Time to join the generation game?

by John Quiggin on September 18, 2018

As regular readers will know, I’ve spent a generation or more [1] deriding what I call the generation game – the idea of dividing the population up into birth cohorts (categories based on year of birth) such as Boomers, X-ers and so on (Millennials weren’t invented when I started) and assigning them various supposed characteristics. Most of the time, this exercise is little better than astrology. To the extent that there is any semblance to reality it simply reflects the fact that young people are, and always have been, different from old people.

But just as I have managed to get some traction with this idea, genuine cohort effects have emerged in politics in many countries. The sharpest case is Britain, where people over 65 voted massively for Brexit in the referendum and the Conservatives in the recent election, while those aged 18-24 went even more sharply the other way. As the map linked here shows, if only 18-24 year olds were voting, based on current polling data, the Conservatives would not have won a single seat[2]. If only those over 65 voted, the Conservatives would win 575 and the combined opposition 54.

This is a massive difference and can’t AFAICT be fully explained by differences in education, ethnic composition and so forth. It also represents a huge shift on the part of older cohorts, who were part of the electorate that gave Labour three terms not long ago. While there is some tendency for people to become more conservative as they age, it’s normally much more limited than this.

The explanation in simple terms, is Brexit. Most of the time, elections involving competing visions of the future. In the UK case, from the 1990s until Brexit, the contest was between hard-line Thatcher-style neoliberalism and Third Way Blairite soft neoliberalism. In the course of such debates, both sides routinely claim to be on the right side of history, to own the future and so on.

By contrast, Brexit represented an appeal to a (partly imaginary) past, against the present and the future. With the exception of a handful of neoliberal ideologues, who saw Brexit as a path to a free-market future, most Leavers were motivated by nostalgia for the glories of the past, and were willing to sacrifice the interests of the young to make a gesture in that direction.

What’s true of Brexit is true, though not to quite the same extent, of the culture war politics that have now become dominant on the political right in much of the English-speaking world. It’s driven in large measure by old men who lost the cultural battles of the 1960s and 1970s, and have never got over the fact.

The result is a situation where the right is appealing directly to members of older age cohorts with the result that younger cohorts are moving left. The most immediate effect has been to wipe out the support base of centrists of the Blair-Clinton-Keating type, who fail to appeal to either group.’m

Having said that, there are some important qualifications. First, this does nothing to rescue nonsensical generational divisions drawn at specific years. The older the birth cohort, the more rightwing its members are, on average, but there is no sharp division at some particular year marking a distinction between, say, X-ers and Millennials.

Second, the current situation is probably temporary. If current demographic trends continue, and nothing else changes, the political right will be doomed by demography to permanent minority status. That’s possible, but one-party dominance has rarely lasted long in the countries I’m talking about. And, as Stein’s Law has it, if a trend can’t continue, it won’t.

So, a long period of leftwing success would presumably produce a political realignment in which culture war issues are no longer a dividing line. On the other hand, if leftwing governments are elected and fail to deliver on their promises (or worse, implement their promises and fail disastrously) their support among currently young cohorts may be replaced by permanent oppositions.

In the meantime, though, the age gradient is striking. Yes, Virginia, there really is a Generation Gap.

fn1. There was a time when the term ‘generation’ referred to a span of 30 years or so. But in current parlance, each generation lasts 15-20 years.

fn2. I read a qualification that the estimates aren’t at the constituency level for Wales and Scotland. Not sure about this.

{ 76 comments }

1

Rossleigh 09.18.18 at 12:14 am

Perhaps it’s the political parties themselves where the generation gap is most real. One only has to look at the number of areas (climate change, marriage equality and so on) where the general population is much more progressive than the major parties to see this.

2

floopmeister 09.18.18 at 12:54 am

It’s driven in large measure by old men who lost the cultural battles of the 1960s and 1970s, and have never got over the fact.

Case study 1 – the Bitter Old Men gang up on a 9 year old girl:

https://theconversation.com/outrage-over-schoolgirl-refusing-to-stand-for-anthem-shows-rise-of-aggressive-nationalism-103160

3

Adam Hammond 09.18.18 at 1:20 am

I agree with the antipathy to generational labels. But it is really the boundaries that create the problems. I think of generations in the way I think of neighborhoods in big cities. Neighborhoods have a certain undeniable character to them. They are made of people, and groups of people do develop group identities. The problem for map makers is drawing the edges.

Brexit and the other awful things that you mention will have a powerful affect on a fraction of young people. That may last long enough that they share some identity as a result. I believe that “generation X” hit some powerful stuff at critical ages, leaving some shared identity there as well. Like a gradient in the water table emanating out around a toxic spill.

4

Jason Weidner 09.18.18 at 3:42 am

To me the biggest generational gap is between the older generations that have been responsible for and/or done nothing about global climate change and the degradation of the biosphere, and the younger (and unborn) generations who will inhabit a planet with a climate and biosphere unlike the one known for most of human history.

5

bad Jim 09.18.18 at 5:17 am

My younger brother, who just signed up for Medicare, did not join me and my mother protesting the invasion of Iraq. Now he has five bumper stickers on both of his cars.

My family, including my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, with one exception, have always been on the left. Perhaps the California side could be explained by founder effect, left coast diversity or Mexican cuisine, but the other cousins seem to be the same, so perhaps the rightward drift of aging isn’t a universal phenomenon.

My siblings’ first offspring were born in the bracket commonly considered Generation X, and bristle at the suggestion that they are millennials, but they are incontestably the children of baby boomers, grandchildren of the greatest generation. I’m inclined to think “who’s your daddy” is more dispositive than the first pop tune you heard.

6

Martin 09.18.18 at 5:28 am

It might be interesting to chart the political shifts (in, say, party vote) over time for each cohort (say, to avoid the pop “generations” that JQ deperecates, broken down by decade of birth). For example, how have those born in the 1920s voted over the years?

7

Murali 09.18.18 at 6:17 am

I’m still convinced that this current deviation from neoliberalism is temporary. Neoliberalism, whether of the left or right version is still the closest real world arrangement to Rawlsian political liberalism. The whole business about caring just about GDP etc can be given a public reason gloss. Any reasonable path forward which does not involve dehumanising the other half of the citizenry is going to involve cashing things out in terms that are publicly scrutable. So my bet is that the future will be neoliberal.

8

floopmeister 09.18.18 at 6:51 am

I am sure people have seen this already, but it still makes me laugh:

https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-pub-sign-blaming-baby-42884

9

Chris Bertram 09.18.18 at 7:20 am

@Murali “Neoliberalism, whether of the left or right version is still the closest real world arrangement to Rawlsian political liberalism.”

I think this is a mistake. If you’d said Dworkinian liberalism I’d be on board, but Rawls’s views, centring on the idea of a co-operating citizenry are rather different. The priority of the basic liberties and the need to guarantee for all real fair equal opportunity make for a rather different politics, particularly in a non-ideal condition where these are denied to so many people and particularly to the least advantaged. Neoliberalism, by contrast, is the domain of policy wonk initiatives justified by CBA etc rather than thinking of policies in need of justification to the victims of structural injustice conceived of as free and equal persons entitled to respect. (I’m some way through reading Tommie Shelby’s Dark Ghettos at the moment, which is both a brilliant book and a very interesting exercise in the differences between Rawlsian and policy-wonk perspectives.)

10

Murali 09.18.18 at 8:03 am

@Chris Bertram

2 points

1. There’s no reason why it can’t be both. I’m not claiming that the ideology that comes closest to justifying neoliberalism is Rawlsian Political liberalism. (Though I’m not really seeing the luck egalitarian case here). I’m claiming that no other real world arrangement (and I consider the nordic countries to be versions of left neoliberalism) comes closer to representing Rawlsian political liberalism

2. I think you’re focusing more on ToJ and less on PL. It might be that public reason liberalism genuinely requires something very different from neoliberalism, but I don’t know how anything else that we have actually got comes closer. Public reason liberalism is grounded in an account of respect for persons: a recognition of their capacity as moral agents. By this, I take it to mean that a recognition of people’s capacity to in general work out what is morally required of them by reasoning from the evidence available to them. However, we don’t normally expect people to have degrees in economics, sociology or psychology. This means that imposing an economic program that is not justifiable to everyone because does not have the same empirical evidence does not disrespect them while imposing a program which is not justifiable to everyone because they reasonably disagree about basic principles does fail to respect them. If this is right, then public reason liberalism is compatible with a certain kind of policy wonkishness, provided that the policy wonkishness is based on principles that are publicly justifiable.

In PL, Rawls backs away a bit from his two principles of justice. Instead, he seems to suggest that anything that gives serious weight to the basic liberties and which gives some interpretation of equality of opportunity and is roughly prioritarian or sufficientarian is within the bounds of a reasonable interpretation of the requirements of justice. Neoliberal wonkishness does seem to operate on the basis of this much vaguer account of liberalism even if it falls short of the more robust version he spells out in ToJ

11

Ray Vinmad 09.18.18 at 8:14 am

“My younger brother, who just signed up for Medicare, did not join me and my mother protesting the invasion of Iraq. Now he has five bumper stickers on both of his cars.”

I wonder if older generations who leaned left but get most of their information from the internet are moving further left as well. (I say ‘leaned left’ because if you lean right–you’ll have a different diet of websites.) My point isn’t that the internet makes Gen X-ers & Gen Y-ers leftists. Rather, it fuels a more intense frustration with the depredations caused by capitalism for those who’ve already taken notice of them.

Anecdotal experiences with my angry aging online cohort suggest it may not even be our *views* which are moving left but that our feelings of disgust, alarm, and impatience are so much stronger in the face of the catastrophes we are staring down–and this pushes us toward more radical views.

TV news gives one almost no sense of the coming environmental, economic, and democratic crises whereas a heavy consumption of online news seems to do the opposite.

While political orientation in the US is very influenced by one’s region, it seems likely that there is a TV v. internet split among the older crowd, particularly those more active on social media. Obviously, a type of aging left-leaning person is going to be pulled onto the internet. So it’s not a first cause but more of a feedback loop. This probably tracks educational levels as well.

It’s obvious we’re badly screwing the younger generation–but doing so in such a way that it’s impossible not to strenuously object even for a fairly self-centered oldster. The way it’s being done involves screwing humanity as a whole. Being comfortable with that requires a type of denial that is beyond all but the most deluded.

Again, it’s anecdotal but I’ve eavesdropped on quite a few cranky rants by leftist boomers. It’s the same style of cranky rant, but on the other side of the political spectrum than we’ve come to expect.

“..if leftwing governments are elected and fail to deliver on their promises (or worse, implement their promises and fail disastrously) their support among currently young cohorts may be replaced by permanent oppositions.”

That’s something that worries me. The one advantage you have as an older person is that you see how hard it’s going to be, and how much longer it’s going to take than we need it to. The utopian impulses of the youth motivate them, and you don’t want to undermine their energy–but you hope they will be in it for the long haul.

12

Z 09.18.18 at 8:43 am

@John Quiggin First an anecdote to add in the mix: if the French presidential had been decided by the less than 60 year old, the second round duel would have been Marine Le Pen/Jean-Luc Mélenchon (presumably in that order but the available data cannot confirm it beyond doubt), if it had been decided by the >60 cohort, it would have been the complementary pair François Fillon/Emmanuel Macron (in that order for sure). If it had been decided by the >70, then François Fillon would have been within grasp of a victory in the first round. Source: Ipsos Sopra-Steria

More seriously though, I wonder about how much of this electoral effect is explained by the cross-examination of other variables. Did for instance people above 65 with a given income and educative level vote significantly more Leave than people in the 18-24 bracket with the same income and educative level, or is it simply the case that there are very, very few people about 65 who are as educated as the young and yet as relatively poor on average (and conversely very, very few people under 30 who are as relatively affluent as the elderly and yet as uneducated)?

Murali @7 Neoliberalism, whether of the left or right version is still the closest real world arrangement to Rawlsian political liberalism. […] So my bet is that the future will be neoliberal.

If I had read that in 1978, I would have been skeptical of the conclusion (it seems to assert that “the real world arrangement closest to Rawlsian political liberalism” is the one that will prevail in the future, and that seems to require some form of argument, to say the least). I find it truly remarkable that such a sentence could be written in 2018.

13

Dipper 09.18.18 at 9:05 am

To be slightly less abrupt than my previous comment, I think the change that takes place over time is one of perception of one’s role in society at large. Given a political drama, I suspect the young will identify with the heroic key players in the drama. They see themselves as drivers of change, full of ideas that will bring beneficial transformation. For them, a party that is strong on ideology but short on checks and balances will be attractive, as will a political movement that has such lofty ideals as the EU.

Over time, people change their point of identity from the people doing the heroic stuff, to the people having heroic stuff done to them. The heroic stuff never quite works out, isn’t as transparently good as the headline would believe, and what is needed is a means of dealing with the fall out. As older people look at levels of youth unemployment in the EU, look at the fate of Greece, at the levels of immigration bringing waves of unattached you gem fresh from the traumas of urban warfare and, a scepticism about this supra-nationalistic EU ideology to deliver actual benefits and suspicion of the motives of some of the people involved would seem to be warranted.

The attraction of conservatism to older voters is that it isn’t an ideological platform. It is a belief in a system of political cheques and balances that mean changes in society can be delivered in a way which gives everyone a voice, minimises negative consequences and avoids civic disruption. Hence the Conservative Party is the party that has had two female PMs, introduced gay marriage, has openly gay ministers, many non-white MPs, and a home secretary of Pakistani heritage who follows a single mother with a black partner. All with a minimum of fuss and noise. You old lefties didn’t see that coming thirty years ago, did you?

14

engels 09.18.18 at 9:29 am

I don’t think either are straightforwardly neoliberal but I think there are audible ideological echoes of trickle-down in Rawls just as there are of responsibilisation in Dworkin.

15

Dave Heasman 09.18.18 at 9:34 am

“reading Tommie Shelby’s Dark Ghettos ..”

Not *the* Tommy Shelby? (New Peaky Blinders soon)

16

engels 09.18.18 at 10:18 am

Btw if the merkmal of neoliberalism is wonkishness I don’t know why that would exclude Jack the Just.

17

Dipper 09.18.18 at 11:52 am

… and just to add the next wave of recruits to the Conservatives will be feminists, who finding themselves being lectured by women-with-penises about what it really means to be a woman, and seeing claims of rape and sexual assault not taken seriously and brushed under the carpet by left-wing movements, will increasingly find the Conservative Party a much more conducive place for having proper discussions about the place and role of women in society.

18

engels 09.18.18 at 12:21 pm

Food for thought:

Rawls did in fact eventually establish a well-functioning academic industry which was quickly routinized and which preempted much of the space that might have been used for original political thinking. He was one of the forerunners of the great countermovement, proleptically outlining a philosophical version of what came to be known as the “trickle-down” theory. Crudely speaking, this theory eventually takes this form: “Value” is overwhelmingly produced by especially gifted individuals, and the creation of such value benefits society as a whole. Those who are now rich are well-off because they have contributed to the creation of “value” in the past. For the well-off to continue to benefit society, however, they need to be motivated, to be given an incentive. Full egalitarianism will destroy the necessary incentive structure and thus close the taps from which prosperity flows. So inequality can actually be in the interest of the poor because only if the rich are differentially better-off than others will they create value at all—some of which will then “trickle down” or be redistributed to the less well-off. Rawls allows people who observe great inequality in their societies to continue to feel good about themselves, provided that they support some cosmetic forms of redistribution of the crumbs that fall from the tables of the rich and powerful. The apparent gap which many people think exists between the views of Rawls and, say, Ayn Rand is less important than the deep similarity in their basic views.

19

Harry 09.18.18 at 12:33 pm

Wow, that’s a spectacularly resent-ridden quote. I notice that he doesn’t actually cite Rawls. Because there’s nothing to cite.

20

Marc 09.18.18 at 12:42 pm

As someone who came of age just before the Reagan presidency in the US, I can assure you that it is entirely possible for younger people to be more conservative than older ones. There are already pretty clear signs of a cultural backlash, particularly among young men (e.g. resentment against overt politics in video games.)

21

nastywoman 09.18.18 at 1:08 pm

”The sharpest case is Britain, where people over 65 voted massively for Brexit in the referendum and the Conservatives in the recent election, while those aged 18-24 went even more sharply the other way”.

And even sharper are any European students who joined – or will join – ”Erasmus” and as European students who went through the Erasmus program – are the most openminded ”trendsetters” – ”trailblazers” or just ”sooo cool” that not one old Brit will be able to fight ”the Meghan” – the ”’Stay” will keep on staying – even if old dudes think (politically) otherwise…

22

Chris Bertram 09.18.18 at 1:11 pm

@Harry well, the quote is from Geuss, so what would you expect? And the person trawling the internet for a random anti-Rawls quote to back up his priors (as if that constituted an actual argument) is @engels. Again, no surprises there.

@murali, I don’t see that Rawls is backing away from his principles in PL. He still supports the same principles of justice as in TJ, he just thinks that a state can meet the criteria for legitimacy without fully conforming to those principles (an in particular that a less demanding principle than the DP might pass a test of public reason).

23

bob mcmanus 09.18.18 at 1:31 pm

Wiki: Rawls further argued that these principles were to be ‘lexically ordered’ to award priority to basic liberties over the more equality-oriented demands of the second principle. …as does Hayek, Friedman, maybe Le Maistre. Geuss is absolutely right, and every Marxian should see this a a deal-breaker

I know y’all can make that real complicated, and I suppose I could make or cite extensive arguments and discussions which we shouldn’t bother with yet again., but that was simple enough for me, and allowed me to stop reading Rawls immediately and forever.

24

Matt 09.18.18 at 1:32 pm

As someone who came of age just before the Reagan presidency in the US, I can assure you that it is entirely possible for younger people to be more conservative than older ones. There are already pretty clear signs of a cultural backlash, particularly among young men

There was a very successful sit-com based on this! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_Ties

25

bianca steele 09.18.18 at 1:46 pm

In 1985 or 86 I was introduced to Rawls’ thought by philosophy professors (whose names Chris and Harry would almost certainly recognize) via A Theory of Justice. I would bet that 99% of the Internet people who go on about Rawls are doing so on the basis of their personal reading of the text of A Theory of Justice. My impression is that what’s popularly understood to be the main argument of TJ relies heavily on what one takes to be Rawls’ beliefs about what science tells us about economies. In the 1970s this could be assumed to be something like Galbraith (now Kuttner and Reich), but more recently this does not always seem to be the most obvious choice.

I assume many people around my age know about Rawls only what they read in conservative writers like Rand who took him to be arguing in favor of extending the welfare state to the point of socialism. With the benefit of hindsight, seeing such phenomena as Scruton taking Galbraith and Dworkin to be representatives of the Left, I’m not unwilling to discount that kind of evidence.

@Marc

I also thought that the assumption of constant movement to the left isn’t necessarily so. For at least twenty years, you can see young culture writers promoting old-fogyism, and “I agree with these old writers but don’t like explaining what they or I mean” hides a multitude of sins.

26

AcademicLurker 09.18.18 at 2:36 pm

I have to agree with Marc@20. “Conservatives will soon be doomed because of demographics” is a claim I’ve been hearing regularly for 30 years.

27

bob mcmanus 09.18.18 at 2:37 pm

“Prioritizing SCHIP or student loan relief and paying for them with an inheritance tax is not placing an equality argument against a freedom argument because the social programs are really about increasing equality and opportunity…”

“Obama’s millions are about freedom for black men. Clinton’s millions are about freedom for women. The Koch’s billions are about gross inequality and undeserved political power. Can’t we find a way to tax only white men?”

Liberalism is counterrevolutionary…yeah, conservatism, or definitely opportunistically enabling conservatism. These arguments, these kinds or forms of arguments, are counterrevolutionary.

Socialism is illiberal. Equality is “lexically ordered” over Koch’s freedom bigtime. I do not care about capitalist’s freedom or rights.

The anti-liberalism of socialism can inform the everyday practice of socialists, even in blog comment sections.

28

MPAVictoria 09.18.18 at 3:01 pm

“will increasingly find the Conservative Party a much more conducive place for having proper discussions about the place and role of women in society.”

Oh yeah. For sure…..

29

engels 09.18.18 at 3:49 pm

And the person trawling the internet for a random anti-Rawls quote to back up his priors (as if that constituted an actual argument) is @engels. Again, no surprises there.

A bit unfair since I’ve read that book (albeit not the Chinese edition to which that’s evidently the preface) as well as Geuss’s essays criticising Rawls, and remember trying to make that (fairly obvious) trickle-down observation in an undergrad pol phil tutorial nearly two decades ago (only to receive a similarly dyspeptic reaction). I’m also fairly sure I remember you once saying here that you admired ‘The Idea of a Critical Theory’ (it might even be what originally led me to Geuss…)

Anyway if anyone wants to read sonething that isn’t on the internet that’s similarly hostile to post-Rawlsianism I’d recommend Lorna Finlayson’s book ‘The Political Is Political’.

30

Harry 09.18.18 at 4:53 pm

“There was a very successful sit-com based on this”
Which, in turn, was loosely based on this:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wait_Till_Your_Father_Gets_Home

(does it worry you that I know that? It worries me).

31

Stephen 09.18.18 at 5:19 pm

Two queries.

One, there are contemptuous references to “bitter old men”. Given the relative death rates, the older generation have actually more women than men. Should we suppose that
a) bitterness in the older generation is restricted to men: if so, why? Or
b) older women are as bitter and despicable as older men, but saying contemptuous things, however well deserved, about any women is in the social media world too dangerous?

Two, it is supposed that the older generations ignore the interests of the younger. But the younger are usually their children, grandchildren, and so on. In my experience, people mostly care intensely about their descendants. Should we suppose that
a) the modern older generation, unlike any before, care nothing for their descendants? Or
b) the modern older generation believe that their descendants will in fact benefit from decisions which they, in their wisdom, approve of, even if the inexperienced youngsters don’t?

32

engels 09.18.18 at 6:16 pm

I do approve of Prof Q taking a more nuanced stance on intergenerational conflict btw although I disagree that it’s explained by Brexit.

33

Jerry Vinokurov 09.18.18 at 8:04 pm

“Be afraid of the old/they’ll inherit your soul” -Regina Spektor

34

Phillip 09.18.18 at 9:47 pm

@dipper,
“The attraction of conservatism to older voters is that it isn’t an ideological platform. It is a belief in a system of political cheques and balances that mean changes in society can be delivered in a way which gives everyone a voice, minimizes negative consequences and avoids civic disruption.”

This is the exact opposite of my experience with ‘conservativism’, in the time since 1992 that I’ve paid attention to political events. I’ve seen checks and balances consistently undermined or neutralized, dissenting voices rabidly attacked, and negative consequences sold as a feature rather than a bug- almost entirely on the side of the organized conservative groups and institutions. I’ve seen civic disruption increase as the ability of citizens to voice dissent in alternate forums is shut down- Scott Walker’s Wisconsin being my learning experience on this…

As it stands now, conservativism seems to be a combination of ‘they probably deserve to suffer’ and ‘I’ve got mine, screw you!’ I’m not sure where you get your impression of conservativism, but I do know it shares only a name with the real-world version of the same.

35

Matt 09.18.18 at 10:50 pm

to post-Rawlsianism I’d recommend Lorna Finlayson’s book ‘The Political Is Political’.

For what it’s worth, I’ve read Finlayson’s book and thought it was not at all good. It seemed to me to display all of the vices of her mentor Geuss (she studied under him at Cambridge) (mistaking a sneer for an argument, wildly ungenerous and implausible readings of people she doesn’t like, etc.) and none of his virtues (a generally good writing style, actual very deep knowledge of big areas of the history of philosophy, etc.)

For people interested in how far Rawls can be considered to be a “ne0-liberal” better books are this recent one by William Edmundson or the older but still really good one by former blog participant Jon Mandle . (I’ll say that Edmundson’s book is a bit heavy going in some ways, but very carefully argued.)

36

floopmeister 09.19.18 at 12:54 am

…the modern older generation believe that their descendants will in fact benefit from decisions which they, in their wisdom, approve of, even if the inexperienced youngsters don’t?

Oh sure. Every parent since the beginning of time – including me.

But that changes when my kids reach a) the age of legal maturity, and b) by assumption (however problematic) a level or rationality regarding actions and consequences.

But children of any age (even 9) can stand for their principles (as the girl in Queensland has done) and that should be applauded.

…even as her parents force her to eat her vegetables and go to bed when they ask her to…

Telling children to eat healthily, or stopping them from watching internet porn, fits clearly within the category you are describing above (…decisions which they, in their wisdom, approve of…)

Writing columns in national newspapers calling her selfish and spoilt for not standing for the national anthem is simply bullying by Bitter Old Men.

…and I use the term ‘Bitter Old Men’ quite deliberately.

“Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” Cicero

37

John Quiggin 09.19.18 at 6:07 am

@Marc Obviously, there are always more and less conservative members of every age cohort, and there’s no general rule that older cohorts are more conservative than younger ones. As I mentioned, there’s a tendency to become more conservative with age, but that’s not decisive. The cohort who came of age under Reagan and after the end of the Volcker recession were generally more conservative, I think.

@AcademicLurker 30 years takes us back to the end Reagan’s second term. I don’t recall much talk of the inevitable extinction of conservatism at that time. I’d say it started in earnest around 2008, when conservatism had collapsed in intellectual terms, and started relying on white nationalism.

38

Gareth Wilson 09.19.18 at 6:26 am

The Brexit vote is another example of a pair of referendums with the opposite results, like the two Irish abortion referendums. Granted, they weren’t exactly voting to join the European Union in 1975. But it would be interesting to compare the age breakdowns of both votes and see if there’s a real cohort effect.

39

Tychy 09.19.18 at 8:36 am

There are broader trends. Younger people in the UK are far less likely to be the members of a political party or a trade union. They are far less likely to turn out to vote. They are an increasingly depoliticised or politically passive generation.

Sometimes it seems that the difference between Brexit and Remain is really between those who believe in a participatory democracy and those who want to privatise political decisions, contracting them out to a faraway, unaccountable organisation.

40

engels 09.19.18 at 10:09 am

A not unsympathetic review of Edmundson (caveat Chris: I found it on the internet)
https://jacobinmag.com/2018/08/john-rawls-reticent-socialist-review-theory-of-justice/

41

Matt 09.19.18 at 11:46 am

Re: Edmundson’s book on Rawls: I had totally forgotten it, but he shows up in comments several times in the post engels linked to about Geuss and Rawls, and at one point says something like, “Rawls needs his own Leo Strauss to explain the ideas he was too hesitant to put explicitly.” This was several years before he wrote his book. (Before it, I never would have associated Edmundson, a very good legal philosopher, with Rawls at all.) But, one way of seeing that book is as doing just what he suggests. (That’s both a strength and a weakness of the book, I think.)

42

nastywoman 09.19.18 at 4:00 pm

@39
”Younger people in the UK are far less likely to be the members of a political party or a trade union”.

Not only in the UK young people are ”depoliticised” because ”politics” ar just – ”not cool” anymore – as even cooking is cooler.

43

mpowell 09.19.18 at 9:29 pm

It’s interesting to me that many of the same people who complain about the establishment center-left always kicking left also have so many angry things to say about Rawls. There has always been such a harsh repudiation of the center-left, whatever you want to call it: Rawls, neoliberalism, 3rd way, whatever. It matches both the temperament of the far left, but also to a significant degree, their political commitments. To a large extent I think it is perfectly understandable. But then, why wouldn’t you expect the center-left to repudiate you in turn? There is no particular reason to believe the center-left would prefer the far left to the center-right as a second best political order. The interesting twist is that the center-left still expects far left votes in a two party system as a sensible strategic vote, which is not strictly wrong but always contentious.

This classic argument seems less relevant now as the western world moves to a new style of polarization with both far right and far left growing in power. But unless these new political power centers can happily collapse back into traditional centrist models, I fear the outcome will only appeal to the most unrepentant authoritarian right or left (but more likely the right!)

44

engels 09.19.18 at 10:16 pm

Younger people in the UK… are an increasingly depoliticised or politically passive generation.

And yet they don’t seem to want to do what old guys like you tell them!

45

engels 09.19.18 at 10:42 pm

And may soon elect the first real socialist government in British history…

46

Barry 09.19.18 at 11:21 pm

Marc
“As someone who came of age just before the Reagan presidency in the US, I can assure you that it is entirely possible for younger people to be more conservative than older ones. There are already pretty clear signs of a cultural backlash, particularly among young men (e.g. resentment against overt politics in video games.)”

Note that ‘overt politics’ is like ‘identity politics’; for white/male/right-wing/rich interests, it’s just ‘politics’.

47

Ronan 09.20.18 at 12:00 am

“As the map linked here shows, if only 18-24 year olds were voting, based on current polling data, the Conservatives would not have won a single seat[2]. If only those over 65 voted, the Conservatives would win 575 and the combined opposition 54.”

Surely you cant generalise from the sorts of young people who actually vote in elections to the entire cohort? Afaik during Brexit you saw the same education divides among 18-24 yr olds, just non third level 18-24 yr olds were much less likely to vote?

48

John Quiggin 09.20.18 at 5:43 am

@47 My impression is that the results from exit polls (of voters) were fairly similar to this, although I’d expect that, for all age groups, voters would be more Conservative than citizens in general. As I said in the post, I don’t think the effects can be explained by education, even taking into account an interaction with turnout, but if you have data to the contrary, I’d be keen to see it.

Recent polling (admittedly by a pro-Remain source) gives an 87-13 pro-Remain majority among newly eligible voters, which must surely swamp any non-cohort effects.

https://drugstoreculture.com/peoples-vote/

49

nastywoman 09.20.18 at 9:12 am

@44
”And yet they don’t seem to want to do what old guys like you tell them”!

We never want to do what old guys tell us – but what does that have to do with ”politics”.
-(and please no answer that ”everything is politics” – as actually ”everything is art”)

50

Z 09.20.18 at 9:45 am

John Quiggin While there is some tendency for people to become more conservative as they age, it’s normally much more limited than this. The explanation in simple terms, is Brexit.

I am skeptical. The French polling data for the 2017 presidential election exhibit similar polarization in terms of age of the voters, but this time people over 60 disproportionately favored Macron and Fillon (together, they garnered a crushing absolutely majority of voters above 60, whereas they had barely one fourth of those below 25) who were by far the most pro-EU of the candidates, whereas Mélenchon and Le Pen, the most virulent critics of the EU of the major candidates, got together an absolute majority of the <25 vote (and double that of Macron+Fillon in that age range).

Don't you find it strange that your favored explanation for the UK would have predicted precisely the inverse of the actual results of the French case, even though these two countries are extremely similar?

It’s driven in large measure by old men who lost the cultural battles of the 1960s and 1970s, and have never got over the fact. The result is a situation where the right is appealing directly to members of older age cohorts with the result that younger cohorts are moving left

I’m also skeptical. First of all, why would the battles of the 60s and the 70s play out now? More importantly, the French case show that what appeals to old people is not the right exactly.

My guess is that you were right: we have moved from a left/right spectrum to a three party system. Older people understandably find it harder to adapt to the new political landscape and to think about it, so I suspect they went disproportionately to what they thought they could fit in the formerly valid squares they were accustomed to. As the transitional process first destroyed the Left (split between the neosocialist left and the neoliberal left), that meant some sort of Right.

51

engels 09.20.18 at 11:05 am

We never want to do what old guys tell us – but what does that have to do with ”politics”.

Not supporting Brexit, supporting Corbyn, along other things. Seems like you’d expect a ‘politically passive generation’ to fall into line behind the blue passports, national service and Trident brigade…

52

mpowell 09.20.18 at 1:28 pm

Z – I think you get to an important point in your last paragraph. Fundamentally, if the political landscape is changing, people don’t know what to do for a while. This can play out very differently between, eg. France and England and I would really caution not to draw too strong of conclusions about broader trends. In the US context, it took 20 years for West Virginia to figure out they should really be voting for Republicans after the southern realignment.

53

bianca steele 09.20.18 at 2:23 pm

Z: “My guess is that you were right: we have moved from a left/right spectrum to a three party system. Older people understandably find it harder to adapt to the new political landscape and to think about it, so I suspect they went disproportionately to what they thought they could fit in the formerly valid squares they were accustomed to. As the transitional process first destroyed the Left (split between the neosocialist left and the neoliberal left), that meant some sort of Right.”

Yes, I agreed with JQ’s three party system when he proposed it, but it did have the disadvantage that there were groups who were on the wrong side of the lines he drew. IIRC he suggested that people would move to the side the theory predicted. Instead, we had groups of people—many of them young, or declared to be young (under 45 was a category sometimes called “young”)—who dug in their heels and declared the real system was one more favorable to their own side.

Additionally, what defines left and right has moved. I think there’s some degree of oldish people dismayed that their own side has had a bunch of people with what they considered wrong opinions, and were cheered recently when they thought they saw their preferred opinions gaining ground. JQ didn’t, I don’t think, have a place for left anti-neoliberalism. Whether the gains are permanent, and what the effects will be of any shift in emphasis that sticks, are hard to predict.

54

nastywoman 09.20.18 at 4:43 pm

@51
”Seems like you’d expect a ‘politically passive generation’ to fall into line behind the blue passports, national service and Trident brigade…”

No –
I expect our ”depoliticised” generation to be – not ”passive” at all – and never falling ”into line behind some ”blue passports, national service and Trident brigade”- and always supporting what you guys consider to be ”the left” – as isn’t the so called left for ”a openminded and peaceful United Europe”?

(or not?)

55

John Quiggin 09.20.18 at 10:42 pm

Z @50 The final results as reported here don’t match your analysis. Age differences weren’t that big, and support for Le Pen peaked among 35-49 year olds.

I disagree that votes for Melenchon represent a break with the pattern represented in the UK. From the other side of the planet, Melenchon looks a lot like Corbyn, right up to a left version of EU scepticism.

56

John Quiggin 09.20.18 at 10:44 pm

“JQ didn’t, I don’t think, have a place for left anti-neoliberalism. “

I took anti-neoliberalism as being a defining characteristic of the left. The point was that the left has been forced to ally itself with soft neoliberals (Blair, Clinton) but is now breaking free.

57

Ronan 09.21.18 at 12:47 am

” if you have data to the contrary, I’d be keen to see it.”

Cant remember where I saw the stuff on divides within 18-24 year olds. I’ll try find it.

58

LFC 09.21.18 at 12:48 am

I’ve read a few essays by Geuss that were interesting, but what he says about Rawls (see @18) is really wrong — and I’m not surprised that bob mcmanus agrees with this rubbish.

I think Edmundson’s take on Rawls (to judge from a podcast interview with him about his book that I listened to a while ago) has a lot to recommend it, though I have no present plans to read Edmundson’s book. Btw I think “hesitant” (see @41) might have been a better word than “reticent” for Edmundson’s title, just b.c “reticent” is used (and sometimes misused) a lot these days.

59

Z 09.21.18 at 9:50 am

John Quiggin The final results as reported here don’t match your analysis. Age differences weren’t that big, and support for Le Pen peaked among 35-49 year olds.

The second round is far less indicative of the behavior and opinions of the French electorate than the first round, if only because turn-out was down 20% between the two rounds (more than 35,1 million people cast an actual vote in the first round while less than 27,3 did so in the second round) – the very first time turn-out was down at all between the two rounds in French political history since 1969. Abstention was around 33% for voters under 35, so age effects in that round are probably indiscernible simply because young people did not vote.

I disagree that votes for Melenchon represent a break with the pattern represented in the UK. From the other side of the planet, Melenchon looks a lot like Corbyn, right up to a left version of EU scepticism.

Obviously I didn’t make myself clear enough, because I meant the exact reverse of what you are disagreeing with.

The UK Tories and Macron/Fillon shared some characteristics: they campaigned on economic austerity, lower capital taxes, stricter control of the unemployed, a larger role for the private sector, less civil servants, tighter budgets for education and social programs, and stricter immigration policies. Also, they were arguably the candidates the easiest to identify in terms of formerly well-known subdivisions of the political space. On the other had, they differed in an important respect: the former are strong critics of the EU, the latter were by far the strongest proponents of the EU.

Based on the fact that older people went disproportionately for the Tories in the UK and for Macron/Fillon in France, I conclude that it is implausible that the attitudes of candidates towards the EU is an important causal factor in explaining the way older people vote and that it is more likely that their electoral behavior is explained by their support of economic austerity, lower capital taxes, stricter control of the unemployed, a larger role for the private sector, less civil servants, tighter budgets for education and social programs, and stricter immigration policies (a position that makes a good deal of political sense in terms of their own self-interest) and/or by the fact that they tend to vote for candidates they think they can identify in political terms familiar to them.

Symmetrically, young voters both in the UK and France apparently are disproportionately prone to voting for candidates defending neo-socialist policies and committed to radical environmental policies – policies that make a lot of sense in terms of their own self-interest – and/or that are easy to fit in the new way the political space is organized (the one which is familiar to them) even though these candidates (Corbyn and Mélenchon) are somewhat at odds with them in terms of general attitudes towards the EU.

So I am skeptical of what I took to be your “explanation in simple terms” relating Brexit to the way old or young people vote.

60

engels 09.21.18 at 7:15 pm

I guess another name for Quiggin’s ‘three parties’ is the good ole holy trinity of liberalism, socialism and fascism. I’m probably revealing my ignorance but what I don’t really understand is what social/material forces are supposed to cause the political space to get carved up this way. Any ideas?

61

nastywoman 09.22.18 at 4:25 am

@59
”Abstention was around 33% for voters under 35, so age effects in that round are probably indiscernible simply because young people did not vote”.

So I am skeptical of any (political) “explanation in simple terms” relating to any young people – what it takes for them to vote?
-(for whoever?)

So couldn’t we just agree that old dudes have a very hard time to understand the ”depoliticised” generation?

62

nastywoman 09.22.18 at 4:39 am

And just a hint –
The young ”depoliticised generation” might NOT think in terms of some ”three party system” anymore –
or NOT even old-fashioned ideas about ”the good ole holy trinity of liberalism, socialism and fascism”?

63

engels 09.22.18 at 8:19 am

This being CT of course I should have said ‘does anyone have any ideas or wish to angrily dismiss the premise of my question?’

64

engels 09.22.18 at 12:01 pm

Btw I’m sure not everyone here agrees but I kinda think Cohen showed Rawls isn’t a socialist (both the Tanner Lectures/kidnapper argument and Why Not Socialism/camping trip analogy) and he definitely can’t be accused of not taking him seriously enough. I wonder if Edmonton says anything about that.

65

nastywoman 09.22.18 at 4:53 pm

@63
‘does anyone have any ideas or wish to angrily dismiss the premise of my question?’

What’s about dismissing it jokingly? – and the Brexit and the piece of cake which was offered to Madame May is a wonderful example –

If you are willing to share the cherry you even might get a bigger piece.

66

LFC 09.22.18 at 5:27 pm

I assume Edmunson engages w Cohen, but as I said I haven’t read it.

67

engels 09.22.18 at 9:20 pm

I think it comes down to whether you think ‘market socialism’ is socialism: personally I don’t.

68

Matt 09.22.18 at 10:02 pm

Edmundson spends very little time on Cohen. There isn’t a huge amount of discussion of other philosophers – more on people claiming that Rawls is a supporter of a “welfare state” account, or of discussions of “property owning democracy” accounts than anything else. It’s mostly a very careful reading and analysis of the texts (Mostly A Theory of Justice and Justice as Fairness), trying to show, with a pretty good degree of plausibility, that when understood correctly, socialism, in a pretty strong sense, is the best realization of the two principles of justice, and that Rawls himself saw this more than is understood, and then explaining why he wasn’t clearer about it. (That’s the “Straussian” bit of the book.) I’m not completely convinced it shows socialism to be a better realization of the two principles than property owning democracy, but it’s a very well set out argument. (I do think it indirectly shows Cohen’s objections to/reading of Rawls to be wrong, for what that’s worth – to not fit well at all with what Rawls actually says or argues, though I was already predisposed to think that.)

69

John Quiggin 09.23.18 at 12:15 am

@Z I don’t have a good feel for the nuances of French politics. My perception is that UK Euroscepticism relies much more on nostalgia for imperial glory, and a lack of interest in the future than do the European varieties. So, in speaking of Brexit as a generational issue, I didn’t mean to suggest that this applies to EU scepticism in general.

On the broader point, I think the patterns you point to in France eg, older cohort support for traditional conservatives like Fillon can mostly be explained by other variables like education and religiosity. That’s my usual view, which is why I am generally critical of generational claims.

I see Brexit as an exceptional case. However, there are signs that the same pattern is emerging with culture war politics more generally.

70

nastywoman 09.23.18 at 3:18 am

– and about ”the French” and the nuances of French culture and the ”younger French generation” –
there is this very strong ”French-German Connection” and cultural exchange -(in the younger generation) – starting with a very early ”Schüleraustausch” –
(French school-kids staying with German families and vice versa)
And having done that three times in my youth I still have very little idea about their ”politics” – as remembered – we hardly ever talked about ”politics” –
with the exception of the immense ”political” need to ”stay friends” –
(and trying to learn ”our” languages before English) –
which still didn’t help much understanding French politics – but so as difficult it might be to decipher different younger European generations – as easy it is to do it with the elder Anglo-Saxon Crowd –
(generation mummy)

What a bunch of old f…? – and we won’t rest until every one of them is substituted by one of our ”sisters”!-
-(and just joking – as always – or not?)

71

John Quiggin 09.23.18 at 5:18 am

@Z An obvious point, but one that just occurred to me: Any UK voter over 60 can remember (perhaps through rose-tinted glasses) the period before the UK entered the EU (then the EEC). Very few French voters are old enough to remember the period before (the precursors of) the EU. So, the salience of the generational divide on this issue is much greater for the UK.

72

J-D 09.23.18 at 10:16 am

John Quiggin

Any UK voter over 60 can remember (perhaps through rose-tinted glasses) the period before the UK entered the EU (then the EEC). Very few French voters are old enough to remember the period before (the precursors of) the EU. So, the salience of the generational divide on this issue is much greater for the UK.

What is true in that respect of the UK must also be true of other countries admitted after the founder members; but for the most recently admitted members the generational divide would perhaps be at its least salient for the converse reason that very few (if any) voters are young enough not to remember the period before their countries joined the EU.

73

Dipper 09.23.18 at 10:51 am

@Prof Q ” My perception is that UK Euroscepticism relies much more on nostalgia for imperial glory, and a lack of interest in the future …”

Not really. In fact I’d say it is Remainers who go on about “Britain’s place in the world” and “Britain’s standing in the world” who have an inability to let go of the past and see the UK in historic terms. Brexiters tend to focus on more mundane things like fishing quotas and consequences of uncontrolled immigration.

Also, Leavers have been quite clear about the future of the UK as an independent state with free trade agreements with other nations. Remainers don’t generally discuss the future other than in vague terms, and specifically refuse to engage on what the future of the EU is and the UK’s place in it. Much of the Remain campaign and the campaign for another referendum is based on projections of short-term GDP and immediate supposed consequences rather than on any political vision of the future.

74

Z 09.23.18 at 12:21 pm

engels I don’t really understand is what social/material forces are supposed to cause the political space to get carved up [in liberalism, socialism and fascism]

Can I disagree without angrily denying the premise? My impression is that what are sometimes called liberalism, socialism and fascism actually vary so much, not only in terms of individual characteristics but also in terms of structural relations with each other, from one country to the next that grouping them together obscures more than it illuminates.

Besides, and more importantly in terms of general heuristics, these three terms do not refer to stable entities, they refer to symptoms of transitions! Socialism, insofar as something can be called that, is (I believe) what happens when alphabetized popular classes are not subjected to religious control and do not exercise their fair share of political power. So it’s by definition a transitory phenomenon which starts with mass alphabetization and decline of religious practice (whichever comes first historically, and both cases are attested), comes to a complete end (as such) when alphabetization is universal, when religion exert no control on the society anymore and when popular masses have seized political agency and which can happen essentially only once in the history of a population (because the transition from 0% to 100% of the popular class being alphabetized and from total religious control to no religious control are one of a kind events).

Now, all that having been said, I believe that societies do exhibit common reactions to deep social changes that are indeed somewhat common from one to the next (among the developed world). But I harp on this often enough here on CT (including last week on the Conservatism thread) not to repeat myself once more.

@John Quiggin So, in speaking of Brexit as a generational issue, I didn’t mean to suggest that this applies to EU scepticism in general. […] I see Brexit as an exceptional case

OK, fair enough. I agree that EU skepticism as experienced by the British has deep, fundamental differences with the French or Italian one (or for that matter the German one, but that case is obvious).

75

Fake Dave 09.24.18 at 8:48 am

I agree with earlier comments about the role of the internet in the “generation gap” but also also think it extends to the media landscape in general. As an American, the UK journalism landscape is, frankly, baffling. Our “liberal media” isn’t actually all that liberal (and is decidedly corporate), but I still get sad and confused when I hear Brits discuss the various shades of right-wing tabloid that pass for national newspapers there. Sure the Guardian is fine (even if they apparently can’t afford copy editors), but the Graudinad is self-evidently a paper of the left and often preaches to the converted or entertains the sort of sectarian feuds that are only meaningful to people who have strong feelings about Blairites, “populists,” and the word “neoliberal.” In the US, that sort of editorial slant is more common in weeklies and monthlies and the big dailies usually play up their neutrality.

Don’t get me wrong, I read the Gaudiran regularly in part because, unlike WaPo or the NYT, I actually know where it stands (also no paywall), but I still sometimes get the unpleasant feeling that it’s trying to sell me a particular worldview (which is perhaps more noticeable as a foreigner). For Britons who are put off by the Gourd because of its style, substance, or association with Labour, what’s the alternative? A bunch of rags that occupy the intellectual space between the Wall Street Journal and Breitbart? The anodyne stiffness of the BBC? Obviously there is a vast world of information and perspectives online and the people who grew up with the internet or turned to it out of frustration with the rightwingmainstream media will have access to it, but what about the people who’ve read the Times or the Telegraph or whatever for years and don’t think too much about the politics? Are they aware of the conservative slant the way a Daily Mail reader would be, or does the existence of those Daily Mail readers make them feel like they’ve stayed in the center?

These aren’t just rhetorical questions. I’m generally curious what the British “mainstream” looks like these days. In the US, we went from no one knowing what Fox News was to it being the primary source of right wing propaganda (especially for the elderly) in less than two decades. It’s a new thing, so its effects are obvious, but the British media landscape is full of grand old papers that moved to the right in fits and spurts over many years. How does that affect the generation gap calculus? Brexit was something that had to be sold to the British public. John is arguing that the over-60 set were the ones that were naturally most interested in buying it (which certainly sounds right), but it’s also possible that they were simply the ones that had it pitched to them the most because they were the ones that still got their news from the conservative old media. If that is the case, then it’s possible older Britons are not inherently or uniquely Euroskeptical, but that they were simply the most appealing or accessible target demographic for a sophisticated nationwide marketing campaign.

76

Gareth Wilson 09.24.18 at 10:26 am

One of the young female characters on Doctor Who was holding a copy of the Guardian in a scene a few years ago. At first I thought this was completely consistent with the character, but then I wondered whether she would bother to buy a paper copy.

Comments on this entry are closed.