James Maxton once said that ‘if you can’t ride two horses at once you shouldn’t be in the bloody circus!’ Fair enough, but how many ‘ordinary decent people’ see themselves as circus artists?
Probably no one is surprised when Nigel Farage describes Britain’s vote to leave the EU as a victory for ‘ordinary decent people’. A generation earlier Thatcher’s admirers claimed her as a champion of ordinariness. But what is that? Even class analysis is confusing: Thatcher’s special appeal was identified with the lower middle class; Trump and Farage are linked to the (white) working class and/or those left behind by globalisation. Perhaps the most consistent theme in the rhetoric about ordinary people is their aspirations (material and career), and being keen on security and patriotic.
But should we ever hear moral philosophers talking about ‘common sense morality’ – assumed to be that of most ordinary people – things get still more confusing. This common sense morality may or may not have a religious basis, but in any case it’s supposed to have fairly firm notions of right and wrong, fairness, and respect for persons which can sit uncomfortably beside what ordinary people are supposed to want by many politicians. And once we get into ‘realist’ definitions of national interest, that is to say, what business, diplomats, and security services are expected to do on behalf of ordinary people, these ordinary people begin to look like a real circus spectacular.
I wonder whether the real message of globalisation is: Circus acts are terrific entertainment, but now make up your bloody mind what you’re doing!