Yascha Mounk is an interesting chap. A political scientist, author, and Harvard lecturer, Mounk is obsessed with populism- or rather, he is obsessed with ensuring that his peculiar idea of what populism means is adopted as objective truth.
"We're trying a historically unique experiment: Transforming a mono-ethnic, mono-cultural society into a multi-ethnic one. That can work out. I believe it will work out, but naturally this will provide social distortions." -Yascha Mounk
Mounk is not a populist, he is a globalist and a liberal- which is absolutely fine by me, the West has been built on the friction between ideas and free expression. That is why we are not totalitarians. However, Mounk is also dishonest and seeks to conflate ideas that he does not like together under the umbrella of 'populism' and reduce 'nationalism' to being just the civic identity of all nation-states- provided that state is not named Israel, but we will come to that thorny business later. With all due credit to Mr. Mounk, he does have a book coming out so you can see why he is so prevalent in the mainstream media talking about his ideas. We should be grateful that his agent is so diligent and that he has been so forthcoming, as the results are illuminating indeed.
In an interview with Haaretz, Feb. 21, 2018, Mounk said:
"Today, we face a trilemma of nationalism, democracy, and globalization. You have to find a way to make those three work together because you cant get away from nationalism and you don't want to give up democracy and globalization.
The key, says Mounk with an ironic smile, is... to give people a feeling they have a control over their lives and that your own nation has control over its destiny. In order for people to feel that they have to be convinced that they can live in a multi-ethnic and democratic society and still be better off materially and the liberal camp must learn how to embrace nationalism.
The idea used to be that we can get away from nationalism and substitute it with other things like social justice, and somehow people will learn to live without it. But when nationalism and democracy clash, nationalism wins."
This is a crucial part of understanding Mounk's perspective. He recognizes that some form of nationalism defeats democracy- but he is truly talking about two different kinds of nationalism in these three paragraphs. He begins with the idea of nationalism being an ever-present force, literally the glue that binds a nation together. He says that you cannot escape it, but that he doesn't want to give up on democracy and globalization. Well, I would suggest that globalization we can do well without and is entirely incompatible with the concept of a nation- the very nature of free movement of people, free trade and free movement of capital requires that globalism dominates the rights of any nation-state or her people.
Mounk recognizes that the ethnic root of nations exists in a tangible way. He knows that the ethnic root of a people, this immortal tie forged over centuries, will always defeat a 'democratic' process that treats that ethnic identity poorly or is perceived to do so. We need only look at the rise in Black Identitarianism in the West to show this to be true- despite acquiring protected class status in legislation and not being discriminated against one iota by the democracy of the United States, the perception that this is so is enough for a wide-ranging ethnocentric movement that is immune from any accusation of racism thanks to the effect of the ideology of intersectional social justice on society at large.
Mounk smiles when he says that you have to give people the feeling of being in control of their own destiny- not that this is an inalienable right, not that people need this to be a free people, but that they only need to feel it is so. Again:
"In order for people to feel that they have to be convinced that they can live in a multi-ethnic and democratic society and still be better off materially and the liberal camp must learn how to embrace nationalism."
This is the reframe that Mounk is pushing towards. A liberal understanding of nationalism is, in reality, a co-opting of civic nationalism to be compliant with progressivism. To make this a reality, the frame of conversation will necessitate a re-definition of what nationalism actually is, away from the complex mix of ethnic identity and the civic identity that ethnicity defines for itself, and towards pure civics, the 'magic soil' which transforms every Turk into a German when his shoes touched the ground at Flughafen Dusseldorf and ingrained me with a thousand years of Balearic identity when I arrived here in Ibiza. What remains, the concept of a people who are identified more than simply the land they choose to live, the very real ethnic and racial bonds that exist between all humans to varying degrees in this great species called humanity, all this is to be swept up into a box marked 'populism' and there it will be spat at and denigrated for being racial bigotry with a political name.
In The New York Times, March 3rd Mounk wrote:
"There is a sizable number of Americans for whom the idea of the nation remains synonymous with whiteness and Christianity.
So long as nationalism is associated with one particular ethnic or religious group, it will serve to exclude and disadvantage others. The only way to keep the destructive potential of nationalism in check is to fight for a society in which collective identity transcends ethnic and religious boundaries — one in which citizens from all religious or ethnic backgrounds are treated with the same respect as citizens from the majority group."
'American' is both an ethnic identity and a civic status. If it was not an ethnic identity, then there would be no need for prefixes to describe the different races that are also American citizens, with all the same respects and rights as the majority group which are guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States. This being said, the nation of the United States is a former European colony, in the same way as South Africa and Australia. The American Dream is fundamentally a dream of European people, which through the civics of the American state defined by people of European culture and descent was eventually extended to all people of all creeds- but the idea is as fundamentally European in nature as the ideas of Aristophanes and Plato and Socrates are Hellenic. We cannot separate the development of civics from the people who created that civic identity, it's crazy to do so. The Aztecs had their own kind of civics particular to their culture that demanded human sacrifice, that was the practice of their citizenship. It sounds alien to us, but was human sacrifice just an idea that these people came up with in order to assure good harvests that they came to through scientific endeavor, or was it a product of generations of superstition and religion and culture?
The point is that it cannot be so that ideas are merely the product of a human mind, disassociated from everything that taught that mind how to think. Are there no Boers as a distinct ethnic identity? Do they not have a cultural identity? Ask any Boer and he will tell you he is a White African. Is it the destructive potential of nationalism that threatens this minority group with genocide and destruction, or is it the racist form of Stalinism adhered to by the ANC that demands the death of Whites and the expropriation of their lands by force? Mounk recognizes that you cannot transcend ethnicity through social programming- the past few decades of world history puts the lie to that idea. In this way, Mounk sees that to achieve his utopian ideals we must all be deconstructed and returned to tabula rasa. We will come back to the impossibility of a blank slate culture later on.
In The Guardian, March 4th, Mounk writes:
"Politicians need to recover the will and the imagination to ensure that the fruits of globalization and free trade are distributed much more equally. And citizens – which is to say all of us – need to work even harder to build an inclusive patriotism that protects vulnerable minorities against discrimination while emphasizing what unites rather than what divides us."
The fruits of globalization are rotten. You can get drunk on fermented fruits, even squirrels know how to do that. Eventually though you sober up with a cracking headache, nausea, and you promise to yourself that you will never do something so stupid again. Like the alcoholic, Mounk staggers back to the bar for another pint of Open Borders and demands that you also drink from the same cursed cup. What fruits of globalization need to be distributed? Wealth? Is it wealth redistribution you seek, Yascha? Is it cultural enrichment? If this is your end you will need something stronger than just globalist evangelism. Mounk again deploys his technique of redefinition. Patriotism is no longer attachment to your homelands but is in fact the corruption of patriotic ideals entirely. Patriotism is already inclusive, and is available to all people. In America it is expressed already in the pledge of allegiance, in serving your fellow citizens as equals. That is the civic nationalist system implemented by European people's virtually everywhere they go. The vulnerable minorities are not defined by Mounk as to why they are vulnerable, but it is surely not the fault of an overtly civic nationalist society which proclaims 'We The People' if some people do not follow those ideals and feel excluded. There is no framework in which an entirely individualist sense of national identity exists.
As the late Christopher Hitchens noted when :
"For a writer to become an American is to subscribe of his own free will to a set of ideas and principles and to the documents that embody them in written form, all the while delightedly appreciating that the documents can and often must be revised, so that the words therefore constitute, so to say, a work in progress.
This was all rather well set out in the passport that I immediately went to acquire… Human history affords no precedent or parallel for this attainment. On the day that I swore my great oath, dozens of Afghans and Iranians and Iraqis did the same.”
Hitchens recognized that he and his other new Americans were subscribing not a monolithic ideology of Americanism, but a constitution that is a living system born out of the ideals of the Founding Fathers. As great a mind as Hitchens recognized that to adopt the American identity is to pay fealty to the ideas of the American people as a people in their lands as a requirement of entry through the swearing of an oath, while also taking part in that conversation as a new and welcome citizen. It is a beautiful thing, and a universal human experience in all lands where free people together determine their story.
This concept Mounk espouses of a more "inclusive" patriotism is therefore an abuse of language. It is subversive and assumes that rather than the newer arrival adopting the customs and ways of their new nation, the nation must bend to the will of the minority. That is madness and a recipe for utter annihilation of everything that is remotely good and pure in the world- and I mean pure as in ideals, not racial purity or anything like that. Mounk already believes: "There is a sizable number of Americans for whom the idea of the nation remains synonymous with whiteness and Christianity." This is what he hates. This is what he wants to divorce from the idea of patriotism itself, that the United States which was built on the values of Europeans and Christianity, for better or worse, must be torn down, for it is evil, though why it is so is not shown.
From Slate, March 8th.
"From Hugo Chávez in Venezuela to Jaroslaw Kaczyński in Poland and from Viktor Orbán in Hungary to Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, many populists around the world have remained sufficiently popular for a long enough span of time to concentrate vast powers in their own hands. Trump has some important commonalities with them. Like them, for example, he is a master at riling up his base with lofty promises of big improvements and urgent warnings about imminent dangers."
Mounk goes on to tar Orbán as a xenophobe, populism -regardless of stripe- as merely a factor of luck, and for some reason invokes the long-dead Chavez as the cause of all Venezuelan ills. What is interesting is what Mounk ultimately decides populism really is.
"While other populists also like to stir the pot with outrageous claims, the bulk of their rhetoric is focused on one goal and one goal only: to cast themselves as the only legitimate spokesmen of the people—and portray their nation as being under siege from both internal and external enemies. This is what Erdogan is consciously doing when he calls all critical journalists terrorists, what Orbán is doing when he claims that Soros has hatched a plot to make Hungary subservient, and what Kaczyński is trying to achieve when he insinuates that Jews are telling lies to use the Holocaust as a weapon against Poles."
Populism is not an ideology that is restricted to right wing or left wing politics, as Mounk recognizes. What Mounk does here though is reveal his own agenda through by what he considers to be most abhorrent about Erdogan, Orbán, and Kaczyński. The Turk Erdogan is bad because he does not like the critical press -and the press definitely has a point against Erdogan and his regime, though he is far from the Islamist he is painted to be by some he is still Ottomanist and authoritarian. I would probably agree with Mounk on his criticism of Erdogan alone, and I suspect that this is a deliberate tactic on Mounk's part. By including Erdogan in a description of populism also featuring Orbán and Kaczyński the term is broadened to include all manner of unpalatable ideas, and through this method, Mounk may attack President Trump as not only a populist, but also as an unsuccessful one.
"Far from showcasing the strengths of American institutions, the past years have demonstrated that a rank amateur can push them close to breaking point."— Yascha Mounk (@Yascha_Mounk) March 8, 2018
My @Slate cover story assesses how dangerous Trump would be if he learned on the job. Please read.https://t.co/vLkmn7bsad
Mounk makes no mention of Chavez at this point, perhaps the concentration of power that took place in Venezuela trampling on the press and the courts does not matter- after all, Chavez was a leftist. In any case, Mounk moves swiftly on to defend George Soros for being George Soros, and then on to lie about the nature of the debate in Poland about the Holocaust. I've already covered in detail my response to the smear campaign conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Jewish journalists like Bradley Burston of Haaretz but once again for those in the back- Poland is not denying the Holocaust. Poland is not accusing Jews of anything- the same Poles take their share of responsibility on an cultural level already, that some of their kin aided the Nazis. So did some Jews. This is not a matter of debate, the records prove it.
What Poland has attempted to do -wrongly in my opinion- is to prevent the accusation that the Polish state had involvement in the Holocaust which is, unfortunately, an implicit association with the phrase 'Polish Death Camp' or such like. The attitudes from the Jewish media and the literary world towards Poles has been objectively racist for years but this does not matter to Mounk. Mounk recognizes very well that ethnic differences matter in this conversation- it is at the crux of his argument against it, as illuminated by his use of three nations that are essentially ethnonational in character, by virtue of their ethnic homogeneity in Poland and Hungary and the suzerainty of the Turk in the land that bears the name of their people.
When Mounk accuses Poland of accusing Jews of lying about the Holocaust, this is Mounk's own ethno-nationalist feelings coming to the fore. He is a partisan, a Jewish-American raised in Germany who rejected the German Philo-Semitism while claiming to also not feel Jewish nor German. With his negative experiences of being an outsider having a great impact on his identity, Mounk wrote
"I grew impatient with the endless complications of being a German Jew. I wanted nothing more than to be seen, finally, as an individual. And so, despite everything I loved about Germany, and unlike so many other German Jews, I decided to leave... My identity is no longer that of a Jew or a German. It is that of a seeker who has found; that of a stranger who has come to be at home; that of, simply and immeasurably, a New Yorker."
With startlingly Messianic subtext, Mounk explicitly rejects his Jewish identity with his deliberately written words, and expresses his natural and ingroup preferences towards his ethnic kin with his unintended missteps, thereby proving once and for all that his entire thesis is built on sand. It is an idea that lives in a vacuum of fantasy liberalism, that if we just teach people the correct manner of behaving, then all racism will evaporate- meanwhile Mounk cannot resist attacking another race of people for the perceived slight against the race of people he claims to feel no affiliation for. If Mounk was interested in the generation of a new liberalism that co-opts the positive aspects of civic nationalism and does away with the old and divisive ideas of creed and nationhood, of actual populism, then his lens would be universally critical and an engine of pure analysis, based in the spirit of academic inquiry and the search for an ultimate truth. I would still disagree with Mounk on those terms, but I could at least respect him for his opinion. This is not what Mounk has created. Mounk denies himself.
From the Haaretz interview again:
"On only his second, short visit to Israel, Mounk admits that he knows very little about the country and that as a political scientist, he prefers not to analyze the Israeli situation with the same tools he employs to analyze other countries.
In any discussion in which it is mentioned, Israel takes over. Once you mention Israel, you cant just do so in passing, he says. It can’t just be another example. There is such a complexity and so many emotions when dealing with Israel that either you write 20 pages or nothing at all. For a political scientist who is not an expert on Israel, the best option is nothing at all."
Well, that is very interesting, a Jewish academic who refuses to hold Israel to the same standard that he advocates for all other nations. Yascha Mounk claims no loyalty to Israel or even Judaism;
" Being free to construct my own identity has had an unexpected effect: I’ve come to realize that being Jewish is not particularly important to me after all. Sure, I enjoy “Seinfeld” and a whitefish bagel. But is that enough to make me “culturally” a Jew? I’m not convinced."
Yet, when asked to apply the lens of his apparently expert knowledge in political science to Israel by a Jewish journalist while standing in Israel he refuses to do so, claiming the complexity of a nation that is theoretically less than a century old is too complex for anyone who is not an expert on Israel. But Yascha, I thought we were moving away from such backward ideas as populism or ethnicity? If we are, what makes Israel exempt from such a conversation if we are criticising the ethnic-pluralism of Poland and Hungary and Turkey- can you not take a guess at Israel? Are you an expert on the politics of Poland and Hungary and Turkey and Venezuela? Is it not the very antithesis of 'Liberal Nationalism' to build a giant wall to keep one particular people inside, separate from the rest? I do not hold a PhD in Government from Harvard University, perhaps there is some light that Mounk can shine on this apparent double standard for me.
It is my suspicion that Mounk recognizes that applying the same critique to Israel that he applies to other nations would be uncomfortable for him. Why is this uncomfortable? Because contrary to his own belief that he has created his own identity the truth is that this individual identity is based on our understanding of who we are and where we come from, as a people. The cultures we are raised in are extensions of this ethnic identity, the people who are mixed race experience a twin-cultural formation of identity also- it is utterly inescapable, and to deny it as Mounk does in the face of his own actions that disprove his ideas is simply bizarre. He is flying in the face of the observed reality of all human beings, falling into Lockean tabula rasa ideas.
This idea about our existence that claims that we are all born into this world with no inherent tendency towards actions or behaviors, which is why Rousseau claimed that mankind had to learn warfare. The reality is that in some ways we are blank-slates and in some ways, we are not. We are blank slates as infants learning how to speak, to think, to draw, but the slate itself is not universal to all people, we each bear a slightly different ‘slate’ to begin with. That is the product of our genetics, directly from your parentage and further back in time from the rest of your ethnicity whatever that may be. There are of course certain traits that are shared by all humans, but over millennia of separation, we have adapted to our environments to produce babies with a marginally different slate to one another.
We know that this is so, even within our own distinct groups. In England in the 15th Century Sir John Fortescue wrote;
His igitur, Princeps, dum Adolescens es, et Anima tua velut Tabula rasa, depinge eam, ne in futurum ipsa Figuris minoris Frugi delectabilius depingatur
“Therefore, Prince, whilst you are young and your mind is as it were a clean slate, impress on it these things, lest in future it be impressed more pleasurably with images of lesser worth."
Teach the young well. That is all that is meant by Locke and Fortescue and Ibn Sina and the sages, who had no concept of what an ethnically diverse nation would even be. It is a universal understanding of humanity that we have known for centuries if not millennia and that has been proven by behavioral psychologists using twin studies and so forth that there is no such thing as a blank slate save for that slate which is contextualized by the people who made it. The blank slate of my people is an ethnic British infant. The blank slate of the Maori people is a Maori infant. Are the two completely interchangeable? Science tells us that they are not. Why does Mounk claim that an entire culture can be replaced with a blank slate ideology that we all decide to adopt en masse? Does that idea not necessitate authoritarianism and force?
There is nothing wrong in being any race or mix of races. There is nothing wrong with choosing to leave your own culture in search of another, to forge a new identity- but this will never be an identity forged of tabula rasa. My children will be English and Polish and raised in Spain- but they will not be 'Spanish' in anything other than a purely civic sense. The ethnically distinct Ibicenco and Catalan people who are my neighbors recognize this. These citizens of Spain are proud Spaniards by and large, but do they not also recognize that they are not Galicians or Andalusians? The Andalusians and all the other peoples that make up Spain are of a similar mind- is that populism? Is that ethnonationalism? No, Spain itself is a civic concept, recognizing the distinct ethnicities that make up the state does not diminish the state in any manner- it is an enhancement, or so the theory goes and many Catalan separatists will disagree with me, and that is their prerogative- the very concept of a self-determined Catalan state has come around from the feeling within Catalonia that the interests of this self-identifying ethnic group would be better served if they governed themselves. Are they ethnonationalists? Racists? Bigots? It is not so hard to imagine then that even within an outwardly homogenous looking nation there are ethnic differences that transcend the ability for civic nationalist ideas to serve.
The point is that ethnic identity is simply reality. It is not bigoted or racist to notice this reality, and we must accept this reality if we as a species are to prosper and survive on Earth together. Mounk extrapolates blank slate theory and applies it to entire nations comprised of millions of people bearing very different identities on a fundamental level. In his future we are to be re-educated. We have to scrap the past, force all people to begin with a new blank slate, and define afresh what identity means.
"One problem that Israel does share with other countries, he notes, is that its history tends to bog down any conversation about its present and future. When confronting populism and nationalism, dealing with history is problematic. Especially as the migrant citizens don't have the same history, Mounk says.
One solution may be dwelling a little less on history. To change the narrative, he says, we have to be talking about the present and future of our national identities."
Yascha Mounk recognizes the importance of history but wishes to persist in the chalkboard globalism that he perpetuates through his role as Executive Director at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. The methods and ideas that Mounk spreads through the Guardian, the New York Times, Slate and Haaretz and no doubt at his Harvard classes are thus ignorant of history (and we know the fate of those who ignore history) and, worst of all, betray a perverse identity for me but not for thee attitude. Though Mounk is impatient to be seen as an individual, he is a hypocrite because he himself rejects individualism. He wishes to co-opt nationalism for progressivism which I would be remiss in failing to note would be a phenomenally dangerous idea. The concept of a national identity solely based on hard-left neo-Marxist ideology is one of the most heinous and wicked ideas I can imagine. Even so, Mounk recognizes he is to some extent identified with America, and Germany by the rite of his country of adoption and birth respectively, and Israel by virtue of his ethnic heritage.
Therefore, the ideas he proposes are based on hypocrisy, they are based on lies, and they are designed to strip the identity from others that Mounk feels was denied to himself. “So long as nationalism is associated with one particular ethnic or religious group, it will serve to exclude and disadvantage others.” Yascha, either you advocate for globalism for all, including open borders for Israel, or you are the worst kind of racist and a hypocrite for demanding that these practices be employed in everywhere except Israel.If this is not the case and you believe Israel should receive special treatment, then why will you not say so?