National Review Online

Being Somewhere

John Fonte Reviews 'The Road to Somewhere'

Senior Fellow and Director, Center for American Common Culture
Anti-Brexit demonstrators show EU flags outside Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament, London, March 29, 2017 (Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Anti-Brexit demonstrators show EU flags outside Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament, London, March 29, 2017 (Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, by David Goodhart (Hurst, 256 pp.)

David Goodhart was once reliably a man of the Left: a British mainstream-liberal journalist, the founder of Prospect magazine, and a supporter of Tony Blair’s New Labour ideology. Over the past several years, although still left of center, he has changed his mind on a range of critical issues in Britain and the West related to immigration, identity, class, welfare, culture, and nation. Today, he often refers to himself as a “centrist” and “post-liberal.”

In his new book, Goodhart describes Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as the “two biggest protest votes in modern democratic history.” They constitute a backlash against what he calls the political status quo of “double liberalism.” By this, Goodhart means the economic liberalism of open borders and markets and the social liberalism of individualist lifestyle liberation.

At the center of Goodhart’s conceptual framework — and supported by extensive survey data from U.K., U.S., and global sources — is the “great divide” in Britain and elsewhere over core values between what he labels the “Anywheres” and the “Somewheres.” The Anywheres constitute about 25 percent of the British population, but they dominate the political class, and it is their concerns that are paramount in public policy. The Anywheres favor “progressive individualism.” They place a “high value on autonomy, mobility, and novelty” and a “much lower value” on “faith, flag, and family.” Anywheres are “comfortable with immigration, European integration, and . . . human-rights legislation,” which “dilute the claims of national citizenship.”

In contrast to the people who see the world from “anywhere” are the people who see the world from “somewhere.” The Somewheres are more rooted and socially conservative, older, with less formal education but a greater attachment to tradition, the Crown, and the nation. They make up about 50 percent of the British population; the remaining 25 percent are “in-betweens.” Somewhere concerns (e.g., opposition to mass immigration) have often been ignored by both the Conservative and the Labour parties. Brexit, Goodhart tells us, was a Somewhere backlash against Anywhere “overreach.”

The author doesn’t mention it, but fans of James Burnham and students of political sociology will no doubt notice the similarities between Goodhart’s Anywheres–Somewheres dichotomy and Vilfredo Pareto’s famous schema of “foxes” vs. “lions.” According to Pareto, all political elites are divided between foxes, who are speculative, innovative, experimental, present-oriented, and not mindful of traditions, and lions, who are loyal, group-focused, cautious, persistent, and adherents of traditions. The best results for regimes occur when elites are balanced between foxes and lions.

Goodhart explains that for most of his “adult life,” he has “been firmly in the Anywhere camp, and by background and lifestyle remain[s] so.” In rethinking some of his previous positions, the author acknowledges an intellectual debt to a range of mostly British centrist thinkers; he also thanks Americans Jonathan Haidt and Michael Lind.

His first break from what he labels “orthodox liberalism” came from his growing skepticism over the effectiveness and fairness of mass immigration. He describes most Somewheres, the majority of the British public, and himself as “pro-immigrant but anti–mass immigration.” That is to say, he and they are not bigoted but have the common sense to realize that “historically unprecedented” mass immigration to the U.K. is putting a tremendous strain on social cohesion, on the sense of community, on the employment opportunities of low-skilled British workers, and on the welfare state (which the author, and most Britons, support).

“There is nothing perverse or mean-spirited,” Goodhart tells us, about a democratic people’s seeking to “broadly control the character of their society and, therefore, who joins it and in what numbers.” He notes that 75 percent of the British people (“including more than half of ethnic-minority citizens”) believe that immigration is “too high or much too high,” but that these majority concerns have been mostly ignored by the “Anywhere-dominated political class.” Mass immigration is not “an uncontrollable force of nature” but “required the active political support of the 1997–2010 Labour governments.” Therefore, it can be reversed by political action.

Goodhart is critical of the elite-sponsored multiculturalism that fosters ethnic-minority separatism. Instead, he favors integrating immigrants into longstanding British communities and what are increasingly referred to as “British values.” He argues that one of the main reasons “to support a return to more moderate levels of immigration” is that assimilating newcomers into British society is “easier” with lower levels of immigration. Nor does the author hesitate to draw distinctions between the indigenous cultures of different immigrant groups and what these cultural differences mean for assimilation: “Absorbing 100,000 Australians is very different [from absorbing] 100,000 Afghans.”

Goodhart supports national-citizen favoritism: putting British citizens over non-citizens at the head of the queue when it comes to government jobs and national policy. He recounts specific conversations with leaders of the British elite in the upper echelons of the civil service and the British Broadcasting Corporation who openly told him that their goal was to put global welfare above the welfare of the British people. Clearly, he decries such attitudes. Not surprisingly, then, he endorses a more robust view of national identity and a “moderate nationalism.”

Goodhart regrets that European and British elites reacted to the “horrors of Nazism and the late colonial conflicts in Indo-China, Algeria, and Africa” by “disdain[ing] even mild expressions of national sentiment and identity.” This mindset, which refuses to “accommodate” even “moderate national feeling,” has resulted in an aggressive overreach by the EU into areas previously decided by the democratic nation-state. This, in turn, has led to a Somewheres backlash, culminating in Brexit.

The author emphasizes the outsized role of the residential universities as the key to the preponderance of the Anywhere worldview and its ideological hegemony in influential circles. He describes a tremendous expansion in the number of universities from 70 in 1984 to 170 today. In the 1980s, 14 percent of the college-age cohort went to university, compared with 48 percent today. Higher education is now a major sector of the British economy and is considered a “success story.” But, as Goodhart points out, “you can have too much of a good thing,” as universities become more globalized and become “disconnected” from British society and “the national intellectual and cultural contract.” He also complains that the massive expansion of universities undercut needed polytechnic institutes and apprentice programs beneficial to the Somewheres.

Unlike Dr. Samuel Johnson, who famously said that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” the author has little good to say about life in the 21st-century British capital: “If London is the future for the whole country, . . . it is not a future that most people want.” London has the “highest anxiety levels,” the “lowest life satisfaction,” the “highest crime levels,” and the most expensive housing in the nation. There is, Goodhart explains, almost a special “London ideology,” “rootless and postmodern,” that portrays the megalopolis as a “world city” detached from the country, “an empire-sized city attached to a medium-sized country that no longer has an empire.” And the most important reason for London’s travails is the “unmanaged mass immigration of the past two decades.”

Rather forthrightly, Goodhart contends that the dominant Anywhere ideology privileges the assumptions of upper-class professional women over the priorities of Somewhere women and, indeed, over the majority of women in the U.K. Presenting a rich trove of survey data, Goodhart notes that “most women do not want to work, either at all or full-time, when their children are young.” He calls for new social and fiscal policies that focus on the family unit rather than the individual, and on the needs of male-earner/stay-at-home-mother households on an equal basis with the interests of dual-income professionals. One suspects that a lot of the survey data presented in this book will be of interest to reform conservatives in our country.

Goodhart extols the social and cultural changes in the West on the rights of women, minorities, and gays since the Sixties and favors a strong (although reformed) welfare state. In his final chapter, he advocates a “new settlement” that combines “Anywhere freedom and Somewhere rootedness.” His “value bloc,” the Anywheres, he suggests, should meet the “decent [meaning non-prejudicial] populism” of the Somewheres halfway.

From pre-publication hype, I assumed that Goodhart’s thesis was simply the familiar Trojan horse of liberalism disingenuously masquerading as “centrism” for the purpose of advancing the transnational-progressive agenda, that his book would be something akin to the phony “non-partisan, non-ideological, no labels” charade that we are continuously presented with in the United States. But the more I read the book, the more I realized this was not the case. Goodhart presents a sustained, serious, and cogent argument that is backed up with massive survey data. Given the intrinsic strength of the book, and the author’s status within the Anglosphere elite, The Road to Somewhere should have a significant and positive impact on the social-policy debate in Britain, and in the West generally.