The British election reveals the coming clash between the old and young in much of the West. The social welfare state naturally creates divisions between groups with immutable characteristics like age as each group maneuvers to get a larger share of money from the state before it runs out. This sad truth was at the heart of the Conservative Party’s lost majority in the last election.
The young voted almost two thirds for Labour, despite the fact that party was led by Jeremy Corbyn, who was regarded by his own parliamentary party as an unelectable tribune of left wing protest and had as its shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, an open admirer of Lenin and Trotksy. To be sure, the young do not remember the real costs of socialism of either the hard Eastern European kind or the softer British variety. It would almost contribute to the net happiness of Europe if a member of the old Soviet bloc remained to be a negative exemplar for everyone else.
But even with its compromised leadership the Labour party knew how to exploit the fault line between the old and the young created by the modern welfare state. Much of the budget of Britain, like other Western democracies, goes to pension and other benefits to the old for which those younger are largely paying. But given longer life expectancy and lower birth rates, young people fear that they will never get similar benefits, because the well will have run dry by the time they become eligible. Thus, they are energized by the Labour Party’s promise of free college tuition. That promise can be cashed in now, unlike the illusory ones of state pensions four decades hence.
Volume 2 of historian John Ashworth’s discussion in Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic touches on a shift in Americans’ views toward wage labor. This shift anticipated the rise of the Republican Party’s “free labor” ideology, and then continued to develop concurrent with it. Prior to this shift, Americans widely viewed wage labor as invested with little dignity, as scarcely preferable than indentured service. If one worked for wages, respectability required that one aim to work out of this form of employment, saving toward property ownership or work as an independent artisan. Only those who couldn’t or wouldn’t move out of wage labor remained in that condition permanently. Lifelong wage labor was for losers.
By the time Abraham Lincoln had won the election of 1860, the young Republican party had been through significant upheaval and ferocious infighting but it had a very general set of core values. It was a party opposed to the expansion of slavery along with two corollaries: granting land to independent farmers who didn’t use slavery, “free soil,” “free labor” and support for industrial development.
Just eight years later, during the administration of President Grant, many of the party’s founders had left the GOP to support Horace Greeley’s candidacy as a Democrat. The party was nearly destroyed electorally over Reconstruction, unprecedented political corruption in the White House and several business contractions during the late 19th century.
New parties, particularly those caught up in a moment of changing political dynamics and crisis are subject to wild shifts and growing pains. UKIP’s evolution in the UK is but one example of this trend. It’s obvious that from election to election minor changes in the content and emphasis of platforms occur, but in potentially seismic political moments volatility can be much greater. This is especially true within smaller political organizations that are not anchored to entrenched interests and established leadership.
Economist Lawrence Lindsey has written half of a very important book. In Conspiracies of the Ruling Class, Lindsey provides a spirited critique of liberal technocrats who want to micromanage the economy, and statist romantics who think their alleged good intentions justify any means. Where Lindsey goes wrong is in defining both our political elites and our problems too narrowly. Lindsey writes that “the Ruling Class [capitalizations in the original] are fundamentally different from the rest of us.” But that begs the questions: Who are the ruling classes? Who are the rest of us?
The forgotten etymology of “conservatism” lies in its hardly hidden first two syllables—to “conserve”—so when the Republican Party underwent its lurching metamorphosis from its commitments to constitutionalism, free trade, and chivalry to royalism, protectionism, and vulgarity, the news was not that George F. Will, conservative, stood still. It was that, in the terms of conservatism’s father Edmund Burke, the Republican Party may no longer constitute, properly speaking, a party at all. It is at risk of reverting to the primordial state of “faction” from which Burke rescued what he called the practice of political “connection.”
The outcome of the Republican nomination process is a disaster for the party. The person chosen clearly is unqualified to be President, and many of his views are not those that have dominated the party over the last generation. He is not a man who respects the Constitution and the limits it imposes on political power. He is against, not big government, but stupid government. And Donald Trump really thinks he is the remedy for stupidity we need.
When Ted Cruz quit the presidential primary on Tuesday not long after the polls closed in Indiana, it was startling. Even Donald Trump, in his victory speech that night in New York, appeared startled to see himself the presumptive Republican nominee.
“Democrats seem to be bouncing back and forth between glee and panic,” wrote an analyst at fivethirtyeight.com. There are two main reasons for that.