The recent populist electoral convulsions in the U.S. and Europe has led to a lot of dubious analysis, but one insightful book about what is happening in the west is David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (Hurst, $27.50, 278 pages). Goodhart looks at British politics and finds that the division is less about left vs. right or populist vs. elite, but rather those who are connected to a place or group of people and those who more cosmopolitan. With detailed survey data, Goodhart demonstrates that the former tend to be more religious, socially conservative, and economically left behind while the latter tend to be more educated, mobile, and “dominate our culture and society” by moving up the ladder in various institutions such as the media, academia, and politics.
Goodhart carefully avoids caricaturing either group and demonstrates a great deal of sympathy for the Somewheres. He warns, “we need to use far more careful terminology to describe the spectrum of fear of the unfamiliar and clannishness to stereotyping and genuine hatred.” He dissects values surveys to understand the views of various sub-classes of citizen and understands that rather than exhibiting bigotry, many Somewheres hold “change-is-loss” sentiments that are erroneously labelled bigotry and mocked as nostalgia.
He says that increases in material well-being are irrelevant if “in other respects life really isn’t better” in terms of “belonging, social recognition, having a valued role, (and) feeling wanted and respected.” The Great Liberalization of the past half-century has often seemed like an attack on people who go to church, hold traditional values, and have strong bonds to local community (including patriotic love of one’s own country over fetishizing globalization). This goes beyond left and right, to something much more fundamental.
Paul Tuns is editor of The Interim. A longer review of this book appears at The Interim website.