Liberalismo e conservadorismo

Ryan Shorthouse, “The right-wing case against populism”:

In fact, liberalism and conservatism are two distinct philosophies that are often presented in perpetual conflict—but they are natural bedfellows. They need, support and tame each other.

The goals of liberalism—individual flourishing, power and respect—can only be developed by enduring cultural, democratic and civic institutions that teach, guide and protect people. The conservative emphasis on interdependency between—not just independence of—people to cultivate responsibility towards others and to future generations, can only truly be realised if we respect the liberal insight that all and different individuals are equally worthy. As for taming one another, the liberal individual can be rooted in reality and responsibility by conservative institutions. Conversely, traditional culture and institutions can be modernised by legitimate calls for emancipation and inclusion.

It is liberalism, not authoritarian populism, which is a true friend of western conservatism.

O problema não são as declarações de Dijsselbloem

Para lá da deselegância óbvia geradora da indignação fácil, o verdadeiro problema é aquilo que subjaz às declarações do holandês: uma narrativa dominante entre as elites europeias, inclusive entre muitos políticos de países do sul da Europa, que só vê virtudes nos países do norte da Europa e defeitos nos países do sul, no que concerne à sua gestão política e económica, ignorando, propositadamente ou não, que a crise do euro se deve à deficiente arquitectura deste. Permitam-me recuperar o que escrevi em 2014 a este respeito:

Começando no estabelecimento da União Económica e Monetária – em que prevaleceu a visão do Bundesbank de um BCE inspirado no seu modelo, centrado quase exclusivamente na estabilidade de preços -, que não era e continua a não ser uma Zona Monetária Óptima, circunstância agravada pela inexistência de uma união orçamental que permitisse uma gestão macroeconómica conjunta, o que a torna propensa a choques assimétricos; passando por uma fragilidade estrutural essencial para a compreensão da crise, segundo Paul De Grauwe, que é a perda da capacidade de os países emitirem dívida numa moeda própria, emitindo-a numa moeda que não controlam, pelo que estão, assim, mais facilmente à mercê dos mercados financeiros e podem ser rapidamente precipitados por estes para um default; e chegando aos anos da crise do euro, em que o diagnóstico da crise da dívida soberana grega foi erradamente generalizado a outros países, conforme Jay Shambaugh sublinha, servindo como justificação para prescrever pacotes de austeridade e reformas estruturais que, per se, não são suficientes para superar os constrangimentos resultantes das fragilidades estruturais da UEM, conclui-se que estas fragilidades não só resultam da perspectiva alemã aquando das negociações que levaram ao seu estabelecimento, como aproveitam actualmente à Alemanha. Hans Kundnani assinala que a actual situação, com um euro fraco (segundo Andrew Moravcsik, a taxa de câmbio real da Alemanha, actualmente, está 40% abaixo do que estaria se o país ainda tivesse o marco alemão), é a ideal para a economia alemã baseada nas exportações e avisa que o narcisismo económico da Alemanha coloca toda a Zona Euro em causa. Assim, a Alemanha está actualmente numa posição muito confortável, com um euro fraco que favorece as suas exportações, tornando-a a economia mais competitiva da Zona Euro, e, em parte em resultado disto, encontra-se de forma indisputada na liderança política da UE, tendo a cooperação entre países soberanos sido relegada em favor de uma dominação de facto por parte de Berlim. Ulrich Beck resume de forma lapidar esta situação em A Europa Alemã: “Como a Alemanha é o país mais rico, agora é ela que manda no centro da Europa.” A austeridade imposta erradamente aos países sob resgate financeiro permite à Alemanha manter este status quo em que, nas palavras de Moravcsik, ao “utilizar uma moeda subvalorizada para acumular excedentes comerciais, a Alemanha actua como a China da Europa.”

Em defesa da hierarquia

Vários autores, “In defence of hierarchy”:

On the other hand, the idea of a purely egalitarian world in which there are no hierarchies at all would appear to be both unrealistic and unattractive. Nobody, on reflection, would want to eliminate all hierarchies, for we all benefit from the recognition that some people are more qualified than others to perform certain roles in society. We prefer to be treated by senior surgeons not medical students, get financial advice from professionals not interns. Good and permissible hierarchies are everywhere around us.

Yet hierarchy is an unfashionable thing to defend or to praise. British government ministers denounce experts as out of tune with popular feeling; both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders built platforms on attacking Washington elites; economists are blamed for not predicting the 2008 crash; and even the best established practice of medical experts, such as childhood vaccinations, are treated with resistance and disbelief. We live in a time when no distinction is drawn between justified and useful hierarchies on the one hand, and self-interested, exploitative elites on the other.


All of this takes on a new urgency given the turn in world politics towards a populism that often attacks establishment hierarchies while paradoxically giving authoritarian power to individuals claiming to speak for ‘the people’.


Apart from their civic importance, hierarchies can be surprisingly benign in life more broadly. Hierarchy is oppressive when it is reduced to a simple power over others. But there are also forms of hierarchy that involve power with, not over. Daoism characterises this kind of power effectively in the image of riding a horse, when sometimes you have to pull, and sometimes let go. This is not domination but negotiation. In Daoism, power is a matter of energy and competence rather than domination and authority. In this sense, a hierarchy can be empowering, not disabling.

Take the examples of good relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, or employers and employees. These work best when the person higher in the hierarchy does not use that position to dominate those lower down but to enable them to grow in their own powers.


As well as being empowering, hierarchies should be dynamic over time. Hierarchies are often pernicious not because they distinguish between people, but because they perpetuate these distinctions even when they are no longer merited or serve a good purpose. In short, hierarchies become ossified. There might be reasons, for example, to appoint people on merit to positions of power, such as to Britain’s House of Lords. Historically, however, this has often led to people not only retaining that power when they have ceased to deserve it personally, but also passing it on to their children. All legitimate hierarchies must allow for changes over time in order for them not to lead to the unjust accumulation of power. This is built into the age-based hierarchies endorsed by Confucians, since the young will eventually rise to take on the elevated status and authority of the old.


Paternalistic hierarchy might then benefit individual autonomy. And hierarchy has one final benefit. Although it would seem to be divisive, hierarchy can promote social harmony. Many cultures justifiably place a high value on communal harmony. This involves a shared way of life, and also sympathetic care for the quality of life of others. Excessive hierarchy works against this, creating divisions within societies. Indeed, in a sense, hierarchy always brings with it the threat of tension, since it is a condition in which one adult commands, threatens or forces another to do something, where the latter is innocent of any wrongdoing, competent to make decisions, and not impaired at the time by alcohol, temporary insanity, or the like. But the goal of preserving communal life means that hierarchy might be justifiable if – and only if – it is the least hierarchical amount required, and likely either to rebut serious discord or to foster a much greater communion. This is a minimalist justification that only ever sanctions the least amount of hierarchy necessary.


Some of these ideas about hierarchy will no doubt be received more favourably than others. There will also be disagreement – as there is among ourselves – about whether we simply need to be clearer about the value of some hierarchies, or whether we need more of them in certain domains. Hierarchy has been historically much-abused and it is the understandable fear of being too enthusiastic about hierarchy that makes some queasy about talking about its merits. Nonetheless, we think it important to put these ideas forward as an invitation to begin a much-needed conversation about the role of hierarchy in a world that is in many ways now fundamentally egalitarian, in that it gives equal rights and dignity to all. However, it clearly does not and cannot give equal power and authority to all. If we are to square the necessary inequality that the unequal distribution of power entails with the equally necessary equality of value we place on human life, it’s time to take the merits of hierarchy seriously.

Peculiaridades do regime pátrio

Confesso que nunca percebi o motivo da repulsa ou até mesmo ódio que tantos políticos portugueses têm por Santana Lopes. Parece-me tratar-se de um indivíduo com uma autêntica vocação e devoção pela causa pública, não lhe sendo conhecidos quaisquer envolvimentos em esquemas de corrupção e afins ao fim de quase 4 décadas de presença na vida pública e política do país. No caso de muitos dos protagonistas políticos da nossa praça, quase poderia dizer-se que o ódio que lhe dedicam é proporcional ao amor que têm por José Sócrates – o que é revelador quanto baste.

Ora, como já terão adivinhado, vem isto a propósito da recentemente revelada justificação de Jorge Sampaio para ter dissolvido a Assembleia da República em 2004: “fartei-me do Santana.” Não precisamos de recorrer ao estafado argumento de que se fosse alguém de direita a dizer isto de alguém de esquerda, cairia o Carmo e a Trindade. Afinal, já se sabe que o actual regime pende significativamente para a esquerda, permitindo a quem é de esquerda muito do que não poderia ser feito por alguém de direita sem que um coro de indignados se manifestasse violentamente. Limitamo-nos a salientar que se espera do mais alto magistrado da nação que não sucumba a estados de alma, visto que estes não nos parecem poder justificar a decisão de accionar a mais poderosa prerrogativa ao seu dispor, e, assim, a registar que as declarações de Sampaio têm, efectivamente, o condão de fazer de Cavaco Silva um estóico estadista muito superior à média dos políticos que nos vão pastoreando.

Populismo, tecnocracia e democracia liberal

Daniele Caramani, “Will vs. Reason: The Populist and Technocratic Forms of Political Representation and Their Critique to Party Government”American Political Science Review 111, no. 1 (2017):

Populism and technocracy see themselves as antipolitics and, more specifically, antiparty. Whether in their actor (movements and parties), discourse and ideology, or regime and institutional versions, both forms of representation claim to be external to party politics. In fact, the more precise claim of these forms of representation is that they are above party politics, which is seen in negative terms for various reasons. Parties are carriers of particular interests rather than the interests of society as a whole and even pursue the interests of the “part”—as it were—to the detriment, when necessary, of the general interest. Parties, rather than being perceived as capable of formulating visions and projects for the common good of the society (albeit alternative ones), are seen merely in terms of individualistic and self-interested (ultimately irresponsible) factions that articulate particularistic interests.


First, in both populism and technocracy there is the idea of a unitary, general, common interest of a given society (a country). In these views, there are things that are either good or bad for the whole of society and political action can be either good or bad for a society in its entirety. There is a homogenous and organic vision of the people and the nation. It is furthermore possible to “discover” this common or general interest. While populism and technocracy—as is discussed below—have fundamentally different views on how to identify the unitary interest, they are confident that it exists and can be found out.

Second, both populism and technocracy have a nonpluralistic view of society and politics. Politics is doing what is good for all, not articulating, allocating and deciding between diverse interests, or aggregating them. To be more precise, an aggregation does indeed take place. However, rather than having competing proposals of aggregation (as this is the case in parties’ ideologies) given to people to choose from, the true solution is manifest and indisputable. In this sense, both pretend to be, and present themselves as, antiideological. There are no party platforms needed (for a prospective decision) and, when and where these are available, they should not be binding. To be sure, mass political parties, too, present a unified vision of the public interest. This is precisely their function of “aggregation” of various interests from diverse constituencies. However, differently from populism and technocracy, several visions are present in the system, they compete with one another and compromise is sought—either through majority-opposition alternation over time or consensual institutions.

While party government is mainly based on a prospective “mandate” view (input counts and parties are bound to what they promise), populism and technocracy are based on a retrospective “independent” view (output counts) as they operate through vagueness rather than through a precise program or mandate. Both populism and technocracy thus follow a trustee model. In technocracy, people cannot give a mandate because they do not possess the faculty of identifying society’s interest. In populism, it could be argued that the leadership determines people’s interests through a strong identification with them (embodiment)—by being “one of them.” This can be seen as a form of mandate. Yet there is a complete transfer of decision making to the leadership that is unquestioned. Questioning the leadership is automatically questioning the will of the people. In the party government conception of democracy, on the other hand, voters are assumed to have some degree of expertise.

Third, both populism and technocracy—in their vision of a unitary society and refusal of plurality—see the relationship between people and elite as “unmediated.” All that comes in-between is a source of distortion of the general interest. As a consequence, populism and technocracy rely on an independent elite to which the people entrust the task of identifying the common interest and the appropriate solution. In spite of presenting themselves as antielite and antiestablishment, the populist model is as elitist—if not more—than party government with leaders being uncontested and unquestioned over protracted periods and enjoying vast spaces to manoeuvre and freedom to interpret people’s interest. It is no accident that populist parties—be it in the past or recently in Austria’s FPÖ, France’s National Front, Italy’s Northern League, or Britain’s UKIP among others—have lasting leaderships that are largely uncontested and based on acclamatory and plebiscitarian mobilization. In fact, both types of ideologies have often found their application in nondemocratic regimes, most notably in Latin America, be it the populist-plebiscitarian regimes or the technocratic-military regimes.


In different ways, populism and technocracy are both antipolitical forms of representation. While politics is competition, aggregation of plurality and allocation of values, populism and technocracy see society as monolithic with a unitary interest. While populism and technocracy aim at discovering the common good, parties compete to define it. Both populism and technocracy do not conceive of a legitimate opposition insofar as that would involve conceiving of “parts” being opposed to the interest of the whole. In the case of populism, plurality is reduced to the opposition between people and elite. In the case of technocracy, plurality is reduced to the opposition between right and wrong. In the former, opposition is corrupt; in the latter it is irrational.


For the sake of the theoretical argument, the article has presented the populist and technocratic alternatives to party government through ideal types rather than empirical cases. For sure, the technicization of political decision making is undermining democratic sovereignty and the popularization of politics and the public sphere is undermining the informed and respectful participation of citizens in favor of mob-type attitudes. However, in recent times this challenge has so far remained within the frame of the liberal democratic state. In contrast, between World War I and II many West European countries experienced a breakdown of democracy and many countries in Southern/Eastern Europe and Latin America had protracted periods during which regimes based on either or both populist and technocratic principles ruled. Today, populists mobilize as political parties themselves and participate to the electoral competition as well as national executives. Experts are co-opted by parties (often from think tanks linked to them) that rely on their expertise and delegate the task of taking unpopular decisions especially at the transnational level. There have been cases, as in Italy after the Monti cabinet of 2011−12, of experts creating political parties. By participating in elections, they offer precisely the kind of “agonistics” that legitimize the system and, when they enter government, movements and experts morph, vindicating party democracy. Populism and technocracy therefore operate as “correctives” of—not only alternatives to—party government.

Da hipocrisia do Bloco de Esquerda

Paulo Tunhas, “Lenine explica”:

Acerca da anulação da conferência de Jaime Nogueira Pinto na Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas da Universidade Nova de Lisboa e dos motivos dessa anulação, muita gente, da esquerda à direita, se pronunciou com as palavras certas. Há, no entanto, uns silêncios que convém interrogar. Que eu tenha reparado, ninguém do PC ou do Bloco de Esquerda julgou útil desta vez fazer ouvir a sua voz, o que em princípio devia espantar, tratando-se de gente particularmente vocal que aprecia sumamente dissertar sobre toda a espécie de direitos e que tem ideias bem definidas sobre a liberdade, ou sobre as “amplas liberdades”, como dantes o PC dizia.


Não custa muito encontrar uma explicação simples: porque concordam com a anulação da conferência. Demasiado simples? Francamente, não creio. A especialização nas chamadas “causas fracturantes”, que tornou o Bloco conhecido do bom povo português, tende a fazer esquecer algumas características ideológicas que identificam no essencial aquela tão moderna agremiação. É que, sob as vestes da modernidade, o que conta verdadeiramente são ainda as arcaicas concepções totalitárias que se encontram na sua origem. É isso que fornece uma unidade subjacente à multiplicidade das “causas”. Que isso permaneça imperceptível a uma grande parte das pessoas deve-se em grande parte a um efectivo talento para o marketing político que descobriu um muito conveniente nicho ecológico nos media. A maneira como esta ocultação da presença da origem no presente foi levada a cabo com sucesso é provavelmente um dos factos mais reveladores da facilidade do triunfo da impostura em política, uma impostura desde há um ano devidamente recompensada, para nossa grande desgraça, com a generosidade de António Costa.


É bom percebermos que estamos a lidar com gente para a qual não há, em domínio algum, qualquer espécie de neutralidade, inclusive académica. O silêncio em relação ao caso de Jaime Nogueira Pinto exibe-o perfeitamente e de forma inadulterada. O outro de que se discorda não é susceptível de merecer a distância que nos permita ouvi-lo. Insultá-lo, identificá-lo como inimigo, é mais fácil. No caso de Nogueira Pinto, é “fascista”. Noutros tempos, é bom lembrá-lo, bastava ser “socialista”. Desde que António Costa, com a sua proverbial fortitude, derrubou pela segunda vez o Muro de Berlim, os socialistas, tirando um excêntrico ou dois, podem estar tranquilos: “socialista” não é um nome feio. Mas nada garante que seja sempre assim. A não ser que certa gente do partido que Costa trouxe para junto de si tomar definitivamente conta do PS. Nesse caso, a paz poderá tornar-se definitiva. Com o PS a mudar até de nome: PSE – Partido Socialista de Esquerda. Lenine explica.

Sobre a diferença entre a política e a ciência política

Max Weber, “Science as a Vocation”, in Max Weber’s Complete Writings on Academic and Political Vocations, ed. John Dreijmanis (New York: Algora Publishing, 2008), 41-43:

Let us now focus our attention on the disciplines with which I am most closely concerned; that is, sociology, history, political economy and political science and those varieties of cultural philosophy whose function is to interpret them. It has been said, and I support this, that politics has no place in the lecture hall. It is out of place there when students introduce it. I would, for example, find it deplorable if, say, pacifist students surrounded my former colleague Dietrich Schäfer in Berlin in one of his lectures and created a disturbance, and I would find it equally deplorable if, as is said to have occurred, anti-pacifist students behaved in the same way toward Professor [Friedrich W.] Förster, although my views are in many respects as far from his as it is possible to be. But neither does politics have any place in the lecture hall when the lecturer introduces it. Least of all, when his own particular subject is political science. Views regarding issues of practical politics and scientific analysis of political structures and party positions are two quite different matters. If someone speaks about democracy in a public meeting, he should make no secret of his personal point of view. It is his confounded duty and obligation to take a clear partisan position. The words used are then not a means of scientific analysis, but of political campaigning to win over others to his point of view. They are not plowshares to break up the soil of contemplative thought, but swords to use against the adversary. They are weapons in the struggle.

In a lecture or in a lecture hall, on the other hand, it would be an outrage to use words in this way. In that situation, where the topic is “democracy,” for example, one will take the different forms of democracy and analyze them to establish how they function, and what particular consequences each has for the conditions of life, and then contrast them with other, non-democratic, forms of political order and attempt to reach the point at which the listener himself can adopt a stance in the light of his ultimate ideals. But the genuine teacher, speaking from the lectern, will take great care not to force any point of view on him, whether explicitly or by suggestion, while claiming to “let the facts speak for themselves,” which would naturally be a most underhand tactic.

But why should we not do this? I admit that many highly esteemed colleagues are of the opinion that such self-denial is not feasible, and if it were practiced it would be a mere eccentricity and should be avoided. Now, one cannot demonstrate scientifically what the duty of an academic teacher should be. One can only demand from him the intellectual integrity to be clear about the difference between, on the one hand, establishing facts, mathematical or logical states of affairs, or establishing the internal structure of cultural values, and on the other hand, answering the question of the value of culture and of its individual contents, followed by the question of how one should act within the cultural community and political associations. These are two entirely heterogeneous problems. If he goes on to ask why he should not deal with both in the lecture hall, the answer is because the prophet and the demagogue have no place at the lectern in the lecture hall. The message to both the prophet and the demagogue is: “Go out on the streets and speak publicly,” which is to say, go where criticism is possible. In the lecture hall the teacher sits facing an audience who are obliged to attend his lectures for the sake of their careers and remain silent while he speaks. I regard it as irresponsible if instead of giving his listeners the benefit of his knowledge and scientific experience, which is his duty, he takes advantage of a situation where there is no one there who can criticize him and attempts to impose his political views on them. No doubt, it may be impossible for the individual to disregard his subjective sympathies entirely, but he must then face the severest criticism in the forum of his own conscience. Promoting his own views confirms nothing, as purely factual errors are also possible. Yet, they attest nothing against his duty to seek the truth. I am therefore against this approach, not least in the interests of science. I am prepared to demonstrate, from the works of our historians, that whenever the man of science puts forward his own value judgment, full understanding of the facts ceases. But this subject is beyond the scope of this evening’s topic and would call for lengthy discussion.

Populismo, representação, redes sociais e conservadorismo

Roger Scruton, “Populism, VII: Representation & the people”:

The fact remains, however, that the accusation of “populism” is applied now largely to politicians on the right, with the implication that they are mobilizing passions that are both widespread and dangerous. On the whole liberals believe that politicians on the left win elections because they are popular, while politicians on the right win elections because they are populist. Populism is a kind of cheating, deploying weapons that civilized people agree not to use and which, once used, entirely change the nature of the game, so that those of gentle and considerate leanings are at an insuperable disadvantage. The division between the popular and the populist corresponds to the deep division in human nature, between the reasonable interests that are engaged by politics, and the dark passions that threaten to leave negotiation, conciliation, and compromise behind. Like “racism,” “xenophobia,” and “Islamophobia,” “populism” is a crime laid at the door of conservatives. For the desire of conservatives to protect the inherited identity of the nation, and to stand against what they see as the real existential threats posed by mass migration, is seen by their opponents as fear and hatred of the Other, which is seen in turn as the root cause of inter-communal violence.


The phenomenon of the instant plebiscite—what one might call the “webiscite”—is therefore far more important than has yet been recognized. Nor does it serve the interests only of the Right in politics. Almost every day there pops up on my screen a petition from or urging me to experience the “one click” passport to moral virtue, bypassing all political processes and all representative institutions in order to add my vote to the cause of the day. Avaaz was and remains at the forefront of the groups opposing the “populism” of Donald Trump, warning against his apparent contempt for the procedures that would put brakes on his power. But in the instant politics of the webiscite such contradictions don’t matter. Consistency belongs with those checks and balances. Get over them, and get clicking instead.

It is not that the instant causes of the webiscites are wrong: without the kind of extensive debate that is the duty of a legislative assembly it is hard to decide on their merits. Nevertheless, we are constantly being encouraged to vote in the absence of any institution that will hold anyone to account for the decision. Nobody is asking us to think the matter through, or to raise the question of what other interests need to be considered, besides the one mentioned in the petition. Nobody in this process, neither the one who proposes the petition nor the many who sign it, has the responsibility of getting things right or runs the risk of being ejected from office if he fails to do so. The background conditions of representative government have simply been thought away, and all we have is the mass expression of opinion, without responsibility or risk. Not a single person who signs the petition, including those who compose it, will bear the full cost of it. For the cost is transferred to everyone, on behalf of whatever single-issue pressure group takes the benefit.

We are not creatures of the moment; we do not necessarily know what our own interests are, but depend upon advice and discussion. Hence we need processes that impede us from making impetuous choices; we need the filter that will bring us face to face with our real interests. It is precisely this that is being obscured by the emerging webiscite culture. Decisions are being made at the point of least responsibility, by the man or woman in the street with an iPhone, asked suddenly to click “yes” or “no” in response to an issue that they have never thought about before and may never think about again.

Reflect on these matters and you will come to see, I believe, that if “populism” threatens the political stability of democracies, it is because it is part of a wider failure to appreciate the virtue and the necessity of representation. For representative government to work, representatives must be free to ignore those who elected them, to consider each matter on its merits, and to address the interests of those who did not vote for them just as much as the interests of those who did. The point was made two centuries ago by Edmund Burke, that representation, unlike delegation, is an office, defined by its responsibilities. To refer every matter to the constituents and to act on majority opinion case by case is precisely to avoid those responsibilities, to retreat behind the consensus, and to cease to be genuinely accountable for what one does.

This brings me to the real question raised by the upheavals of 2016. In modern conditions, in which governments rarely enjoy a majority vote, most of us are living under a government of which we don’t approve. We accept to be ruled by laws and decisions made by politicians with whom we disagree, and whom we perhaps deeply dislike. How is that possible? Why don’t democracies constantly collapse, as people refuse to be governed by those they never voted for? Why do the protests of disenchanted voters crying “not my president!” peter out, and why has there been after all no mass exodus of liberals to Canada?

The answer is that democracies are held together by something stronger than politics. There is a “first person plural,” a pre-political loyalty, which causes neighbors who voted in opposing ways to treat each other as fellow citizens, for whom the government is not “mine” or “yours” but “ours,” whether or not we approve of it. Many are the flaws in this system of government, but one feature gives it an insuperable advantage over all others so far devised, which is that it makes those who exercise power accountable to those who did not vote for them. This kind of accountability is possible only if the electorate is bound together as a “we.” Only if this “we” is in place can the people trust the politicians to look after their interests. Trust enables people to cooperate in ensuring that the legislative process is reversible when it makes a mistake; it enables them to accept decisions that run counter to their individual desires and which express views of the nation and its future that they do not share. And it enables them to do this because they can look forward to an election in which they have a chance to rectify the damage.

That simple observation reminds us that representative democracy injects hesitation, circumspection, and accountability into the heart of government—qualities that play no part in the emotions of the crowd. Representative government is for this reason infinitely to be preferred to direct appeals to the people, whether by referendum, plebiscite, or webiscite. But the observation also reminds us that accountable politics depends on mutual trust. We must trust our political opponents to acknowledge that they have the duty to represent the people as a whole, and not merely to advance the agenda of their own political supporters.

But what happens when that trust disintegrates? In particular, what happens when the issues closest to people’s hearts are neither discussed nor mentioned by their representatives, and when these issues are precisely issues of identity—of “who we are” and “what unites us”? This, it seems to me, is where we have got to in Western democracies—in the United States just as much as in Europe. And recent events on both continents would be less surprising if the media and the politicians had woken up earlier to the fact that Western democracies—all of them without exception—are suffering from a crisis of identity. The “we” that is the foundation of trust and the sine qua non of representative government, has been jeopardized not only by the global economy and the rapid decline of indigenous ways of life, but also by the mass immigration of people with other languages, other customs, other religions, other ways of life, and other and competing loyalties. Worse than this is the fact that ordinary people have been forbidden to mention this, forbidden to complain about it publicly, forbidden even to begin the process of coming to terms with it by discussing what the costs and benefits might be.

Of course they have not been forbidden to discuss immigration in the way that Muslims are forbidden to discuss the origins of the Koran. Nor have they been forbidden by some express government decree. If they say the wrong things, they are not arrested and imprisoned—not yet, at least. They are silenced by labels—“racism,” “xenophobia,” “hate speech”—designed to associate them with the worst of recent crimes. In my experience, ordinary people wish to discuss mass immigration in order to prevent those crimes. But this idea is one that cannot be put in circulation, for the reason that the attempt to express it puts you beyond the pale of civilized discourse. Hillary Clinton made the point in her election campaign, with her notorious reference to the “deplorables”—in other words, the people who bear the costs of liberal policies and respond to them with predictable resentments.


ll this has left the conservative movement at an impasse. The leading virtue of conservative politics as I see it is the preference for procedure over ideological programs. Liberals tend to believe that government exists in order to lead the people into a better future, in which liberty, equality, social justice, the socialist millennium, or something of that kind will be realized. The same goal-directed politics has been attempted by the EU, which sees all governance as moving towards an “ever closer union,” in which borders, nations, and the antagonisms that allegedly grow from them will finally disappear. Conservatives believe that the role of government is not to lead society towards a goal but to ensure that, wherever society goes, it goes there peacefully. Government exists in order to conciliate opposing views, to manage conflicts, and to ensure peaceful transactions between the citizens, as they compete in the market, and associate in what Burke called their “little platoons.”

That conception of government is, to me, so obviously superior to all others that have entered the imperfect brains of political thinkers that I find myself irresistibly drawn to it. But it depends on a pre-political unity defined within recognized borders, and a sovereign territory that is recognizably “ours,” the place where “we” are, the home that we share with the strangers who are our “fellow countrymen.” All other ways of defining the “we” of human communities—whether through dynasty, tribe, religion, or the ruling Party—threaten the political process, since they make no room for opposition, and depend on conscripting the people to purposes that are not their own. But procedural politics of the conservative kind is possible only within the confines of a nation state—which is to say, a state defined over sovereign territory, whose citizens regard that territory as their legitimate home.