Politics beyond borders

Amongst all the current talk about ‘populism’, worries about immigration, jobs and the rest, there are now warning signs of a new arrogance amongst certain journalists and politicians (not Donald Trump). Besides the intolerance of some ‘Brexiteers’ within the Conservative Party – including toward ‘Remoaners’ within their own ranks – we see sneering references to districts like north London or the north-east and west coasts of America where soft-headed liberal lefties are supposed to be concentrated.

When reviewing a book like Utopia for Realists, proposing a 15-hour week and no borders, it’s easy for Iain Martin to be scornful (in parts I agree with him). But the real challenge for populists like Martin, or the ordinary ‘Somewheres’ David Goodhart (who is not at all arrogant) is talking about, has never come from liberal lefties who might buy Utopia for Realists or their equivalents in past eras. It comes from someone like the German authoritarian Carl Schmitt (1888-1985). The basic idea behind constitutional government, international law, and the ‘liberal’ tradition from which they sprang, is that we will have opposing interests and disagree, but that we need to get along with a measure of mutual tolerance and respect despite our oppositions. Schmitt, who had witnessed the Weimar Republic after the First World War, and, as he saw it, the failure of liberal jurisprudence, saw matters differently. He argued that political communities develop on a basis of friends and enemies, with outsiders being potential enemies. Also, since friend/enemy groupings form within states as well as between them, Schmitt prescribed a strong authoritarian state to handle the conflicts and impose its settlement on them.

We should remember the profound difference between someone who disagrees with you, or has a disputed claim against you, and an enemy who seeks to destroy you. Controlling mass immigration is fine, but leaving destitute refugees who may come to hate you is something else.

One other point. Have populists noticed that by distancing himself from the GCHQ spying story, assuring Chancellor Merkel that he accepts free trade, and negotiating with Congress on replacing Obamacare, President Trump has already started behaving more like an ordinary politician?

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