2016 June 11 Saturday
Cosmopolitanism As A New Form Of Tribalism

Ross Douthat has written a pretty good essay on the escalating elite vs masses political conflict: The Myth Of Cosmopolitanism.

Indeed elite tribalism is actively encouraged by the technologies of globalization, the ease of travel and communication. Distance and separation force encounter and immersion, which is why the age of empire made cosmopolitans as well as chauvinists — sometimes out of the same people. (There is more genuine cosmopolitanism in Rudyard Kipling and T. E. Lawrence and Richard Francis Burton than in a hundred Davos sessions.)

This is a great point. Lawrence of Arabia literally lived with tribesmen and went to war with them against the Turks (and inspired a great movie btw). He immersed into an extremely different culture than that which he was raised in. Richard Francis Burton disguised himself as a Muslim pilgrim and snuck into Mecca in 1853.

Our elites have far less experience with extremely different peoples. They think they've found the ultimate secular religion (Christianity minus Jesus and the supernatural but with John Stuart Mill and fanciful anti-oppression doctrines added). It hasn't yet sunk into their thinking that Global Liberal Manifest Destiny has a big obstacles in China, big obstacles in Islamic countries, and faces a number of problems in other countries outside of the West. Plus, even in the West support for their ideology seems to have peaked even as (or because) they go more extreme with it.

The fact that the globalists create a cultural homogeneity in their institutions is typified in the far left shift in elite New England college faculties. They are not going to encounter people who disagree with them in normal life. That's even true in their international business dealings. They've got like minds to interact with in NYC, London, Paris, and other Western capitals of commerce and government.

The elites need to come to an understanding that they have a big problem and that big problem isn't the rest of us, its them. I think they'll resist this realization pretty strenuously because it really feels good to be a member of an in-group that can look down on the out-group as inferior. Also, it makes coordination easier if they vigorously agree on a long list of issues and treat all events as further proof they, as a class, are right about everything.

I find Peter Turchin's recent essays instructive in this regard. The European Union does not see itself as an empire (empires being part of the vanquished evil past which the morally superior EU elites distinguish themselves from). But the EU empire swallows up territory and expands. In past empires it is important to note that not all territorial expansions required war. In some case dynasties married to unite their territories. Today elites use elite universities, workplaces, governments, media institutions and NGOs to gather together in a transnational professional class. See Turchin's essay Brexit As Creative Destruction on the Carolingian Empire as a forerunner to the EU:

In my cultural evolutionary view, such identities come from very deep history. Often, they are “ghosts” of powerful and prestigious empires that are long gone—“charter polities”, to use a term proposed by the historian Victor Lieberman in Strange Parallels. For the European Union such a charter polity is the Carolingian Empire (eighth and ninth centuries AD).

The EU has overreached. Now it is entered into a disintegrative phase. Empires do this frequently.

There were internal tensions within the precursor of the EU, the European Economic Community, but these problems were resolved in cooperative manner. But then, and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the EU started acting as a typical expansionary empire, gobbling up more and more states. This is a typical imperial disease, known in historical sociology as “imperial overstretch.” The problems mounted, willingness to cooperate waned, and the integrative trend reversed itself. In addition to the spread of neoliberalism, which, as I stated above, is an ideology corrosive of cooperation, different EU members found it difficult to cooperate with each other, because they did not share a well-defined common identity. Additionally, different groups evolve different institutions that promote cooperation. This is why, as the political scientist Robert Putnam found, ethnically diverse groups find it more difficult to cooperate. It’s a coordination problem.

The proponents of expansion do not know when to stop. The heuristics they live by become increasingly dysfunctional when they keep on trying to apply them to more peoples and changing conditions. They think they should just try harder, use more propaganda, and suppress dissent. Their investment in their path keeps rising and this makes them more averse to admitting they are at least partially wrong.

In Turchin's essay Will the European Union Survive its 60th Anniversary? he discusses why he thinks the EU is in its disintegrative phase.

Cliodynamics suggests that the causes of imperial collapse are manifold. In The Deep Historical Roots of the European Crisis I discuss one set of causes: the disappearance of an external threat (represented by the Soviet Union) and imperial overstretch resulting in gobbling up too much territory to the east and south.

But there are also internal causes. The structural-demographic theory points to two fundamental causes of imperial failure: popular immiseration and elite overproduction. I haven’t studied as thoroughly the situation in Germany as in the United States, but it definitely looks like Germany is following the American trajectory, although with a time lag.

Why focus on Germany? Because in many ways the European Union was a German empire. Or, at the very least, a collaboration between the German economic elites and the French political elites. Now this cooperation is unravelling, and the place to watch is, I think, Germany.

German wealth combined with German acquiescence to French elite political desires were essential in order to form the EU. German taxpayer money has been (and still is) used to bribe smaller EU nations to join the EU. The subsidies flowing from Germany, France, and Britain (for another year) to southern and eastern Europe helped lure those states to join.

If EU membership is such a boon then the subsidies should not be necessary. Just getting inside the single market ought to work wonders for member states. But, to take an extreme example, what's happened to Greece is not a wonder of EU membership. Greece is a tragedy. Another tragedy: the debt run-ups of other EU states that were made possible when the markets decided EU membership made default impossible. EU membership enabled greater levels of folly, bigger bubbles, bigger corrections when bubbles burst.

I also suspect (and would love to see numbers on) that peripheral EU states were brain-drained by Schengen open borders. Puerto Rico is also probably suffering from brain drain. Certainly West Virginia has this problem. But again, I'd like to see numbers on who leaves and who stays.

The EU has become the means for Germany to dictate many policies to the rest of the European Union. We see this in Germany's steering of northern European handling of the debt crisis, dictating terms to the periphery. We also also see it in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's unilateral massive change in EU immigration policy, with attempts to shove her change down the throats of other states. What's crazy about these dictated policies is that many of them do not help German exporters.

Jumping back to Ross Douthat's essay: the EU portion of the global elite have made some bad decisions, damaged their reputations as a result, and generated a growing reaction to their overreaching. But I expect the EU elites to double down on their drive for integration in order to make further defections much harder to carry off. They'll get lots of support from the rest of Western elites because they all see each other as kindred spirits with shared interests.

Faced with a rising backlash against globalization I expect the Western elites as a whole to try out new methods of persuasion and new methods of filtering viewpoints that it does not want to see gain wide currency. Both the old and new media companies will do more filtering of anti-globalist viewpoints. Can they suppress the populist voices? Or will alternative channels of media spring up faster than they filter?

The Western elites face a rising reaction against them. This rising reaction is fed by Islamic terrorism, sovereign debt crises, stagnant wages for Western lower and middle classes, and the elite's own rising rhetoric of condescension and contempt for those who oppose them. I'm not clear on whether the elites can defeat their opponents. Peter Turchin doesn't seem to think so. But the future seems pretty hard to predict.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2016 June 11 04:06 PM 

MAO said at July 3, 2016 10:36 PM:

A number of ridiculous points here:

- "[T]the EU empire swallows up territory and expands": Every EU member-state has voluntarily joined it, in most cases following a popular referendum. Numerous countries - Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, even Turkey (sort of) - would still dearly love to join it.

This also includes the Ukraine, whose people carried through a second popular revolution in 2014 to change the course of their country which seemed on the verge of joining Putin's Russian-Asian federation, to insist instead on an orientation towards Europe and the EU in particular. So that's people being shot at and dying in Maidan Square, precisely in order to have their country - some day - join the EU.

Yes, money flows to the EU back to its member-states, especially those that are poorer (but not exclusively; the EU also sponsors infrastructure projects in its richer member-states, including the UK). That's part of the deal: part of the reason-for-being of the EU is helping out poorer lands (and not only member-states, BTW; lots of EU financial aid to the Middle East, Central Asia, etc.). But it's hardly a matter of the crass bribing of the poorer member-states (whether recently joined or prospective) to get them to join. Countries like Slovakia, Cyprus, Bulgaria, etc. joined the EU to become part of a Europe in which they could trade freely, in which a common set of technical and commercial standards apply so that everyone can do business much easier (and with regard to which these countries' governments could exert their own influence within EU decision-making), and in which their citizens have the freedom to easily travel elsewhere within that continent to seek their fortune if they have a mind to. In all cases of member-states which recently joined (back at least to 1981 and Greece, and probably before), the accession process was a means for the state in question to push through needed reforms to its own laws and structures which were opposed by various internal parties but were required and needed for modernization and bringing that state up to the EU standard.

The EU is no empire, but rather an inspiring experiment in the pooling of sovereignty in a continent with a tragic history of warfare in preceding centuries, created first to make such war impossible and then also to foster mutual prosperity via the elimination of trade barriers followed by other economic/business coordination (e.g. common product standards). Viewing it as an empire is a gross delusion, greatly distorting to the point of invalidation any analysis of the phenomenon that proceeds from that mistaken premise.

- "The EU has become the means for Germany to dictate many policies to the rest of the European Union." No, not really. For example: Germany would love to "spread the wealth" of the million refugees it has accepted, and accordingly pushed through the EU a plan for quotas for other countries to accept some of those refugees. How is that coming along? Not very well - because migration is one area still left largely to the member-states, so this proposal being pushed by Germany is still voluntary, and it is not being accepted.

It's true that Germany carries great weight when it comes to the policies that the EU pursues, even more to the policies that the subset of the EU known as the Eurozone pursues. But not decisive weight: it's hardly true that Germany can simply dictate that something will happen through the mechanism of the EU/Eurozone and that's it, it happens, if everyone else is opposed. Realize also that the formation of the Eurozone meant that monetary policy power was transferred from the Bundesbank to the ECB, something that Germany only agreed to allow with gritted teeth - and that there are quite a few aspects/incidents showing that the policy actually pursued by the ECB is hardly what German political leaders would prefer. (There have even been appeals to the German Supreme Court that certain ECB actions are unconstitutional within German law and European law - these have failed.)

Those in the know about their European history recognize the so-called "German Problem": As a unified country dominating most of Central Europe, and with its culturally inspired economic dynamism, Germany has long been too large and powerful to fit peacefully within a continent - yet, as the World Wars showed, not quite big and powerful enough to become a world-wide superpower by dominating that continent absolutely, even as it was tempted to give that a try in 1914 and in 1939.

That "German Problem" won't go away, short of dividing Germany into pieces, as of course was done 1945-1990 but against the will of the German people. But don't worry: the solution for preventing another try in the series 1914/1939 has already been thought up and implemented, and that is the EC/EEC/European Union, that innovative, *voluntary* super-national organization binding most European countries together to ensure peace and prosperity. Within it, of course Germany has a big, but not decisive voice, but is nonetheless happy with the influence and sheer prosperity (e.g. via intra-European trade) that it thereby gains. Surely this is the absolute best solution to solving that German Problem and ensuring peace in Europe, to guard against that day when Germany is still powerful politically and economically but memories of the horrors of the Second World War will have died out.

Let's wait and see whether Brexit itself even happens - surely it's evident that the odds on that are receding by the day - much less whether "Nexit," "Frexit" or any of the other supposed follow-on abandonments actually occur. Prediction: none of those will happen, because the countries who contemplate such a step will thereby have been forced into finally clearly confronting what the EU means, what it does for them economically and culturally (as the UK electorate is now belatedly discovering) - and upon that realization will be quick to shout "Sorry, never mind!"

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