As many of you will have seen elsewhere, David Brooks has written an article in The New York Times, “Changing Bedfellows” (which, in appropriately elitist fashion, is available only to NYT Select subscribers), that has generated more than a little comment and conversation among some prominent bloggers. In the latest Brooksian revision of our political taxonomy, he presents us with the divide between “populist nationalists” (henceforth pop-nats) and “progressive globalists” (prog-globs) and apparently gives the Iraq war (and foreign policy more generally) as one of the decisive issues separating the two camps. According to Rod Dreher’s description:
Populist nationalists (PNs) would be “liberal on economics, conservative on values and realist on foreign policy.” The gist of their politics, in Brooks’ words, is: “We are the ordinary, burden-bearing people of this country. We are the ones who work hard and build communities. It’s time for us to come together and recognize that our loyalty to our fellow Americans comes first.”
On the other side are the progressive globalists (PGs), who “would be market-oriented on economics, liberal on values and multilateral interventionists in foreign affairs.” Brooks cites John McCain, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and Mark Warner as examples of this orientation. PGs are inspired by economic globalism, “technological dynamis and cultural diversity.” They want to build international institutions to share the prosperity. Trade needs to be opened up, not shut down, and new policies must be put into place to manage the flow of people across borders, not close them off. We have to make our economy more flexible, and work together internationally to solve global problems.
Note how Brooks has defined determining trade policies in the light of national interest or maintaining a domestic industrial base (the sorts of policies that he, as a prog-glob, despises) as “liberal” economics (as Brooks is relying on the phrase “liberal on economics” to scare the well-to-do to side with the prog-globs), whereas policies dedicated to shoring up the interests of the extensive bureaucratic machinery of multinational corporations and international governing institutions are allegedly “market-oriented.” You don’t need to think on that much to see that the prog-glob embrace of “market-oriented” policies is a corrupt and distorted one that aims to use certain mechanisms of “the market” to expand their control.
Leon Hadar makes the basic good points poking holes in Brooks’ idea (many opponents of the war don’t begin to fit the pop-nat mould and, he might have added, plenty of pop-nats who oppose mass immigration and outsourcing are also some of the staunchest administration supporters on Iraq), and elaborates on his comments in a second post. There he makes the excellent and all-important point that this new terminology is really just another attempt to shut up critics of the war.
Derision is not just for “unpatriotic conservatives” anymore–the entire constituency of a “closed” American society must be challenged by the prog-globs. Of course, the entire discourse of “open” and “closed” societies is a polemical one designed to make a social democratic, capitalist seem to be the self-evidently correct alternative–it defines its “openness” by all the ways in which it is unlike, and therefore automatically more desirable than, all other regimes and so precludes the possibility that anyone should regard the allegedly “Open Society” as stifling and constricting in its exceedingly narrow range of permissible opinion, its dogmatic commitment to what Mr. Bush might call the “single model of human progress” or its relentless drive to squeeze out every bit of local, ethnic or cultural distinctiveness from the societies “the Open Society” corrupts.
The greatest flaw in Brooks’ description of the pop-nats is the identification of their position with realism. As others have noted many times, the pop-nats reflect what is often called the Jacksonian foreign policy tradition, which has traces of a realist view, but which would tend to see things in terms of national interest and national prestige, but which might define national interest and national prestige in very different terms from realists in today’s foreign policy circles. Fundamentally, contemporary realists are all internationalists, more or less committed to the same international institutions and conventions that the prog-globs are, and are in many ways in agreement with the idea of the “Open Society” and the blessings of “free trade” and globalisation. Their realism stems from their willingness to take account of the hard realities of strategic interest, power and resources, while a great many prog-globs engage in delusional wishful thinking (neoconservative democratism) or sappy humanitarian interventionism. Needless to say, a pop-nat brand of foreign policy realism would be almost unrecognisable, and certainly unwelcome, to a Chuck Hagel.
The administration itself has brought out a variant of this sorry line of argument in the past (if you don’t think Iraqis can automatically handle representative government, which takes most people decades if not centuries to develop properly, you are a racist, etc.), but it is now becoming the basis for categorising an entire section of our politics: all opponents of interventionist foreign policy will be subjected to some Eastern establishment caricature of everything those people hate about the rest of the country. In short, the revolutionaries and progressives inside the GOP, who have been masquerading as part of the conservative “movement,” are tired of having to tolerate the people who put them in power and are denouncing Middle Americans even more bluntly than they have in the past.
The pop-nats generally seem to represent the Middle American Radicals Sam Francis described nearly ten years ago in Revolution From the Middle. As usual, these political realities were far more apparent to Dr. Francis, as well as to many of his colleagues, long before David Brooks ever began irritating unsuspecting viewers on PBS. Dr. Francis had already described this divide, and far more extensively and accurately.
One of the important observations that runs throughout Dr. Francis’ work, following that of Mosca, is that there will always be elites of one kind or another–the potential Middle American Revolution, were it to happen, would theoretically replace prog-glob elites with elites more like the pop-nats. Where the prog-glob elites serve the particular interests of corporations, international institutions and the major cities of the coasts, to the general detriment of everyone else, the pop-nat elites would ideally serve the interests of the small and middling firms, “flyover country” and all that this would entail.
One of the valuable contributions of this understanding of the MARs has always been that it does not get hung up on the rather faux anti-elitism that conservative populists of the last 30 years have ridden with some marginal success, nor does it assume that power will ever be returned to “the people” to restore some pristine, non-hierarchical order that has never existed in human history. It takes a certain concentration of political power in the hands of elites for granted, but also seeks to mitigate that concentration of power (and certainly to disperse it more than has been done) in keeping with the interests of the MARs or pop-nats.
It is worth noting that while there are many traditional conservatives who would sympathise with large parts of the pop-nat view, particularly with respect to, say, moral order and immigration, they will continue to remain outside the mainstream of this constituency as well in keeping with Prof. Lukacs’ observation of the future divide on the Right between patriots and nationalists. The nationalists and globalists are both committed to a level of centralisation and consolidation, as well as a resignation to much of the late modern world, that traditional conservatives attracted to a paleo, crunchy or reactionary radical vision cannot abide.
The pop-nat/prog-glob divide is certainly not news, but it does serve as a useful way of assessing the internal divide within the GOP, which is split between a large number of pop-nats in its membership who have so far successfully been duped for going on 40-50 years by an essentially prog-glob leadership (which has only increased in its commitment to the prog-glob view in the last 20 years). The Democratic leadership has gone over entirely to the prog-globs, of course, and the only signs of any real resistance on the Left are mostly those not strongly identified with that party. The supposed “radicalism” of the Kossacks and their supporters is something of an illusion–they regard centrist politics as the cause of all Democratic woes, but in terms of practical politics and policy questions the Kossacks remain surprisingly docile in accepting the DLC-mediated version of the prog-glob view. The Kossacks would have no objection to the broader ideas of liberal values and interventionism, and will probably make their peace with those “market-oriented” policies if that is what the fortunes of the party require.