RealClearPolicy Newsletters: Original Articles

Solidarity or Freedom?

Solidarity or Freedom?
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Dear Reader —

A popular trope used to characterize the dynamic of our national politics since the last presidential election is the divide between “open” and “closed.” According to this line of thought, the populist movement that drove Trump’s rise depends upon a rejection of “openness” — “open borders, free trade, cosmopolitan culture” or “global intervention” — characteristic of the elite. This characterization doubtless tracks a real change in our political alignments. But the dichotomy between open and closed ultimately misses the mark, failing, in particular, to capture the way in which this new political dynamic upsets our former partisan distinctions.

The true opposition is not between open and closed but, as Yuval Levin puts it, between cohesion and deconsolidation — in philosophical terms, between solidarity and freedom. And this opposition cuts easily across the political spectrum. On the Right, nationalism, which taps into a desire for collective belonging, is pitted against globalism; protectionist economics resonates with a working class unmoved by the economic individualism of the Reagan era; and frustration with and cynicism about our political system — which enshrines classical liberal ideals like freedom and autonomy — has given way to a tribalism that prizes loyalty over principle.

Less frequently remarked, however, is the way in which this dynamic has transformed the Left as well. Disillusionment with a party platform that blends social progressivism (which champions freedom in the social sphere) with neoliberal economics (which prizes freedom in the economic sphere) nearly resulted in the nomination of a democratic socialist last year. Progressive millennials, meanwhile, increasingly defend social acceptance to the detriment of First Amendment freedoms and appear disenchanted with the very idea of liberal democracy and sympathetic to socialism

Worrisome or not, these developments are not animated by a rejection of “openness” (though that is certainly the result in certain cases) so much as a legitimate sense that the familiar rhetoric of freedom does not speak to the realities of economic and social deconsolidation characteristic of our times. The resulting dangers of subordinating freedom to cohesion, or individualism to collectivism, must be taken seriously. But so too must the social and economic forces that have pushed large segments of our society to prioritize belonging over economic and political freedom. A successful American politics, Left or Right, will have to counterbalance a defense of these freedoms with a coherent and plausible account of community — of those forms of association which our liberal democracy is ultimately meant to preserve.

These are some of the many issues taken up at RealClearPolicy over the past week. Below you will find just a few highlights.

— M. Anthony Mills, editor | RealClearPolicy


Tribalists and Ideologues. In Washington Monthly, Lee Drutman highlights new research that suggests Americans are becoming more partisan but less ideological.

The Hoarding of the American Dream. The Atlantic’s Annie Lowrey spotlights a new book arguing that the upper-middle class has “enriched itself and harmed economic mobility.”

An Opportunity to Put Growth Ahead of Political Theater. In our own pages, Albert Wynn encourages Democrats and Republicans to work together on infrastructure.

Does Gerrymandering Violate the 1st Amendment? According to Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, two recent Supreme Court decisions about free speech strengthen the argument that redistricting is unconstitutional. 

Who’s Afraid of Free Speech? Also in The Atlantic, Thomas Healy contends current critics of campus protesters miss the mark.

On Political Correctness. In The American Scholar, William Deresiewicz suggests that current debates about free speech on campus mask deeper “pathologies of the American class system.”

AHCA’s Medicaid Reform Empowers Governors. In our own pages, Rep. Francis Rooney applauds a key provision of the controversial health-care bill.

The United States Has No Fiscal Space Left. Also in our own pages, John Merrifield and Barry Poulson make a case for fiscal policies aimed at restoring balanced budgets. 

The Danger of Youth Populism. For The American Conservative, Rachel Lu argues that GOP leaders ignore youth-driven populism at their own peril and that of the country’s. 

Drug Dispute Shows Importance of Intellectual Property Rights. Also in RealClearPolicy, C. Boyden Gray defends intellectual property rights in light of an ongoing legal dispute about pharmaceuticals.

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