Jacob Levy on “The Sovereign Myth”

by Chris Bertram on July 12, 2017

Jacob T. Levy has written a really interesting piece for the Niskanen Center, which has at its centre the myth that the postwar era was one of sovereign and national democratic control and the fantasy that’s what we need to restore, a fantasy that fuels both the current wave of right-wing populism but is also present in some of the thinking around Jeremy Corbyn.

The imagined Golden Age in these kinds of stories of the fall from democratic grace is the postwar era; it’s often referred to as les trente glorieuses, the thirty glorious years of high economic growth, broadly distributed, during which most Western market democracies built substantial welfare and regulative states after World War II. The chronology varies from one country to another, but roughly speaking the Golden Age is taken to have ended sometime around 1970-75, opening political space for a very different political-economic model to take hold — with the election of Thatcher and Reagan, and the reconciliation of Mitterrand’s Socialist government in France to the market. … The people [now] want to take back control of their economies and their societies. Thus, to critics of neoliberalism, the populist upsurge is a kind of dark morality play; we’re being punished for Margaret Thatcher’s sins.

In the lens of Levy’s piece, UKIP and Trump, Theresa May, David Goodhart and “Liberal” Brexiteers like Carswell and Hannan are on the same side of a key dividing line together with some left-Rawlsians in political philosophy, and other “relational egalitarians”, with people like David Miller, with Blue Labour, with the Furedites with their enthusiasm for national sovereignty, with Lexiters and national-sovereigntist socialism-in-one-country types like John McDonnell and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. On the other side of that line are cosmopolitans of various stripes and with seriously differing attitudes among themselves to “capitalism”, to property and markets. Sitting uncomfortably in the middle are some of the Labour “mainstream”, the US Democrats, and people like Macron, who want to hang onto the postwar international order but are nevertheless wedded to the nation state and the possibility of control in ways that foster the myth.

Whilst nation states may be unable to produce the level of control for democratic electorates that they falsely promise, they are rather good at classifying, organizing, excluding and generally bullying people, with miserable effects for the people and their families who don’t fit into the neat little containers of nationality and citizenship or who would challenge them. The people in the sovereigntist and middle groups have very different ideas about what they’d do with state power, of course, — some of them benign in aspiration — but they all want to bend state power to the production of their pet outcomes on behalf of democratic electorates within which the interests of the “national”, the ethnically dominant and the sedentary are over-represented compared to all the people who don’t fit. In my view, the renewed fostering of the “we” who want control and to take charge of “our” borders and “our” economy carries serious dangers for those others.

{ 97 comments }

1

Marcos 07.12.17 at 7:51 am

In my view, the renewed fostering of the “we” who want control and to take charge of “our” borders and “our” economy carries serious dangers for those others.

I agree, seems that the strenght of the populist theme is too strong, it may receed in periods of relative prosperity but comes back in periods of real or perceived relative downturns.

How far are we from a world where individual rights are not limited by nationality?

2

Chris Armstrong 07.12.17 at 9:26 am

A really interesting piece. I’ve always been sceptical of (e.g. contemporary republican) theories which seem to want to return to a kind of sovereignty which, as Jacob says, probably never existed, and this does a good job of debunking that myth. Two small points, though. First, Jacob seems to conjure up, and reject, a view that the state is or ought to be *wholly* sovereign over what goes on within a country or its economy, and I think to be fair that it’s a long time since anyone took that idea seriously. We surely have a continuum of sovereignty, and once we recognise that it becomes intelligible to claim that states in some ways exerted *more* control over the domestic economy than they do now (e.g. note capital controls, which were common in this period). (In some ways they seem to exert *more* control now than they did then, e.g. through a big pile of regulation which was unthought of in the earlier period, but I don’t want to argue that toss here). The point is that sovereignty over the economy isn’t all-or-nothing, so the devil is going to be in the detail.

Second, Jacob wants to debunk the idea that the successes of the trente glorieuses were achieved by conscious state policy. I’m sure that’s a valuable corrective too, but I think it might matter here whether we’re talking about the ‘economic growth’ or the ‘broadly shared in’ part. I can see what an argument to the effect that state policy did little to stimulate the relevant growth would look like. But what would the argument to the effect that the substantial redistribution in this period was not, at least in significant part, an outcome of conscious state policy look like?

3

Z 07.12.17 at 10:18 am

Thanks for that link, Chris.

I think it is good to unpack Levy’s argumentation. He argues
-That the modern state, and crucially for his purpose, the modern liberal, democratic state has historically been and remains in symbiosis with financial markets and with external control in finances (to paraphrase “one [should] take[] seriously the connections and affinities among the fundamental institutions of liberal society: the free commercial market, the constitutional democratic state, civil society governed by associational freedom, and the rule of impersonal law”).
-That, in particular, the idea of a meaningful liberal, democratic control of the economy by political power is a contradiction in terms. In fact, insofar as such a meaningful control exists and has existed (for instance in the area of taxation or welfare), it has always required independent external financial agents.
-So that it is not so much that (some) people pine for a control they never had, it is the feeling that they have lost control they react to and that feeling comes from dissatisfaction with outcomes, just like the feeling of being in control stemmed from satisfying outcomes.
-And finally, that a proper (intellectual) political stance starts with the realization that political outcomes are the emergent outputs of complex systems beyond human designs.

I take points 1 and 2 to be obviously historically correct and I happen to agree with point 4. However, I disagree about point 3. In fact, I believe that Levy can there be used to argue against himself. Why for instance did “credit market trust[…] representative governments that incorporated important parts of the commercial classes much more than they trusted absolute monarchs”? As he hints, simply because the embryonic institutions of representative democracy were recognized as having better track records at evaluating the outcomes of complex systems and at adapting policies to the observed outcomes than absolute monarchies. This epistemic property is, in turn, relatively stronger in the proportion that actors have a political voice; a mechanism to let their conditions be known. Each of the fundamental liberal institutions he identifies as being as the inseparable whole of a liberal, democratic society is such a voice.

So, like Levy, I don’t believe that people’s resentment can be accurately at a frustration at loosing control but I also doubt that it stems from a dissatisfaction with outcomes per se (to take a direct counterexample to Levy’s thesis, national sovereignty was believed to be and was actually extremely strong in France in the 1920s and 1930s whereas economic and social performance were lackluster at the very best), I believe that it stems from the feeling that they have been deprived of their voice, or in technical terms from the evaluation that the political system is not responsive to their concerns-an evaluation which is generally correct in many, though not all, contemporary advanced democracies (for various reasons)-and conversely the feeling of control in the 1950s/1960s came from the peculiar social circumstances that granted a singularly important voice to an increasing number of actors. And I would argue further that citizens actually understand this very well, so that for example the expected outcomes of the policies advocated by a given candidate are probably a less important determinant of the vote than the group this candidate is believed to represent (though of course in the long term, both categories tend to overlap for obvious reasons).

Seen under this perspective, the question of national sovereignty, especially if fixated on the adjective, is largely an obfuscation: the correct question is the nature of the mechanisms allowing for the management of complex emerging properties or equivalently but more concretely, the question of the bases on which voice mechanisms can be built and of the structures hindering them. With respect to Chris’s concluding remark, note that seen under this perspective, it is obvious that giving full political and social rights to any member of the society (and not reserving them to “nationals”) would be a positive step and that conversely any mantra of “us” sticking it to “them” is a step in the wrong direction.

4

Anders 07.12.17 at 10:47 am

Chris – you don’t like nation states on the grounds that they exclusively look after the ethnically dominant and the sedentary. I’d acknowledge welfare states aren’t morally that attractive from a globalist standpoint. However, if you weaken nation states and loosen borders to free up immigration, it seems to me you don’t extend the benefits of the welfare state to those currently excluded; you weaken the welfare state itself – since the median voter becomes more uncomfortable about redistribution and collective provision perceived to benefit ‘those people’. (Just as racism is surely the reason that the welfare state is so much weaker in the US than in Europe.)

Don’t you agree that weaker nation states and more immigration in Europe would make Europe more like the US?

This seems a grim outcome that would likely increase Gini indices within countries – but perhaps that’s your point: that the same thing would reduce the world’s Gini index.

5

Chris Bertram 07.12.17 at 11:42 am

@Anders, just in the interests of accuracy, I’d point out that I wrote that the interests of the ethnically dominant and sedentary are over-represented compared to others, I did not write that nation states look after them “exclusively”. Some of the effects you worry about can be addressed by making welfare schemes more contributory.

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Matt 07.12.17 at 11:54 am

if you weaken nation states and loosen borders to free immigration, it seems to me you don’t extended the benefits of the welfare state to those currently excluded; you weaken the welfare state itself.

This is clearly the goal with some libertarians like. Chandran Kukathas. (I’m always shocked to see people supposedly on the left citing his arguments), and I think it is probably also true for Levy, too. What comes after the state for these people is, not implausible, not a cosmopolitan world, but a neo-feudal world of personal power. People on the left should be much more skeptical of these arguments than they often are, I think.

7

Lee A. Arnold 07.12.17 at 12:03 pm

Jacob Levy writes, “the modern state is a creation of the bond market, and so is the modern democratic state.” This does not quite put the finger on it.

The crucial step was the compromise, between the royal sovereign and the private banks, on WHO would print the money. This compromise was, in retrospect, epochal. (Felix Martin calls it “the great monetary settlement”, and outlines it nicely in his remarkable little pop history, Money: The Unauthorized Biography, chapters 6-7.)

The bond markets and the continuance of transnational finance are two big outcomes of this.

But the main outcome was the system-wide stability of personal TRUST in the value of a state’s currency. It is personal trust, gained by an invented fiction. This fictive emotion enabled the early modern commercial & industrial revolutions. This fictive emotion, now belied, is a central motor of the rise in populist authoritarianism.

Yes, it is psychologically deeper than “economic anxiety”. However it is NOT a “spontaneous, emergent order”. It is emotion and politics.

Levy concludes, “There are hard questions about how we psychologically coexist with large-scale, impersonal social, cultural, and economic forces that are genuinely outside of anyone’s ability to just decide… [W]e need to think of politics itself as a result of human action but not human design and decision, which even those who understand spontaneous and emergent orders in economics and society have been reluctant to do.”

Let’s go one step further and encourage all Hayekians to understand that Hayek’s “spontaneous order” is contradictory intellectual nonsense. It is emotion and politics.

Here is what we do: We decide what people NEED physically. We make sure everybody receives it: food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, transportation, retirement security.

How would we do that? Define a minimum, provide it by the sovereign printing the money (if taxation aren’t enough), and control the inflation by the central bank. If anyone wants to invent something new, and to reap the market rewards, let ’em do it.

If it means we need to revisit the great monetary settlement, we do that too. (Indeed the Bank of England is studying these very issues, now.) One thing this is not? It is not beyond our ability to decide.

8

MFB 07.12.17 at 12:05 pm

I can’t get at the Levy article, but I’d take some issue with your observation here:

“Whilst nation states may be unable to produce the level of control for democratic electorates that they falsely promise, they are rather good at classifying, organizing, excluding and generally bullying people”

Your first point there is almost certainly false. (If it’s Levy’s point, sorry to personalise; however, you do seem sympathetic to it.) That is, it’s not that nation-states are inherently undemocratic, as you seem to be claiming. What appears to have happened is that as a result of a very conscious effort, the plutocracy has taken over most nation-states and is running them to their own advantage (and this to a much greater extent than they were doing in, say, 1965). This isn’t exactly a novel observation, it’s one made by classical American liberals like Frank and Krugman. So what is happening here is that a corrupt distortion of the nation-state, carried out by an odious fraternity of greedy special interest activists, is being used to demonise the nation-state itself.

Your second point is, of course, true. Nation-states are good at exercising power over people, and generally speaking, divide and rule is a common tactic in those nation-states. However, the same was true of my platoon in the Army. The same is true of McDonalds. The same is probably true of most entities which are capable of exercising any actual power. Therefore, if you are going to have a substantial-sized entity, such as the UK or the EU, you need to have some mechanisms to restrain that power, or guide it, and if those mechanisms are not controlled by the majority of the population, then they will be controlled by a minority. In the short run minorities might actually perform better than majorities — the Park dictatorship in South Korea had its points if you didn’t dare to discuss politics or corruption — but in the long run, as South Korea shows, minority rule is almost always disastrous.

Now, if you say “sovereignty is a bad idea, we need to hand over the decision-making to someone somewhere else who knows what they’re doing, unlike the people of our country”, which is what you seem to be saying, you are basically taking the minority rule position by default. Someone somewhere else will do the right thing — what the minority in your country want — unlike the majority, who want to do the wrong thing. But there is a special problem there; someone somewhere else has no particular interest in supporting even the most elementary positive developments in your country. As everyone in Africa, Asia and Latin America noticed in the 1980s, if you hand over control of your economy to unelected, unaccountable, ideologically-motivated bureaucrats in Washington or Geneva, surprise surprise, your economy does not improve on the whole. The same, I would think, applies to most other aspects of national activity.

It seems to me that what is being promoted here is essentially colonialism. We cannot rule ourselves (because the majority of our people are chavs/deplorables/tsotsis/whatever) and therefore we must be ruled from elsewhere. If this is the argument against the new nationalism, then it seems to me the new nationalism has a lot more going for it than most admit.

9

Phil 07.12.17 at 12:12 pm

Any ‘lens’ that puts Goodhart, Blue Labour and Furedi in the same basket as Mélenchon, McDonnell and “some left-Rawlsians” is either quite stupendously powerful and penetrating or… or else it isn’t, you know.

10

alfredlordbleep 07.12.17 at 12:28 pm

Introducing “sedentary” as a leading category is an enchanting way of almost introducing intellectuals to the comfortably well-off.

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Chris Bertram 07.12.17 at 12:49 pm

@Phil given some of the enthusiasm I’ve seen for a socialism-in-one-country/alternative economic strategy form of post-Brexit Britain from the members of that group that you like more, I’m going to stick with the claim that they share something important. On Rawlsians, well, see Rawls’s exchange with Van Parijs “Three letters on The Law of Peoples and the European Union”.

https://cdn.uclouvain.be/public/Exports%20reddot/etes/documents/RawlsVanParijs1.Rev.phil.Econ.pdf

@Matt “What comes after the state for these people is … a neo-feudal world of personal power.” I understand where you’re coming from in theory, since I too have read the Freeman PPA article on why libertarianism isn’t a form of liberalism. However, the way you phrase your point – “for these people” – suggest that this neo-feudal world is something that Kukathas and Levy personally endorse. I don’t think that’s true. (I also think Levy’s self-description as libertarian is odd, so he doesn’t fit the libertarianism that Freeman targets there.)

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Matt 07.12.17 at 1:05 pm

Chris, I think it is in fact the logical outcome of Kukathas’s view, even if he’s not explicit about it (I don’t think he minds it either, though). Levy is harder to pin down, but I think that is just because he favors a lot of inconsistent or. Incoherent views. Followed through, we end up with a system of personal power on his view, too, I think, at least when we try to make him consistent. I think this stuff really needs to be more seriously grappled with by all sorts of anti state sorts than it is, starting with real examples and history.

13

Katsue 07.12.17 at 1:17 pm

@Chris Bertram

If you assume Brexit as a fact, then doesn’t it make sense for socialists to try to implement policies that would be illegal under the treaties if the UK were still part of the EU, if they thought those policies would be beneficial?

I can’t personally see any resemblance between John McDonnell and the likes of Carswell or Hannan. You could kind of make an argument in relation to Trump, if it wasn’t evident by this stage that the economic populism elements of his MAGA talk are as irrelevant to how he is actually, for want of a better word, governing, as Obama’s talk about transparent government and closing Guantanamo was.

(Trump does appear to be delivering on the racism.)

14

bianca steele 07.12.17 at 1:24 pm

It seems worth mentioning that in the US there is no question of losing actual sovereignty, in the absence of something like the UN becoming an actual world government, something that looms only in the imagination only of right-wing hysterics. What the people who are talking about “sovereignty” here want is for specific white, Christian (likely only some Christian), mostly rural and small-town, non-professional traditionalists to “regain” the ownership of their country they think is theirs by right.

That is, they believe “sovereignty” should be reserved to white Christians (in some tenuous cases, to “Judeo-Christians” but not probably to “monotheists”) with traditionalist worldviews and ways of life (but not a specific class background or income, as in traditional European societies), and specifically withheld from people with equal claims to citizenship who don’t fit that category.

This worldview is actually compatible with increased immigration, federalization with other similar societies, etc. As we’ve seen historically, it’s even compatible with giving free reign to capitalism. What it’s not compatible with is governance by an educated bureaucracy on enlightened principles. (Except conceivably under some form of colonialism that conceals its nature from those governed.)

15

Z 07.12.17 at 1:43 pm

Regarding the more political aspect of the OP, Chris, would you clarify how you would characterize the two groups you outline after Levy’s quotation? Am I right to think the first group is “everyone who relies on some form of nationality as a politically valuable and useful notion”? If not, can you explain? If so, is there a coherence in the second group or is it just the complementary set? Also, how does your division in two groups actually fit with Levy’s argumentation? The way I understood it, your second group is comprised of people who don’t attach value to national sovereignty, but Levy’s contention (per the title) is that sovereignty period is a myth, so where the locus of sovereignty supposedly lie is largely immaterial to him: such people are similarly mistaken in his views are those of the first group.

Symmetrically, he obviously does not deny there is a meaningful notion of collective action, and surely that requires the notion of some form of a collective. You worry that the definition of this collective will exclude some people (as indeed any definition will, and as indeed a particular but historically prevalent definition has with often horrifying consequences), but isn’t that a very different question?

16

Alex 07.12.17 at 2:13 pm

Levy is taking a very binary attitude here. Either the thirty glorious years were filled with popular sovereignty, or they weren’t. Surely though, one can believe that the thirty glorious years were MORE sovereign than the subsequent period, without necessitating they were some rich, democratic period? We can think of sovereignty in relative terms, not just absolute.

This makes sense when you consider that by at least some metrics (trade union power, private monopolies taking over formerly nationalised industries, the ability of a Greek person to vote against austerity and have that implemented…) clearly democratic control has gone down, the ability of the average person to exercise their voice in national affairs has diminished, the iron law of oligarchy seems to have taken over many political organisations (something that the Corbyn phenomena may be counteracting now), and the social background of say MPs seems much less working class.

Naturally, Levy is a libertarian, so of course he wants to obscure the affects declining trade unions has had on politics.

17

Chris Bertram 07.12.17 at 2:44 pm

@Z the final para is more me self-indulgently riffing off Levy and inserting some of my concerns than trying to give a gloss on anything by him. I’d say that what unites the first group is a determination to use the nation state to achieve their social objectives and a reluctance dilute its power by entangling it in international obligations of various kinds. That’s consistent with their belief about the effective power of the nation state being false (for reasons including Levy’s) and with differing views about its ethno-national content. So some of them are consciously nationalist, some of them merely promote and strengthen a form of politics and political action that produces nationalism (and a divide between us and them), even though they may personally endorse a more neutral view. Yes, the “cosmopolitans” are a residual category to some extent, but they share the property of being concerned for the interests of all the people who for various reasons (some legal, some cultural) fail to enjoy fully effective membership.

@matt – I’m all for real examples and history, particularly given that the leading liberal theory on the statist side starts with a methodological assumption of isolated closed societies comprising persons all of whom are subjects and citizens in good standing and then invites us to imagine what principles would be needed if such societies were suddenly brought into contact with other ones.

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Z 07.12.17 at 3:23 pm

Thanks for the clarification, it makes sense (though I believe that “promot[ing] and strengthen[ing] a form of politics and political action that produces nationalism” independently of the intentions of the actors in question is not well-defined enough a criteria; I mean, did Obama’s two terms produced Trump?).

OK, my last comment then I shut up. It occurred to me that the following definition of sovereignty (“experimental sovereignty” maybe) might be useful in this discussion: a collective is sovereign if the shared components of its destiny are subject to experimentations commonly agreed upon by its member and whose results are likewise commonly evaluated by its members.

No need to presuppose that the collective controls the outcomes of its experiments (as Levy, I believe that this is illusory and, as Levy, I believe that independent external factors are in fact part and parcel of sovereignty in that sense, so that the latter cannot exist without the former), no need to presuppose that the line between who is a member of the collective and who isn’t is drawn along any specific characteristics (national, ethnic, ideological or communitarian, for instance). In that specific sense, nation-state, international bodies, cities or academic departments may or may not be (relatively) sovereign.

I claim that sovereignty in this precise sense, is definitely not mythical, is a political virtue, a cardinal one even, and that the resentment people experience when the collective they are parts of become relatively less sovereign is well-founded and politically sane. As I hinted in my first comment, not only people sovereignty in that sense is not antithetical to universalist values, an inflexible commitment to universalism is actually positively correlated with it. In the era of Trump, Le Pen and global climate disruption, the challenge for a humanist, egalitarian political thought is-it seems to me-to outline such a form of people’s sovereignty.

19

bianca steele 07.12.17 at 3:23 pm

Levy does raise a good point that what people often seem to want is to assume that being in “control” will always get them a good outcome, and that bad outcomes come from not being in control–but not everything (most notably markets) can be put under control.

On the other hand, on a personal level, what libertarians often seem to want is to be in “control” in the sense that they take full responsibility for their own actions, and indeed for everything that happens to them–exactly the opposite. They vehemently resist the idea that anything happens to people because of “society” or “culture” or “circumstance” or “luck.”

But the conservative, tragic, “you can’t always get what you want” worldview doesn’t appear to be what he’s getting at.

So I wonder if Levy is trying to distinguish a good, libertarian idea of “control” from a bad, liberal one. Libertarianism wouldn’t lead to demagoguery because people wouldn’t expect anything from their government and wouldn’t care much if performed badly.

20

Dipper 07.12.17 at 3:35 pm

Surely a nation state is a bit like a trade union; it exists to promote the interests of its members. One way both do that is by working to create wealth and then excluding others from sharing in it.

The most obvious current frontier of the nation state in Europe is in the Mediterranean. Hundreds of thousands of people are risking their lives to get to Europe for entirely economic reasons. Most of them would probably do very well here and contribute to society in many ways. If you remove the notion of a nation state, and particularly a nation state that implements borders to prevent wholesale movement of people into it, then what do you put in its place to address the issue that, given the chance, tens of millions of people would move from Africa to Europe tomorrow?

21

bianca steele 07.12.17 at 3:45 pm

I feel compelled to point out that what I referred to is often gendered: men take life by the horns, while women are unable to transcend “biology” (the hive). So to someone who believes this, it’s only to be expected that I wouldn’t understand.

22

Chris Bertram 07.12.17 at 4:02 pm

@Dipper

> Surely a nation state is a bit like a trade union;

A trade union is a voluntary association, people are enlisted into (or denied) membership of states at birth based on criteria that vary from state to state, often abitrarily. Changing your nationality is hard and often expensive.

> it exists to promote the interests of its members.

Who for reasons including those in my previous remark, will only be some of the people who have to live under its laws. Insofar as it can legitimately promote its members interests, that has to be constrained by the rights of others, which are very much at issue here.

> One way both do that is by working to create wealth and then excluding others from sharing in it.

Many states acquired wealth unjustly, including through actions beyond their borders. British citizenship (to name but one) has been repeatedly redefined to exclude people who were previously entitled to it.

> The most obvious current frontier of the nation state in Europe is in the Mediterranean.

Not sure what makes that frontier “obvious”

> Hundreds of thousands of people are risking their lives to get to Europe for entirely economic reasons.

Did you do a survey? A high proportion of people who are risking their lives to get to Europe are fleeing from situations that the West has created as a consequence of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The reason their lives are at risk is that the EU has put barriers to legal movement in place so as to avoid obligations under the Refugee Convention.

> Most of them would probably do very well here and contribute to society in many ways. If you remove the notion of a nation state, and particularly a nation state that implements borders to prevent wholesale movement of people into it, then what do you put in its place to address the issue that, given the chance, tens of millions of people would move from Africa to Europe tomorrow?

I’m glad you’re so confident about that. Despite there being large inequalities in both areas of free movement, 57 per cent of US residents have not lived in the US outside their current state and 37 per cent are still in their home town. In the European Union fewer than 3 per cent of residents are nationals of another EU member state. Most people don’t move in large numbers unless there is something dreadful pushing them to do so, like you they value friends, family, culture, social networks and not just money.

That’s enough of you on this thread Dipper.

23

pseudo-gorgias 07.12.17 at 4:31 pm

“…with miserable effects for the people and their families who don’t fit into the neat little containers of nationality and citizenship or who would challenge them.”

It’s interesting that many of these “miserable” families are the international rich who, no longer feeling the ties of national obligation, seek to “challenge” national authority through tax arbitrage and rent seeking.

24

Chris Bertram 07.12.17 at 4:41 pm

@pseudo-gorgias well, there certainly are members of the international rich who can flit from nation to nation. But I was thinking more of other people, far far more numerous, such as temporary migrant workers, refugees, people not of the dominant ethnicity, people who have fallen foul of citizenship laws and have failed to acquire the citizenship of the state where they have been raised (and may have been born in), and, in addition all the close family members of those affected by these legal and social disabilities.

25

nastywoman 07.12.17 at 5:29 pm

– as the: “we” want control and to take charge of “our” borders and “our” economy – has become for all kind of very… ‘unpleasant’ people their (politer?) code phrase for some even more… ‘unpleasant nationalism’ the ‘serious dangers it carries for others’ might be a bit too polite?

Let’s say it’s ‘a pest’ – THE Pest which has infected a lot of very ‘unpleasant nationalistic people’ – and in an utmost absurd way even some so called ‘progressive’ US economists – who when it came to Europe -(and the Brexit) – came up with the ‘beautiful’ variation of ‘the need for sovereign and national democratic control’ for European countries.

Or why can’t such… ‘people’ say what the really want?

26

nastywoman 07.12.17 at 5:39 pm

but pseudo-gorgias @23
brought up a very valid point -(I just saw)

The so called ‘free movement’ of (often plundered) – capital – through all borders have become such a ‘Pest’ that the consequences from these movements have led to a lot of the misery of other people, far far more numerous – and so – in helping the ‘other, far far more numerous people ”we” probably ”want control and to take charge of “our” borders and “our” economy?

27

Lupita 07.12.17 at 5:58 pm

Levy concludes that “There are hard questions about how we psychologically coexist with large-scale, impersonal social, cultural, and economic forces that are genuinely outside of anyone’s ability to just decide” and he mentions some of these forces such as bond markets, the powerful core states of the international system, the Dutch East India Company, and debt enforcement by gunboat, that people must accept that they just do not control unless, of course, they are opportunistic demagogues or populist nationalists.

There seems to be a class distinction in the implicit definition of “impersonal force”: what the elites, particularly the elites of the core countries do, is impersonal, whereas the actions of the masses, particularly the poor masses, the masses living in war zones, are personal, illegitimate, and stupid, something the elites should not have to deal with.

I agree that the emergent world order is not being designed by anyone and that anything can come out of it, but I also think that the actions of the masses in the form of election results, twitter storms, emigration, peasant uprisings, violent revolutions, terrorism, demagoguery, and nationalism, are also part of those impersonal forces that will influence the outcome.

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Sebastian H 07.12.17 at 6:00 pm

“Yes, the “cosmopolitans” are a residual category to some extent, but they share the property of being concerned for the interests of all the people who for various reasons (some legal, some cultural) fail to enjoy fully effective membership.”

I may be misreading this, so I apologize in advance if I’m missing something.

It seems like this kind of formulation is a bit naive about what “cosmopolitans” as a social class seem to favor as governmental policy.

When you say “fail to enjoy fully effective membership” it raises the question “of what”. I think you mean is “citizenship”. Is that right?

It is important to identify what kind of membership you mean, because as a class the “cosmopolitans” seem ruthlessly efficient at making sure policies are carried out to exclude all sorts of people from the fruits of “cosmopolitan” life–see especially housing policy. Also as a class “concerned for the interests for” might be an overstatement. They certainly like the advantages of being able to import cheaper labor, but I’m not sure that is most fairly characterized as “concerned for the interests” of Polish workers. That is “concerned for the interests” of their pocketbook, which if you believe invisible hand theory may well lead to some social good, but as a class it isn’t some sort of pure altruistic good feelings for outside workers that causes them to favor policies which they can benefit from, while causing other workers to pay the price.

I think from your perspective you would say something like (and I know putting words in someone’s mouth is dangerous) “if you manage it well, Polish workers can work, and the UK workers can share in the nation’s profit of that”.

Which is true in theory, but we have about 40 clear years of that pretty much not happening anywhere that globalisation has taken hold.

It seems to me that much of the ‘sovereignty’ myth is about the impulse to take AWAY control from forces which have clearly been fucking you over for generations. The fact that the right and the left differ about what you should do once you have taken that power AWAY (though they would say BACK), doesn’t dilute the impulse to take it AWAY from the people you think have been fucking you over.

Now this can be manipulated by crafty politicians (pointing to a “the people who have been fucking you over” while deflecting from the real ones). But it does no good to pretend that the cosmopolitan class political priorities (globalization more and more, housing policy to exclude undesirables, mitigation maybe someday in the future) haven’t been fucking a bunch of people over very thoroughly.

I’m not ascribing those political priorities to you personally. I know that you think more mitigation would be great. But even for you it is a lower priority than ever closer union. When you have to choose between the two (which you have had to do when you vote) you chose politicians for whom mitigation is a very low priority.

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Chris Bertram 07.12.17 at 6:11 pm

I think you’ve misread me as referring to some cosmopolitan or liberal elite who form some definite social group. I’m sure I could have made myself clearer than I did, but I had in mind the other side of a political divide not some homogeneous social group. Lots of young people from modest backgrounds who voted for Corbyn are cosmpolitan in my sense.

30

L2P 07.12.17 at 6:13 pm

“57 per cent of US residents have not lived in the US outside their current state…”

The conclusion you draw from this (most people only move if “something dreadful is pushing them) won’t convince anybody who isn’t already convinced. 40% of Americans have lived outside their home state. That’s a vast amount of migration for no real reason at all.

Unless we can defend open migration even if it leads to 10% of all Africans moving to Europe, or 10% of all Central Americans moving to America. That sort of desire for migration is completely plausible with truly open borders. It might not be what actually happens, it might not be the most reasonable prediction, but it’s certainly plausible and reasonable, persuadable minds can and will certainly think so. If we can’t persuade them this ain’t happening.

To put it another way, 30 million Africans are born every year, to a continent already bursting at the seams. It seems plausible to think 20 million Africans, a fraction of even that increase, will want to reside in Europe every year. How do we defend open migration if 5 million Africans, a fraction of a fraction, come to reside in Britain every year?

31

Doug Weinfield 07.12.17 at 6:20 pm

Ah, yes, Niskanen-just like Cato, but with the rack and waterboard decently covered by draperies.

32

nastywoman 07.12.17 at 7:57 pm

@29
”Lots of young people from modest backgrounds who voted for Corbyn are cosmpolitan in my sense.”

And not only the ones who voted for Corbyn.
Lots of young people from all over Europe from modest -(and not so modest) background – are ‘cosmopolitan’ in the sense that they don’t want so called ‘borders’ in Europe anymore. That they want to visit their friends in Great Britain -(like I do – end to the month) – and that they despise most the narrow-mindedness of nationalistic idiots – on whatever side of the so called ‘political spectrum’ – and about @28 ‘It seems like this kind of formulation is a bit naive about what “cosmopolitans” as a social class seem to favor as governmental policy’.
Not ‘naive’ at all – as… let’s call it ‘the young class” -(at least in Europe) has found out – that IF the ‘political class’ – of one ‘nation’ -(we should not name) – comes up with some ‘idiotic governmental policies’ they don’t ‘dig’ – you just move to Barcelona for a year -(at least as long as your European passport still allows it) – which reminds me on this statistic about ‘living outside ones state’.

Such a statistic seems not to cover how much (for example) a young Brit – German – French or any other European spends each year in another European country ON VACATION – as there are a lot – and very long vacations each year in Europe – a very critical necessity -(perhaps ‘a contraire’ to the US?) – for building very open minded ‘cosmopolitans’.

33

J-D 07.12.17 at 7:58 pm

The article concludes

But however we are to manage the difficult psychological task of navigating currents that we didn’t decide into being, the first step will be understanding and admitting that we didn’t decide them.

To me that seems awfully like saying ‘We can’t change what happens, we just have to learn to adjust to it’.

http://existentialcomics.com/comic/48
http://existentialcomics.com/comic/69

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nastywoman 07.12.17 at 8:58 pm

– and about the border to Africa and the damaging movements of ‘the dough’ -(and thusly the devastating consequences for ‘housing’) – I’m afraid – those are ‘different issues’ – than being a young anti-nationalistic European ‘Cosmopolitan’ – and thusly should be dealt with in a separate way – as currently neither young Europeans nor old politicians -(or philosophers?) – seem to have found a satisfying solution for the problems related to the border to Africa – or the movements of the money slosh…?

35

Steve 07.13.17 at 12:52 am

Probably the greatest mass migration in human history is the movement of rural workers to urban China over the last thirty years or so. The legal situation is pretty complicated but hukou rules mean that, in effect, these workers are, at best, a kind of second class citizen (specifically in terms of welfare rights). I don’t know what that tells you other than that issues of freedom of movement and issues of sovereignty are pretty complicated!

36

engels 07.13.17 at 1:43 am

socialism-in-one-country types like John McDonnell

they all want to bend state power to the production of their pet outcomes on behalf of democratic electorates within which the interests of the “national”, the ethnically dominant and the sedentary are over-represented compared to all the people who don’t fit

Last time McDonnell was discussed here iirc he was being attacked for supporting the IRA. Just saying.

37

Moz of Yarramulla 07.13.17 at 2:13 am

Outside the home of the nation-state and to some extent even within it, crossing borders is habitual for many people. Despite the best efforts of the genocideers groups of Hapi and Inuit still move around even in first world countries. That only becomes a problem when numpties come along and draw arbitrary lines in middle of their territory and start demanding obeisance as the price of entry or exit. That’s harder to do in the Pacific but people still try.

Which is also where “strong sovereignty” starts to become more obviously silly. From the slow and obvious colonisation of the North Sea by the Dutch (one dyke at a time!) up to the games in the South China Sea (also known by other names…) to the various attempts to stop idiots mining and over-fishing oceans, it’s very hard to pretend that a coast forms any kind of hard border. Both the US and EU are trying and failing quite blatantly in that area.

Also, whoever above said that given the option many in South America might move to America… they’re already there, the hint is in the name. Did you mean Les Etats-Unis?

38

mark mulligan 07.13.17 at 2:27 am

Nation-states are good for one thing: to fight. They evolved through four thousand years of Darwinian competition to wage war, win or lose, and go forward from that or be replaced. Unfortunately, the weapon mentality and technologies required to succeed at this are antithetical to the peace mentality and technologies that we would much rather live by; and weapon leadership will eventually replace the peace leaders we would rather ruled us. I call it the weapon/peace antinomy.

As a result, conspiracies of greed control every policy old and new, fundamentalist crackpots dictate morality, right-wing despots take over more and more countries, and international psychopaths rule economic and geopolitical decision-making across the planet. Life-and-death issues are daily adjudicated in our absence and to our detriment, since we insist on the deliberate powerlessness of identity politics in contention (divide and conquer). The world is burning down around our ears, either slowly by nature or more swiftly at the hands of the weapon leadership described above. Token social victories occur more or less at random because they are politically and economically neutral, soon to be reversed in any case by the inevitable backlash of reaction.

I leave you my website URL that addresses these issues constructively. From past experience, I know that most of you are credophobes indoctrinated to regard any new ideology as an extremist threat of utopian terrorism and runaway tyranny — yet another masterpiece of weapon mentality. In the end, you may prefer your silk-lined mental coffins to any appeal to wake up, climb out of them and get to work. If you don’t ken to what I propose, come up with something better. Otherwise, admit your lack of better alternatives and accept what you have got.

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faustusnotes 07.13.17 at 4:34 am

For me the big thing missing in this article, and the associated discussion here, is any recognition of the role of colonialism in the rise of the modern liberal state and in its demise; or the role of nostalgia for that era in the popularity of the far right.

“Liberal” states grew to their modern form against a backdrop of 200 years of brutal colonialism, and free markets in European capitalist states were subsidized by captive markets in the periphery. It’s considerably easier to pay back your loans when you can just kill people and steal their stuff, and it’s very easy for companies like the East India Tea Company to secure financial backing for their latest “adventures” when they are protected from any consequences of murdering anyone who gets in their way. This is a core part of how the west got rich, and maintenance of that system is intricately connected to every aspect of the development of the modern educated bureaucracy.

Colonialism plays an equally important part in the 30 glorious years (why do we need to give french names to this shit, btw?) The western welfare state might have been sharing the benefits of economic growth at home, but at the same time it was doing its level best to exterminate whole communities abroad and destroy their infrastructure. That 30 splendid years of economic growth was a disaster for the millions murdered and displaced in Asia and Africa – and all that human carnage and infrastructure destruction was done simply out of spite to prevent the newly-free ex-colonies from being independent with dignity. This 30 years of wanton destruction was still not enough to prevent the balance of economic power shifting away from the bandit nations of Europe to the industrious nations (China, India, Japan, Germany). When people hark back to a time of better, more stable economic conditions they also hark back to a time when colonial markets were under their thumb, and they didn’t have to demean themselves by competing against their colonial subordinates. It’s this reorientation of the economic system away from the centre to the ex-colonies that disturbs many on the far right, which is why you see organizations like UKIP so steeped in the imagery of the colonial era, and why people like Le Pen have to say stupid shit like that Vichy wasn’t France. It’s to this old world order of killing people and stealing their shit that Trump harks back when he talks about stealing the Iraqis’ oil, or making Mexico pay for the wall. This stuff is especially catnip to people of the generation above mine, who grew up in a world where the maps were all pink with Queen Victoria’s colonial holdings, and an Englishman’s word was his bond (or whatever other crap these people believe). It’s in appeal to these people and this worldview that BoJo is always saying racist things, or some other Tory muppet will mutter something about how India benefited from colonialism.

You cannot understand or interpret this long and growing period of right wing revanchism without properly facing the colonial history in which many of its supporters are steeped, and the longing for Empire that motivates many of its staunchest proponents. As I’ve said multiple times here, you cannot understand UKIP or Trump without putting race at the centre of the discussion – and for many of these countries, race and colonialism are intricately intertwined. I know many on the left and many classical liberals don’t like to discuss the reality of where the wealth for the welfare state came from, but if you don’t face it, you’ll never face down those who want it back.

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nastywoman 07.13.17 at 6:44 am

”The world is burning down around our ears, either slowly by nature or more swiftly at the hands of the weapon leadership described above.”

Oooo–kay??!
But from where I currently sit nothing is ‘burning’ down and in an hour or so we drive over to France to celebrate – besides that we are able to just drive over there without being stopped by a dude in a uniform who asks us for our ‘document of sovereignty’ – that the times where peoples heads were chopped of are thankfully over for quite some time – which also could be said about – ‘what role colonialism played’.

All more or less over and less ‘impotent’ compared to the daily struggle NOT to become ‘racistic’ or ‘nationalistic’ if an idiot with a ‘fureign’ license plate – looking somehow ‘fureign’ too – cuts you of on the autobahn -(of life?)

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Chris Bertram 07.13.17 at 7:12 am

@Faustusnotes

I know many on the left and many classical liberals don’t like to discuss the reality of where the wealth for the welfare state came from, but if you don’t face it, you’ll never face down those who want it back.

I agree that colonialism and decolonization are a big part of the story here. They explain, for example, many of the postwar migration patterns, the evolution of citizenship law in places like the UK etc. But the growth of the postwar welfare state didn’t just take place in countries with former colonial possessions (it also took place in Germany, Scandinavia etc) and it took place at a time when the states that did have those possessions (UK, France, Netherlands were being chased out of them). So I’m not sure that your thesis that colonialism paid for the postwar welfare state has sound empirical support.

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Faustusnotes 07.13.17 at 8:11 am

Chris, its more that the pre war accumulation of wealth was impossible without the colonies, and the post war welfare state (which is a bit of a false concept, many parts having been established after the depression) was built at a time when the colonial states were brutally trying to hang onto their colonies – trying, one assumes, to make sure they didn’t lose the flow of ill gotten gains they needed to make capitalism acceptable to the home front.

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nastywoman 07.13.17 at 8:11 am

– and about ‘who pays for the welfare states’ -(much more interesting than: who ‘payed’ for the welfare states)

WE – people who happily work in one of the European welfare states –
(instead of working in a very, very stressing ‘NOT-welfare state like the US)

And isn’t the point that in the last years -(perhaps since Reagan and Thatcher?) the so called ‘fruits’ from this work have been distributed so unevenly that – rightfully some ‘forgotten people’ got mad -(rightfully!) – but as there is this tendency to blame some ‘others’ for such mis-distribution of the dough – IT was blamed the same old – same old on ‘the others’ accompanied by calls for ‘want control’ and the silly belief that if only WE could shut our borders WE could take charge of “our” borders and “our” economy.

Which in the case of the UK -(just to use one example) is supersilly if the country has an economy which depends so much on the -(often ‘plundered in some fureign lands’) – dough of some ‘fureigners’.

AND – Yes! – such an economy – which accepts every ‘fureigner’ -(whatever race or religion) – as long as he is able to afford a ‘shelter’ -(with at least 5 bathrooms) in Kensington – it carries serious dangers for ‘those others’. -(who can’t and thusly get’s rejected)

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Chris Bertram 07.13.17 at 8:25 am

@Faustusnotes there is no doubt that colonial countries pillaged and oppressed, and no doubt either that they believed that doing so was economically beneficial to them in terms of their domestic wealth and resources. But the comparative economic history of those welfare states that had engaged in colonialism and those that didn’t, suggests that your (and their) causal thesis is incorrect. The Norwegians and the Swedes did not have such colonies, and yet they built successful postwar welfare states.

45

nastywoman 07.13.17 at 8:49 am

– and as this from @38:
”fundamentalist crackpots dictate morality, right-wing despots take over more and more countries, and international psychopaths rule economic and geopolitical decision-making across the planet.” – is just too… ‘weird’? in the face of the fact – that all right-wing despots LATELY have been rejected by ‘good welfare’ democracies like France.

And it’s true that before a Insane fundamentalist crackpot doofus – who pretended to be ‘for the people’ and at the same time to be against them by pretending to be a ‘Republican’ – was elected in order to be ridiculed and made fun of – in order to be a warning to the whole wide world that WE shouldn’t erect ‘Insane fundamentalist crackpot doofuses’.

And I agree -(partly) with the notion that ‘Nation-states are good for one thing: to fight – and as a result, ‘conspiracies of greed’ control a lot BUT NOT ‘every policy old and new’
– as the ‘welfare state’ I’m working for – proves.

And – yes – in these ‘welfare states’ there was/is a constant struggle to keep the right balance of power and there have been ‘defeats’ and ‘retreats’ but all in all -(and especially after 70 years of peace and compromises) – it doesn’t look as bad as Nr.@38 and the Internet likes to make it look – for the future.

And about the ”I know that most of you are credophobes indoctrinated to regard any new ideology as an extremist threat of utopian terrorism and runaway tyranny — yet another masterpiece of weapon mentality”. – is kind of… ‘insulting’ – even if ‘in the end, you may prefer your silk-lined mental coffins to any appeal to wake up, climb out of them and get to work’. – is kind of funny? – as there is NO ”lack of better alternatives”.

There are so many ‘better alternatives’ worldwide – from the ‘better alternatives’ to a Brexit or a US health care mess – to asocial labor policies – that WE just have to work to implement them.

46

Anders 07.13.17 at 9:12 am

@Faustusnotes – I’d go further than Chris, and observe that the most developed welfare states we see, in Scandinavia, seem unlikely to have been built had this region had the more heterogeneous populations which tend to result from having had colonies.

47

Chris Bertram 07.13.17 at 9:24 am

@Anders. I’m familiar with the claim, but there are clear examples of countries with quite heterogeneous populations where welfare states have been constructed (Canada) and others where homogeneity doesn’t seem to have delivered the goods. I’m also unclear about what the measure of heterogeneity is: the UK, France, Switzerland and Belgium are all countries with a long history of division into different ethno-national-linguistic groups. Italy ditto, on some measures.

48

faustusnotes 07.13.17 at 9:43 am

Chris, actually Sweden had colonies in the new world (one of which it got compensation for), a small slave trade and a land empire in Europe. It was at the conference that divided up Africa among the great powers after the Napoleonic wars. But granting that Sweden, Germany and Norway were not the prime colonial powers, I don’t think that changes my point. The ex-colonial powers are beset by revanchist political movements that don’t have the same strength or appeal in the non-colonial powers – even Pegida in Germany fell apart as soon as they tried any kind of nonsense revisionism, and they are a very contingent movement compared to UKIP. The real trenchant right wing mobs are in the ex colonial powers – the Netherlands, France, the UK – and the genocidal power of the USA. The post-“30 glorious years” world order has seen the economic balance shift from these pirate nations to the nations that build and trade – which includes countries like Sweden and Germany.

Colonialism was a disease a little like the Resource Curse we sometimes see bandied about in regards to the oil countries. The countries that suffered from that disease are still drawing out the infection. And lancing that boil really stinks.

Anders, your idea is classic: Blame any failings in the welfare state on foreigners. Remember, whenever anyone points to the “heterogeneity” of countries like the UK and France, what they really mean is “it’s the foreigners’ fault.” You need to try harder.

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faustusnotes 07.13.17 at 9:49 am

I’ll just add though: I don’t think colonialism explains everything, but a discussion of the current ressentiment in countries like the UK and the USA that does not account for this huge part of the growth of these states – the intricate association between genocide and political development in the USA and Australia, or the crucial role of genocide in feeding Britain’s working poor in the 19th century, for example – and the collapse of the colonies in affecting the baby boom generation, is a hollow account.

You have to include race and imperialism in any discussion of where this sense of collapse is coming from.

50

Chris Bertram 07.13.17 at 9:53 am

The toxic legacy of colonialism on the ex-imperial psyche is not an issue between us @faustusnotes, but some of your facts need a little more attention. The UK was certainly a pirate nation in many ways, but it was also for a couple of centuries somewhere that built and traded. Some of that trade was with people who didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter, granted, but quite a lot of it wasn’t. The Resource Curse prevents industrial development, but it would have been news to Engels in 1844 Manchester that industrial development had been prevented.

51

TM 07.13.17 at 10:28 am

Chris: “some of your facts need a little more attention”

After having been corrected regarding Sweden, maybe a little more generosity would be in order? A 250 word comment on a very complex topic can hardly be faulted for containing some simplifications or lacking certain nuances. It would be more interesting to address the broader thesis, which seems quite relevant. Btw Germany/Prussia too was of course imperialist, not just overseas but more importantly in Central Europe. The main difference I think is that that legacy has been thoroughly discredited by the Nazis, and that there is a still strong societal consensus to that effect. No similar consensus about the crimes of the past appears to exist in the UK, USA, France etc.

52

Peter T 07.13.17 at 10:43 am

I found Levy’s article very thin. The history is wrong (modern democratic nation-states were not built by bond-markets or merchants; bond-markets did not so far prefer democracy as not to lend to eg Tsarist Russia or Latin American dictatorships or Ottoman Turkey; wider inclusion in the political nation made raising money domestically easier, but that’s a different story on a different timeline). The assertions about sovereignty are a succession of straw men – the welfare states never pretended to autarky (cf, eg the constant British post-war worry about the balance of payments); sovereignty is treated as an absolute; there’s no discussion of what democracy means in this context and so on.

Sovereignty is about where the ultimate power of decision lies (this is what the Paris lawyers who argued for the crown of France over investiture meant – the “king is sovereign in his own domain” meant no appeal to Pope or Emperor). This clearly is partible – the US federal government is sovereign in some matters, the states in others, the US people as a whole in yet others. Ditto for the EU or Australia. In practical terms, it gets parcelled out very finely indeed – down to county or household. European nation-states wrapped up a lot more power at the national level than was historically customary, but the heyday of this was more around the period 1870-1914 than the period post-war.

Democracy likewise is here so abstract as to be vaporous. If the issue is control (and that’s a good place to start), then one needs to be more concrete. Volunteerist individualism is clearly at odds with any institutionalised form of collective action, but that does not mean it has no place in the political scheme of things. “We” will, as the o/p notes have more power collectively, for good or ill (for welfare or making life miserable for outsiders). Is that an argument about forming a “we” in the first place, about the rules or about the scope of our power? Levy does not get us far.

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nastywoman 07.13.17 at 10:58 am

@51
”The main difference I think is that that legacy has been thoroughly discredited by the Nazis,”

– and that America educated Germany -(and thusly Europe) – after WWII that it is most important to ‘give peace a chance’ –
”and that there is a still strong societal consensus to that effect”.?

– which makes the idea a bit dubious:
”That no similar consensus about the crimes of the past appears to exist in the UK, USA, France etc.”

Let’s say – in France there is a consensus for sure that ‘colonialism’ wasn’t a very good idea. And nobody I know currently ‘muses’ as much about ‘Payback for Empire’ as our British friends.
And about the USA –
Who in ‘the homeland’ -(besides people who don’t work two or three jobs) has time to worry about some… past?

54

Kate 07.13.17 at 11:36 am

Mundell-Flemming and all that. During Bretton Woods, states didn’t always drag others along by the nose with their monetary and fiscal policies. As Dani Rodrik would say – a country (say like China today) can choose to open itself to commercial globalization – but keep the screen door shut. To keep the flies out.

Greece is a lot less “sovereign” in the face of its foreign creditors than, say, Germany. As the euro is basically the mark. So I don’t think the “lost sovereignty” argument is crazy at all! Thailand likely felt a lot more “sovereign” after it dropped its peg in the late 90s.

I don’t have any quibble with arguments about debt-beholden monarchs losing control to their foreign creditors. But that was a story about financing war. The question today is why countries still accumulate debt and grant leverage to financial markets. And that, it seems, is a question about trade, the balance of payments, and foreign currency policies.

Whether this commitment to global markets necessarily serves as the material condition of anti-cosmopolitanism is open to question, too. Sometimes globalization hits in straight class lines. It can lead to left-wing emancipatory movements that transcend borders. See, e.g., the movement at the WTO by the global “south,” together, to address declining terms of trade. And here I’ll cite Rodrik again. http://www.nber.org/papers/w23559

55

Z 07.13.17 at 1:11 pm

@TM It would be more interesting to address the broader thesis, which seems quite relevant.

What is the broader thesis?

56

faustusnotes 07.13.17 at 1:26 pm

It’s easy to say resource curse or the negative effects of colonialism are minimal when the societies in question are at their economic peak, Chris. Did you know that Saudi Arabia used to have very large wheat farms? They don’t anymore. The disease of colonialism doesn’t affect the industrial development of the colonial society at the time of its colonial peak – they use captive markets to sell their industrial goods, after all – but positions it very poorly to handle the class pressures that colonial practice forms a release valve for, and doesn’t position them to deal with the consequences of real competition when their ability to kill more people and steal more stuff hits its limit.

For example, while the UK was developing the industry that so impressed Engels, it was also failing to produce or distribute enough food to feed its lumpen proletariat, a problem it solved by starving the Irish and then deporting the criminals from both countries to Australia, where they were eventually able to settle on land stolen from the locals. And even this industrial development was fragile – did you know that Japan was exporting trains and other heavy industrial products in the period before world war 1? It’s an article of faith amongst British of a certain age that the only reason everyone in Britain is buying Japanese high tech goods is that the British and Americans helped them develop after world war 2 (this leads to much grumbling and resentment) but in fact Japan was competing with the UK on heavy industrial goods from before they sank their first Russian cruiser. Britain invented the train and within 70 years lost their edge to an Asian upstart. But of course it didn’t matter, because between the Japanese victory over the Russians in 1905 until partition, the UK could rely on a massive captive market for trains in India. Which, in turn, is why Bombadier trains are so crap, and why the British railway system is so awful and the Japanese system is so vastly superior.

And this cycle of post-colonial collapse – from industrial “power” to importer of things it invented – is why the UK is thick with this angry nostalgia for lost glories. It’s why UKIP has a spitfire on its posters – because Britain hasn’t made anything as cutting edge since (or so the feeling goes). It’s also why the British resent having to compete with their previous colonies, and the same animus drives American Trumpists’ anger at Mexico. It’s also why this electorate’s sense of self is so closely tied in with war and machines of war – why for example UKIP was able to harness so much anger at the closure of traditional regional regiments during the Blairite modernization of the army.

Levy doesn’t look into any of these aspects of why certain electorates are looking back at this era of “control” with a jealous eye. He also misses that whatever the actual sovereign status might have been with regards to the economic conditions, the people of Britain, America and France could be damn sure of one thing – that back in that era, certain people knew their place, and if the liberal order hadn’t been so soft on them they’d still be under the British jackboot. Because Levy doesn’t recognize these aspects of the spirit of revanchism that lead to Brexit, Levy has identified the wrong world order that these voters hark back to – and the real types of control that this movement seeks.

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Katsue 07.13.17 at 1:37 pm

I have now read the article, and I don’t see any mention of the changes in the character of trasnational institutions since the 1980s. The ERM was a restrictive system, but far less restrictive and easier to escape than the Euro. Trade treaties in the old days didn’t have ISDS clauses, either.

The following paragraph in particular is very disingenous:

“I’m not going to try to adjudicate the longstanding debate among economists about the character and causes of the various slowdowns in Western economies since the 1970s, to say nothing of how we should think about them in connection with the escape from dire poverty of billions of people in the developing world. Rather, I want to focus on the entangled idea of sovereignty or self-determination.”

It’s a well known fact that economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa was higher in the 1960s and early 1970s than it has ever been since, and that the 1980s and early 1990s were disastrous for Africa. I have my own useful link below:

http://isj.org.uk/africa-rising/

“According to the World Bank, changes in the terms of trade cost non-oil producing African states (excluding South Africa) a total of 119 percent of their annual GDP between 1970 and 1997.36 External debt grew by 106 percent of GDP over the same period. So all the external debt of African countries at the end of the 20th century could be explained by falling prices for their exports and increasing prices of imports—both changes over which their governments had little or no control. The cost of debt also increased due to sudden increases in world interest rates”.

So how did this change occur? Well, it was at least in part a result of World Bank policy, and also partly a result of the oil embargo. In other words, it was the result of political decisions made by more powerful countries and by transnational institutions controlled by more powerful countries.

As for the “historical lesson” that democracy emerges from credit markets, it’s pure Whiggism. England’s ability to borrow more cheaply than France was certainly a result of Parliament allowing it to effectively levy national taxation, but a Parliament is not democracy, and there’s no evidence that the existence of Parliament in any way advanced the UK’s transformation into a democracy. The UK, after all, did not achieve universal* male suffrage until 1918, and women didn’t have an equal right to vote until 1928. Indeed, arguably the British polity as a whole couldn’t be counted as a democracy before 1994, when Chris Patten reformed Hong Kong’s electoral system.

* Colonial subjects being, of course, excluded from the vote.

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Stephen 07.13.17 at 2:46 pm

One possible, tentative interpretation of the broader thesis would be:

All nation states treat their own people better, in some ways at least, than they treat other people.
But justice demands that everyone, everywhere, should be treated the same.
Therefore all nation states are unjust, and should cease to exist.

Have I got that even approximately right?

59

bianca steele 07.13.17 at 2:48 pm

Levy doesn’t look into any of these aspects of why certain electorates are looking back at this era of “control” with a jealous eye.

Yes, Levy seems to be addressing this largely from a high-level, academic point of view that focuses on structures of control and exchange, and how these move things around and distribute them, than on how people feel about what’s going on. He treats the idea of “sovereignty” as an example of “feelings.” If the system produces stuff and fails to collapse periodically (whether the finance-driven system he suggests is inevitable does this adequately not being considered, not to mention the possibility Peter T suggests that the whole picture has somehow been oversimplified) maybe we shouldn’t care whether or not we have “political” influence?

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Anders 07.13.17 at 5:08 pm

@47 Chris – Canada seems (not sure how) to have managed its immigration in such a way as to avoid clear internal outgroups forming. Other countries’ immigration has led to such outgroups, which majorities have (reprehensibly of course in my view) reacted to by reducing their level of support for collective provision. This is the sense in which I associate heterogeneity with rich countries struggling with welfare states. I gather Sweden’s popular support for its welfare state has flagged recently, which could reflect the same phenomenon.

The question then would be whether the UK (say) could loosen its borders at this point in history and follow the Canadian model. I’d love to believe this is possible, but it feels much more likely we’d just follow the US model. Can you point to anything reassuring on this point?

@48 Faustus – I was making a tentative observation about how polities vote for welfare states (or otherwise), not blaming the foreigners.

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John Quiggin 07.14.17 at 12:15 am

Levy seems to me to go wrong right at the start by conflating “democracy” and “the nation state”. Democracy can operate, more or less imperfectly, at every level from local government to the UN. And, in a market system, there is a complex relationship, partly co-operative and partly adversarial, with capital (notably including bond markets) at every level.

The Trente Glorieuses were a period when, in the leading Western countries, the balance of power in that relationship shifted strongly in favor of democratic governments, with generally good results.

The balance shifted in the opposite direction from the 1970s onwards. Until the Global Financial Crisis, the results were beneficial to enough people (not most people, but enough) to maintain a political consensus that democracies should defer to capital markets. Now that consensus has broken down.

62

TM 07.14.17 at 7:04 am

nastywoman 07.13.17 at 10:58 am: “in France there is a consensus for sure that ‘colonialism’ wasn’t a very good idea”

From what I hear, it seems that the interpretation of French colonial history and especially Algeria is highly contentious.

From the NYT: “Schools across France were briefly required by law to teach the benefits of French colonialism, though the law was repealed in 2006, less than a year after it was enacted.” (“Echoes of Colonial Conflict in Algeria Reverberate in French Politics”)

Interesting also that the FN mayor of a Southern town had a monument as a “tribute to all those who died so that France could live in Algeria” erected. (A Small French Town Infused With Us-vs.-Them Politics).

Also, “How the French Debacle in Algeria Shaped the Rise of Marine Le Pen—and What America Can Learn From It”, Salon. There is a lot of literature on this topic.

[This was posted yesterday.]

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Chris Bertram 07.14.17 at 7:20 am

@JohnQ I largely agree with you that democracy can operate at many levels, and I think an important part of superseding the nation-state will be to democratize government at levels below and above it. Levy might or might not agree with that. But I think you are making too much of the theoretical dissociation that there could be between the nation-state and democracy in circumstances where the salient “we” for many people is the demos that comes with the nation state. It is that demos that people are thinking of when they think that “we” have lost control and that “we” need to get it back (and control over “our” borders etc). Makes for a toxic politics.

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TM 07.14.17 at 7:30 am

Chris: “It is that demos that people are thinking of when they think that “we” have lost control and that “we” need to get it back (and control over “our” borders etc). Makes for a toxic politics.”

But in a more plausible interpretation, the “we” is a subgroup of the demos, like “white men”, or “people who look like me” or such. Or to put it differently, the question who counts as part of the demos is not incidental – it’s the key question. The assumption that the demos is by definition coextensive with the citizenship of the nation-state is just that, an assumption. That very definition is contentious.

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nastywoman 07.14.17 at 10:59 am

@62
‘From what I hear, it seems that the interpretation of French colonial history and especially Algeria is highly contentious.’

Yes – my bad – as there still seems to be a lot of old dudes in France who talk about that?
And this is all my bad -(alike the case of Italy) – as since both of my grandfather have passed away I don’t ‘hear’ about too many war stories anymore – as the French -(and Germans and Italians) of my generation really couldn’t care less about some ‘colonial adventures’ of some ‘once empire’ – even it is the almighty French one…

I hope you can forgive me – even if Macron treated our ‘Empirial Doofus’ to a ‘nice parade’.
At least WE can come to France again – as France is France again -(colonial or not) and Macrons wife is still in good shape – and some reactionary American Jim’s will give the First Class Hotels of Paris some business again – which in France always ‘trickles down’ and that’s all what counts – right?

-(‘Colonial’ – Pffft!)

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John Quiggin 07.14.17 at 11:32 am

Chris, I see where you are coming from, but I think “etc” is really problematic here, and reflects the conflation I’m talking about between democracy and nationalism. Regardless of how “we” might be conceived, and what we might think about borders, it’s a problem that we have lost control over our working conditions, the share of income going to the top 1 per cent, public services, civil liberties etc. etc.

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Peter T 07.14.17 at 1:26 pm

Following up on John Quiggin’s point, Levy focuses on economic growth and “control” at the state level, But the period was marked not just by growth, but by much greater control over employment, residence, opportunity. Free or subsidized medical care, free university, public housing, strong unions and low unemployment all meant working people had much more control. And the ones I know valued all this a great deal, perhaps even more than the yearly increases in prosperity.

68

Sebastian H 07.14.17 at 2:11 pm

John has the right of it. Many of the the things that you (Chris) are worried about are symptoms of the loss of control that John is talking about.

If you want people to be less concerned about immigration, maybe stop tying it directly to a system that pushes poor people out of the cosmopolitan cities, threatens their jobs, and gives the fruits of globalism to everyone but them.

Re Canada–my sketch of what you’re missing would include the fact that it seems to have hit pricing people out of its big cities much later than London (so the effects of that are in the future) and that is is very careful to permit a mix of immigration which skews much wealthier than most other countries, so its immigrants are competing more with those who enjoy the fruits of globalism rather than those who bear its costs (again in contrast to the U.K.).

69

Faustusnotes 07.14.17 at 2:24 pm

Sebastian, it took Canadians about five seconds to start blaming unaffordable housing on Chinese business people, when the media started telling them that as an alternative to rich people speculating. Americans are way too quick to assume Canada is a perfect polity.

70

nastywoman 07.14.17 at 3:09 pm

@66
”it’s a problem that we have lost control over our working conditions, the share of income going to the top 1 per cent, public services, civil liberties etc. etc.”

But what does that have to do with: “we” who want control and to take charge of “our” borders and “our” economy? – if everybody who once worked in different European -(or other nations) – knows that it is an illusion – if nationalists close ‘their’ border – and “we”
have control and took charge of “our” borders and “our” economy –

VOILA! –
Our working conditions will improve and, the share of income going to the top 1 per cent, public services, civil liberties etc. etc.’!

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nastywoman 07.14.17 at 3:39 pm

– or let’s say it like that:
In all the countries my friends and I have ever worked – the best control over our working conditions and a good share of income going to, public services, civil liberties etc. etc.” – were in Scandinavian countries like Norway.
And these ‘great’ conditions – were-(are) possible – WITHOUT the type of ‘closed borders’ or a ‘closed economy’ – like for example the US? –

And I never understood the ‘progressive’ -(and to an even lesser extend – the ‘reactionary conservative and nationalistic’) – argument of ‘open borders or a borderless economy’ as the cause for diminishing or devastating working conditions?

As – for example – in the US it was greedy Cooperations which outsourced to countries with lower wages and salaries – but then ‘somehow’? – ‘bad Trade Deals’ or ‘open borders’ or ‘globalization’ got blamed for such greedy self-defeating idiocy.

While at the same time the Corporations of some other countries which had to deal with the same ‘bad Trade Deals’ or ‘open borders’ or ‘globalization’ didn’t outsource – or fire their workers – and still produce in their (borderless) countries – and still spend a good share of income going to, public services, civil liberties etc. etc.”

72

bianca steele 07.14.17 at 4:34 pm

TM: I think it’s arguable that the current far-right (to abbreviate) is extremely preoccupied with ensuring that the demos fits a certain theory they have about what the demos “always” is. Can the demos be multicultural or not? The claim “well we are all of course perfectly OK with a multicultural demos/people/citizenry” is somewhat contentious; historically we’ve fallen short of this.

73

TM 07.14.17 at 4:39 pm

Peter T: “Free or subsidized medical care, free university, public housing, strong unions and low unemployment all meant working people had much more control.”

Now you are talking about control on a very different level. Strong welfare states give individuals more control over their lives, I agree. But who is to blame for the dismantling of welfare states, if not the political institutions at the nation-state level? Thatcherism wasn’t a result of “loss of control” of the British government vis-a-vis outside forces, it was a political program implemented by the national establishment (which btw was supported by the electorate four or five times). What I object to is the trick of conflating Brexit (for example) with a desire for a stronger welfare state. These two totally separate political programs and there is little overlap. If Brits really meant “we want the postwar welfare state back” when they say “we want control over immigration back” while electing Tory government after Tory government, they have a very odd way of expressing their wishes. Ditto for Trumpists.

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Stephen Johnson 07.14.17 at 7:12 pm

Anders 07.13.17 at 5:08 pm @60
Canada seems (not sure how) to have managed its immigration in such a way as to avoid clear internal outgroups forming. Other countries’ immigration has led to such outgroups…
Anders, do you have any evidence for that claim? I’m a Canadian and would dearly love that to be true, but can see little evidence that it is – immigrants have frequently been outgrouped and cordoned off, it seems to me, whether we’re talking Doukhobors in the 19th century, or Sikhs and Philipinos more recently. We have our own equivalents for all the unpleasant racism elsewhere, such as the late, unlamented (at least by me) Rob Ford.

Cheers,

75

nastywoman 07.15.17 at 10:40 am

@74
”We have our own equivalents for all the unpleasant racism elsewhere, such as the late, unlamented (at least by me) Rob Ford.
Cheers,”

This might not be very… helpful? as Canada indeed IN COMPARISON to other countries -(we should not name?) ”seems (not sure how) to have managed its immigration in such a way as to avoid clear internal outgroups forming.”

And wouldn’t it be much more… helpful to focus on ‘the dimension’ Canada in comparison to other countries managed this problem?
Which could remind US on comments objecting to the objection – that all European countries are ‘neoliberal’ – or that Sarkozy and Berlusconi are just like Trump BE-cause they are ”just fine” as ”examples in the corrupt and obviously unfit to lead vein”.

I already confessed that I have ”racist” or ”outgrouping’ tendencies too -(especially when I drive on a German Autobahn) but there is such a yuuuuge difference between mine and the tendencies of let’s say a ”German Neonazi” that the dimension of the difference makes the difference – much as it might make the difference in a comparison between Canada and – for example the UK – too?
-(with no intention to imply that the difference between a German Neo Nazi and ME is as yuuuge as the difference between Canada and the UK in ‘outgroups forming’!)

76

Alex 07.15.17 at 1:41 pm

“If Brits really meant “we want the postwar welfare state back” when they say “we want control over immigration back” while electing Tory government after Tory government”

None of the Conservative governments in that period of time have received anything like a majority of the popular vote. That’s not how the British electoral system works. And even if it was, general elections aren’t decided on single issues, the 1980s weren’t referenda on mass privatisation. Moreover, even if elections were fought and decided on only one issue (like “postwar welfare state”), for much of the last few decades the British electorate hasn’t even had much of an option on the ballot paper for supporting that. New Labour wasn’t offering it, and the Tories certainly weren’t. It’s only now, with Corbyn’s Labour party, that something like that is back on the agenda – and funnily enough, suddenly Labour is doing very well in the polls and at the last election.

77

steven t johnson 07.15.17 at 2:29 pm

The conclusion from Levy reads “But in all these domains, the promise of control will be disappointed.

To the demagogue, the disappointment is a feature, not a bug. A perpetually frustrated and perpetually fearful populace is one that will continue to lend support to demagoguery. The policies adopted by an Erdogan or a Duterte are not meant to solve problems, but to keep the fear of them alive.

Those of us hoping to see decent liberal democratic constitutionalism in the future have to proceed differently. Yes, there has to be hope for a better future; but hope is not the same as autarkic, nationalist, or democratic sovereign control…” (The remaining three sentences amount I think to a plea for submission, implicitly to the Market God, aka Mammon.)

Levy’s thesis that politicians he doesn’t like wouldn’t solve problems if they could, because, reasons, in itself reveals a crank vision. Thus when he repudiates “democratic sovereignty,” I think we can safely assume he basically means any version of democracy that infringes on the rights of property, which is an illegitimate and unfeasible delusion as reprehensible as autarky and nationalism (which can be safely read as any other nation disagreeing with the US government.)

Democracy was born in revolutions, not bond markets, so his history is worse than thin, I think it’s just flat wrong. And any discussion of sovereignty that avoids the question of the right to wage war seems…well, the notorious insult is “not even wrong.”

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Moz of Yarramulla 07.16.17 at 9:51 pm

Anders: Canada seems (not sure how) to have managed its immigration in such a way as to avoid clear internal outgroups forming.

To take the opposite tack to Stephen Johnson, Canada has the usual European problem with out-grouping, in that this whole discussion ignores the indigenous population. Canada likes to do that too, but that’s evidence *for* my claim rather than against it. It’s not nice, eh.

79

F. Foundling 07.17.17 at 2:59 am

@48

>Chris, actually Sweden had colonies in the new world (one of which it got compensation for), a small slave trade and a land empire in Europe. It was at the conference that divided up Africa among the great powers after the Napoleonic wars.

Sweden had colonies in the new world and a land empire in Europe in the 17th century. Its welfare state was formed in the 20th century – partly in the interwar years but especially after WW2. In case someone hasn’t noticed, that means that there were three intervening centuries between these two periods. Three centuries of rather miserable life for most Swedes, BTW, with people emigrating to America in large numbers in the 19th century.

@71

> In all the countries my friends and I have ever worked – the best control over our working conditions … were in Scandinavian countries like Norway … these ‘great’ conditions – were-(are) possible – WITHOUT the type of ‘closed borders’ or a ‘closed economy’

Actually, Norway and Sweden are currently having the exact same severe problems with their open labour market as other European countries, involving social dumping and foreign non-unionised workers from poorer countries who agree to work for much lower wages and under much poorer conditions than local unionised workers, catastrophically pushing the standards towards the bottom. I’m talking about construction and similar blue-collar jobs, thus probably not the ones CT contributors and ‘young cosmopolitans’, especially ones from ‘not so modest backgrounds’, usually engage in. The largest Norwegian private sector union and labour activists and researhers have voiced their alarm (here is a link to one article about this on the site of the Norwegian counterpart of the BBC, via Google translate: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=no&u=https://www.nrk.no/norge/fellesforbundet_-_-fa-medlemmer-pa-byggeplasser-_-mer-sosial-dumping-1.13369095&prev=search).

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F. Foundling 07.17.17 at 3:03 am

@ OP

>they all want to bend state power to the production of their pet outcomes on behalf of democratic electorates within which the interests of the “national”, the ethnically dominant and the sedentary are over-represented compared to all the people who don’t fit.

I would have suggested a representative World Government deciding everything, so that the needs of the itinerant and not just the sedentary can be taken into account, but even in the global population as a whole, it may turn out that some national and ethnic groups are overrepresented compared to others. Therefore, we must yield control to … God? Aliens? Chris Bertram? Christine Lagarde? Not to the hated ‘democratic electorate’, at any rate! Really, I can only second MFB @ 8. If you find yourself agreeing with a libertarian, that’s … rather telling.

81

Stephen 07.17.17 at 7:30 pm

TM@64: bit late, but when you say
“The assumption that the demos is by definition coextensive with the citizenship of the nation-state is just that, an assumption. That very definition is contentious” what do you mean with regard to democracy ( = rule by the demos)?

Democracy in a nation-state could, or should, mean rule by a group including those who are not citizens of that nation-state? Really?

82

F. Foundling 07.17.17 at 7:55 pm

@48

Also, ‘the conference that divided up Africa among the great powers after the Napoleonic wars’? That strikes me as a very strange description of the Congress of Vienna of 1814-1815, for which Africa was a completely marginal issue – and, in any case, only a very small part of the continent was in European possession until the beginning of the Scramble for Africa in 1881. More relevantly – no, Sweden didn’t get a chunk of Africa at it. It did possess a single tiny Francophone island in the Caribbean, St. Barthélemy, from 1784 to 1878 – a fact that has had close to no signficance for the economy and general history of the country.

83

TM 07.17.17 at 8:56 pm

Stephen 81: Is that a serious question? I’m referring to exclusion, not inclusion! (“a subgroup of the demos”). Historically, the demos has excluded the poor, women, African-Americans in the US, etc.

Alex 76: What you say may be true but your objections apply to any British government (I checked, no post-war government reached a strict majority). The fact remains that Thatcherism had democratic legitimacy according to the concept of democracy widely accepted in the UK. If you wish to reject that concept, that’s fine with me (I would reject it if I were Brit) but then it’s hard to argue that “taking back control” is about re-establishing democratic legitimacy. The real issue independent from the election system is that the anti-welfare policies discussed above were intitiated and implemented by the national establishment, not by some cosmopolitan cabal, and therefore it makes no sense to claim that in order to reverse these policies, the power needs to “return” to that very same national establishment.

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Collin Street 07.17.17 at 9:04 pm

Democracy in a nation-state could, or should, mean rule by a group including those who are not citizens of that nation-state? Really?

Stephen: incomprehension is a semi-reliable measure of error. Not perfect, but it’s a good first sign.

[most errors are based on ignorance or ignoring of some fact, rather than on belief in a false-fact. If you have a fact and the other side doesn’t, you’ll be able to see the shape of the missing fact in their position and it’ll make sense… but if you’re the one who doesn’t have a fact, then the other person’s position will be held up by an invisible supporting fact and its shape will make no sense to you.]

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TM 07.17.17 at 9:06 pm

Foundling 82: fn was referring to the Berlin Conference, 1884. Sweden was indeed a participant.
I’m not sure about your argument 81. Sweden ruled over Norway until 1905. At least Norway and Finland can’t be accused of imperialism.

86

TM 07.17.17 at 9:26 pm

One more thing FF 79: The Swedish government is in charge of setting minimum wages and standards for working conditions. Who prevents them from raising those standards?

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Moz of Yarramulla 07.17.17 at 10:36 pm

TM@83: any British government (I checked, no post-war government reached a strict majority)

It’s extremely rare for any democratic government to achieve an absolute majority simply because they all ban a significant number of their subjects from voting. When you start with even 80% of the citizenry being allowed to vote, a majority now means 0.5/0.8=62.5% of the votes cast. But even with compulsory voting in Australia, a 90% turnout is normal, so you’re down to 0.5/0.8*0.9=65%. That gets worse in places with voluntary voting and active voter suppression like the US where 50% turnout is normal, so an absolute majority isn’t even theoretically possible (but might be achieved through electronic voting, which the US also has).

For Australia, 15,813,928 enrolled voters (March 2017) from a population of 24,591,456 (31 December 2016), so roughly 65% of the population can vote. That means an absolute majority in parliament would require 77% of the voters to select that party. Typically the biggest vote share goes to either Liberal Party of Australia or The Australian Labour Party with about 33% of first preference votes, and eventually due to preferential voting one ends up with slightly more than 50% of the final two party vote share. 77% wouldn’t be a landslide, it would be a revolution.

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nastywoman 07.18.17 at 4:55 am

– and still all these efforts trying to prove that ‘them Swedes’ or Scandinavians are bad dudes too – while it REALLY would be helpful to discuss why – and how – they are so much better -(for the people) than for example ”Trumpland”.

89

Stephen 07.18.17 at 5:07 pm

Collin Street@84: not sure you’ve thought this through.

In my experience, if I don’t understand what someone says (assuming we’re speaking the same language) that could be because:

Their statement depends on some non-manifest fact that I don’t know about. This is, I think, what you mean by ignorance, and I agree it can happen. But there are alternatives:

Their statement depends on some fact that I know or believe to be false, but they don’t.

It depends on some belief that I don’t share (I realise that some beliefs are based on false facts, but I hesitate to extend that to all beliefs I don’t share. Maybe you do, too.)

It contains what I think is a logical fallacy, and I would like confirmation that is so.

It appears to me to be so confused that I honestly can’t be sure what it is they are trying to say.

Now, you may yourself be in the happy position that whenever someone fails to understand you that is mostly because they don’t know what you are talking about. I can see how you could believe that is so. I am not entirely persuaded it is so.

90

Stephen 07.18.17 at 5:17 pm

TM@83: surely exclusion and inclusion are opposite sides of the same coin? You can’t exclude some people without including others.

When you said “The assumption that the demos is by definition coextensive with the citizenship of the nation-state is just that, an assumption. That very definition is contentious”, surely that is at present, in liberal democracies, not a contentious assumption but the obvious truth? There are no legal barriers to women, people without riches, or members of ethnic minorities casting a vote, as long as they are citizens. (There is I suppose one exception: citizens of less than a certain age are not allowed to vote, but I doubt that you are arguing they should be.) But there are voices claiming it is unjust that non-citizens, being at the moment in a given country, are not allowed to vote: is that the assumption you were arguing against?

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Moz of Yarramulla 07.19.17 at 3:07 am

Stephen: There are no legal barriers to women, people without riches, or members of ethnic minorities casting a vote, as long as they are citizens.

Are you talking about the US, where those barriers exist and are commonplace (felon disenfranchisement, for example, voter ID laws for another), or more generally? Australian and Aotearoa both have similar exclusions, I’d need to do more research to find out about other countries. But I don’t know of any country that allows the mentally incompetent to vote. So “no legal barrier” is either wrong or needs a lot of fine print.

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TM 07.19.17 at 7:49 am

Stephen, i don’t think I have been unclear at all when I wrote: “But in a more plausible interpretation, the “we” is a subgroup of the demos, like “white men”, or “people who look like me” or such.”
“There are no legal barriers to women, people without riches, or members of ethnic minorities casting a vote, as long as they are citizens.” Apparently you aren’t familiar with voter suppression and disenfranchisement in the US.

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Stephen 07.19.17 at 4:53 pm

Moz, TM: I do not regard women, people without riches, or members of ethnic minorities as being automatically felons, or vice versa, and I think that with a little reflection you won’t either.

As for the mentally incompetent, I did mention the ban on voting for those of less than a certain age.

TM: as for your “plausible interpretation”, I would point out that what you actually wrote was “The assumption that the demos is by definition coextensive with the citizenship of the nation-state is just that, an assumption. That very definition is contentious”. If what you mean is that some people in some states try to restrict the demos to fewer than the citizens of the state, why, no problem there, look at various People’s Democratic Republics. In the US that is legally true. There are quite a few places outside the US where it is actually true. In some, though, there is an agitation for those who are not by any understanding citizens to be regarded as part of the demos: is that not true of the US?

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TM 07.19.17 at 5:30 pm

I don’t know what your point is Stephen. What I mean is exactly what I wrote.

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Sebastian H 07.19.17 at 6:25 pm

Intellectuals love debating edge cases, but that doesn’t mean it is fruitful to do so.

Arguing about the fact that the mentally incompetent don’t always get to vote is an edge case that isn’t pertinent to the discussion.

If I were to try to steelman the argument it would be something like “PROOF of citizenship is turning into an important vector of voter suppression” or something like that. I’m a little skeptical about the truth of that statement, but I get where it is coming from. It also happens to be much more convincing than “citizenship, meh”.

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Moz of Yarramulla 07.19.17 at 10:17 pm

Stephen, my point was that the legal barriers I mentioned also apply to eg felons who are women, black, poor etc. So “there are not legal barriers to {group} being allowed to vote” is only true in the “there is no specific barrier targeted officially and specifically at {group}”.

But in the US there is a huge effort to criminalise being black or poor, and further effort to make sure that black people are poor. And some criminals can’t vote in some places… both are more likely in places and for crimes that black people are more affected by. So you end up with the unusual situation where technically black people can vote, they just somehow mysteriously are much more likely not to be allowed to vote than white people are. To the point where some US courts have been persuaded that the result is illegal discrimination on the basis of race.

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J-D 07.20.17 at 12:22 pm

Stephen

There is I suppose one exception: citizens of less than a certain age are not allowed to vote, but I doubt that you are arguing they should be.

I don’t know whether TM would argue that, but I would.

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