, then there is a clear path forward: engineer the creation of a new community by the deliberate and forceful expansion of social welfare. And as for how to argue in favor of such a strategy, people are not stupid: when they are offered high quality universal education, health care and social insurance, they are glad to be part of it (and there is even a very decent economical argument that for each of these area a universal single payer system is the most economically efficient arrangement). When it is taken away from them chunk by chunk, well, they blame the élites (not always unreasonably) and they vote Front National.

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cassander 05.01.15 at 7:00 pm

>In the United States, of course, the “splinter party” is, in fact, one of the two major parties, the GOP. Millions of white, working class Americans and owners of small businesses advance a restorationist ethno-nationalist politics, not only opposed to Latino immigrants, but also to native “others”, like African-Americans and single, sexually active women who, in their view, unduly benefit from government “handouts”, be it health insurance or birth control. All the while, elderly whites vehemently defend their own welfare gerontocracy of Medicare and Social Security, which they believe they have rightfully “earned.”

Rarely have I read anything less charitable or more absurd. Do they also murder orphans for the sheer fun of it? And please, show me the polling that shows millions of elderly whites eager to deny SS and Medicare to blacks, or elderly blacks not defending their entitlements with every bit as much vigor as their white counterparts. Certain populations benefiting disproportionately from government handouts is not “their view”, it’s mathematical fact.

>The cultural/gendered/racial anxieties of threatened workers and small business owners (who practice what the historian Steve Fraser has called a parochial “family capitalism”) are, simply, bad for transnational corporations

One of the many reasons we should encourage more capitalism, not less, and force the bigoted to personally pay the price for their bigotry. A pity you all are against that….

> it has never been so good at the communitarian portion of my post’s title.

except it is. Communitarianism and economic freedom are highly correlated, both within europe and beyond it. Markets require trust and, in the long run, build it.

On the broader question, though, we know for a fact that diversity reduces social trust, trust in government, civic participation, and any number of other positive social indicators. And I say this, because Putnam spent years trying to disprove his own data. There are only two solutions. One, extreme localism in government on the swiss model that allows people to identify with their geographic region rather than race/class/etc., and a rejection of identity politics in favor of the integrationism of the civil rights era. Unfortunately, both approaches run contrary to the interests of left wing political parties, particularly in the US.

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mdc 05.02.15 at 1:18 am

It wouldn’t be surprising if social-democratic programs, at least of the redistributive sort, continue their fitful, slow-bore rise in the US. Eg, Obamacare (already happened), medicaid expansion (red states will cave, one by one), universal pre-k (coming in an election cycle). Really empowering workers, however, requires a strong labor movement. Not sure diversity is to blame there. Or do you think so?

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Martin Bento 05.02.15 at 11:52 pm

Z, I think we have to consider that education, particularly of children,is a fairly special sort of welfare good. Saying “here’s some free primary education” is also a way of saying “give me your children” (and it is they, not you, who will ultimately become French). Some of the problems you mention, such as the non-universality of the French language, were presumably directly addressed by it. When the state takes a direct role in child-rearing,which is what public primary education amounts to, it can instill national values of both the overt (basic patriotism) and subtle (appreciation of French culture) sorts and create a citizenry that feels itself “French” and feels a bond with others who are “French”. It is not clear that other sorts of welfare services can do this, because they do not implicitly shape the personality.

Building a national identity is not a trivial thing to do. The pan-southern Slavic movement had been trying to cobble together Serbian, Croatian, and Slovene people on the basis of common history, culture, and interests since the 1830’s – this stuff preceded Marxism. This movement was later called “Yugoslavism”, and eventually did end up with a government over most of the region it wanted. Under Marshall Tito, ethnic nationalism was for decades ardently suppressed in favor of national unity and class politics. Welfare state? Tito delivered the goods. Yugoslavia was the most prosperous and freest of the Eastern European socialist states. Ultimately, though, it did not wash. Slovenes were Slovenes, Serbs were Serbs, Croats were Croats, and no one (or not enough people to make the difference) was Yugoslav. Yes, large communities within which communitarian policies will have popular support are ultimately constructions. Let’s not let that fact mislead us that constructing them is easy or certain. It is not. For this reason, I think we should be careful about tearing at the fabric of such communities as actually exist.

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john c. halasz 05.03.15 at 12:05 am

@44:

“Slovenes were Slovenes, Serbs were Serbs, Croats were Croats, and no one (or not enough people to make the difference) was Yugoslav.”

And shock therapy was shock therapy.

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Peter T 05.03.15 at 12:31 am

Actually, Tito did not so much suppress ethnic nationalism as limit it. Yugoslavia was comprised of ethnic republics, local languages were not repressed, the federal bureaucracy was small and apportioned according to ethnicity. It was kind of a miniature Austria-Hungary. French, British and German construction of ethnicity was much fiercer (and longer-lasting). For example, Irish, Welsh and Gaelic (and Breton, Basque, Flemish, German, Sorb, Polish…) were actively suppressed, local boundaries did not reflect ethnicity, the bureaucracy was large and centralised, and the key institutions (universities, courts, law, local parliaments) firmly Anglo, French or German.

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Martin Bento 05.03.15 at 5:32 am

Peter. I believe all that was mostly instituted in the reforms Tito made in 1974, a few years before he passed. Certainly, the system became much more decentralized at that point. However, Tito had been in power decades before, and Yugoslavism was much older than that. Also, local boundaries could not fully reflect ethnicity because there were Serb enclaves in Croatia, Bosnia, etc. This is one of the things that made the breakup so bloody.

But it could be that suppression of local identities did not go far enough. That was Milosevic’s argument, though it is easy to see that as an alibi for Serb nationalism, as most non-Serbs, I think, did see it. My point is that saying “well, let’s just establish a social welfare program” and dusting off your hands is a bit glib. Tito certainly did much more than that.

John, dramatic neoliberal reforms were not imposed on Yugoslavia till after the Kosovo war – that is, after the breakup was substantially complete. The IMF did impose some reforms in the 80s in exchange for loans, but nothing comparable to what became known as “shock therapy”. And the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes et. al. had been fighting about this stuff since before the country went socialist.

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Peter T 05.03.15 at 6:00 am

Martin

I take your point. I think my general point is that, historically, constructing a solid national political identity is a work of brute force and persuasion over a century or more. Not, as you say, a decade of being nice. I think this is has a larger force: the modern world – economic as well as political – was made with large amounts of violence, internal and external, applied over long periods. For a variety of reasons violence now costs much more and has less effect and is, as well, largely inapplicable to the issues humanity faces. The problem is coming up with alternatives.

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john c. halasz 05.03.15 at 6:46 pm

Martin Bento @49:

Wrong. IMF shock therapy was imposed at the beginning of 1989. Not entirely without reason, since there was a balance-of-payments crisis and annual inflation of 1200%. But the program destroyed the self-management system, caused high industrial unemployment, and stripped the ruling CP of any legitimacy, resulting in ethnic extremists emerging into the power vacuum. But once again, it might be asked whether alternative prescriptions for resolving the crisis wouldn’t have been preferable to such drastic neo-liberal reductionism. And Western liberals shouldn’t substitute hollow moralism for an understanding of their own ignorance and complicity. And Tito’s Yugoslavia had managed, with the means of ideology and coercion available to it, to construct a semi-successful and fairly cosmopolitan development state out of what had been an artificial and fractious country.

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Bruce Wilder 05.03.15 at 8:02 pm

And Western liberals shouldn’t substitute hollow moralism for an understanding of their own ignorance and complicity.

But, isn’t that the core virtue of neoliberalism as ideology: hollow moralism obscuring consequences and responsibility?

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Bruce Wilder 05.03.15 at 9:06 pm

Peter T @ 50: For a variety of reasons violence now costs much more and has less effect and is, as well, largely inapplicable to the issues humanity faces.

Violence is a common element in many quite different contexts. Here are four I can come up with, just from trying to sort out examples from news of current events

1.) epiphenomena of disorder and regime collapse
2.) violence as a means of centralized control (police state oppression)
3.) violence between organized belligerents contesting political control of territory (civil war)
4.) violence as a means of mass protest and altruistic punishment (rioting, insurrection)

All four of these non-exclusive categories, it seems to me, applied to varying phases of Yugoslavia’s breakup, and from varying points-of-view of actors in that drama.

More recently, there have been quite dramatic reductions in the cost of category 2.) The means of monitoring behavior, targeting and proportioning response have gotten way cheaper (normalized in some sense analogous to unit cost). The cost (to elites) of police repression appears to be declining rapidly relative to the resource cost (to elites) of an income distribution cum social welfare and public goods spending consistent with decency and a pretence of state legitimacy.

In a world facing increasingly severe resource constraints due to overpopulation, ecological collapse, peak oil etc, climate change and so on, using police repression to enforce mass exclusion from resource claims might not seem a wise, humane or far-sighted response, but it is a logical one. In many areas of the world, mass resource exclusion is likely to result in regime collapse — that is certainly a plausible interpretation of what is happening in the Middle East and in many other places. That it would be interpreted as “terrorist” extremism of some flavor or other, by people pursuing a strategy of violent repression is a matter of ideological convenience.

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William Timberman 05.03.15 at 10:17 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 53

In many areas of the world, mass resource exclusion is likely to result in regime collapse…

In ALL areas of the world, I would think — the only significant difference between one area/jurisdiction and another in the end being the time period over which the collapse takes place. There’s no way to prove such a thesis in advance of the event, but when I compare Libya, say, with Egypt and the United States, the elements of a failed state seem to exist in all three places. Libya was too weak, and its economy too primitive, for the low cost of repression to make any difference. In Egypt it has apparently made a difference, but subsidies from major players in the geopolitical Totentanz in the Middle East may be the only reason why. In the United States, I suppose one could argue that the present malfeasance in high places might evolve, like a bad science fiction novel, into a technology-supported minority barricaded in impregnable bastions/resorts here and there, and Mad Max landscapes everywhere else. Somehow, though, I doubt it’ll go that way. If I had to settle on one prediction, I’d say that increased instability, and more frequent calamities involving mass butchery of one kind or another are more likely than not.

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Peter T 05.04.15 at 6:00 am

BW

Drifting O/T

You have to look at costs not just in terms of the resources you devote to, say, policing, but what you lose from the frictions inherent in such an approach. If inner city Baltimore is cheaply policed, it also fails to employ half its youth. Further, it will fare badly in competition with some place where the youth are in jobs and broadly support the system (compare the productivity and wealth of Connecticut and Mississippi). To link to another post, this was the dilemma of Wilhelmine Germany, Imperial Russia, Ottoman Turkey and late Imperial China: they needed mass buy-in to the system to compete internationally but were unwilling to pay the price.

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david 05.04.15 at 7:42 am

but unlike Imperial China, Russia, and Germany, the acquiescence of a large class of semi-skilled young adult men isn’t really necessary for national wealth in the modern age

for a modern welfare state, these social groups of people are often even net drains on the state fisc

so Baltimore fails to employ half its youth. What of it? Are less dysfunctional localities hurting for masses of untrained labour, or do they too have youth unemployment, merely somewhat less of it?

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Z 05.04.15 at 10:44 am

I think we have to consider that education, particularly of children,is a fairly special sort of welfare good. Saying “here’s some free primary education” is also a way of saying “give me your children” (and it is they, not you, who will ultimately become French).

No, no, that’s the point of Noiriel work. If the thesis was “school turned children into French citizen” it would be a relatively well-known trope. Noiriel’s observation is that offering primary schooling in France (but other social goods elsewhere, with essentially the same effect) turned the parents and prospective parents into French citizens (because you had to register your children to school, that involved registering for taxes, that involved a trip to the préfecture and some interactions with the national civil servant etc. etc.)

It is not clear that other sorts of welfare services can do this, because they do not implicitly shape the personality.

Yes they do by the thousands of regular and on-going interactions they require of their members (and in fact, as we just saw, the effect of primary schooling on the parents, which was the determining factor, is rather indirect in that respect). Of course, establishing this requires rather sophisticated historical and sociological analysis but anecdotally, one can try to remember how alien is the experience of first working or settling permanently in another country (even another western democracy with the same official language) because the delicate balance of social institutions we have (often subconsciously) internalized is suddenly off.

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