This week’s guest on High Noon is Eric Kaufmann. Kaufmann is a political scientist at Birkbeck College, University of London. He is also an adjunct fellow with the Manhattan Institute and the author of several books focusing on demography, religious and national identity, and cultural politics. The episode delves into some of the topics perhaps most strategically important for the right (or anyone who hopes the country will take a sharp detour from its current trajectory): the power of bureaucracy, institutionalization, and demographic perceptions. Inez and Eric discuss how the right can compress its own “long march” into the time frame we have left before a generational transfer of power happens, whether new protected classes might be the only answer to censorship, and the centrality of the culture war to what’s actually important in our politics. They also touch on how the populist right has gotten out of touch with the populace on Russia’s war against Ukraine.
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.
Welcome to High Noon, where we discuss controversial subjects with interesting people. My guest today is Eric Kaufmann. He’s a political scientist at Birkbeck College, University of London. He’s also an adjunct fellow with The Manhattan Institute. He’s the author of several books focusing on demography, religious identity, national identity, cultural politics, all things that are very critical, it seems, critical fault lines in our politics more and more as of late.
But I wanted to kick this off, Eric, with you by asking you about your recent report that you put out through The Manhattan Institute that showed basically two things: one, that there’s a huge generational component to whatever we want to term it, wokeness. You called it, I think, cultural socialism or social, yeah, cultural socialism. And then, two, you showed, one of the interesting aspects that we didn’t talk about in those little Manhattan Institute spaces that we did together was actually how ordinary voters rank cultural concerns.
Could you just give us, start us off with a little overview of that report, and those two aspects, and what they show about our politics?
Yeah. Thanks, Inez.
So really, what I was trying to get at is public opinion on cancel culture and, to some degree, critical race theory. What it shows, first of all, is there’s kind of a split. There, first of all, is a collision between belief and free speech, for example, and belief in other values like emotional safety and equality of outcomes, and that clash has really manifest in a lot of the questions that I asked on this large survey I did.
I group the responses into two groups: one is cultural socialism, and the other is cultural liberalism. Those terms might be a bit confusing to some degree. What I mean by cultural liberalism is a classical liberal view on culture which is to do with free speech, due process, equal treatment, scientific reason, that sort of worldview contrasting very much with what I call cultural socialist worldview, which prioritizes protecting the emotional safety and protecting from psychological harm historically disadvantaged minority groups and also seeking equal outcomes, not just equal treatment, but especially equal outcomes across identity groups.
Now, with those two concepts in mind, we can look at a question like should James Damore — the Google engineer who was fired for questioning the firm’s gender equity policy — should he have been fired, for example, for questioning this on an internal memo? What you see is that approximately two-thirds of those under the age of 25 think he should have been fired, and barely a third of those over the age of 55.
I think that’s quite revealing of the trends that I was seeing time and time again, which is that the young population, particularly under 25, really does believe in cultural or social — sorry. When I say the young population, I mean a considerably larger share of that Gen Z population believes in cultural socialism. They’re still split, but the split favors cultural socialism, I would argue. Whereas for other generations, particularly Generation X and above, it’s mainly cultural liberals.
So, the first thing is, the younger you go, the more support there is for cultural socialism against cultural liberalism, and therefore, people who think cancel culture is a passing fad just because — I noticed New York Times had an editorial out today. You probably saw that, and Harper’s, and The Atlantic, and The Economist. Just because the mainstream media is starting to talk about this doesn’t mean suddenly this is going to go away.
There is this view that, well, this is a blip. I’m arguing it’s baked into the generational cake, and as those generations enter the workforce, I don’t believe they’re just going to grow out of their cultural socialist values. I think they’re going to try to institutionalize and overturn the cultural liberal values that are there in many organizations. And we’ve seen evidence of that already at places like The New York Times, although it doesn’t look like they’ve fully succeeded, I guess.
So yeah, I think that’s sort of point one. Point two is really this question about the electoral reward that’ll go to, essentially, the Republicans, if they are able to place this issue front and center. What the evidence really showed was that this is a relatively high-ranking issue. If you take cancel culture, political correctness, critical race theory, the whole bundle of issues around the culture wars, that is now a sort of upper- mid-ranking issue for the population. So, roughly a third of Americans placing that issue in their top three, out of a basket of nine issues. For Republicans, it’s almost half of Republicans saying that that is a top-three issue for them, and it’s just below immigration.
This is going to start deciding elections. The other thing, if you look at opinion on critical race theory and cancel culture, it splits the left and unites the right. So it’s a perfect wedge issue if the Republicans get the conversation onto this cultural terrain that just puts the Democrats in a very tight spot by splitting their electorate, and it unifies Republicans.
So something like teaching kids that the U.S. is a racist society is overwhelmingly strongly opposed by Republican voters, and by Democrats, they split about five different ways. Some think it’s a really good idea. Some think it’s a really bad idea. There’s some in the middle. They’re really sort of fragmented. So what that tells you is, a party, like if the Republicans go after that, they can make capital out of that and split their opponents.
So I would expect, based on this kind of polling, that this issue’s going to become more and more important in national politics.
The phrase I’ve been using to describe this — and prior to reading your report, I really had more of a gut feeling than actual empirical evidence that your report provides for this — but that the culture war really is the big tent, and in fact, that sort of conservative consultants, or GOP consultants within the beltway have been wrong for decades about which issues are actually likely to draw moderate voters and even some Democratic voters to the Republican party. They have been focused on the economic issues when it turns out that, in fact, the cultural issues have a lot of heat around them, but they’re actually less divisive in an electoral sense than a lot of the economic issues are, by which I mean the center and even the center-left seems to side much more with conservatives on a lot of these culture war issues.
The difference is the very, very loud people on, let’s say the far left, on the woke left, those people seem to have an enormous amount, not just in terms of how loud they are and what voice they have, but institutional power, right?
There’s this op-ed now in The New York Times, but institutionally, The New York Times pushed out Bari Weiss, right, and was unable to, I guess stem, exactly, the tide. Even in other institutions, even media institutions, that used to lean right, The Wall Street Journal, for example, publicly had an issue with its younger reporting staff saying, “What you publish on the opinion side is unacceptable.” Right?
There does seem to be this generational issue you’re pointing to, where, as millennials now get into middle management, and Gen Z coming up behind them are filling the lower ranks of, let’s say, corporations or even agencies in the government, this is going to get worse, not better, even though we get the Bari Weiss’s of the world have switched teams, or the John McWhorters of the world have switched teams on this one.
Yeah, exactly. You’re totally right. First point is that there was a report by More In Common called The Hidden Tribes Report, which was very comprehensive, lots of polling. Segmented the U.S. population into different political groups, one of which was called the Progressive Activists. They make up 8% only of the U.S. population, but they’re five to six times more likely to post politically on social media, far more likely than the average American to be involved in politics, so they are incredibly influential. They live in metropolitan areas, highly educated, wealthy, whiter than average. This is a group that, yah, they’re dominant in foundations, universities, Hollywood, big tech, et cetera; all of these opinion-forming organizations.
And that’s true in other countries, as well. It’s a similar demographic that’s very highly motivated behind this ideology. And you’re right about the age profile, too. If you look at the FIRE surveys, Foundation for Individual Rights and Education, they’ve got two surveys now covering something like 55,000 undergraduate students in the top 150 institutions. It’s something between two-thirds and 80% or 80-85% of students who say they don’t want to have certain speakers even be invited to campus, who might say BLM is a hate group, or who might say no one should ever be allowed to have an abortion for any reason. Yes, those are extreme positions, but to say they should never be allowed onto campus to speak, right?
So we’re getting a very strong cultural socialist responses amongst elite students. Now, that’s obviously a certain demographic, but I think it’s indicative. There’s been studies using GSS data, which goes back to 1972. You can see over time, starting around the year 2000, there was a trend towards greater liberalism with younger and educated people being more liberal. Starting around 2000, for certain questions, such as letting a racist speak, there had been growing toleration for that, along with growing toleration for letting a homosexual and a militarist and all these other groups speak starts, to turn in 2000, and continues and continues, and now where we are is a position where, on the identity issues, younger people are much less liberal. And so that is not just because they’re young. We can compare 18-year-olds in 2000 and 1970 with 18-year-olds in 2020, and we can show that the 18-year-olds in 2020 are less liberal, less tolerant than the 18-year-olds in 2000.
So, this is not a flash in the pan. I think it’s actually going to be, through generational replacement, it’s going to be shaking up many organizations. I’m not confident these organizations are going to be able to resist. I know there has been some counter-activity and counter-mobilization in these organizations now, but what’s the situation going to be in 10 years, 20 years? I have no confidence that that’s going to continue.
Yeah, even in my most optimistic moments and projection of the future of the United States, I think of it almost as a snake digesting a large animal, right? That the American body politic already has at least a generation and a half, probably two generations of people who do, not just as a matter of cynical power-grabbing, but really do deeply believe in the underlying principles of wokeness, or however one wants to call it, cultural socialism.
That’s even if everything that I wanted to do in terms of structurally and politically happens, that’s still going to be a very large animal for the body politic to digest, particularly as millennials are the biggest generation in American history. But the first thing, I guess, to do when you’re in a hole is to stop digging, and the academy really seems to be ground zero for a lot of this ideology.
So, how should we think about reforming the academy? How has the UK done it differently than us, or how does the UK think about it differently than us in America? What can we do in America to reform our academy, which really seems to be the source of so much of this bleeding out, both down into K-12, and then outward into corporations and all the institutions we just discussed?
You’re absolutely right. It does start in the universities, and you can track it using big data on keywords very much. In the ’80s, you already start to see this ideology in universities.
Now, it leaks out, and right now, I actually think it’s Hollywood and celebrity culture and influencers that are really driving this. University and school doesn’t really make that much difference in socializing young people. However, the ideas coming out of those elite institutions have been influential.
Now, they are also the ground zero of cancel culture, as well. What I would say is, I am of the view that…. Two things: one, universities are not a marketplace. It’s not like media, for example, where you can set up a podcast or Substack, and to some degree, good ideas can drive out the bad through competition and free market.
Universities aren’t like that. Reputations take a long time to build. It’s very hard to start a new university, so you don’t get the market-based discipline and the market-based creative destruction. So what you have to look for is, in my view, is essentially government intervention and outside intervention. I do not believe that private solutions, such as trying to fund new universities — that’s great. I’m involved in the University of Austin — but that’s not really going to solve it.
What you actually need is governments, especially with public education, being able to go into the universities and say, “You’ve got to uphold free speech. You’ve got to promote free speech. If you do not do that, you will be fined, and you could be sued, essentially. You must follow the guidance that we, as the regulator, put out.”
That is essentially the approach that Britain is taking with the Academic Freedom Bill, which has gone through two readings, and I expect to be ready in the fall. What this does is it sets up an office of academic freedom on the sector regulator, which is going to be able to proactively scrutinize and audit universities. So if a university’s policies on harassment and bringing the institution into disrepute and all these other policies that they use to silence dissenters, those policies are not compliant. They’re going to be compelled to rewrite those policies. People are going to be allowed to appeal around their university to an ombudsman, to essentially make the university back off.
This is really going to change the game. It’s already changed the game. I can tell you that, in a number of universities, they have already started to sing a different song because they know they’re being scrutinized. That is the only way you get universities to behave, is when the administrators are approached by activists to cancel someone and they say to the activist, “Well, we can’t do it because of this government regulation or we’re going to be fined. So even though we agree with you, we can’t actually do what you want.” That’s where we need to get to, in terms of universities behaving on free speech and academic freedom. And I think it only happens through government regulation.
Now, that’s not going to fully solve the problem, though. It will solve the problem of cancel culture, to a large extent. What it won’t do is solve the problem of a complete and growing loss of political diversity among the professoriate. That problem is caused mainly by political discrimination in hiring, promotion, and so on. It’s operating beneath the surface at the level of departments and at the level even of faculties.
And so that is going to require something more, and I’m not sure whether government intervention — my favorite solution in this case is to say, well, I’m not saying affirmative action for conservatives, but what I would say is you have to have an equivalent degree of action on ideological and political diversity as you have on race and gender and other characteristics.
So if you want to do race and gender diversity and equity, then you have to do political diversity and equity. If you don’t want to do any of it, then don’t do any of it. That’s fine. I think that would actually have a very big effect. It might mean that universities just back off on diversity and equity, but it could also mean they may make more of an effort to try and diversify their faculties, which in the social sciences and humanities, to give you some numbers, it’s around 13 on the left for every one on the right in the U.S. and Canada, and about nine to one in Britain. And it was at about two to one, maybe, left to right if we go back to the 1960s.
So, there’s been a big shift. Yes, universities have always leaned left, but they are something on the order of three to four times more left-wing, more left-leaning now than they were in the 1960s. Simply through that process of political discrimination, hostile environments to dissenters, keeping out dissenters, keeping dissenters from even entering the university, they’ve been able to create a monoculture, which then makes all of these problems much worse.
Actually, in the report, I polled what people thought about this proposal to actually —. Should universities have to make as much effort on political diversity as on race and gender? Bipartisan agreement with that, so I actually think it’s got quite a bit of support. But of course, even in the UK context, that has not been mooted. I tried to get it on the bill, but I wasn’t successful.
We have had some proposals similar to that, I think. For example, there was a proposal to attach a rider to the main funding title for universities that fund student loans in the United States. There was an attempt to attach a rider, even just for public universities that merely restated, actually, their obligations under the Constitution and under the First Amendment and said, basically, instead of waiting for somebody to sue you and going through court, for FIRE or someone else to sue you, there’s going to be an immediate financial consequence if you fail to live up to these obligations. That rider did not even garner the support of the majority of Republicans in the Senate, so we really have a political problem, I think, here in terms of — I think the Republican party is just way, way behind even the population as to what kind of solutions are really necessary because I would consider that almost a very mild notion of what you’re talking about. It only applied to public universities. It’s actually only restating, ultimately, the obligations they already have under the law. It’s just attaching a more immediate consequence, that administrative consequence, that you said actually has been effective in the UK. Even talking about it has changed the tune of university administrators.
Yeah, you’re completely right. We have a similar political problem here in that, like in the United States with the Republican party, a lot of the policy thinking is still stuck in the 1980s and is still mainly about cuts, and it’s still focused on universities as economic entities. Doesn’t really focus on culture.
It’s the same in the Tory party. Very few of them are interested in culture war, or at least not many of them are, and so they would rather think of universities in terms of the economy. What this means is that when a proposal comes up to, something like proactively ensure that universities are upholding existing law — which is largely what the Academic Freedom Bill does — they will often see this in terms of bureaucracies versus freedom and get completely conned by the university lobbyists into thinking this is somehow, “Oh, this is regulation.” Incredibly obtuse.
You actually have to get a lot of these legislatures to understand that, no, this regulation is really about protecting your side’s freedom. And this is a very hard thing for a lot of them to understand. It’s incredibly, incredibly frustrating. A lot of them don’t understand the cultural struggle that you and I understand is going on. They sort of still think of things in this “Reaganite” 1980s way.
But they need to really start focusing because this is a long game. It’s not enough to pass a law. You have to control the bureaucracy that enforces the law that issues the guidance. This is one of the things we’re learning. You have to get your people who are committed to the mission into those bureaucracies to enforce…. Even creating the bureaucracies alone isn’t enough. You have to develop a whole infrastructure right back, a pipeline of candidates who are going to be suitable for these roles, and you have to get your people in. Control bureaucracies and then you can control, you can enforce free speech.
So that’s a three-step, at least a three-step process. It takes patient work. It takes planning. I think that’s been in short supply on the right. They seem to think a few buzz words, a few sound bites, maybe one piece of symbolic legislation’s going to do the trick. No. You actually have to invest resources in controlling the full value chain process, all the way from the policy network through to who gets appointed, through to the bureaucracy, through to enforcement.
So, yeah. I would say that that has to be seen as the challenge. It’s not going to solve — I mean, long term, ultimately, the cultural problem won’t necessarily be fully solved by bureaucratic intervention, but it’s a start. And also, intervening in the curriculum in K-12 to teach about the importance of free speech, the history of the struggle for free speech, the excesses of utopian movements in violating freedom, such as the Chinese cultural revolution, communism. None of that, really, is being taught, and therefore, students growing up now, they just don’t have any understanding of the value of expressive freedom and freedom of conscience, and these kinds of things.
I think you’re totally right about the bureaucracy. It’s been a lonely hobbyhorse of mine for a long time, but unfortunately in the United States, that means serious congressional reforms, at least on the federal bureaucracy side because, currently, even when Republicans do — and not even getting to your pipeline issue, right, where Republicans don’t have the pipeline of people who are necessarily qualified for certain bureaucratic positions — even if they do have those people, the bureaucracy is so sclerotic and it’s impossible to fire people. I don’t know what the rules are, the civil service rules are in the UK, or in Canada for that matter, but in the U.S., it’s kind of two things. One, we don’t have a really strong meritocratic civil service exam pipeline the way some countries do. So on the one hand, we get the most incompetent people.
So not even from ideological perspective, just completely incompetent in a way that if you have a really tough, actual meritocratic civil service exam, you at least ensure some level of caliber of people.
But the second thing is, you cannot fire. You just cannot fire bureaucrats in America. It takes about two years, and there’s a very, very short list of things that you can fire them for. The thing I always point to for people is that Congress, Congress had to pass an entire statute, a new law in order to fire bureaucrats in the federal government who are watching pornography on government time and government computers.
You couldn’t, our system wouldn’t allow them to be fired without an act of Congress. So, there’s a larger bureaucratic problem. I think maybe going back to American cultural perceptions, no little kid in America, or at least very few, grows up and wants to be a government administrator, and so you tend to get that…. A lot of our smart people go into tech or business or even academia, but not government administration, so we end up. I don’t know if that has something to do with how [crosstalk 00:25:06] our bureaucracy is.
I wonder whether executive action plus the office of the president, or whoever’s the exec, or if there are new sorts of bureaucracies that can be created that can more or less drive this.
It is interesting to me that if you look at how organized the federalist society is, and the whole idea of pipeline into the Supreme Court, you almost need that level of mobilization and organization for a pipeline into something like a bureaucracy, or something like new bureaucracies that you’ll need to set up in order to implement and oversee these reforms. It has to be as deliberate as that and as well planned as it is for the Supreme Court nominees because otherwise, all of these institutions will naturally drift left because those are the kinds of people that will be gravitating to those jobs. And this is the challenge is, you really actually have to actively swim against what is the natural tide, whereas, if you’re a left-wing government, you don’t have to do anything. You just let your, more or less, foot soldiers who are already in these institutions go to town. You don’t actually have to campaign on anything.
Whereas I think what the right is going to have to do is be much more determined and much more organized in setting up these pipelines and following through on them because, otherwise, they’re not actually going to be able to enforce their laws. Their laws will be frustrated by the agencies that are nominally supposed to be carrying out these laws.
So, I think, again, it’s a long march through the institutions back the other way, I guess, is what I would say. But it has to be an intelligent process where conservatives are getting into the fine detail of things such as definitions of harassment and definitions of transphobia and racism. Getting into that policy detail is going to be vital.
So, for example, with universities, just cutting out the bottom few hundred universities is going to have absolutely no impact whatsoever. So, talking about cuts, talking about removing tenure; all of that is a terrible idea. In fact, removing tenure imperils free speech. What you need to do is focus on the elite sector, particularly the ones that you can control through public funding of various kinds and start to get into, essentially try to compel them to adopt policies that are compliant with things like free speech.
And that takes, it takes patience, and it takes stamina, and it takes organization, and that’s been in short supply. I think it’s the only way you actually start to push against the natural momentum of these institutions, which is going to be towards wokeness and going to be towards safety culture. You actually are going to have to consciously, in an organized fashion, push back against that.
I think you’re really right that the right underestimates this bureaucratic inertia, vastly, vastly underestimates bureaucratic inertia as a force that has to be continually fought, right? — that requires, as you say, strategic thinking, and then usually a longer-term ground game of actually anticipating that these bureaucracies are almost like living organisms, right? They move around whatever it is that you’re trying — if the dominant feeling or culture within the organization is against what you’re doing, they’re going to move around you and around a particular law.
This is my worry, by the way, on the K-12 level, has been my worry with some of these anti-CRT bills. It’s not that I actually have, or think that they’re anti-liberal. Some on the right have had that conversation, that they’re worried they’re too anti-liberal. I’m not worried they’re too anti-liberal. I think it’s totally fine to dictate to public schools what they should and shouldn’t teach. I just think the bureaucratic inertia of these schools is going to, it’s going to get re-labeled something else. It’s going to get smuggled in via teacher trainings, via a thousand other outside groups. Ultimately, the system will fold itself around the CRT ban in a way that is not currently anticipated.
That’s my larger worry, and I really think we underestimate this kind of bureaucratic folding around of any objection.
I think you’re right, although I do think there are some success stories. Here in Britain, the teachers strongly resisted metrics and back-to-basics type teaching instead of the progressive approach. But with enough focus, Michael Gove, who is in the government right now, was able to actually change that and was actually able to get them to completely change their focus, do more testing, have more standards.
So, I think it will work if you have enough committed people. And this is the other thing, is this is one of the reasons why the Conservative party in Britain, or the Republican party in the U.S…. If you have too many people who are just in politics to be in politics, or who are thinking only about tax-and-spend issues, issues which are really becoming less and less central for the kinds of politics that is emerging. If you look at voting for major parties now, it’s much less along lines of income and class, and it’s much more around these cultural issues.
It’s about getting more politicians who are focused, laser-like, on these cultural issues, on the threat to the culture, to national history, to free speech, and so on. They have to understand that it’s an emergency. It’s not just a fringe thing and the main meal is about supply-side economics or whatever it is.
That’s a challenge because a lot of the older generation in particular, who were weaned on those 1980s battles against inflation, that is their world. In Britain, it’s Thatcher worship. In U.S., it might be Reagan worship. But the Tory party is full of these economic liberals, particularly in the older generations. It’s very difficult.
Now, there are some younger people, particularly some of the special advisors to ministers who really understand this. But it’s partly about also disciplining, in the U.S., the primary process to make sure people have a good record on supporting this kind of activity and are not…. So there are all kinds of situations where, say, Republicans are allowing universities to do what they want.
There’s an example in the University of Texas where, yes, they have a bill. They appropriated some money for a conservative institute within the University of Texas. Of course, the University of Texas trustees are Republican appointees. The university itself is essentially blocking the ability of this institute to hire its own staff, saying, “No, no. Our departments have to be in charge of the hiring. You’re not allowed to do it.”
The Republican appointees have essentially kowtowed to the university. There’s nobody looking over their shoulder and saying, “You just basically let us down. You’re essentially part of the problem now.” And no one’s being held accountable. That’s an example of where the chain of command, the focus is not there. It has to go all the way from the top of the party, the governor’s mansion, all the way down to all the appointees. There has to be accountability for these issues.
Part of this, of course, comes from raising the profile of these issues and being accountable for performance on these issues, but I think there’s a long way to go in ensuring that that is the case.
As you point out, the premise underlying that there’s accountability is, and as your work shows, is that actually, the American population is much more concerned about cultural issues than, say, the GOP politicians or their priority lists might be.
In the past, you’ve argued, for example in Whiteshift, in your book, you’ve argued that some of the underlying tectonic plates of our politics are more related to demographic change or ethnic demographic change than we probably think about or would like to admit. But recently, at least especially in the last few years, we’ve seen the idea, and I know you don’t make the argument that demographics is actually destiny. You’re more making the argument that they affect our politics and they’re, kind of, the underlying fault lines in our society are not unrelated to this. The way that people perceive politics or their cultural interest, for example, is not unrelated to race. But the line that demography is destiny was popular on the left. It’s verboten to say on the right. That was the setup of our politics on that issue for a long time.
But that thesis seems to be falling apart recently. We have huge swings in the Hispanic vote towards Republicans exactly on some of these culture war issues. We even have seen some movement, potentially in the Black vote, which is one of the most dead rot things in American politics is that Black voters are going to go 90% Democrat. We’re even starting to see some polls, intriguing polls, one after the other. They’re showing that, maybe, it’s not going to be anywhere near 50/50 at any point in the foreseeable future, but if the Black vote shifted to 20/80 versus 90/10, that would be a tsunami in American politics, right?
Have you rethought or rejiggered some of your arguments surrounding ethnic and demographic divides in the U.S. now that actually, strangely, racial divides seem to be — even though they’re very, very much in the media, and in terms of woke politics and in the forefront of “wokeism” — they seem less important to our politics than they did, say, four years ago.
Yeah. Everything you said is absolutely right. That the actual racial divides, per se, are not central to the kinds of polarization that we’re seeing in the U.S. They’re there, no doubt. But really, polarization is primarily a divide within the white population, and to some degree other groups, but more intensely within the white population.
The reason, though, that I think demography matters is it’s not the demography of whites versus Hispanics and Asians so much as it is about the decline of ethnic majority groups demographically in the U.S. and other western countries creates a sort of apprehension amongst conservatively-minded members of those groups. So the people who, for psychological reasons that are up to 50% heritable, by the way, prefer stability and order. They prefer the present to be similar to the past. They see difference as, to some degree, disorder, not as stimulation. That’s a fundamental psychological difference. So you have a significant group of people who are attached to their majority ethnicity. They’re attached to the mix of groups that they knew growing up. They don’t want that to change too rapidly. So that was really the point of the book, and that that fundamentally explains a lot of the voting for populist right parties, and including Brexit, including the Trump phenomenon.
However, when it comes to divisions within the society, the division is not between ethnic majority and ethnic minority as much as it is between ethnic majority group members who want slower change and less difference, and ethnic majority group members who believe almost religiously in change and difference. And so it’s an ideological divide, but the ideology that splits Republican, Democrat, liberal, or conservative amongst the white population in the U.S. — that ideology is strongly about your views on race, as well as other identity things. But it’s racial identity, your attitudes to questions that touch on race, such as immigration, for example, such as affirmative action. Your attitudes on race, that is the dividing line, not race itself.
It’s conservative attitudes versus liberal attitudes around these identity issues that’s the dividing line, not race itself. So you can have the Hispanic, Black population moving in the direction of the Republican party, depolarizing the country on race, but that’s not actually going to depolarize the country because, really, the country isn’t polarized on race. It’s polarized on racial attitudes, which is a different thing from race itself.
And I actually think this is going to continue. Wokeness is — one-line definition I always give: it’s about the sacralization, making sacred of historically marginalized groups. That is the core belief system, the core that McWhorter calls the religion of anti-racism. That’s really what distinguishes the strong proponents of cultural socialism from those who are more attached to, for example, cultural liberalism and to ideas of traditional national identity.
So I don’t actually see a reason to modify that hypothesis. I actually think those two forces are continuing to define polarization in politics. I don’t think there’s been any let-up in that division, even as the racial, the differences between racial groups has narrowed.
If it’s really about an ideology and not directly about race or, for example, religion, or at least classically conceived religion. If the solution in the academia context, or at least part of the solution, is this robust retreating into the public, right, and having actual public regulation of concepts like enforcing concepts like free speech. Beyond the academy, should we be thinking about actually something that conservatives are very — even including myself, I’m including myself in this — they’re very reluctant to do, which is expanding protected classes and categories, let’s say in corporations? Should worldview, especially now since there’s more and more people who are not attached to an organized religion and are agnostic or atheist, should we be thinking about protecting worldview as a protected category? You talked about not quite affirmative action for conservative professors in universities, but what about, say, in Nike?
I actually think that…. I would say yes. My argument on this is you’re not going to get rid of protected categories. That’s a pipe dream. So, if you’re not going to get rid of protected categories, you have two choices: one, you stick with the categories that exist now, which largely benefit, in a way, they largely push the culture in the direction of wokeness. As we say, it’s certain groups only.
Or you actually opt to expand the number of protected categories to include in particular political and philosophical belief. That’s, by the way, in European law and in Britain, philosophical belief is increasingly a protected characteristic after a number of legal decisions. So believing that only biological females are women is a protected belief now. In the United Kingdom, there was an important case that came through recently, so you can’t fire somebody who Tweets, “Only biological women are truly women.” You can’t actually fire somebody like that now because they are expressing a philosophical belief that is protected.
I actually very much support that. I think that it is…. I tend to favor individual liberty over institutional autonomy. I think it’s much more important for individuals to have their liberty than for institutions to have their liberty when the two are in conflict. If they’re not in conflict, absolutely, let’s have institutional autonomy.
But I, for example, think that if you think about some small-town business that wants to be able to discriminate against Democrats, there may be a few people who want to be able to hire and fire on the basis of political belief. I actually think that’s not going to matter at all in the direction of the culture. They don’t matter. They have no power. These sort of small businesses, there may be a few of them that want to discriminate.
To my mind, sacrificing that to gain an ability to actually hold a Google or a New York Times or somebody else to account for politically discriminating, to my mind, the much more powerful organizations are the ones that are engaging in this political discrimination. That’s, I think, a much more important thing to do, is to actually have a protection against political discrimination in these elite organizations. In terms of the direction of the culture than to protect the odd person who wants to be able to discriminate against a Democrat in some small-town hardware store. That, to my mind, is a much lower priority. In general, I would favor measures that would protect people’s right to express themselves without losing their job than I would be willing to protect a business’s right to discriminate on the basis of politics.
I just think that the best way to actually reverse this is to lean into these protected categories and to just multiply them. You could even talk about neurodiversity if you want. I think trying to get away from just essentially race, gender, and sexuality dominated, which is the dominant sacred totems for wokeness, and to actually get so that we have a conversation about a much larger set of different characteristics and maybe start to blunt this mono focus on these big three holy trinity characteristics.
I actually think that will help to dissipate some of this sacredness and some of these taboos, which are really at the heart of the problem of free speech.
One, I think, distinction that would have to be fleshed out in any actual, speaking of where the rubber meets the road in creating policy in a serious way, would have to be somewhere distinguishing between the expressive and ordinary course of business, right? Because I think, first of all, it would be contradictory of the First Amendment, and also, I would be very deeply uncomfortable as a [inaudible 00:43:57] liberal, preventing people, say, from expressing. You really don’t want to force, for example, the Jewish painter to be forced to use as a customer a Nazi who wants him to paint a glorious portrait of Hitler or whatever it is, right?
There has to be something about expression versus the ordinary course of business, like holding a bank account or working in a bank and expressing views that have nothing to do with the job that you’re doing as a teller at a bank or something. That, I think, would need to be fleshed out in any actual proposal, but I do find myself more open to the idea of protected categories, certainly, than I would have been several years ago, where I thought we have to roll these back. Because like you, I’m not sure that, that’s in the foreseeable future, in the cards.
The only thing I would say to that is I think there’s a difference between someone who purposefully is a Nazi and purposely goes to a Jewish place to get them to paint them, and somebody who just happens to wander in. I think there’s a big difference between deliberately targeting a place and making them serve you, and something that is just random and accidental. I think the person is maybe going to be less offended if it’s random than if it’s somebody who announces, “hey, I am a Nazi and I’m coming to your shop.” I think that kind of distinction could be made. But anyway, I’m not a lawyer so who knows?
That would be the job of this pipeline of people that you hope to try to create, is to be actually competent in making such distinctions in a workable way.
I can’t let you go here without touching on this piece that you wrote for Unheard on the war in Ukraine, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the populist right taking positions that are, at least in the plain meaning, distinctly unpopulist in the sense that they disagree with the large majority of Americans, and actually, continually, we’re now seeing polls that the base of the Republican party — while any given intervention you might get some people in favor and some people against — and it’s hard to know how many people really, for example, know what instituting a no-fly zone over Ukraine would mean, shooting directly at Russian anti-aircraft defenses or so on.
But I do think that you highlight in this piece, there’s this large out-of-step, this gap that’s opening up on this issue between populist “intellectuals,” on the one hand, who have been very vocal and, to my mind and probably to yours, right on issues like wokeness, like all the things we’ve been discussing, demographics. They’ve been willing to say things that the establishment of the Republican party has not been willing to say that do reflect attitudes, for example, on immigration that are popular, not just in the Republican base, but in the country as a whole.
Why do you think that sharp divide on this issue has opened up, where now they’re reflecting a very small minority of the American public now, and even a small minority of the right?
Yeah. This is one of my frustrations because I really think we need to marshal all the political capital for these cultural battles, and that the cultural differences is really what predicts voting, far in excess of anything else now.
So, while someone like Tucker Carlson was focusing on the excesses of these moral panics, like the Covington Boys, and Black Lives Matter protests, and the crime waves, and the border, doing an excellent job, saying things that, as you say, a lot of the establishment, even a lot of Fox News hosts wouldn’t do. So he was sort of a very important voice speaking truth to power, in a way, and expressing sentiments of a lot of Americans.
But then, I think what happens with some of populist elite voices is that, first of all, they seem to have bought into what I would consider neo-Marxist ground theories around some sort of shadowy elite, a globalist elite that is somehow trying to advance its own interests, material power interest, by springing wokeness on us, and that somehow, anyone who is opposing that globalist power interest is a good guy.
So, it might be an authoritarian like Putin. Well, Putin is opposing this globalist [inaudible 00:48:35] that is imposing the rules place new world order on us. It’s very much getting into completely unsubstantiated — drifting so far away from facts and evidence and what really matters to voters. People get sucked into these big theories. It has a lot of appeal to intellectuals and a lot of the populist intellectuals are drawn into these grand theories and drift away from the concerns of their base, in a way. That’s my frustration, and it leads them to make these enormous blunders. It leads them to feel sympathy for what is a cruel and vicious autocrat. Putin has been poisoning people, assassinating people, invading countries. This is not a nice person.
And the other thing I would say is there’s also a muddling between liberalism, which I would support, which, classical liberalism — which is about free speech, due process, people having rights in a Constitution that aren’t trampled on by the government — and cultural, what I would call left modernism valuing diversity and change over, say, tradition and national identity, for example.
That is not the same thing as protecting individual liberties in the Constitution, and it just seems to me that a lot of, or some of these populist commentators have allowed their hostility to the — which I understand — the hostility to wokeness and some of the cultural left-modernist expressions, what I would call, also, cultural socialism, to bleed over into hostility to procedural liberalism and constitutional, classical liberalism.
And so, someone who opposes all of that, like a Putin, becomes a good guy. I just think it’s sloppy thinking, it’s opportunistic, and it’s emotional. It’s partly caused by the rabbit hole that some of these people went down. I would say Steve Bannon was amongst the worst. Every time you hear him talk, it’s always about economic and political things, and class, a very Marxist-type analysis, which actually is not what motivates most voters. Most voters, they don’t want critical race in the classroom. They don’t want wokeness. They want to control the border. That’s what motivates them.
All of these other grand concerns, these big forum policy issues, and this is just much lower down their list. Somehow, for a number of populist intellectuals have been sucked into getting behind that, and I think they’ve lost credibility as a result because they’re very much on the wrong side of an issue like Putin.
I think you’re right to say that it depends how far back you want to draw the critique, right? There seems to be a divide between people who essentially say the last 30 years or so, there has been a consensus on policy that’s developed that has left out the views of a large majority, especially the cultural views of a large majority of the right, and then even some of the center and the center-left, and that we should realign our politics around some of those issues that have now become critical.
There is, of course, then the critique that the liberalism, the classical liberalism of America, the Constitutional structure of America, the critique someone like Sohrab Ahmari, for example, is going to go all the way, or Patrick Deneen is going to go all the way back and say, essentially no, the kind of classical liberalism that you’re championing inevitably leads to something like wokeness because there is a vision of the good in the public square that the procedural liberalism doesn’t allow, essentially, the people who have a more conservative vision of that common good to fight in that public square on the same way that the left does. So, they see it as inevitable.
And I think you’re right that that’s part of the reason they see a challenge, an autocratic challenge, as something that’s more viable than…. I don’t think the average American thinks that Putin’s autocracy is actually…. They don’t want critical race theory in their schools. That’s not the same thing as thinking that the entire American liberal order is worthless. So, I think you’re right that there is a big gap there.
It’s interesting, though, that you say that they’ve bought into too much of the class structure stuff. I myself maybe disagree with you here; I think there has been a marriage between class structure. And again, as a conservative, I wouldn’t be using these terms that do sound very Marxist on some level five years ago. But I think, for example, the advent of the woke capital phenomenon has really made me reconsider whether there is a marriage of economic structure and a cultural monopoly or undifferentiated worldview among people.
I’m not so much worried about the 1%, but the 20%, what Burnham called the managerial class of people who have gone to universities, who have sucked up that academic worldview. This tends to be the same class of people who are running the HR departments in Nike, and who are at the DOJ in Republican and Democratic administrations, who are in academia, even who are district administrators in K-12. I think there is a structural class attachment or merging with the cultural issues here.
I’m sort of a quantitative political scientist, so I’ve done a lot of analysis of voting, for example, and one of the things you see, first of all, is that income and employment has almost no impact on who you vote for.
Now, education does, but education is more cultural, right? A wealthy plumbing contractor is not likely to be a liberal Democrat, for example, but perhaps a poor librarian might be. So, education is more tied to cultural worldview.
What I would say is that whatever the prestige values are in the society, the elite class are largely going to get behind them. If those prestige values was temperance and staying away from alcohol for religious reasons, then the elites would get behind those values. If the elite values are wokeness, they’ll get behind those values. I think that it’s the culture change that comes first, and the class stuff is largely about, it largely comes second. Max Weber, a sociologist, has a whole theory about this that, essentially, the person switching the train from one track to the other is culture. Once you switch the track, the train will move down another track.
So I think what comes causally first is culture change. And then, all of the incentives for prestige and power and wealth will just follow in the wake of that. That’s why I think that it’s really getting at this mind virus of the culture and shaping that, that’s got to be central. Now, that’s not to say, yes, now of course, there is some correlation between income and class, and beliefs in these. But let’s not forget that most of the variation, for example, in voting is within class.
If you take college-educated Americans, college-educated white Americans, something like 50% of them vote for Trump, 50% of them vote Democrat. That’s 50%. It’s a large share. It is certainly a higher share of the non-college-educated that are voting for Trump. Let’s not forget that it is a quite significant share of college-educated, let’s say white Americans, who are also voting for Trump.
So, the only point I would make there is that education, yes, it’s the most important factor, much more important than class. But even education is nowhere near as important as psychological, cultural orientation. What do you say to a question like, “things in America were better in the past”? That is vastly more important than anything class-based or structural.
So, I would say for my money, I guess class is a much less important factor overall. These cultural forces and ideas are largely orthogonal to class. Not entirely, but largely. So I think a class analysis, I guess in my view, is not going to explain much of what’s going on.
I think the mechanism, and I’ll have to think about this some more and maybe read some of the work that you’re referencing, in terms of the explanation of variants of voting. But I do think that the class structure, and really the professionalization structure that is really tied to the growth of universities and a much larger percentage of people getting a degree, I think it makes it easier to ignore some of those issues that you exactly are championing here, right, saying basically there’s going to be a certain percentage of people who are very uncomfortable with the pace of demographic change, for example, due to immigration.
I think the reason that an issue like immigration can have huge majorities in favor of either keeping the immigration levels the same or even reducing them, and then both parties can ignore that issue for 30 years, I think there is a class structural element to how that happens, right? You would think that, in a democracy, this would bust forward earlier than Donald Trump, that you couldn’t go 30 years with both parties ignoring a concern like that. I do think that the professionalization and class structure and class hardening in America has a lot to do with how an issue like that goes ignored for 30 years, but —
I want to wrap this up here by asking you a question that’s perhaps hopeful. I think, although I always say that this podcast is a safe space for pessimists. But if we do manage to somehow control or reverse the institutionalization of wokeness, right, and if the right does all the things that I’m skeptical that they’re actually going to do in a serious way, what does a post-woke politics look like, not just in the U.S., but maybe in the UK, the broader western world? What does a post-woke world look like?
Yeah, that’s a really interesting question and one I’m hoping to tackle in my next book. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you’re putting on a play at a theater. My view would be, a post-woke world, you’d have a lot more plays that were focused on historical authenticity, for example. Which might mean that if you’re doing a play about 17th-century England, you would have very little ethnic diversity in that play.
However, you would still have some modern interpretations that would run as a minority of shows and that would be set in the modern time, that would have an ethnically-diverse cast and so on. So, you will have some of the woke innovations, some of the cultural socialism will still survive, but it will just not be centered in the culture the way it is now. That’s kind of the way I would tend to see culture in a post-woke world.
Yeah, we’re going to talk about some shame in the national past, but we’re going to center the achievements of the national past. That would be, for example, another kind of accommodation. It’s not like I’m saying absolutely no consideration of representation and cultural equality at all. I’m saying yes, we’re going to have some, but it’s going to be de-centered. It’s not going to be the focal point the way it is now. It’s not going to drive everything. It’s going to be actually a minority. Not zero, but it’ll be a minority chord within the symphony.
So, that’s how I would envision a post-woke culture operating. And similarly, when it comes to free speech, there will be…. Yes, clearly it is the case that being 3’3” and blind is a tougher set of cards to get than being of normal height and being able to see. So, you’re going to actually have to treat people not exactly the same. You’re going to have to accommodate to some degree privately.
So there is going to be some kind of cultural socialism. It’s a bit like the welfare state in capitalist economics. But again, the point that I would make there is, that is going to be one factor. Equality and whether you punch up or punch down is going to be one value alongside a whole set of other values, such as freedom, such as beauty, such as social cohesion, and a whole bunch of things which are currently being submerged by a culture that’s heavily focused only on equity.
So what I’d say is, equity will be there, but it’ll be one of five things. So that’s how I would tend to envision this.
That jives very well with something that has bothered me for a long time, which is, we really do seem to live under the tyranny of exceptions in a lot of ways. I think that’s maybe part of what you’re saying, that we need to, it’s not that exceptions or outliers don’t exist, but they can’t govern or be centered in the entire conversation when we have, for example, public policy conversations, or we have conversation about what it is to be American in a more basic sense, or what it is to be British, or whatever it is.
Well, thank you so much for giving us an hour of your time, Eric Kaufmann. Where can folks read more of your work?
Thanks, Inez. You’ll find my work on my website which is www.sneps, S-N-E-P-S, .net. Please check me out. I’m also on Twitter @epkaufm. Thanks very much, Inez.
Thanks again for coming on. And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcast, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.