The capital versus the countryside: that's the new political divide, visible in multiple surprise election results over the past eleven months. It cuts across old partisan lines and replaces old divisions — labor versus management, North versus South, Catholic versus Protestant — that traditionally divided voters.
This was apparent last June in Britain's referendum on whether to leave the European Union: London voted 60 percent to remain, while the rest of England, whether Labour or Conservative, voted 57 percent to leave. It was plain in Colombia's October referendum on a peace settlement with the FARC guerrillas: Bogotá voted 56 percent si, the heartland Cordillera provinces 58 percent no.
In both countries the ethnic and geographic fringe — Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Caribbean provinces — voted with the capital. But in each case the historic heartland, with a majority of voters, produced a surprise defeat for the capital establishment.
Similarly here in November 2016. Coastal America—the Northeast minus Pennsylvania, the Pacific states minus Alaska—favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump 58 to 35 percent. But the geographic heartland, casting 69 of the nation's votes, favored Trump 51 to 43 percent.
The contrast is even starker if you separate out the establishment metro areas—New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, which together produce most Democratic big-dollar funding. They voted 65 to 29 percent Clinton; the rest of the country they feel entitled to rule voted 49 to 45 percent for Trump.
And last week France voted in a presidential race which scrambled the usual party divisions. Marine Le Pen, shunned by the Paris establishment as a neo-fascist, finished fourth with 11 percent in metro Paris and third with 15 percent in 13 other smaller prosperous cities. But she ran first in la France profonde with 24 percent. She'll almost certainly lose the May 7 runoff, but has already topped her National Front's previous high of 17 percent.
Is there any precedent for this? The Economist's Bagehot columnist Adrian Wooldridge spots one in the seventeenth century. He quotes historian H.R. Trevor-Roper's description of the "general crisis" of 1620-60: a "revolt of the provinces not only against the growing, parastic Stuart Court, but also against the growing 'dropsical' City of London; against the centralized Church . . . and the expensive monopoly of higher education by the two great universities."
The capital versus the countryside, in other words, much like today. The "Country party," Trevor-Roper writes, vied to "pare down the parasitic fringe" of central government, sought to "protect industry" and "rationalize finance" and, "to reverse the Parkinson's law of bureaucracy, . . . reduce the hatcheries which turned out the superfluous bureaucrats."
Similar impulses are apparent in Britain, France and America today. In different ways, Brexit, Le Pen and Trump seek to counter the university-trained bureaucratic, financial and cultural elites in London, Paris and NY/DC/LA/SF. They resent overlarge and undercompetent bureaucracies and public employee unions, the paymasters of the Labour and Democratic parties. With blunt, often ill-advised rhetoric they challenge the pieties of the universities as seventeenth century Country parliamentarians challenged established churches.
Consider the debate over what has become, for many, the religion of global warming. Those with doubts that predicted harm will occur are labeled "deniers," "heretics" who must be punished. The science is settled, the elites insist: exactly what the Church told Galileo.
Or consider the "speech codes" promulgated by most colleges and universities. We see violent disruption of speakers on campus go unpunished, excused and even praised. We see the New York Times (!) publish an article by a New York University dean (!) arguing for restricting free speech.
We see the deadweight cost of public employee union pensions and unpoliced murders destroying one of the great creations of civilization, Chicago. No wonder the countryside resists: this is how these arrogant bullies govern the precincts of society they control.
In this struggle, the capital has certain advantages — huge supermajorities in its strongholds, inhabited largely by elites and ethnic, racial and religious minorities. It monopolizes most established media. Its claims that opponents are bigots are taken as gospel.
The countryside has serious grievances and majority in numbers, but doesn't always find steady leadership. Le Pen's insalubrious pedigree suggests she'll lose May 7, while Theresa May's icy steeliness has British Conservatives headed to a landslide win June 8. Donald Trump instinctively (calculatedly?) reckoned that the countryside was the key to victory; now he has to deliver. The battles of capital versus countryside will go on.