Not So Fast, Nichols

Published at 11:27 on 29 September 2021

A recent study has detailed just how much rising affluence has apparently created ideological polarization in a number of Western societies. Because this is somewhat similar to Nichols’ decadence theory of democratic decline, it has already caught his notice and elicited an approving tweet.

Well, not so fast. It is still the case that democratic decline is not everyplace proceeding according to affluence. It is happening in the USA (more wealthy) and Hungary (less wealthy), but not to any appreciable degree in Scandinavia (more wealthy) or Portugal (less wealthy).

Boris Johnson, for example, did attract a record amount of working-class votes for the Conservative Party, but a Johnson prime ministership is simply not the sort of crisis for democracy that the Trump presidency was. Whether you personally like Mr. Johnson’s brand or politics or not, his party did win a clear majority in the most recent election, and he is governing primarily on the basis of having won a democratic mandate, not on the basis of “real Britons” (who constitute a minority of voters) being cheated out of “their” country by various interlopers. Not all right-wing populism is equally noxious and authoritarian.

So yes, the study shows some interesting data which illustrates how much the world has changed since when Marx and Engels first penned The Communist Manifesto. But no, it’s not so simple as all that. Ideology (a far better term to use here than morals) becoming a widely-affordable luxury good does appear to be a trend, but it is hardly the only thing going on, and this trend alone is insufficient to explain what is currently happening in the USA.

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