Always nice (and beneficial) to see something by Ben. And it makes for a particularly pleasant counterpoint as I prepare to teach (or attempt to teach) undergraduates about libertarian critiques of redistribution…
I’m not sure about some of the quasi-nationalist rhetoric mentioned by Jackson, employed in the service of turning people towards re-distributive policies. I mean it might be effective, but it strikes me as the wrong sort of reasons to be giving.
Because you have a preference for being less effective, but with the right sort of reasons, or because you think there’s an equally effective political strategy which doesn’t involve quasi-nationalist rhetoric? If the first, why? If the second, what is it?
The first, because I think if you start using the wrong reasons in the service of achieving the right sort of goals it can backfire. For example, if the British public become convinced that the case for national re-distributive policies is protection of the nation, or the average British man, they might resist policies seeking to use the public fund to assist immigrants or foreign nationals. Or again, movements towards international re-distribution from countries in the Global North to those in the Global South might be opposed on the grounds that re-distribution is alright so long as it helps the nation, the public, or the average British man, but not if it is going to Johnny Foreigner.
If you use the wrong sort of reasons, you expose yourself much more to people taking them on and using them in the service of things that you didn’t intend, and which you don’t like. If you use the right sort of reasons, you aren’t entirely insulated against people taking what you say the wrong way, but I would have thought you’re less likely to run the risk of potential negative consequences of the application of those reasons in other areas to that which you intended.
What’s interesting to me about the kind of politics Ben picks out is the suggestion that a discourse of national community can be a bit more flexible than we sometimes think it is. There’s a strand of political thought out there – let’s crudely call it the point where ideas from David Miller meet “ideas” from David Goodhart – that emphasises the idea that to have social democratic redistribution, you need a sense of national community, because you need richer voters to be more or less willing to subsidise poorer voters through the welfare state, and if richer voters don’t feel any sense of identification with the poorer voters, they won’t be at all happy about this. I think there’s quite a bit wrong with this line of thought – I think the strength of working-class institutions and their ability politically to dominate the parties of the middle and upper classes is pretty important; the time of the Attlee government, for example, was not really a period of interclass harmony. But what’s interesting in Ben’s examples is that these cases of successful political mobilisations proceed not by stressing interclass harmony or solidarity so much as by constructing the national community by defining the rich, or the superrich, or whatever you want to call them, out of the nation itself. (SieyÃ¨s did something similar in his pamphlet, “What is the Third Estate?” in 1789.) You get the Miller / Goodhart result (redistribution from middle class to working class voters, who are lined up – some of them, at least – behind the same political project), but you get it not through a straightforwardly inclusive patriotism but through a politics of exclusion and stigmatism of the rich and powerful. And given that the real-world politics we find ourselves surrounded by (as opposed to what goes on in academic seminars) aren’t so much about patriotism vs cosmopolitanism but about competing varieties of patriotism, I don’t find it too problematic to consider the kinds of appeals Ben thinks we should be considering.