Thoughts from Anywhere
by Elias Blum
I’ve been reading David Goodhart’s book “The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics”. I highly recommend it.
In gist, his argument is that the main fault line of current politics is not between economic left and right (although that remains important), but between ‘Anywhere’s – the educated, mobile and liberal – and ‘Somewheres’ – the less educated, more rooted and communitarian.
I’m the archetypical ‘Anywhere’. In our home, we speak three languages – but none of them is the language of the country we live in. I have a PhD, my wife an MSc, both from Russell Group universities. We have properties in two countries. We have bank accounts in three countries. If my phone rings, it’s much more likely to be someone from Nairobi, New York, Cape Town or Yangon than someone from down the road. This is reflected in our sense of scale: when I think of ‘the North’, I don’t think of Leeds or Newcastle, but a working trip to our Stockholm office. When I think of the ‘the South’, I mean going down to our holiday home in the South of France. The word ‘local’ means anywhere between Brussels and Amsterdam – anywhere that I can get there and back in a day by train. I know no one in the town where I grew up, but I share an office with a Georgian, a Frenchwoman, an Ethiopian, a Spanish-German, a Hungarian, a Ugandan, two Dutch folks, and one other British passport holder (who does not regard himself as British).
I live in a bubble – personal and professional – where the prevailing values are those of what Goodhart calls ‘double liberalism’; an individualist cast of politics which combines free market economics with progressive views on social and cultural issues.
And yet, as someone who cares about ordinary working people, I find that Goodhart’s observations resonate with me. I’m not sure why, but my values and concerns, are essentially those of a Somewhere. I find the prevailing ‘double liberalism’ shallow, self-defeating, anti-democratic and cruelly indifferent to the economic, social and cultural needs of ordinary working people. As someone who has no place, I know better than most how much place matters. Place, family, tradition, faith, community, solidarity – these things, so alien to those around me, are constituent parts of a good, flourishing life. We dismiss them at our peril.
One quick example struck me yesterday. My twitter feed is filled with nice liberal progressive Anywheres complaining about the lack of diversity on the Boards of Directors of big companies – but Goodhart’s observation that ‘most women care less about women on the Board of Directors and more about their man having a steady income so that they can raise a family’ (I’m paraphrasing from memory) rings true. Maybe more, many more, women would actually be helped – and that help more needed – if we could strengthen unions, restrain capital, and increase wages for working men, rather than focusing on women who are already at or near the top of their professions and at the top of the income pyramid. Yet – no matter how true this might be, it would be blasphemy to utter it. The assumption would immediately be that I’m some sort of angry misogynist – when nothing could be further from reality. That’s how far the language, ideology and assumptions of ‘double liberalism’ have overtaken our culture.