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On the Sociological Point of Right-Wing Focus; About David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (2017).

 

David Goodhart (1956- ) has given us a quick-read if teeth-gritting sociological account of tense realities reaching all of us through the digital and media outlets, workplaces and pubs, parks, highways and streets. The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (2017), “The Sunday Times bestseller” announced on the cover, and there will be other British paper references demarcating the ideological landscape, would want to qualify as sober and reliable social science, and it is, quick to prove a point at the drop of a hat with percentages and statistics. This is expected jack of all trades of any self-respecting middle-of- the-road sociologist with or without proper academic credentials. Our author keeps academia at a distance. His preference is to occupy the larger social space of political journalism, think-tank pundit and opinionator in current affairs, exclusively British matters, an influencer, the term “public intellectual” had quick life and death in the U.S. a decade or so ago: it is the same idea. I do not know if it ever caught fire in Britain. The assumed task of Goodhart is to give testimony to a general feeling of social unrest; hence the word “revolt” surrounded by other generic nouns, future, politics, road, somewhere, in the admittedly vague book title. Perhaps “populist” brings us closer to the political truth of social things taking a noticeable turn in a certain direction at the crossroads. But where is the map in the minimalist white-only cover with a bright-red thick pin stuck in the middle of the “o” casting some ominous shade on the subtitle also in red?

 

Revolt: we are not quite there yet at the maximum intensity or general upset or a revolution turning tables around or upside down. The Road to Somewhere is a quick-read descriptive type of political sociology wishing to take the pulse of a convulsive patient, with diminished returns and tight budgets, austerity and dim view of big horizons, perhaps etherised upon the table situated in the British time zone, with occasional, unsurprising gestures towards Atlantic confirmations. Who is eating at the tables? Who is turning the tables? Goodhart will give us a “populist” type of answer: the elite minority benefits from current troubles and the vast majority suffers. Let us storm the palace? Hold your horses: The Road to Somewhere is in the antipodes of anti-systemic impulses in general theme and philosophical disposition. We may instead put the sabre inside the sheath, the best ear to the ground and have a listen for the stamping of hooves in the immediate context of Brexit Britain, but the malaise and distemper reach out beyond Dover and Calais. The spoiler: these are not Yahoos, but decent common folk, majority people, like you and me. The protest is warranted. The near future of politics is already impacted by the disposition to be unveiled soon. How decisively? 

 

 

 

Sixty-one-years-old Goodhart chronicles the revolt of the “conservative” masses, a hundred years after Ortega y Gasset’s unreferenced bestseller. The occasional appeals to common sense, reasonableness, “most people want this or that,” nationalism of a moderate kind, decency, even “basic human instinct,” majority “Somewhere” mindset, give authorial intention away with or without the usual sociological trappings of statistics and percentages. Goodhart is not hiding his political preference, more Tony Blair than Jeremy Corbyn, more “red Tory” a la Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former chief-of-staff than Cameron and Osborne, a bit more to the Right than the Lib-Dems if you ask me. This political sociology cuts its profile close to policy circles. It is symptomatic of a defection from a youthful centre-left sensibility, keeping other adventurous or radical options out of focus, the opposite of expansion say, a “conservative” shrinking of the political imagination perhaps biologically or biographically pre-determined, but not necessarily. The Road to Somewhere is thus a double retreat of sorts away from alternative politics kept disengaged as well as from universalist and multiculturalist propositions, human-rights appeals looking gloomy here like willow trees as well. And what does emerge in its stead? The nation retains its meaningfulness, privileged point of reference and rally, clarion, and it is a “white” version of it here, its race-and-ethnicity left under-developed, against mounting suspicions directed in the direction of the destabilizing factor of immigration. Without trivialising, The Road to Somewhere comes at the end tail of the Bill Clinton and Tony Blair Baby Boom generation, add a recent divorce (unreliable Wikipedia dixit), and the time for social openness and intellectual expansion appears spent. Think the opposite of cosmopolitanism: is it time to hunker down?

 

 

 

The Road to Somewhere wishes to be descriptive affair, but there is also a fair bit of a prescriptive impetus, unholy halo or smoked-wood aroma circling around this astringent current-events sociology pointing the finger in the direction of the neglected “somewhere” of the main equation being proposed. It is not quite class, but there are features of class. Ditto with race and ethnicity. There is no sustained exploration of other features that may significantly characterize subject formation in our contemporary societies. The thesis: we must take the “road” to “somewhere” values and in so doing contain, or try to, the (right-wing) populist revolt, its sound and fury, in the immediate present tense of the national polity you happen to call yours. Should you have no meaningful attachments, that will put you automatically on the undesirable side of what Goodhart calls the “Anywheres,” the liberals and the cosmopolitans (“neo-liberal” does not register, the imaginary cosmos of rich humanities offers no plethora of menu options; think of Goodhart as the ‘postcolonial’ opposite of Kwame Anthony Appiah, to name but one name included in the book at hand). The disposition is here towards the sharper, harder, tighter the line, the concrete, the border patrol, the recognizable, traditional and situated, the more stable and defined over the soft, hybrid, fuzzy edges, the free floating, foreign or other, the nationalist over sirens’ calls for internationalism, conservative over “liberal,” woes of the lower middle class, blue collar over lower and more desperate and deprived with no sympathy for more affluent sectors. Goodhart has Brexit Great Britain in the heart and mind and there are occasional parallels with the United States of Trump. There is little else: the European Union is good example of a disaster, emotionally and intellectually distant, “Anywhere” type of society, much like London, repudiated by our author, is symbol of a future society our author does not want to see happening further. No internationalist organization moves Goodhart to go elsewhere. There is no utopia. This is mostly a “dirty realism” type of sociology that has no “magical realism” to amuse or misguide no one. No hope and perhaps no fear: the nation will not come down to regional configurations either. Concert of both Anywhere / Somewhere tendencies? Citing U.S. critic Yuval Levin, the possible brokering of this duality may have already passed and a quick-brushstroke spectre of violence is summoned in the end. Birds of feather fly together? The Road to Somewhere is more Requiem than happy waltz, but there is little distracting music. We are invited to bite into a bitter lemon. This is unhappy ethos of conservative pessimism disbelieving any of the promises delivered by “Anywhere liberalism.” This “global-village” type of being political is his stated “political enemy,” to use the eye-catching language. No need to waste your time visiting the many foreign humanities out there. The world that matters to this British-born and bred author is transatlantic, if small.

 

 

 

We are dealing with forces of globalization and localization, or conventionally nationalism, and within it with what gets to be called “populism” (para-institutional activism) and generally speaking, at least in this case, the Right wing turn of political matters inside the muddled political spectrum residing in the vicinity of the “yes” vote in the Brexit referendum. Others call it The Great Regression (Heinrich Geiselberger’s anthology for another moment). The book jacket identifies Goodhart as Remain voter and inactive Labour member (see Jonathan Freedland, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/22/the-road-to-somewhere-david-goodhart-populist-revolt-future-politics?CMP=share_btn_link). Quite a bit of rain has fallen in the last three decades since Robert B. Reich’s The Work of Nations: A Blueprint for the Future [1991] 1993), former Labour Secretary under Bill Clinton. I can hear echoes in this work. Goodhart’s more localized and nationalistic “Future of Politics” in the subtitle, cuts a small Dunkirk beachhead in the coast of Europe, but it is mostly Blighty, check out the military slang sense of the term, and not an expansive seafaring version of Britain, mind you, against Reich’s earlier post-nationalist capitalist cosmopolitanism with a social-liberal consciousness.

 

 

 

And why should the nation be the privileged unit of social analysis? All domains in this national vicinity are pushed upwards towards the supra-national global and pulled downwards towards the more regional or local (interestingly, the “nation-state” breaks open and releases and drops the latter noun). Goodhart’s criticism of a certain comfortable ideology of liberalism ascribed to elite groups squares the circle with what he deems the majority Somewhere structure of feeling of being ignored and left behind. There is unmistakable revanchism at play here at the core of The Road to Somewhere. His is a populist gesture that sides with the reasonableness of such revolts, but mostly the ones taking a Right turn, whether the language is convincing, inspirational, etc. is another matter. No optimism in the horizon: the mood is circumspect. If only things were different… But they aren’t and Goodhart will not take us for a ride in any utopian direction of radical difference. There is a “TINA” (there is no alternative) whiff in The Road to Somewhere. There is also a “dirty realism” of sorts, a kind of anti-elitist vengeful “ I-pluck-one-eye-of-mine-so-that-my-bad-neighbour’s-eyes-are-gone” in the name of counter- multicultural or “identity politics” [or the acronym of BAME in Britain] coming mostly from “white” sectors (“sheer vindictiveness” is mentioned, p. 52-3). This localist attitude or in the language of the book “Somewhere attitude” is however here largely equated with decency and common sense, the moderation of the majority population (“most somewheres find race politics weird and alien, p. 71). A colour line is therefore being drawn, subordinating identity markers to the national frame (there is no attempt to explore significant differences that may exist in these matters among the four nations forming Great Britain). How do we measure indecency? What is the commonality of the British mind? But it is really England pushing and pulling in the Brexit direction. Yet this nationalist subset is left untouched. And is it justified? When does a stipulated nationalistic or patriotic defense mechanism become jingoism and xenophobia? The Road to Somewhere is no Last-Night-at-the-Proms enthusiastic flag-waving. Things are not pretty: there is a pervasive feeling of anxiety in the chosen Somewhere collectivity being summarily accounted for by our unsmiling chronicler.

 

I got to see Goodhart at the gathering called The Convention (May 12 & 13, 2017) [website still going strong, http://www.theconvention.co.uk/] in the heart of Westminster, London organized by sectors within the newspaper The Observer, “Sunday branch” of The Guardian, both cousins of a more recent pro-EU The European. This was mostly a “remoaner remainer” endeavour, more Gina Miller and Nick Clegg than Paul Mason in general sailing orientation, say, with the occasional addition of Leavers, a confident Michael Gove for example and even two UKIP affiliates, fewer Tories, some Labour on and off stage in The Great Hall. Goodhart had no major problems here, his middle-brow “populist” sociology occupying a centre-right position, bringing his scepticism to knock on the door of the generic liberal openness, whilst holding official parties and actors such as unions and higher-education sectors at a distance. His instinct tells him to hold on to existing national demarcations, whether rain or thunderstorm, shipwreck or hurricane. Where else would he go instead? To social movements? To multi- or international organizations? To a favourite city that is not to be London? Goodhart remains neither inhabitant of the above nor of the underground below. The national state remains basic floating line for his conception of the social and the political, yet as noted the state remains unspoken entity. Immigration emerges as the single-issue detonator of most significant tensions shedding light, or darkness, on all the nouns in the book title. Goodhart’s automatic reflex: to seek control of its numbers.

 

 

 

Goodhart’s main political formulation, the “us versus them,” is that of the “Anywheres / Somewheres.” It is a neologism of sorts, zeroing in on the importance of the locality, always nationally circumscribed within the currently existing options in his case, an allegorical case in point, or personification of the “circumstance” if you wish to recall the language of the philosophical tradition of existential historicism. The Road to Somewhere is about holding up the mirror image of Britain to the Brexit face and come to terms with it against the noise and commotion. Hybridities, overlaps, births and demises of national units are not contemplated, thank you very much. The drive is to illustrate the reasons of the Somewhere people without making it fall the abyss of foolishness and extremism, impossibly xenophobic or authoritarian beyond the pale of reason (hard authoritarians and real bigots are 5-7% of the British population, we are told, the bulk of [the Somewheres] want a moderate form of nationalism to fence off a more globalized world, p. 228). Goodhart’s fact is that this is the middle of the road, the majority attitude, what most “reasonable” or “decent” people want in Britain, Brexit exacerbates the fact of gradual decline but does not alter it fundamentally. The reader will be forgiven for thinking that Brexit is here no apocalypse, impossible corrosion, but a shrill detonator of collective needs being unmet. The Road to Somewhere is in essence this rendition of the reasons of these “Somewheres” for what is typified as anti-elite or anti-establishment revolt from a comparative position of neglect, perceived or real (the supposedly more comfortable “somewhere” positions are not explored, think of a Rees-Mogg of a Boris Johnson, or the interests being served by the Trump administration, for example).

 

The “Anywheres” (los ciudadanos del mundo, los cosmopolitas, los de cualquier sitio, los de ninguna parte, los desubicados, should your Spanish serve you well) come with elastic, softer edges, more negotiable or weaker attachments. These are the ones who are less permanently situated, less rooted and less predictable or localized; hence they are more mobile and restless, they may hold many alliances or plural allegiances, or none in particular; they are world villagers, they move more, and thus migrate, the world is if not their oyster theirs, they are also more “liberal” in mind and feeling, attire and customs, more tolerant and “causal” in demeanour, more adjustable and therefore lighter in portable cultural goods. The “Somewheres” (idem in Spanish, los ubicados, los de alguna parte, los de aquí, los nacionalistas, los nuestros, los lugareños) are more willingly “parochial” and even intentionally “provincial.” Tribal will be badge of honour (remember what happened with the Clinton charge of “deplorables” on the other side of the Atlantic?). They see themselves with more permanent features, change is not easy and finds no welcome attitude, they value stability, continuity and predictability, and will identify with a specific (national) territory. For these, propinquity and contiguity are indeed crucial features of the self, substantial forms of belonging, custom and belief, folk and ritual, the everyday, the known geography, the life as it has always been, even in our times of web and internet digitality. For these, traditions are important, and there is less of a thirst to be adventurous and open to plural ways of being in the world, not uncommonly resenting them when such big-picture dimensions show up uninvited in the neighbourhood. The Anywhere / Somewhere binary formula holds and one can play with changes and overlaps. The latter come more narrow-minded, less well-educated, even less educated. These populations are already feeling at the end of the tether, like they are losing the grip of things, the desperate foothold at the Dunkirk beach already inside pitiless global forces blowing sand in their tea and faces, the others are many and are against us, the circumstance is not yet saved, Blighty is becoming more and more like a foreign country and how to cope with knowledge, intelligence, expertise elsewhere, “fake news,” elite corruption, distant names of two or three surnames, darker complexions, foreign tongues and funny accents. The Road to Somewhere zeroes in on what appears to be the losing side of the binary without romanticizing its bitter politics.

 

 

 

The feeling is not yet fully one of defeat and surrender; hence, the said revolt of the masses. Goodhart revolts at the dismay and scorn thrown in the direction of the Brexit vote pulling gravitationally in the direction of the lower-middle-class blue collar sector (Anywheres are said to make up 20-25% of the population; Somewheres, about half; and the rest, Inbetweeners, p. 4). The Road to Somewhere wants to believe in the cultural logic of such populism becoming mainstream. Yet, it is aiming at what exactly? The revolt Goodhart cares about here is not anti-capitalist. It seeks to find a decent place inside the brutally competitive system. It is anti-systemic only in the single-digit quotas of the percentages and statistics falling into dark places on either side of the Right and Left spectrum, not contemplated here. The Somewhere / Anywhere duality makes instinctive sense, with or without the overlaps, and it is somewhat persuasive against the larger frame of disruptive forces (the digital world brings disruption, Trump is called the great disruptor, retreat of the state and austerity, gig economy conquers the labour market, migration, what to say about university education increasingly privatised?, tensions within nation-states, Scotland versus Great Britain, the Catalan case within Spain, Brexit Britain vis-à-vis the EU, etc.). Who does not crave peace and calm in the middle of the storm? The crucial issue is, I suppose, how to account for these processes, how to swing it intellectually? What type of emotional intelligence to put to best practice? Who sees triumph? Isn’t there more likely to be a sense of deflation, decline, even debacle? But optimism is hard to come by. Who would endorse march of progress, with or without the “end of history”? Messed-up road signs pointing to where exactly? What do the concrete contours of this Somewhere look like? The Road to Somewhere ends with no concrete visualizatios. Revolt is thus in the meantime the response to this lack of knowing or uncertainty, a bit like animals kick the fences, walls and doors smelling ominous changes.

 

There is a “culturalism” in the social explanation of contemporary social reactions to national politics, internationalism being uninhabitable. That is to say, issues of “culture” or “identity,” or what we could call a psychology of recognition, or even of symbolic retribution take precedence over purely economic considerations (a “post-materialist” politics is mentioned, p. 52). In other words, increasingly secular, individualistic, economistic modern societies do not exhaust the quest for meaning and collective identity (the term “postmodern” is rarely used, except as insult or epithet; it is redolent of something to be avoided and repudiated, what bad others had it bad, like leprosy, fear no Fredric Jameson in our David Goodhart). This is no economy treatise: we are presented with declining options for the many. Religion is entirely absent. No single depiction of institutional life appears to hold any collectivity convincingly together for long: all of these are castles of cards to be blown away by the next predator. The Road to Somewhere is a deliberate reductive mechanism to bring explanatory powers to a crude, if not brutal binary (anywheres / somewheres) with a certain implied geographical determinism in the latter, not corrected by the loosening of ties in the former (you are your place of birth, so to speak). There is a certain “de-materialization” of political claims and desires (the “ultimatum” game, p. 52) in our age of flux. There is also veritable chicken-with-no-head disorientation (“most voters are not only extraordinarily ignorant of current affairs, but also reveal only the most tenuous connections between what they believe and how they vote,” p. 61). Goodhart does not hide his distance from multi-culturalism or the BAME prioritizing. There is something ice-cold about his treatment of immigration, as though he was assuming Somewheres’ attitudes as he came to terms with them, or perhaps he invokes them to speak of the larger echoes of his own mindset. Island exception: the hostility to the EU is mainstream in Britain. Go and tell that to the “continentals.” Yet, Goodhart insists that the xenophobic and racist quotas of the Somewheres remain statistically small, in between 5-7% (p. 71). His own disposition is for immigration control and firm borders (there are vivid vignettes about the keen-as-mustard Latvian with good English chosen over the local dropout, and you only have to take a walk in cities such as London or Birmingham to confirm who works in the “hospitality” industry). The claim is that a majority of the British population –Brexit is symptom of this protesting revolt—participates of this “Somewhere” mood and mode and finds release and outlet, justified or not, real and symbolic or imaginary, in double opposition against the “Weird” minority (teasing out the acronym: western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic, p. 27), and the immigrants. The scapegoating of immigrants makes logical, nasty sense in the vindictive logic of this symbolic exchange. “Control” is the common euphemism of this standard antagonism. Such protest will run the gamut of apathy and indifference, cold shoulder and increasing distance, spite and hostility (the name of Jo Cox summons the murderous extremity of such hostility prior to the referendum). Anti-immigrant rhetoric is commonplace in right-wing tabloids and elsewhere in more insidious ways. The Road to Somewhere will tell us that “we” –the readers-- are still traveling –believe it or not-- in the middle of the British road, and that there is ample justification for the opposition to the official liberal values of Western democracies. The warning is that “the future of politics” must come to terms with such populist revolt sooner rather than later, or neglect it at its own risk. Do not hold your breath for the “two halves of humanity’s political soul” (p. 233) to come together at a happier, not happy, coexistence.

 

 

 

This political duality interlinks profoundly with another, which is probably what matters most at the moment, the pro- and anti-Brexit. The first two chapters deal with the “great divide.” The book came out shortly after the Brexit referendum. The latter, anti-Brexit, will largely be city-dwellers, younger, more worldly or even planetary in outlook, more multi-racial perhaps, more experimental, inevitably forced by the circumstances; whereas the latter is more small-town, even rural, older, more used to “the-ways-things-have-always-been,” more nationalistic “the-way-the-nation-has-been-recognized-as-such,” more traditional-family-based, also more “white,” if not “white-only,” increasingly harbouring feelings of living in a foreign country not faring well, claiming “take-back-control” whilst entertaining thoughts of an end of grand things, gradual impoverishment, increasing exhaustion and general decline. This is the general mood: we appear to be in the antipodes of a Renaissance. What about in the Age of “(neo-)Baroque morbidity”? The milieu is more about autumnal enervation, at least in relation to the social sectors circled by The Road to Somewhere: a sense of loss, decline in strength, a frigidity in the mind, a self-perception of brittleness and lignification of once-upon-a-time suppleness and vigorous growth, vegetable love Andrew Marvell might still call it, made worse by the current government’s boosterist efforts to sell the optimism of Brexit. It is a post-industrial landscape moving away from the generic label of “white working class” (the vanishing term surfaces periodically now like a zombie as main agent in relation to the upsets of Trump and Brexit). Goodhart wishes to mainstream it under the umbrage of the Somewhere. There is something of a metonymic self-identification of the Somewhere part with the total national decline (interestingly, there is no relief in the oblique sense of bigger declines, Europe, the U.S., the West, the “end of history,” etc.). Once the “great divide” has been established, a manageable set of seven chapters of average twenty pages will follow. The themes will be the crisis of the Left, the national persistence, the foreignness of the native country due to the rapid surge and lack of control of immigration, bewilderment at the higher-education growth out of its useful purpose and failure to deliver on its promises of mobility and achievement options, and gender-role changes and family instabilities and fractures. The final message written in a piece of paper put inside the bottle thrown into the English Channel: final piece of advice, to whom?, policy leaders?, your fellow nationals?, would the internationals care?, to heed the voice of the “Somewheres” who are here to stay. We can condense this by saying that there is a vast set of transformations looming in the near horizon, that there is constraining of political options turning, at least here, towards Right-wing protestations, that there is a pervasive sense that higher education is increasingly a luxury product going nowhere in particular, that mobility is compromised, if not entirely blocked for the many not getting better than the preceding generations. Hence, one can at least understand the gesture of attempting to close doors on the national front against global hurricanes and outsiders. It is surely a futile gesture still begging the question, and whose purpose is being better served in our globality?

 

 

 

What remains with me after the reading of The Road to Somewhere is the healthy authorial impulse to deliver concrete data not sticking to slogans without either dwelling deep or providing an overall master narrative. For example, the breakdown of vote percentages for the Remain vote (57% of top social classes, 36% in the lowest, 49% in the middle, p. 19); 42% of British people live within 5 miles from where they lived when they were 14 and 60% within 20 miles, p. 38; the immigration story: about 18% of today’s working age population was born abroad, in the past generation, Britain’s immigrant and minority population (including the white non-British) has trebled to about 12 million or over 20% (25% in England), pp. 122-3, which gives away the fundamental perspective of the book (white, English); 18% of low-skill jobs are taken by people born outside the country, p. 152; one third of the graduate jobs in London are taken by people born abroad, p. 140. The Road to Somewhere gives abundant informational morsels like these. What is less persuasive is how to string the slim chapters and how to a comparative narrative that does not naturalize the immediate national tableau. What about larger capitalist forces at work? What about regional differences among Brexiters or Remainers inside the national frame? What about an international dimension appertaining city living, people’s mobility, deteriorating work conditions, etc.? Such data can be explained by the relatively more provincial outlook of European societies, compared for example with the history of the U.S., but also with labour migration and working conditions in and out big cities, successive incorporations of new members and greater mobility of people (tourism, work and pleasure) within the Eurozone and against international or global convulsions interfering with conventional sociability, a sense of belonging or not, sense of compromised participation in democratic processes, sense of “self” buffeted by the winds of the hurricane, if you wish. Do inherited traditions and institutional organizations have any firm hold, provide any succour, come up with convincing language? Goodhart does not aim high at the analysis of capitalism in the new century. Nor does he take it to the streets with the inquisitional zeal of a good ethnographer or determined anthropologist interviewing disaffected Brexiters against sorry, impoverished Britannia (a certain practice, for example, of some journalists in The Guardian, a centre-left paper, more keen on BAME promotion than others).

 

 

His middle-brow journalistic manner is sociological, statistical, picking up general perceptions without sticking to one main theme or one favourite locality. There is no itch to scratch in relation to exploring political ideologies either. His general dismissal of a certain Left piling up around Jeremy Corbyn is telling (for example, “there is little evidence for many of the widely held anti-capitalist claims about sharply rising inequality and job insecurity,” p. 169). There is also a certain “anti-London” despondency, where is this coming from?, the capital made epitome of a generic dreadful impersonality, “Anywhere liberalism,” that most people, Goodhart says, do not want for themselves, provided they had a choice (p. 134): “an empire-sized city attached to a medium-sized country that no longer has an empire” (p. 135). There is perhaps affectation of a despair at this monstrosity with its racial mixture, capital accumulation, congestion, trains, dirty, rainy, grey streets, Grenfel-Towers, etc. London becomes “objective correlative,’ and I am again using T.S. Elliot’s terminology advisedly, of a dehumanisation process that is no British exclusivity. There is Londonisation of Britain (p. 145), but other cities (Manchester, Birmingham) are in the same dirty knot, and we can all imagine our worst urban experiences. The name of the capital is stand-in also send-up to the abstraction of “a rootless, postmodern society in which nothing is sacred” citing from Janan Ganesh in Financial Times (the journalistic field has already been mapped out for the inquisitive reader to assign positions), whilst assuming the work of Ben Judah about the life and death of a world city. I am trying to convey the modus operandi of our intelligent and perceptive author who still does not want to go for the easy slogan, together with his emotional, intellectual proclivities and ideological predilections. The analysis does not wish to provide a bird’s eye view of skyscrapers and impossible rent and real-estate dilemmas comparatively inside the motley crue of multi-lingual, multi-racial settings (incidentally, there is no love’s lost for the former Mayor of London, currently sitting in the Theresa May Cabinet, Boris Johnson).

 

 

 

But again, such impulse would have forced the analysis to have been more ambitious and more challenging in addressing city life in capitalistic moments of crisis and austerity, surprisingly a noun that is not often used, if ever. The more ambitious the book, the less likely it will make it to the best seller of the conservative newspaper of high respectability? Chapter five is surely the most slippery chapter with or without the question mark in the title: foreignness is the outsider signifier of the push and pull of internal tensions, the shibboleth, the crucial test. Who opens to it with a yes? Who shrugs shoulders and pulls a face as though it was a bad odour? The chapter on the family is probably the weakest, reminiscent to me of the way someone as respectable as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, old American liberal of Irish Catholic background on the other side of the Atlantic, tackled race and ethnic relations in the U.S. in the 1970s, advocating a “benign neglect” and highlighting the dysfunctionality of the Black family whilst falling short to address larger forces at play coming to haunt all of us now. No surprise there. There is a certain orphan status of Goodhart who finds no partners “in crime” on planet earth except few voices coming from accessible American sociology, not interrogated with insistent intellectual curiosity. The Road to Somewhere  falls for the pairing of the figure of the immigrant and the “minority,” exclusively within the stage of the nation, but this nation is no source of intellectual inspiration and emotional source of warmth at the end of the day when you think you need something more than a cup of tea by the window sill. The nation is the empty name of an invoked collectivity by default when all other names appear to have failed us, or rather him, the author in question. There is a “conservatism” of the mind, here, a shrinking of the English mind, if you wish, and the family and education chapters bring such temperament home, perhaps even in veiled autobiographical manner as suggested earlier. This hurried view says little more than increasing social fragmentation and greater individualisation and what do women want? Easy answer: well, many things. The chapter title is another general question (What about the family?). But what to understand by the term in the first place? The heart of the writer is not into it, as though he had to reach a prescribed number of pages.

 

Education provides more meat to the bone. It is talked about largely as frustrated affair, a story of demoralisation for the Somewheres. Education is not the “liberalising” force it purports to be. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Someone out there will profit, but not the majority of the Somewheres. Under the heading of “Knowledge Economy,” the expansion of higher education has shrunk vocational and technical training, the typical destination of these Somewheres. Polytechnics have closed and “new” universities open up. The chronic problem of apprenticeship gets exacerbated. Calling the same lemonade by the new name of global university: will this solve anything? Goodhart rides the waggon with the intelligent doubts of these orchestral manoeuvers in the dark. What such expansion does in the short term is the lowering of entry requirements and standards (p. 161), given the economic incentive: well, isn’t this the society of the spectacle and consumerism that we inhabit? Isn’t this the bull’s eye of the matter to aim at sociologically, rather than demonizing education? Again, Goodhart will not go for the grand scheme of capitalistic things. He disregards abstraction and sticks to statistics: “a quarter of the graduating 2003/4 earn no more than 20,000 GBP a year and are mainly in non-graduate jobs.” (p. 161). The swollen higher education fits perfectly not only with the shrunken vocational and technical sector, the so-called “hollowing out” of skills (p. 172), and the blight of short-termism, accompanied by  with what I would like to call the flat or “modular” arrangement of educational programs and courses, small units of pedagogic offerings, closer to a self-service world in which customers help themselves to what they want in an increasingly fragmented world of rapid timespaces, but also penetrations (predations?) by the gig economy, precarious labour force, devaluation of academic credentials, consumer-use criteria for continuation of programs of study, defunding, and myriad other dimensions. This is not Goodhart’s main fight.

 

 

 

One can easily agree, perhaps one can also easily feel it as well not in the faraway distance but close to the bones, how there is a growing sense of dislocation and even of alienation (again, curiously, this latter term is missing in The Road to Somewhere as though our author did not want to radicalize revolt and push it further). The Somewheres inhabiting the bottom half of the income and education spectrum are feeling increasingly demoralised and disrespected (p. 177), and Brexit was his statement to this date. We must assume Goodhart is sympathetic to such plight wanting things to be different. The book stops short from policy suggestions. Yet, it is his diagnosis that has not been incisive enough: the occasional brushstrokes may give dashes of bright colour, but where is the nice frame, the perspective? Time is short and sweet, since the Baby Boomers… Would “education” be a separate space from others, any less capitalist? Would the “family” be privileged space untouched by individualization at large? Would a more protectionist, state-interventionist approach stop what is being presented as mounting general discontent in Great Britain? The Road to Somewhere will close with no great impetus towards provocative questions. Goodhart is more comfortable in medias res: no big origin and no big ending, we are here, walking or driving?, on the road to somewhere, but where? Not London!

 

In The Road to Somewhere, Education is exclusively the purview of Anywhere liberalism. Higher-Ed is a major sector of the economy, helping revive post-industrial cities like Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle or Birmingham. But it is here mostly generator of increasing inequality, job insecurity, short-termism and exceptional openness, to what exactly? Goodhart does not challenge head-on the privatisation (or Americanisation) of the university but his signs of alarm are valid, at least in relation to increasing sectors of the population who are already feeling left behind. An alarming statistic, Britain has the lowest literary and second lowest numeracy rate of the 23 richest countries (OECD report, p. 155). Another: 17% leave secondary school functionally illiterate and 22% functionally innumerate, Rashid & Brooks, p. 155). The internalisation of educational organisations (13% of undergraduates and 40% of postgraduates, p. 160) sells the British success story, 10% of the world’s top fifty universities, outside its borders. The verdict: “the sector has expanded beyond any useful purpose” (p. 161). There is the occasional anti-academic and anti-intellectual gesture, Media Studies getting the brunt of it (“a snobbish joke;” pp. 161 and 162). The horse is bitter and blinkered and kicks the wrong door, the one that will not open. The somewheres are not getting education but it is far from obvious what the e-noun stands for in the conjuncture and dismissing it in toto defeats the intelligent purpose, with or without the disconnections with employability and the nature of change of labour, increasingly deterritorialized. Is the good thing (education or anything else) possessed and enjoyed by others (called here Anywhere liberals)? How to grab the “territory” deemed yours?: it is almost a teenage action-film fantasy! How to fly over it in the manner of Spiderman? My diagnosis: the author’s exegesis does not cut deep enough into the malaise of certain social sectors giving us a sense of the transformations incurred keeping “the” mostly at the statistical level against some spectre of victorious Anywhere-liberal self-satisfaction (the smiling façade, the official cultural lingo of late capitalism?). And what does education –or family—mean in the conjuncture in relation to a country whose top global brands are the Monarchy and the English Premier League? We can put education, family, sports and entertainment industry, negligible economic growth, diminishing returns in mobility expectations within forces of convergence and divergence. Brexit Britain, with all its own wonderful cultural-differential attributes, is one circumscribed space where such forces play.

 

 

 

I hope I have captured the gist of The Road to Somewhere for others to continue pushing these important issues informing our global contemporaneity. What would a nice synthesis in a complete sentence in the affirmative with subject and verb in the present tense be? Pay attention to the protestations of the generalized impoverished sectors of Britain in the Brexit vote against deterritorializations they do not control and barely understand? Perhaps we should re-read Ortega’s best-seller book written in exile during war conflicts in which mass society is first looked at from a certain sociological and political standpoint, including a double dimension of aesthetics and geopolitics that is here missing. Ortega’s “classic” liberal ideology versus Goodhart’s European-style social-democratic variety of conservatism?

I rescue the previous reference to Robert B. Reich who in the early 1990s, under Clinton, highlighted the virtual impossibility of disentangling national economies from each other, or in other words, how the world is going in the direction of increasing consolidation or interpenetration of global forces and flows, and how there is disparity between the profitability of corporations and the conditions of ownership and prowess against a global economy of skills and insights (i.e. the fact that this company is owned by this national group does not mean you are not going to profit elsewhere). Reich also spoke of national borders no longer defining economic fates. He offered the image of different boats responding differently to the tides, the shipwrecks and hurricanes (declining routine producers, modest in-person services, and how the growth landed closer to sectors he called “symbolic analysts”). Reich declared that it is not that easy –or desirable, or even intelligent—to try to separate “America” and “foreign” from the standpoint of corporate ownership and the shift has already occurred towards sectors of the economy he wishes to cover with the “symbolic.” Mutatis mutandis: Goodhart’s Britain. It is fair to put the U.K. close to the U.S., probably the only foreign entity that matters somewhat for our author. Are we rowing backwards from these insights? Are we retreating, recoiling, but where? I am mostly highlighting the need to continue interrogating border formation and labour and work conditions, be it in education, entertainment or finance. Should we stop for breath at the national border of this or that nation and remain firmly behaved intellectually, emotionally in these difficult moments? Raise your hand if your moment is easy? Goodhart: “It is not yet clear whether the Trump victory and Brexit are signs of a slow-down or even reversal of that long liberalising trend [away from traditional values], p. 27). “Liberalising” is neo-liberal language moving free-trade economy ideology to society at large, non-state-intervention, loosening of collective arrangements, naturalised individualism, “there is no such thing as society” and “there is no alternative” are memorable quotes from the recent Thatcherite and Reaganite past. Resisting forces, if not entirely opposing forces, are here called “traditional” Somewheres, taking centre stage, with whom Goodhart has some sympathy. There will be other options not covered in The Road to Somewhere.

 

19 October 2017

Warwick, England

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