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In your book «Small Men on the Wrong Side of History», you compare the current culture war in Western democracies to the Reformation. In what way are these periods similar?
A big cultural shift started in the 1960s. It can be compared to the 1520s, when the existing cultural assumptions and structures were being challenged across Europe for the first time. I believe that at the heart of the current culture war is the original sin, the idea that humans are born with a capacity for evil. Even quite liberal people in the early 20th century like Bertrand Russell held this view. People with a post 1960s worldview – the progressives – tend to not believe in original sin. They tend to believe that humans are intrinsically good creatures. All kinds of left wing politics now are based on the idea that if there is a social injustice, it must be rooted in the wider society, because the individual is intrinsically good.
Why did this shift start in the 1960s?
These ideas were around before among a few intellectuals. In the 1960s, these progressive views became much more widespread among the elites and in universities. But even then, they were held by a tiny number of people. The same thing happened in the Reformation in England: It wasn’t done from above, but started with small numbers of sympathizers in university towns and in London amongst the intellectual elites, who then reached a critical mass to win over the authorities. We know that Catholicism was still popular among the majority population for a long time, even though it was forbidden. Shakespeare was obviously still sympathetic to Catholicism. At the same time, he espoused pro-Protestant propaganda.
Do you think the same is true for many declared progressives today?
Yes. Many people in the arts today that I know personally are secretly much more conservative than they make out, but they cannot resist the dominant culture. In the 1960s and afterwards, there was a certain balance between conservatives and progressives amongst elites. But by the 2010s, it was gone. There are certain institutions where you just can’t be a conservative anymore.
«Many people in the arts today that I know personally
are secretly much more conservative than they make out,
but they cannot resist the dominant culture.»
Isn’t your view a bit biased? White, male conservatives like you have historically had a lot of power – now they are losing some of that power.
Of course, nobody wants to lose power. Although the people that I lose power to are still upper middle class whites. They’re just believers in a different world view. We can’t understand the shift in politics without the economic changes since the 1960s, with the de-industrialisation and the growing share of women in the workforce. The biggest economic winners of the last decades have been upper class women, and the biggest losers have been working class men. Those two tend to be the most radicalized groups on both sides of the political spectrum.
Does economics also explain why younger generations, unlike the earlier ones, don’t become more conservative as they get older?
It’s not just the youngest generations. In the latest polls in Britain, less than ten percent of those under 40 vote Tory. And it’s not just because of Brexit or economic reasons, but cultural ones. Younger people don’t necessarily think the Tories are making them poorer, they just think they’re bad people.
«Younger people don’t necessarily think the Tories