00:07 Aaron Ross Powell: Welcome to Free Thoughts, I’m Aaron Powell.
00:09 Trevor Burrus: And I’m Trevor Burrus.
00:10 Aaron Ross Powell: And joining us today is Stephanie Slade, managing editor of Reason Magazine, and wrote a cover story for a recent issue on nationalism. Welcome to the show, Stephanie.
00:20 Stephanie Slade: Thanks so much for having me.
00:21 Aaron Ross Powell: Isn’t a nationalist just a patriot? Just someone who loves their country?
00:26 Stephanie Slade: I don’t think so. That of course is the disagreement that many people in this country and around the world, and especially on the political rights are having right now. “What is nationalism? What is a nationalist? Isn’t it just patriotism?” Some people, including some high profile people, foremost among them, National Review editor, Rich Lowry have argued, “Yeah, nationalism is just patriotism. It just means that you’re proud of your country, you love your country. What could be wrong with that?” I think that that is not a helpful way to go about understanding these words, is to conflate two concepts that have very different connotations. And one of which, I think almost everybody knows what patriotism means. Instinctively, we have a shared understanding of that. It’s very positive, overwhelmingly positive connotations. Not so with nationalism. And so, I don’t think introducing that conflation is very helpful.
01:21 Trevor Burrus: So how does Rich Lowry in particular, ‘cause he seems to talk about the importance of borders and the importance of having nations, and almost compare it to some sort of borderless cosmopolitan world. Is that kind of what his nationalism is?
01:37 Stephanie Slade: That’s part of it, yeah. And of course, there’s a lot of disagreement about what goes into… Like I said, what goes into this word and what goes into this movement, this idea of nationalism. And his is a less fleshed out policy program. So he spends a lot less time in his recent book on this subject, talking about exactly what he thinks, needs, what policy program needs to be associated with nationalism. And he spends a lot more time talking about how we should be proud of our country and we should want to maintain our cultural homogeneity and a sense of unity among the people. And basically, he wants control over our borders and thinks that nation states are a good thing. All of which I think is fairly defensible, but I have a couple of problems with that. One of which is that he continuously, even in the course of his book, and his is, I think, the most defensible version of nationalism. He continuously slides into some dangerous and icky territory, talking about keeping foreigners out because they don’t come from the same cultural stock that we do as Americans. And also, the vast majority of the other conservative nationalists out there have a much more aggressive policy agenda that they are hanging on this word.
03:00 Aaron Ross Powell: You mentioned two of the motivating factors behind, or attitudes behind this contemporary nationalism is that it’s good to have pride in your country and it’s good to have these shared, a shared culture. And people who aren’t part of this country are gonna undermine both potentially. And those strike me as interesting claims for someone to hold, in the sense that, first, do people like Lowry and other nationalists genuinely imagine that like most Americans, aren’t proud of their country or dislike America? I guess, I’ll ask that question first ‘cause that just… It seems, that just seems to be, we… There’s this… You hear it from the right a lot, but… That we just… We don’t like America anymore. We all… That we hate… Not the right does, they think the left hates America, the left… Obama went around apologizing for America and so on. But that just doesn’t seem to be born out by experience. I don’t imagine Americans are less into America than they used to be. They might be less into their government than they used to be, but they seem quite the same thing.
04:04 Stephanie Slade: Yeah, I wish they were less into their government that I think they probably are. I wanna be fair to Lowry and say I think he identifies two phenomena that aren’t… He’s not imagining them, he’s not making them up. One of which is a sense that among our elite institutions and especially on college campuses, at prestigious universities, among the academia, among the cultural elite on the left, there is a preoccupation with identity politics and with… I think he would say, “Trying to rewrite our history in order to cast us, America, as a sort of villain.” This is a major theme that has animated the opposition to the New York Times’ 1619 Project, is the idea that they’re trying to rewrite our history and make us a sort of irredeemable villain in our own tale. I think that identity politics and the desire to rewrite history and maybe a loss of perspective on that history is not a thing that they’re imagining. People like Rich Lowry, I don’t think they’re imaging that. I think it may be… They may be blowing that out of proportion. So they too have lost perspective a little bit.
05:15 Stephanie Slade: But I don’t think that it’s… I don’t wanna start this conversation by saying that he’s just completely fabricating the problem that he’s responding to. And the other one, the other end would be… I describe in my article, he sees threats to America from without and within. So that would be the threat from within, our elite cultural institutions sowing discord. And then the threat from without, he would say I think, is the move towards supranational governing institutions like the EU and the UN and the International Criminal Court. And he thinks that it’s not a good thing for us to be moving the locus of governing power farther and farther away from the people, which I agree with actually. I just don’t know why he would wanna stop it, bringing it back to the national level. We could bring it back much closer than that.
05:58 Aaron Ross Powell: And that kind of brings up the other question which is the cultural side of things. Because there’s this strong sense among nationalists that there is or there ought to be a shared American identity. And that that identity either isn’t as strong as it could be or is fraying. And that one of the reasons it’s fraying is because of either this loss of sovereignty to supernational governing organizations or just an influx of people who aren’t part of our pre existing culture, and so are bringing their own cultural values, which then lead to a diminishing of whatever this shared identity is. But, again, this seems like a weird claim, coming from the people who it’s coming from, who tend to be, so that tends to be social conservatives. And we know that social conservatism of the kind that is often articulated on the right is a minority position within the United States. And so what I wonder is, how much is the modern nationalist wave really just like a way for people whose cultural preferences aren’t terribly popular to imagine themselves as the true bearers of American identity?
07:13 Stephanie Slade: Yeah, I think that that’s part of where this argument breaks down, actually, because, again, there’s always a sort of kernel of truth, or there often is a kernel of truth that these arguments are built upon. I think it’s absolutely the case. And I don’t disagree with Lowry and his sort of compatriots at all when he says things like, we have a unique national identity or a unique national culture of culture in America, and that is important and valuable and we ought not to want… We ought not to downplay the importance of that. I think that’s all true. But I would say like, well, if you were going to try to describe what it is that makes our American culture unique and exceptional, even, historically, what has that meant? Well, it’s been our commitment as a people to openness and pluralism, our commitment to limited government and personal responsibility, our adventurousness, our entrepreneurialism. It’s our individual liberty ultimately, at the end of the day that has made… Always made America at both an institutional level in terms of like how our Constitution is constructed, and at the cultural level in terms of what is it that makes the American people who we are and what we are and different from people elsewhere, it has always been these things.
08:25 Stephanie Slade: I mean universally, we’ve always, and through history, we’ve always identified as the thing that makes us exceptional. And so those are the things that I want to protect, and I want to sustain. And I think that when you actually start listening to what the new nationalists are calling for again, policywise, it’s almost without exception, things that would undermine all of those commitments and those values.
08:52 Trevor Burrus: How is this tied to conservatism in a more general sort of philosophical sense? Because the thing that strikes me as fascinating about this movement is historically speaking, or for a few decades, at least, many libertarians have felt closer to conservatives or republicans ideologically. But there’s always been an idea that conservatism is very different from libertarianism and its own type of collectivism. And you say, you kind of see some of this, I call like national greatness conservatism, where some of these people maybe not Rich Lowry so much, but some of the people that we’ve been kind of referring to obliquely, are really into policies. First of all, they hate libertarians. They also think libertarianism…
09:34 Stephanie Slade: Explicitly.
09:35 Trevor Burrus: Yes. And they also think that the world is libertarian, or something like that. But that they’re really drawing a line between… Any old lines that might have existed between libertarians and conservatives and saying, “No, we’re a different type of collectivists.”
09:50 Stephanie Slade: Yeah, I think there’s a real departure from at least the conservatism that we’ve seen for the last few decades, if not the last century or close to it. I quote in my article, Hayek’s famous essay, Why I’m Not a Conservative, in which he says, what in Europe was called liberalism was here in the United States, the common tradition, on which the American polity had been built. In other words, conservatives are trying to conserve the thing that in Europe was called liberalism. So even conservatives in America, were classical liberals. There’s also a great quote from H.G Wells, in which he basically said the same thing, “All Americans are from the English point of view, liberals of one sort or another.” And you know, even in more recent history, since sort of Reagan fusionist Reagan synthesis in the decades since Ronald Reagan rose to power, the idea of conservatives being committed to individual liberty, personal responsibility, free markets, and free trade is just… I mean, this is just standard fare. There’s been not a lot of controversy around that. And this is, again, like you said, not necessarily Lowry, but many of the other nationalists that he is sort of, I think holding water for. It’s an explicit rejection of that, they would say things like, something along the lines of, “We tried that classical liberalism thing and it isn’t working for us so it’s time to try something else.”
11:14 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, it’s news to me on so many things, but so how is this… So some of these other people, so Lowry did write a book, but I agree with you that he may not be the biggest problem in terms of policy proposals, but what kind of stuff do we see from some of these other people who are embracing the term nationalism?
11:33 Stephanie Slade: Yeah, I think the best illustration of that is to look back at last summer’s National Conservatism Conference that was held here in DC. I think, Aaron, you and I were probably both there for that. Because I think we talked about that once before. And so you had this two or three day conference in DC with a bunch of academics and thought leaders and Bolton and Holly and so just like sort of thought leaders on the political right, who have fallen into this nationalist conservative camp. And one after another got up on stage and and outlined the agenda that they have, the things that they think we need as a country, and those things have to do with closing the border, drastically restricting immigration, moving away from global free trade and globalism, lots of government expenditures to sort of what they call an industrial policy to sort of prop up American… The American manufacturing sector and help our workers and our producers and our companies to out-compete the foreign companies by whether that’s through subsidies or investments and infrastructure or preferential tax breaks, also through punitive taxation and other sort of punitive measures that would say, “Hey, a few company, American company, open up a factory in Mexico instead of in New Mexico, we will punish you in some way.” There’s a lot of that that they’re talking about tariffs of course, is the obvious archetypal protectionist measure.
13:03 Stephanie Slade: They also talked about there’s a lot of this conversation which I don’t know that I necessarily was expecting going in that was just straight up big Government social conservatism, sort of like a desire and a defense of using the heavy hand of the state, including the federal government to impose and enforce conservative moral beliefs, to reorient the country to today of Christian values to try to make people behave in a more moral way. The idea is that we lost sight of how to be a moral people, and we need the government to get us back on track. So, the subsequent debate that we’ve had a little more recently over banning pornography is a great example of this, but there are many and it also ties back into as you can probably tell, into the great Ahmari-French debate of 2019.
13:53 Stephanie Slade: So the question of whether we should use government to try to make people be moral and make different choices, that is… Which I think I would characterize that quite clearly as a schism along the lines of liberalism and classical liberals. And so you have either you’re on the side as David French and I am and probably almost everyone probably listening to this podcast on the liberal side and, or you’re on the Ahmari, the sort of JD Vance, the Tucker Carlson increasingly side that says we should have a much more robust government and individual liberty and individual rights are less important and ought to be subsumed to that sort of common good.
14:38 Aaron Ross Powell: I’m curious to nail down who the constituency is for this, who they’re speaking to and who it is outside of… So bracket the nationalist intellectuals along the coast who are writing these books, and having these conferences, they purport to be speaking for real Americans and who are those real Americans? Is it the working class uniformly, is it religious Americans who feel abandoned by a secularizing country? And then to add on to that question, and tying it back to the shift in cultural values and the imagined threat to a real America, are the constituencies that they are speaking to or claim to be speaking for, are they constituencies that at one point I guess were the real America and now aren’t just demographically based on opinion data and so on, or have they always kind of been a minority and then for whatever reason now just feel more threatened than they used to?
15:51 Stephanie Slade: I think they would say it’s a little bit of all those demographic groups that you just described, if you ask them, “Who are they speaking for?” And the way they tend to talk about that category of people is that these are the left behind, these are the people that, as we have rushed into the 21st century and into modernity and into a globally integrated economy and all of that, these are the people who’ve been left behind. And so the archetype is the person in, I don’t know, Scranton or Flint, Michigan or whatever somebody who’s… Who they would say 50 years ago you could support… Comfortably support a family on a single income and live a good life and be safe and secure and economically and materially. And also, just in terms of health and safety and say from being safe for external threats and all that. And they would say it’s increasingly impossible for an average working class American to do that, for even… For anybody to support a family on a single income. That’s a talking point you hear a lot from the sort of Oren Cass is one of the main names who’s been pushing this line.
17:02 Stephanie Slade: So yeah, I think they would say, “We are representing the people who have been left behind the working class, the real Americans, not on the two coasts, not in the big cities, but real Americans.” I think it’s not as coherent a… And then to sit back also, I also think that they are in many ways representing like you said, the sort of more religious traditionalist types. And I actually, again, to give them credit where I think they’re right, before telling them the many, many ways I think they’re wrong, I do think there was a lot of overreach, during the Obama years especially in terms of people in power and people… The cultural elites and the political elites at that time who were all on the left, the political left, I think there was a lot of abuse of their power, and a lot of overreachings in saying, “Well we’ve moved past the time when it was acceptable for example, to believe that marriage is just one man and one woman. And so, it’s not enough to legalize gay marriage in this country, it’s not enough to legalize gay marriage in your state, we have to do at the national level, and then we have to go further and we have to punish anybody who does not want to provide their services for a gay wedding”.
18:11 Stephanie Slade: “And we have to punish any school that won’t hire… A Catholic school that doesn’t wanna hire a man who’s married to another man. We have to punish Catholic hospitals that don’t do abortions, right? Or gender-confirmation therapy or surgery. We have to punish anybody who isn’t coming along with the cultural norms that we have decided are… Ought to be the baseline”. And so I think there is a reaction among people who are like, “Hey, whoa, like this is absurd. You don’t get to tell us how to live. We thought we lived in a country where we had rights too and where we had a first amendment among other things”. So I think this is a backlash. This isn’t entirely… Again, they’re not making this up. I believe they’re reacting to real phenomena. I think though that when you argue against somebody else’s illiberalism by becoming more illiberal yourself, you are definitely making the problem worse, not better. I guess that’s what I would begin by saying.
19:12 Trevor Burrus: It’s also interesting because you talk about the people left behind, the two-income thing. And it also sounds a lot like Elizabeth Warren. You listen to some of these from both sides and you start thinking that there’s not much difference between them anymore, except for what thing they are concerned that collectively we have to do.
19:32 Stephanie Slade: Well, I think it’s no accident that Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has multiple times on his show, during his monologues, basically called upon his conservative viewers to support or to demand that their party adopt a plan like Elizabeth Warren’s economic patriotism plan, her agenda. So, yes, there is a total convergence. I think of it in terms of when the left and the right both lose their minds or move so far out to the fringes and abandon the classical liberal values that have in the past always anchored us in society. When they abandon those so completely, they move so far in their respective directions, to left and right, that they end up coming back around and becoming indistinguishable from each other.
20:19 Aaron Ross Powell: Setting aside for a moment the particular policy preferences that the nationalists have, and as you pointed out, there’s a spectrum, even if on the whole, most of them seem to be the kinds of things that would be at least somewhat troubling for libertarians, the underlying attitudes of nationalism, what’s the big deal, what’s the threat here? Maybe the worst that happens is they do protect American identity or they do get some more manufacturing jobs. What’s the real danger of these nationalist attitudes?
20:58 Stephanie Slade: Well, I think there are a lot of dangers. Just in terms of the likely empirical results if they were to get their way and we were to see an Elizabeth Warren style or the nationalist, conservative nationalist, style economic agenda be implemented, I think it would wreak absolute havoc on the American economy, on the global economy. Now, this is an awkward moment for us to be having this conversation. I don’t know when this is gonna be released, actually, but…
21:29 Trevor Burrus: In a couple of weeks, but it will still be coronavirus.
21:32 Stephanie Slade: Yeah, so we’re right now…
21:33 Aaron Ross Powell: We’re recording this on March 18th.
21:35 Stephanie Slade: Right. Coronavirus, basically locked down in DC, most people are not out and about. The American economy is grinding to a halt in a way that is quite troubling, and it’s going to have a lot of ripple effects that will be painful for a lot of people, and I don’t wanna minimize that. I think what we would see, given the economic agenda that these folks are calling for, if we were to effect away from coronavirus, even in a totally otherwise healthy economy you start passing major tariffs, you start raising taxes and handing out subsidies to favored firms, and punishing firms that make business decisions that you in Washington do not like. You get bad outcomes, you break the economy that has been the engine of economic growth and material flourishing for the last 50, 100, 200 years.
22:33 Stephanie Slade: We talk a lot about this as libertarians, I think it’s absolutely true, the miracle of economic growth that we have seen in the modern age, mostly… To the greatest extent possible, getting out of the way and letting the market work, letting prices work, letting the market’s work, letting people make investments and chase down their dreams and pursue what they think is in their own interest has… It works, and it has led to, again, pre-coronavirus at least, one of the greatest… The greatest actually, the greatest material well being that any society has ever known in the history of man, humankind, so I don’t… So I would be very, very nervous about the actual concrete effects on human well being that we would see here and abroad, both.
23:21 Stephanie Slade: I don’t think it’s the case that you can just… I’m not just arguing that it’s wrong to sacrifice foreigners in order to protect Americans, although I do believe that, and I’m quite horrified when people like Rich Lowry say things like, “Well, even if global capitalism lifts hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in China, it’s not worth it if it leads to a crisis here,” or like we would say, an unemployment crisis here. I’m deeply disturbed by that way of thinking, to be honest with you. But that’s not even what I’m arguing, I’m saying it would actually hurt people here as well, as it always does, when we try protectionism.
23:53 Trevor Burrus: Do you see any… The thing that strikes me when we get to, say, Tucker Carlson, we mentioned, looking for a principled limit on what makes this conservative in any way, or what’s the principled limit? Tucker Carlson, a while back, was considering doing a segment on banning smartphones from people, from kids under 14, just because if you see a problem and you say, “Okay, well, I see a problem, the government, I no longer have any principles about parental rights or parental responsibility, individual rights, I’m just gonna have the government fix that problem.” It seems at the end of that that it’s hard to say, what is the philosophy that they’re actually espousing if it’s not limited by a conception of the moral limits of the state?
24:42 Stephanie Slade: Yeah, I think probably, again, it would probably depend on who we talk to, but I think a lot of them would say, “Well, we are pragmatists, and we think that we have tried this classical liberalism thing and it hasn’t led to the outcomes that we wanted, and so we are willing to try other things until we get the outcomes we want.” So they would say it’s the proof of the pudding is in the eating kind of argument, I think, that we’ll know that the policies were good policies because they will lead to good outcomes. And, of course, I disagree strongly with their assumption that they will lead to good outcomes, but they… It’s a less principled argument, or a less abstract, or moral case that they’re making, I think.
25:28 Trevor Burrus: Almost technocratic.
25:29 Stephanie Slade: Yeah.
25:31 Trevor Burrus: In a way. Yeah, like, “Show me flourishing doubts.” The other point that strikes me is something I’ve said about conservatives for a while, even before this movement started, that was an open question of how much was it hidden back before Trump, let’s say. But the question… So conservatives have often complained about public schools for quite a while. But to conservatives, especially these types of nationalist conservatives, do they actually disagree with public schools in principle, or do they disagree with public schools that they don’t run because that’s what national greatness requires, a specific type of educational philosophy even.
26:05 Stephanie Slade: Yeah, yeah, I don’t know. I mean I guess…
26:07 Trevor Burrus: So it depends on the conservative, I guess.
26:09 Stephanie Slade: Sure, sure, yeah.
26:11 Trevor Burrus: But even the education, which again, they’ve been allies to some extent on school choice, might have been mostly about the fact that they thought the left was running the school system.
26:22 Stephanie Slade: Right. They wanted a right of exit that they didn’t have at that time, but if they could be in control, then they would be happy to deny the right of exit to others.
26:31 Aaron Ross Powell: And I think this brings up another troubling avenue that this can all take, which is, seven of you said, “One of the problems with their policy proposals is that the proposal won’t actually lead to the good outcomes that they want.” So slowing economic… They result in catastrophically slowing economic growth, that won’t actually make things better for anyone, including their constituents and so on. But it seems like, two, that we can say that for a lot of Americans, the “good things” that they want to achieve aren’t actually seen as good things. There’s fundamental disagreement between people about the goodness of these desired ends. And so the more, say, the more socially conservative parts of it, the like we wish that gays didn’t feel as free to express themselves, or live the kind of lives that they want to.
27:25 Aaron Ross Powell: We wanna go back, say, to like when more women worked in the home, and the husband was out there as the only breadwinner, and we had the Leave it to Beaver setup, or were upset about foreign-born Americans, or second-generation immigrants or whatever living out the kinds of lives they want because it conflicts with my preferences. Those sorts of aims, even if their policies could achieve them, we don’t necessarily want them to achieve them. And in fact, like the majority of Americans wouldn’t want them to achieve them. And so I think that’s one of the things that I notice in the conversations about nationalism from the nationalists, is they speak as if the halcyon days that they long for were in fact good for everyone, when we have real reason to believe that for a great number of Americans they weren’t good at all. And in fact, the very things the nationalists thinks made them good made them bad for a great number of Americans.
28:24 Stephanie Slade: Yeah, I think that’s a great point, and I end up going there a lot when I’m discussing. I’m Catholic, I’m Reason magazine’s resident Roman Catholic. When I’m going up against my fellow Catholics who are more in the quasi-integralist camp, the folks like Sabra Marie who think we need a government that will, again, reorient society towards the common good. My point is toward your conception of the common good, but not everyone shares that conception. And by the way, I mean not only do the left and the right not agree, but even among conservative Christians, like Catholics and Protestants don’t agree necessarily, right? And we Catholics, we’re a minority of the population. What? 23% of the population in America maybe. So any attempt to orient society to be more in alignment with our conception of the common good, it would… I make the case that it’s literally the minority imposing its moral views on the majority by force, which is by definition, tyranny. So I think very often that this argument, especially when it comes down to the social conservative components of it, fall into the same trap.
29:39 Stephanie Slade: And also on immigration even, I mean, I’m very much an expansive pro-immigration person. I have arguments that would go beyond just what public opinion polls say on this, but it’s reassuring and gratifying to know that most Americans do think, they agree with me that immigrants are by and large a net-positive on our society, economically, culturally. Again, we are a country that is characterized by our openness and our diversity and our plurals and then our just desire and affinity for new experiences and that sort of thing. So it’s not like there are some tiny cabal of libertarians in Washington DC that are imposing our world view on the rest of the country. Like in many of these cases where the conservative nationalists are pushing for change, they’re the minority that wants to overrule the majority, which is quite anti-democratic. And, again, it’s not all about democracy for me, I think sometimes… Often, the masses are wrong. But in this case they have to defend why they should have that right.
30:58 Trevor Burrus: One thing we haven’t even mentioned is something that our colleague, Alex Nowrasteh talks about a bunch, which is, is it right to even call America a nation?
31:08 Stephanie Slade: Yeah, the definitional questions are really, really prickly, I think, when it comes to this, because none of these words… They just don’t have widely accepted definitions that people just instinctively understand. So I totally… Abstract or academic conversation, I think it’s interesting to talk about. And there is an interesting argument that we’re not a nation in the traditional sense, we are certainly not one ethnicity, one single nationality in the sense of being one ethnicity, or one people united by religion, ethnicity, and language. Yeah, but I also can see how having these kinds of conversations and harping on a point like, “Well, we’re not really a nation at all.” This is actually the kinda thing that where we are now no longer really speaking to the average American, where he or she is, because they think we are a nation, and we’re a wonderful nation, and a nation that they’re proud to be a part of, and so I don’t know that fighting that battle is a one that’s worth… It doesn’t seem worth dying on the Hill to me.
32:20 Trevor Burrus: Well, maybe they’ve been quibbling over semantics, which I agree, it can sound like you are doing that in a debate, that it’s like tomato, tomato. But it’s to say that we’re a country with multiple… Made up of multiple states with multiple sovereigns, and in many important ways, the point of America was that we can’t really be compared. The great thing about America is that you can talk about the Serbian people as a nation, who have different times have had a country or been part of another country, or have had their own country, but saying that’s very different than America, I think that’s more than quibbling over semantics and definitions.
33:00 Stephanie Slade: Sure, sure it is. Again, it’s just a tough question because is there a way that we could argue that we are a nation or a single people, a people, a nation in that sense? But just defining it in a different way or understanding it in a different way, characterized by different things, then you might historically, especially from a European lens, have thought. Maybe there is, we are a people who, again, who are characterized by those classical liberal values and norms and a love of those institutions and a belief in those institutions and values. And I don’t know, I don’t know what’s to be gained by categorically denying that that’s a possible way to get to a nation. Again, it’s not the historical European way of getting there, but could we still be a nation? Maybe, I just don’t… I don’t know, it doesn’t…
34:01 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, I see your point. Yeah.
34:03 Aaron Ross Powell: This rejection of liberalism not in the leftist sense, but in the classical liberalism of the American founding sense, that is common, especially with this new breed of intellectual nationalists, does that represent… You mentioned earlier that conservatives, conservative parties or Republican Party used to be much more pro-liberalism in this sense, like free trade and openness, and so on, limited government, and that the new nationalists are decidedly not, they’re much more collectivist. Does that represent a change in the broader belief system of conservatism in the United States? Or has there always been this strain of this kind of nationalism, collectivist nationalism, and these guys are just now more vocal? So I guess another way to answer the question is, as an ideology is it growing in number of adherents now or is it just louder than it used to be?
35:14 Stephanie Slade: [chuckle] So I think it’s yes to all of those questions. There always was a strain of this even among conservatives, there’s no doubt about that. It didn’t come out of nowhere. I think it is growing, I think there have been a lot of people who have full-on flipped-flopped, and Tucker Carlson is a great vivid example of that. He used to be essentially a libertarian. So that is happening. I think a lot of it, too is… Again, not necessarily as much among the leaders of the movement, but among the people, more broadly among conservatives out there in the real world. A lot of it, too, I think, is not, it’s mostly… I think that partisanship is so strong. Increasingly over time, we have more and more studies that show that partisan affiliation is one of the strongest identity markers that we have in our society, and so I think what you have… A lot of what we have going on here is you have people who are on team Donald Trump, and Donald Trump says these things, and so they’re gonna twist themselves until whatever knots they have to in order to find a way to defend the things that he does and says because he’s on their team and he represents people like me, and he’s looking up for people like me, and loyalty demands that I do that.
36:33 Stephanie Slade: And so were they long-time voices in the wilderness, crying out for a more illiberal conservatism? No. Have they changed their minds? Kind of, but mostly I think that they’re not particularly wedded to the positions they’re holding now either, it’s much more about being… Demonstrating their loyalty to the team. I’m a team player, I can find a way to defend my side and my guy.
37:03 Trevor Burrus: Well, that raises the question of how much of this represents a possible new realignment going forward with, and of course, we mentioned the National Conservatism Conference, where that was explicitly the purpose for the Trump movement to continue after Trump, with an intellectual backing. And then that, of course… If this is in the becoming basically the new face of the Republican Party, where does that leave libertarians or even actually just Liberals, in the true sense of the word?
37:30 Stephanie Slade: That’s a great question. In my optimistic moments, I hope that both the left and the right are getting far out beyond their bases, so I don’t think your average Democratic voter… We’ve seen this now just in the most recent primaries, Democratic primaries, I don’t think the average democratic voter, I’ve been saying this for a while, is a socialist. And I don’t think that your… I hope that your average Republican voter is not a nationalist or a sort of Catholic integralists type who want to seize the control of government in order to ban blasphemy and pornography and enforce blue laws and whatnot. I don’t think that the center of gravity of our electorate is as far out as these voices on both left and right are right now. And so I’m hoping, again, in my optimistic moments, I hope that because they’re the fringes of the parties, and the two sort of intellectual movements are moving so far out to the fringes, that it will start to make us actually the liberals, the true liberals, start to look like sane to people, because we’re actually now closer to where they are, I hope.
38:43 Stephanie Slade: I would really like for this to happen. I’m not predicting that that’s the case, but I’m hopeful that that might be the case, or that at the very least, there will be some sort of backlash, like, now that we have seen that Bernie Sanders and the Bernie Sanders coalition does not have what it takes to win the Democratic nomination in 2020, is there going to have to be a realignment on on the left now, or they sort of they got too far out in front of their base and they have to come, pull it back. And could we then, maybe in a few years in the future, depending on what happens with Donald Trump, see the same thing on the right? I hope so. I hope so. I don’t know if that’s gonna happen, but I hope so.
39:19 Aaron Ross Powell: I wonder, too, how much this ties in with demographic trends, that one of the more interesting changes that’s happened not just in the US, but globally over the last hundred plus years is increasing urbanization, that people are leaving the countryside for the cities. And that trend is moving quickly and does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. And then, it feels like one way to look at the nationalism, particularly in its like, set aside kind of Bernie Sanders style leftist, progressivism and look more at the like, openness to cosmopolitanism, compared to cosmopolitanism is that cities tend to be cosmopolitan and that people who live in cities tend to be comfortable with immigrants, much more open to new experiences.
40:12 Aaron Ross Powell: They’re almost necessarily more comfortable with economic dynamism because cities are the epicenters of economic dynamism. And that then people in the countryside tend to be the more anti-immigrants, the more nationalist and that these differences in opinions among the groups are becoming more stark as people move out of the countryside and into the cities, the ones who are cosmopolitan are the ones who leave. And so, I can imagine that this realignment to the extent that the nationalism, these new nationalism has any staying power, is that it has staying power in the rural areas in the lower population density places. And then I guess the hopeful vision is that the cities… That cosmopolitanism is at least more compatible with libertarianism and liberalism than the nationalist collectivism is. That’s not to say that everyone in the cities is a libertarian because they have a lot of…
41:19 Stephanie Slade: Definitely not.
41:20 Aaron Ross Powell: And they have a lot of left political views but you know, if you’re gonna pick one of them that there’s more overlap with, especially now that the American right has abandoned most of the free market principles that it seemed to once hold. But if that’s the realignment, it feels like just based on ongoing demographic trends, the cosmopolitans kind of win out, and the message that libertarians have of openness and dynamism is one that’s certainly much more appealing to them than it is to nationalists. So maybe that’s how we can fit in and we can we can kind of find more of a home at least closer to the cosmopolitans and just help them to check their worst economic urges.
42:10 Stephanie Slade: I think it’s possible. I’m like a little bit reluctant to make sweeping predictions about how, whether that realignment is happening, whether it will continue, how markets solve problems is so hard to guess at in advance. And I could tell, I think a plausible, just to play devil’s advocate, like a plausible story for why I think actually we might move… Why that trend may be reversed or we may move in a different direction. For example, like right now as we are we’re currently in four different rooms as we’re recording this podcast, there is a sort of greater and greater ability to work remotely, or to telecommute and do jobs, many, many, many jobs from anywhere.
42:54 Stephanie Slade: There are a lot of policies, urban policy in big cities, which tend to be controlled by left to center governments, are doing basically everything that you could possibly imagine if your goal was to drive up the cost of living and the cost of housing especially in those places. You have these people who joke about things like the U-Haul index, right? Like, it’s much cheaper if you want to… It’s much more expensive if you want to rent a U-Haul and drive it from California to Texas, because lots of people are doing that right now because it’s so much cheaper to live in Texas, and so much more expensive to live in California.
43:27 Stephanie Slade: And so, I could tell a story where actually in the future, we’re going to de-urbanize. People are gonna be able to go back and live closer to their families, because you can work from anywhere. And because we have such a great communications and transportation sort of network set up that that’s possible. And so I don’t know. Maybe we’re gonna continue in the direction we’ve been going and urbanization is the future. And I live in downtown Washington, DC, and I love it. So I’m not complaining about that outcome. But I’m not sure that that’s necessarily what’s going to happen and so I’m not… I’m not gonna bank on it or… Plus, I’ve just been wrong every time I’ve made a prediction having to do politics in the last four years. So I’m kind of burned by that.
44:12 Trevor Burrus: Well, no. I think I’m more on the pessimistic side too. Eric gave a plausible story but as we see that these cities seem to breed a type of nimbyism and its own hyper collectivism, both left and right, and then you have the phenomenon of Bernie, but even more AOC and the kind of positions that she represents for urban cosmopolitans, where she… Well, she might not be as anti-immigrant as Bernie is. But Bernie, many of the policies that Bernie has, he’s had to clamp down on his anti-trade, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and all that kind of stuff that he would align with people like Oren Cass to some extent. So again, it leaves us in this weird place of, I’ve said for a while I’m not actually sure about the age because AOC may not be old enough to run for president, but in 2024, if it’s Josh Hawley versus AOC, who do we vote for? Or if we have… I think we’re libertarians to that. I mean, Josh Hawley is terrifyingly presidential and well spoken and Harvard Law and absolutely terrifying in terms of the policies that he sets forward for national greatness.
45:23 Stephanie Slade: Right, he’s an authoritarian.
45:25 Trevor Burrus: Than someone like AOC. So yeah, where do we libertarians where… In that hypothetical election. And if I’m right about this, we’re gonna come back for years now, we’ll share this again and be like, “Wow, Trevor called our great national a nightmare.” But where do we fit into the Hawley versus AOC election?
45:40 Stephanie Slade: I don’t know. So a minute ago, I was talking about how on my optimistic days, I hope that we start to look good to the average voter and, what you just outlined is how I feel on my pessimistic days, because I don’t think… I don’t know how we get out of this. I guess, but actually, the way that I… The only way forward that I can think of and the one that I’m personally pursuing, and I’m not saying that I’m going to be successful, but rather than thinking in terms of geographic realignment or anything like that, is I think what we need is to rediscover the importance of a belief in sort of universal human dignity. I think that’s what’s missing right now on all sides, because you have this sort of toxic political environment, the tribalism of left and right, R&D red and blue, where the other side isn’t just mistaken or misguided, but they’re like evil and deserve to be, literally punched on the streets, if not worse, if not something even worse than that.
46:41 Stephanie Slade: You also have, I think, this undergirds, the sort of policies on both sides. You have class warfare on the left, and you have an us versus them sort of obsession with purity and keeping out the outsiders and, it’s just a very us versus them way of looking at things happening with these nationalists on the right. And so, what’s missing in all of these cases, it seems to me, is a belief that like other humans have just as much dignity as I have, that we’re created equal, go back to our founding documents, go back to the early, for me to let me just like plug for Catholicism and Christianity, like go back to the sort of foundational beliefs of Christianity. These are the things that we’re supposed to believe and I think we’ve lost them and I think that’s a huge part of the problem.
47:39 Aaron Ross Powell: Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed Free Thoughts, make sure to rate and review us on Apple podcast or in your favorite podcast app. Free Thoughts is produced by Landry Ayres. If you’d like to learn more about libertarianism, visit us on the web at www.libertarianism.org.