We’re pretty clearly in the middle of a global nationalist populist backlash against transnationalism.
If you had to boil the current political climate to one sentence, I think that would be it. It’s not just true in the United States, but across the whole western world. Fighting against globalization is a fool’s errand. Eventually, globalism will win, because it’s technology that’s driving it. The real fight is over whether the global order will be arranged by those who wield economic and political power for their own benefit and for the benefit of people like them, or whether the global order will be democratic and driven and arranged in such a way as to benefit the most people. In either system, the nation state probably becomes less important. In the former system, transnational institutions become less democratic and more powerful as nation states become weaker.
Currently few of our transnational institutions are democratic. The UN certainly is not. The EU has some window dressing that’s democratic, but the EU at its core it’s an undemocratic institution. The transnational corporations at the heart of the global order are not democratic at all, and have hardly any accountability.
People pretty much everywhere are voting the people who have arranged this order out of power.Â The United States is not immune to the populist backlash, as we learned in 2016. Trump basically took office on a promise to restore strong nationalist institutions in order to check transnational institutions that a large portion of the population believed were stacked against them. Victor Orban of Hungary is cast from the same mold. All Trump’s rhetoric on trade, the wall, immigration, etc, fits that model. It also fits with trends that we see in Europe.
All this nationalist populism is extremely threatening to the people who are arranging transnational institutions to benefit themselves. Everything you’ve been seeing in the gun issue lately fits that. Google censoring pro-gun views? Facebook doing the same? Big transnational companies like Levi’s donating large amounts to gun control? Financial institutions refusing to do business with gun makers, the NRA, etc? NRA not being able to obtain basic business insurance? That’s all been the people who control these transnational institutions attempting to put the brakes on populist sentiment using the institutional power they maintain control over. You didn’t see this happening a decade ago because a decade ago a lot of these institutions didn’t exist, or hadn’t cemented power. Facebook literally went from nothing, to a transnational corporation that can and possibly does decide national elections in 13 years. Think about that.
Very little is more threatening to an established order than the idea that they might be the targets of an armed revolt. Despite what many people think, it’s not because transnational elites want to kill you. Few of them are potential mass murderers, and most of them really do believe the order they are establishing is kind, civilized, and will benefit humanity. In fact, mass murderers have more often been from populist movements. Nazism and Bolshevism were not movements of elites. What transnational elites want to maintain first and foremost is the acceptance and respect of other transnational elites who are like themselves.
In most countries, the established order can keep their thumb on the peasantry to maintain an order to their liking and still maintain respectability. In the democratic countries of Europe, ordinary people can still complain, and still participate in their democratic institutions, but they can’t complain that much. In authoritarian states like China and Russia, ordinary people can’t complain in any meaningful way at all. While China might be fairly concerned with respectability, Russia is not really at all.
It’s a different story here. Our peasantry can complain: with guns and bullets. It’s almost happened a few times recently in the US, so this isn’t some abstract possibility, only applicable in theory. We’ve seen it. And the people who did it are, for the most part, still alive and not in prison.Â Some people will argue this is a bug. I think it’s a feature. It’s a feature because while I believe in democratic institutions, I don’t worship at the altar of majority rule. We’ve seen that democratic institutions can be coopted. We’ve seen it’s possible for an indifferent and entitlted majority to ignore minority interests completely.
Whether some want to admit it or not, having an armed population is a significant check for minorities against the depredations of the majority. I’m not speaking only of racial or religious minorities necessarily here, though it’s true for them too. It goes back to the old quote from Al Capone: “You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.” To the kind of people arranging the transnational order, this is the Worst Thing Ever. Not necessarily because it threatens their power in the immediate, but because it threatens their respectability with other people like them.
Cliven Bundy and his family are still alive. Is there any reader out there who thinks Eric Holder couldn’t have given an order to ruthlessly crush the Bundys and anyone who came to their aid? Almost certainly he could have. Whether that would have set in motion a chain of events that would have escalated toward a much wider conflict I think is debatable, and I think it probably would have. But in the immediate, Holder could have wiped them out. There would have been bloodshed on both sides, but in the short term, Holder would have won. But he didn’t give that order. Why? Because he would have lost all respect from other transnational elites. Ruthlessly crushing rebellions isn’t a respectable business these days in those circles. That kind of thing might get you respect in Moscow, but not Davos.
They hate your gun because your gun is a threat to their respectability. They can never be the equal to the European transnationalists, because no matter how carefully things are arranged, as long as you remain armed, you get to have a say. You can force them to risk their respectability by behaving more like Tsar Vladimir, or having to actually listen to you and take your interests seriously. They find both options distasteful. Most pro-gun people intrinsically understand this. And yes, many anti-gun folks do as well. Bloomberg, I’m convinced, understands this completely.