The Cosmopolitans

In the light of Brexit and Donald Trump, Ross Douthat observes that the real divide in today’s politics is between “the cosmopolitans” and “the nationalists”.

But he accuses the cosmopolitans of being fakes. They are not truly comfortable with diversity, in fact they are stiflingly uniform in income, education, and worldview. They in fact are nothing more than a tribe with tribal interests which they are incapable of recognizing:

They can’t see that what feels diverse on the inside can still seem like an aristocracy to the excluded, who look at cities like London and see, as Peter Mandler wrote for Dissent after the Brexit vote, “a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations.”

They can’t see that paeans to multicultural openness can sound like self-serving cant coming from open-borders Londoners who love Afghan restaurants but would never live near an immigrant housing project, or American liberals who hail the end of whiteness while doing everything possible to keep their kids out of majority-minority schools.

They can’t see that their vision of history’s arc bending inexorably away from tribe and creed and nation-state looks to outsiders like something familiar from eras past: A powerful caste’s self-serving explanation for why it alone deserves to rule the world.

Ouch.

This class intends to vote for Clinton, a transparent crook, because she is one of them. People who are outside the class and want to belong to it, but can’t figure out how, voted Sanders. People outside the class who do not want to belong to it but rather resent it voted Trump.

UPDATE: In the original title and opening line of the post I confused the title of Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan with the word cosmopolitan. I’ve never actually seen Metropolitan but I’m a fan of Barcelona and of course The Last Days of Disco, which is the one girly movie it is OK for guys to like.

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7 comments

  1. The big problem with Douthat’s take is it’s more complex than that. Reading him one would presume the situation is straightforward, left = wealthy elites. But how about Orange County (CA) voting solidly republican? How about the 16th in Paris or Belgravia in London voting uniformly conservative? He’s still playing cowboys versus indians instead of offering real information and substance.

    1. In Douthat’s defense I think that is what he is driving at – that the distinction now in politics isn’t left-right in the traditional sense but nationalist vs internationalist. Hence all the labour voters voting leave, or the Republican party leadership being blindsided by Trump.

      1. Except he puts everything in terms of a battle between the ruling class and the ruled class: “A powerful caste’s self-serving explanation for why it alone deserves to rule the world.”-“Elite tribalism”- he’s playing the same populist game that Trump and the Brexiteers play. Look, everyone, everything is the fault of those people over there, that group you’re not a part of and whose members look down on you.

      2. Well, yeah. Don’t tell me the average American politician doesn’t despise his voters. Listen to the overblown angst of the Remainers: yes, Brexit is probably bad for Britain’s short term economic interests, but it is not the end of the world, get a grip.
        I don’t think Douthat is doing a disservice by pointing out some of the dynamics in action.

      3. The dynamics are nowhere near as simplistic as Douthat implies. Who do you think the people leading the Brexit side were? All privately educated people born to great privilege. Eton, Cambridge, Oxford… country houses and garden parties. How are they not part of the elite?

      4. And Trump is elite, yet he is leading a pitchfork rebellion.
        What do you suggest the real dynamics are?

      5. Precisely. So if he’s part of the elite and he’s leading a rebellion, what does that tell us?
        He’s not the first. Chavez in Venezuela always talked about Bolivar as a revolutionary who rebelled against the European aristocracy! But who do you think power was handed to once Venezuela was *free*? Bolivar spent the rest of his life trying to hold onto power. Animal Farm.

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