In 2017, the British journalist David Goodhart coined the theory of Somewheres and Anywheres to describe those who were grounded to the place they were born (and were generally more politically and personally conservative) and those who see themselves as citizens of the world (and were generally more politically and personally liberal). Somewheres usually outnumber Anywheres but Anywheres have outsized importance among the Managerial Class of experts who run government, academia, the journalistic and entertainment media, and much else.
Janan Ganesh, a columnist for the Financial Times, is a cosmopolitan anywhere. In the Sept. 24 Times, Ganesh wrote that in his 30s he would “lose perhaps one weekend in four” to attend the weddings of friends and he regretted the “forfeited pleasures” of “the books unread, the restaurants untried, the continental trips not taken on a Friday-night whim.” He ignores the pleasures of connecting with friends and family at weddings, but such interpersonal relationships matter less to Anywheres than experiences for personal growth – never mind that it is through our personal connections that we can grow most authentically human. Ganesh stopped going to weddings.
His personal anecdote is a jumping off point for Ganesh whose column was titled “Don’t sweat the decline of marriage,” to celebrate the declining popularity of marriage.Ganesh argues that the fact there are about half the number of marriages in the United Kingdom today compared to 1972 (the year I was born) despite the fact the UK population has grown by about 10 million people, is not cause for concern. Indeed, he writes, it is a cause for celebration. So, too, the decline in birth rates. The reason for celebration is that it represents a positive (to him) shift in mores; people are free not to settle down and they are leaping at the newfound freedom.
I agree with Ganesh that material explanations such as the rising cost of housing or childcare are not primarily the drivers of fewer people getting married and having children (its affects are on the margin) and that the trend toward singlehood is a “revealed preference” to use an economics term. Avoiding marriage and offspring is a symptom of a larger cultural problem, which Ganesh identifies as progress: the search for self-actualization in a highly atomised society. The decline of religious adherence, family ties, connection to local community – the things Somewheres value – are diminished by most of the decision-makers in society. These ties were vital to our identity.
Ganesh quotes Gustave Flaubert who advised to “hew to convention in personal matters, the better to be fierce and original in work.” This advice makes sense for those in creative enterprises, but not the vast majority of jobs that people hold. In order to self-actualize, Ganesh argues that most people must “use their personal lives” and thus they rebel against convention in the most intimate details of their lives, the finding of a spouse and creation of a family. (Giorgia Meloni, who was likely elected the first woman Italian prime minister as we went to press, said that the Italian and European establishment considers family “an enemy” because it provides an “identity” to individuals and is thus a barrier to citizens being defined solely as a “consumer-slave.”)
We note this month in And Then There Was This an interview between Nicholas Eberstadt and Peter Robinson. They touch on these same themes of the decline of marriage and childbearing, but see no cause for celebration. They are both deeply worried about the future of countries in which a critical mass of individuals lack the urge to find mates and procreate; it is a sign of despair, not hope for the future.
Ganesh says that the atomized society “isn’t forced on us.” That hardly makes it any less pernicious, and, in fact, might make it worse. Highly atomized men and women and (increasingly children) that lack healthy connections to others and are increasingly turning to deliberate suicides or slow-motion suicides through addictions to drugs and alcohol, so-called deaths of despair. Small-l liberals should not celebrate the freedom to die desperate and alone as a victory for liberty.
There is no easy fix to recapturing the ties that bind us to one another in meaningful relationships. The increasingly atomized society builds identity along new tribal lines such as partisanship, and the resultant political conflicts give our lives meaning. This is no way to live; politics is not a substitution for family and genuine friends. As such, politics provides a limited scope in which to find solutions or even ameliorations for that which haunts modern man.
Ultimately, the solution lies in radically altering the way we live our lives, and that starts with individuals making radical choices for life and family, to reassert genuine liberty over frivolous freedoms, and reconnecting to that which is real not virtual or ephemeral.
On a purely personal note, I turn 50 this month (October 21) and while I moved away from my hometown of Woodstock, Ont., to live in Toronto, I married my high school sweetheart Christina, and we’ve had six wonderful children. We have raised our children in the faith of our parents and grandparents and thus far they seem eager to live in it and pass on this cultural patrimony to their children. It is one family at a time that we will change the culture until there is a critical mass of people who will demand a saner politics; until enough Somewheres will repopulate the Managerial Class or take back power from it so that the celebration of economic life (as workers and consumers) does not come at the cost of family life, so that public policy and our cultural cues do not celebrate the decline of marriage and children. Perhaps by our examples, the Janan Ganeshes of the world will see that self-actualization is more than possible in marriage and parenting, the lost books, dinner, and vacations notwithstanding.