Street philosophy No. 2

Three philosophers set up a booth on a busy street, as per yesterday’s post, hoping to discuss philosophy with passers-by.

A group of teenagers engaged one of the philosopher. A young woman, who turned out to be a sophomore in college, said she had a serious concern. “Why can’t I be happier in my life? I’m only 20. I should be as happy as I’m ever going to be right now, but I’m not. Is this it?”

The philosopher replied, “Research has shown that what makes us happy is achieving small goals one after the other. If you win the lottery, within six months you’ll probably be back to your baseline of happiness. Same if you got into an accident. You can’t just achieve happiness and stay there, you have to pursue it.”

“So I’m stuck?” she said.

“No…” he explained. “Your role in this is huge. You’ve got to choose the things that make you happy one by one. That’s been shown from Aristotle all the way down to cutting-edge psychological research. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

She brightened a bit, while her friends were still puzzling over whether color was a primary or secondary property. They said their thanks and moved on.

Street philosophy. No.1

Three philosophers were stationed on a New York street, prepared to take questions from the passers- by. A little girl, six years old, approached the group and asked, “How do I know I’m real?”

Suddenly I was back in graduate school, reported one of the philosophers later. Should I talk about the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who famously used the assertion of skepticism itself as proof of our existence, with the phrase “I think, therefore I am?” Or, mention English philosopher G.E. Moore and his famous “here is one hand, here is the other,” as proof of the existence of the external world? Or, make a reference to the movie “The Matrix,” which I assumed, given her age, she wouldn’t have seen?

But then the answer came to me. I remembered that the most important part of philosophy was feeding our sense of wonder. “Close your eyes,” I said. She did. “Well, did you disappear?” She smiled and shook her head, then opened her eyes. “Congratulations, you’re real.”

Paranoia for the day

Poll watch

56% of UK workers think their boss is probably monitoring their activity at work, by tracking the amount of time they spend away from their desks, their internet browsing history or their phone logs. A third suspect their social media activity is being monitored outside of work hours. (TUC/The Independent)

The revolving door in the Republican administration

President Trump has picked David Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist, to be the Interior Department’s next secretary. Bernhardt, whose past clients include oil companies and others with business before the Interior Department, will lead an agency that oversees about 500 million acres as well as the energy production on that land. It has 70,000 employees in various agencies overseeing federal land, offshore drilling, endangered species and American Indian affairs, among other duties.

As deputy secretary, Bernhardt, worked closely with former, ethically challenged, Secretary Ryan Zinke on his oil and gas leasing agenda and the administration’s push to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He champions the rollback of a number of Endangered Species Act regulations and called the Endangered Species Act an “unnecessary regulatory burden”.

Bernhardt’s lobbying activities have been so widespread that he carries a card with him listing all the recusals he has to make, no doubt with misgivings.

Bernhardt is accused by environmental organisations, appalled at this move by Trump, of pandering to oil, coal, and gas industries. One environmentalist is quoted as saying, ““As an oil and gas lobbyist, Bernhardt pushed to open vast swaths of public lands for drilling and mining. As deputy secretary, he was behind some of the worst policy decisions of Secretary Zinke’s sad tenure, including stripping protections for imperiled wildlife.”

It is sad to comment that this in-your-face example of corruption, pandering to special interests and acting against the interests of American citizens seems to have been normalised. Congress has lost so many of its experts (Republican policy) that it now relies on lobbyists, (who have their own agendas) when it comes to technical knowledge and expertise. The selfish and ruthless are picking at the bones of the United States, while China quietly separates the US from its allies. So much for Making America Great Again – it’s a joke in poor taste.

The UK signs some mega trade deals!

The UK and Switzerland have signed a deal to continue trading after Brexit as they did before it. The “continuity agreement” – based on the EU’s existing free trade deal with Switzerland – was ratified on Monday. Around £32bn of trade is done between the UK and Switzerland each year, with 15,000 British exporters involved.

The UK is seeking to replicate about 40 EU worlwide free trade agreements, covering more than 70 countries. In 2017, the government announced that the UK could complete them all before leaving the EU on 29 March, to avoid disruption to trade. But with only 46 days until the UK is set to leave, continuity agreements have been signed with only:
The Faroe Islands
Eastern and Southern Africa
Mutual recognition agreements – where a product lawfully sold in one country can be sold in another – have also been signed with Australia and New Zealand.

The director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Carolyn Fairbairn, said the lack of other trade deals being signed was an “emergency” – particularly in the case of South Korea and Japan. (adapted from a BBC report)

Gosh! Four agreements in two years! Right wing Tories don’t like a customs union because they claim they can do better deals than the huge EU has been able to do. Easy, they said. But if all you are going to do is to use the identical EU wording, what precisely is the point of all this chaos and angst? Oh, sorry, of course it is the keep the pesky foreigners out.

All the same, we never thought the Faroe Islands would come so readily to the rescue. Thanks, fellows!

Meanwhile, 36 more agreements to go before March 29th! What an incompetent bunch!

By the way…………

Since 30 March 2018, at least 250 Palestinians have been killed and 6,000 injured with live ammunition amid Israel’s use of force against “Great March of Return” protestors in Gaza.

Among the casualties, three health workers – Musa Abu-Hassanin, Razan al-Najjar and Abdallah al-Qutati – have been shot dead by Israeli forces while trying to reach, treat and evacuate wounded demonstrators. A further 600 health workers have been injured. (Source: Medical Aid for Palestinians)

This violence gets next to no publicity in the West. Those who raise the matter are bullied, silenced, and accused of anti-semitism. Those trying, vainly, to recover their ancestral lands are branded terrorists, although semitic themselves, the descendants of human beings who have lived in or around Gaza for centuries.

This blog advocates Epicureanism, and, almost by definition, the idea of shooting dead health workers trying to rescue wounded demonstrators runs counter to everything Epicureanism stands for – no ifs or buts.

A coming collapse of the dollar?

It seems to me plausible to imagine that Trump could default on the US national debt. He could quite likely stand up at a rally when things get bumpy for him and say, “we don’t actually owe China that money,” Everywhere he goes Trump finds things that people trust and he undermines them e.g the media, the political process, government departments and clean and competent government What’s left? The money,

Trump has made a career out of stiffing his suppliers and his workers and refusing to repay his loans. He’s already grumbling about the Federal Reserve. All he now needs now to say is, “The Chinese stole that money in bad trade deals and theft of hi-tech know-how.” Suddenly, you get a dollar that is under seige, even though people still trust the dollar. (why is a mystery) and there is no mechanism for stopping it. Actually, you used to have a mechanism – it was called the “government”. But Trump controls the government and has installed corrupt yes-men as department heads. Imagining that because Trump is rich and has lots of rich friends who don’t want a financial catastrophe is wrong thinking. Trump has huge dollar debts that shrink if the dollar goes into freefall. It is actually in his interest to undermine the dollar; his other assets are in land, buildings and hotels, which will survive probably adequately.

Just a suggestion about reneging on the national debt at a rally would be enough to get the supporters talking about the idea and thus make it respectable in right-wing circles. He won’t do it just now because he has a good economy, inherited from Obama, but given a dangerous boost by a massive tax cut. The bust will come and it could come in early 2020. The national debt is growing rapidly because tax income is way down. But bust there will be. The whole world will be affected and mountains of promissory notes and promises made by a basically dishonest president will be worth nothing. (an edited version based of an article in Prospect magazine by Jay Elwes, reporting on Michael Lewis’s book “The Fifth Risk”)

What has this to do with Epicureanism? It has to do witheace of mind and a life of pleasure (or, rather, a. pleasant life. I qualify this so that critics stop claiming that Epiurus advocated endless booze and sex – a total travesty.)

Brief thoughts on the crisis in Venezuela

  1. Maduro is a tyrant; any defence of him is inexcusable. Under Maduro’s presidency, Venezuela’s economy has collapsed, inflation has skyrocketed and goods shortages are increasingly common. Despite being blessed with abundant natural resources, systemic corruption, cronyism and an authoritarian political culture have left the country in ruins. No one can defend Maduro and have any moral or critical faculties.
  2. Chavez was partly responsible for the crisis we see today. While Chavez’s achievements in improving the country’s social welfare system and doubling average incomes were significant, they do not excuse his dictatorial system of leadership or his failure to wean Venezuela off oil- which remains wastefully cheap and heavily subsidised. Chavez removed checks on his power and made it very difficult to criticise the government. This has made holding the current administration to account more difficult.
  3. Conservatives have a legitimate point that the Venezuelan crisis is a crisis of government. It is the government that has mismanaged the nationalised industries, wasted the oil reserves, failed to invest in education and silenced its critics. You cannot blame the free market for failing when the government has created a climate so hostile to investment. When oil prices are so low, running such large budget deficits is a recipe for disaster.
  4. Western involvement is likely to play into Maduro’s hands. The West, and America in particular, is very unpopular in Venezuela and across Latin America. The West supported Carlos Andrés Pérez, whose attempts to liberalise the economy led to social unrest. If Guaidó, the current opposition leader in Venezuela, is seen to be a Western puppet, Maduro’s popularity will increase. We should condemn any abuse of human rights and violation of the democratic process, but I strongly suspect any Western intervention will backfire.
  5. The crisis is not a crisis of socialism per se, but a crisis of authoritarian statism. Conservatives in both America and Britain have used the Venezuelan crisis to warn against the perils of socialism. But in reality, there’s very little the West can learn from Venezuela. The crisis was caused by an authoritarian and corrupt leader running the state for his own benefit. Industries were nationalised and social welfare expanded- not for the good of the people, but to enhance state control. Venezuela is in crisis for the same reason the Soviet Union collapsed: any system which does not have the consent of the governed is inherently unsustainable. This is a very different situation to the one America and Britain finds themselves in, where leftists have proposed a more interventionist state while keeping the democratic process intact. If you hear someone say we can’t have universal healthcare or affordable higher education because of Venezuela, you know they’ve lost the argument.

Time to break up Google and Facebook

In today’s divided Washington there is one thing the Left and Right agree about: that some companies have grown too powerful. Even conservatives were disgusted by the way states recently showered perks on Amazon in the hope of winning the right to host its new headquarters. “The richest man in the world just got $2bn in taxpayer subsidies,” said Tucker Carlson of Fox News. “How does that work?”

Monopolies are rife across the US economy. Facebook and Google control 63% of online ad revenue; two companies produce 78% of America’s corn seeds; one assembles 61% of its syringes. Lawmakers are increasingly calling for Congress to intervene, whether by making mergers harder to complete, tightening oversight, or directly breaking up firms – as it did in the 1930s, with the banks and electric utilities. Critics say direct intervention is too drastic, but in practice it could just mean reversing mergers that “shouldn’t have been allowed in the first place”, such as Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp. The conditions are ripe for Congress to be more assertive against corporate concentration. The benefits for the public if it did so would be “profound”. (Matt Stoller, The New Republic, New York and The Week, 14 Jan 2019).

So corrupted has Washington and congress become that these monopolies proliferate. They are a blight on what is supposed to be a competitive economy and, and, because they all encourage predatory pricing (why else do they do it?) they are leeches on the pockets of men and women in the street. We are never privy to discussion in smoke-filled, darkened rooms, where company executives promise goodies to politicians if they wave through unwelcome and unnecessary takeovers and mergers and acquisitions, but that they happen there is little doubt. It is anti-democratic and both political parties should summon up the courage to say “NO!.


“To be an effective leader, whether of an orchestra, nonprofit, city council, or country, you must possess confidence, strength, and assuredness. After all, if you’re the one making decisions that impact other people in the short- and long-term, you need to offer assurances that you have what it takes to achieve the mission, steer the ship out of danger, and make radical changes when required to do so.

“Yet the best leaders are those who understand that such gravitas must be balanced with another essential, humility. Not in the sense of devaluing one’s own importance, but in one’s ability to know when help is necessary, and to seek guidance for the benefit of the organization and mission. Effective leaders recognize their limitations and see themselves as continuous learners, accepting that self-evaluation and improvement are requirements of a job well done.” (Graciela Briceno, Managing Editor, The World Ensemble, an offshoot of the Venezuelan El Sistema music system, 1 February 2019).

I would add: a calm, not a volatile, disposition, plus a sense of humour. A laugh and a giggle have a magical way of dispelling tension. Actually, the ability to be light-hearted and to tell a good joke (and the sense to know when these are appropriate!) are both extraordinarily helpful abilities in dealing with staff and customers. They don’t tell you this in the rather serious-minded world of business schools, and you probably couldn’t teach it anyway.

The pension thief: no pensions but plenty of parties

Private equity work has been sweet for Marc Leder, the numero uno at Sun Capital Partners. He’s parlayed his takeovers of troubled firms into a fortune big enough to make him a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers in basketball and the New Jersey Devils in hockey. New York’s tabloids, meanwhile, have come to dub the hard-partying Leder “the Hugh Hefner of the Hamptons.” The secret to his success is to plunder assets from the companies he buys. then send them into bankruptcy to sidestep their obligations to workers. Over the past decade alone, Sun Capital has bankrupted five firms and left their pension funds $280 million short. Leder, for his part, claims that the “vast majority” of Sun Capital deals have been successful. And he only parties, the private-equity kingpin adds, 25 nights a year. (

This man typifies what is wrong with modern capitalism, with the full support of the bloodless, empathy-deprived politicians of the extreme Right. He, and other people like him, should cooling his heels in jail as he reflects on the fact that we are all human beings together and that partying while former employees, deprived of their pensions by legalised theft, is tactless, cruel and inhuman. If the system cannot discover a moral foundation then the system has to change. Let us hope that change does not involve violence. The frightening thing is that hordes of voters and their representatives laud the super-rich and want to emulate them, apparently anyway they can. We need Jesus back to overturn the tables of the moneymen in the Temple. Remember that?

Leveraged loans, the latest threat dreamed up by the banks

We all know that the 2008 financial cataclysm was caused by mortgages offered to customers with weak or no credit histories, bundled together to create “investment opportunities”, causing a chain reaction of losses.

Now it is the turn of “leveraged loans”, which are offered to companies already in debt, without too many strings attached. Most of these loans are sold on and have floating rates of interest, a feature that is attractive to investors who benefit when rates rise. Owing to the rapidity of their trading means there is little incentive to tighten up their terms.

The value of this market is a staggering $1.3 trillion – a potential repeat of 2008 just hanging there, promoted by the get rich quick characters in the banking world who don’t fear a melt-down; after all, no one sent to jail last time.

One of the principles not included in the original thoughts of Epicurus (because if there were rapacious, greedy bankers around to disturb his ataraxia in his era, they were few and could do limited harm) he would, for sure, have condemned them and advocated salutary punishment (chained to a bench on an oar-propelled galley?). The political class must know about the threat posed by leveraged loans, but nothing is being done, nor will it be – the corruption of the system cannot be easily reversed. We, the people, will be the sufferers if and when the financial sector goes belly-up and we have to rescue it – again.

The Silent Generation

One hears a lot about Baby Boomers, Generation X etc, These classifications are designed by journalists to allow them to make sweeping and outrageous generalisations about huge groups of people with little in common, except that they were born between certain dates.

I never thought about this much, but, late in the day I discover that I am a member of the “Silent Generation”. You have probably never heard of the Silent generation. That’s because it is largely silent. My wife and I are members. We were born three and a half thousand miles apart, but we share very similar upbringings, based on the following good principles:

– children should be seen and not heard
– respect for older people
– the words “please” and “thank you” are important.
– always write thank-you letters for treats or presents.
– eat what’s on your plate.
– “When I say go to your room, you go to your room”.
– bad school grades are not acceptable.
– you do not interrupt adults.
– make your bed and help clean up after dinner.

I maintain that being brought up being used to discipline, self-discipline, politeness and thinking of other people is a good basis for a cooperative and civilised society. But I now suspect that this might be regarded as old-fashioned.

Pandering to the fat cats?

A recording was leaked to the UK Press recently. It was a conference call between Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, and bosses from Amazon, Siemens, Tesco and other multinationals, in which they all discuss how to block a no-deal Brexit. It’s a key concern for such companies, and you can see why. The giants do well out of the EU system. Rather than having to invest in machinery and training, they can rely on a steady flow of imported cheap labour. They can afford lobbyists to ensure the regulations work for them, not least by serving as a barrier to entry for smaller competitors. So naturally they want to preserve the status quo.

“But “Brexit was a vote to change the system” and was much favoured by small companies, which were more likely to support it. Yet as the Hammond tape shows, ministers only listen to the big companies – the small ones don’t get a look in. As the party of business, the Tories ought to be on the side of the “small guy” as well. “Colluding with corporates about how best to frustrate a referendum result isn’t a good look.” (Fraser Nelson Daily Telegraph reported in The Week, 26 January 2019)

For non-Brits this is a good example of the sly misinformation put out by the right wing media. Of course big companies want to avoid Britain crashing out of the EU. It would be very damaging and disruptive to businesses, large and small, cascading down, with trade disrupted and great uncertainty.

The amateurish manner in which Brexit was presented to the British public might have persuaded some business owners that it would be advantageous, but now they have learned the real, hard facts and have seen the dismal economic forecasts, it defies logic and common sense for small businessmen to back Brexit at all. The only reason they might is personal feelings about immigrants. I have little regard for the Chancellor, but what is he supposed to do, phone thousands of small companies, one at a time?

Epicurus and the universe

Epicurus believed that there were twelve principles of nature, provable through firm evidence and true reasoning, using our five senses, our faculty of perceiving “anticipations,” and our “feelings” of pleasure and pain. He believed in conclusions supported by clear and convincing evidence. No evidence, he said, is ever to be disregarded as worthless. Real evidence is essential. Error occurs only in the mind, and where evidence about a matter is insufficient to give rise to a firm opinion, we must wait before labeling any opinion about the matter true or false.

Epicurus taught that we have no need to rely on any gods, priests, or supernatural claims for our understanding of Nature. What our faculties suggest to us is “true”. Only if we use them properly we can be confident in our conclusions. And we can only use our faculties properly if we understand the process by which they operate.

Epicurus concluded that the following twelve aspects of nature are crucial to understanding how both Nature, and our faculties, operate:

1. Matter is uncreatable.
2. Matter is indestructible.
3. The universe consists of solid bodies and void.
4. Solid bodies are either compounds or simple.
5. The multitude of atoms is infinite.
6. The void, or Space, is infinite in extent.
7. Atoms are always in motion.
8. The speed of atomic motion is uniform.
9. Motion is linear in space, vibratory in compounds.
10. Atoms are capable of swerving slightly at any point in space or time.
11. Atoms are characterized by three qualities: weight, shape and size.
12. The number of the different shapes is not infinite, merely innumerable.

Yes, today we know so much more, use a plethora of new names, techniques and instruments. And atoms are indeed divisible. But the reader can observe that the basics of the modern scientific method are there, and that, using “true reasoning” (the ancient Greeks did not even have a telescope) Epicurus was right that, at some fundamental level, the physical universe is composed of particles, and that any phenomenum that is observable to the senses exists as part of our own universe and is neither created by, nor is subject to, any supernatural forces.

The method by which these elemental observations were established can be found in Epicurus’ “Letter to Herodotus” and in Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura.

The above list of twelve elementals was reconstructed by Norman DeWitt in his book Epicurus and His Philosophy. A similar list has also been prepared by Professor Diskin Clay in his work Paradosis and Survival.
(Edited version of an article on New, with thanks)

No.2: Is the Brexit referendum actually constitutional?

For the record: in 1689 the principle of the sovereignty of parliament was finally established, with no ifs and buts, and role of the new king and queen, William and Mary and their successors, has been to sign off on any legislation passed by Parliament, whether they liked it or not. Thus it has been ever since – until Harold Wilson organised a non-binding, advisory-only (note!) referendum. There have been other referendums since, but only one, in 2011, was specifically binding on the government. The Brexit referendum carried no mention of being binding. As one constitutional lawyer commented, “Brexit could end up being a lot more damaging to parliamentary sovereignty and the domestic constitutional order than the external influences of EU law may ever have been”. (R. Ekins, ‘The Legitimacy of the Brexit Referendum’, UK Constitutional Law Association, 29 June 2018)

A major point of the referendum was to restore British parliamentary sovereignty, but it simply doesn’t! It hands over major decisions to the people, 95% of whom do not have a clue about the complexities of modern government, or the the workings of the EU (apparently Leave MPs don’t, either!). Westminster faced the Catch 22 situation where it couldn’t politically ignore the results of a referendum supposedly held to restore its sovereignty, despite the fact that the majority of its members disapprove of the outcome. In addition, the UK government robbed Parliament of its role in the actual Brexit process.

Why has there been so little debate on this subject? Do MPs understand the point? And why is this an Epicurean question? Because it will cause great loss of peace of mind in the future. Generations to come regret it as more stupid questions are asked of a poorly informed electorate

No. 1: Is the Brexit referendum actually constitutional?

Letter to the London Review of Books, 24 January 2019

“David Runciman is right to conclude in his analysis of the Brexit impasse that the attempt to “combine parliamentary government with plebiscitary democracy has failed. The UK is faced not merely with s constitutional crisis, but with a constitutional breakdown. Together the referendum principle introduced by Harold Wilson and the Parliament Act invented by David Cameron and Nick Clegg – both made possible by an unwritten constitution – have torpedoed constitutional order.

“Runciman compares the present crisis to Suez, but that was political. Better comparisons might be with the abdication crisis of 1936 or the People’s Budget which led to the Parliament Act of 1911. But the Constitution was able to deal with both. The present situation is more intractable. Even if re it is somehow resolved the country will remain saddled with incompatible notions of legitimacy – the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament and the sovereignty of the popular will. The last time something like this happened was in 1688, when the lawful claims of the Crown clashed catastrophically with the lawful claims of Parliament. A constitutional convention might resolve the difficulty, but how would it be set up, by Parliament or by referendum?”

Bill Myers, Leicester

Tomorrow: my take on the constitutional mess created.

Can a racist still be a great scientist?

James Watson was jointly responsible for one of the greatest triumphs of 20th century science: the unravelling of the DNA molecule. But today his reputation, he is now 90 years old, lies in tatters. He believes black people are less intelligent than white people, and he has repeated this a new TV documentary. The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, where he was once director, has revoked all his titles and honours, the implication being that his racial views have tainted his work on DNA.

But it “makes no sense. Watson may be an unpleasant man (as I found when I interviewed him) with some nasty views, but what bearing does that have on his scientific discoveries? A DNA molecule is still a double helix.”. If Copernicus had been a rapist, the Earth would still orbit the Sun. It’s trickier when it comes to judging the art of discredited artists – Roman Polanski, say, or Eric Gill – since “their work is all about value”. But science is, or should be, value-free and impersonal. Watson is “a fantastically irritating man who happened to be the co-discoverer of DNA’s structure. No more needs be said.” (Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times, reproduced in The Week, 26 January 2019)

If Epicureanism is about tolerance, kindness and acceptance and the pleasant life one might conclude that Watson should be excluded from any Epicurean garden. As the writer says, “not a nice man”. I don’t know whether Watson claims any scientific basis for his comments, or whether they just reflect his personal racist bias, but I rather agree with the journalist, Mr. Appleyard. Shun the man, let him know the vast majority of the world disagrees with his views, and why; don’t invite him home; write a critique of his words. But to revoke all the titles and honours is over the top. In a hundred years time he will only be remembered, along with other great scientists, for his research and scientific break-through, which will have benefitted medical science in ways we can only barely grasp at the moment. He has done more for the people of the world than the vast majority of us. Let it drop.

Why Liberal Republicanism is an oxymoron: A response to David Frum

The Atlantic’s David Frum is one of my favourite American columnists. A thoughtful conservative and provocative Trump critic, Frum doesn’t shy away from eviscerating both the Right and the Left. In contrast to ever-increasing partisanship, Frum’s independence of thought and lack of partisanship makes for refreshing reading.

Last November, Frum made the comprehensive case for a post-Trump GOP that embraces liberal values, which he broadly defined as a dedication to individual freedom, free trade and a commitment to preserving the integrity of America’s institutions.  He argued that the Republican Party is pursuing policies that can’t compete democratically: Trump lost the popular vote in 2016, the Republicans lost the House in 2018, and demographic changes will render the Republicans unelectable in their present form. As the world’s only superpower, America has a moral responsibility to uphold liberal values on the world stage. Just as interestingly, Frum sees the Democrats’ leftward drift as an opportunity for Republicans to seize the liberal centre ground; most Americans still care about border security and the budget deficit.

Unfortunately for Frum and liberal-leaning conservatives, the Republican Party will not become liberal for the foreseeable future. The party nominated presidential candidates that notionally agreed with American liberalism in 2008 and 2012, with McCain and Romney respectively, and they both lost to a more liberal Obama. Republican elites told their base they had to compromise to win. They compromised, and lost. Then in 2016, grassroots Republicans revolted against the party establishment and nominated Trump, who went on to become president. If liberal conservatism was synonymous with electability, that wouldn’t have happened. For Republicans to change, they are going to have to first lose heavily, with their illiberalism as an obvious electoral liability.

More importantly, conservative commentators like Frum are far more liberal than Republican voters, and have been since at least the George H.W. Bush years. Grassroots Republicans don’t care about free trade, which is why Trump’s protectionism was so appealing. Nor are they interested in upholding liberal values on the world stage. Trump’s America First foreign policy, which is based on American economic and security interests, is much more popular than pre-Trump Republican neoconservatism. Immigration reform, a big priority for congressional Republicans, is bitterly opposed by Republican primary voters. Most Republicans care less about the size of government, and more about who it works for. Nationalism, not liberalism, is the defining trait of American conservatives. If liberal commentators like Frum can’t live with that, they need to leave the Republican Party permanently.

If Frum believes in liberalism, his best hope is to support the Democratic Party, which takes the liberal position on the vast majority of issues. Amongst Democrats, Frum can fight against the illiberal aspects of the party he opposes- the obsession with group identity over collective unity and individual liberty, and the big-state socialism of the party’s Sanders wing. He and other liberal conservatives have a far better chance of defeating identity politics and socialism in the Democratic Party than they do defeating nationalism in the Republican Party. While identity politics and socialism have only been prominent features of Democratic political culture recently, nationalism has long been a core aspect of American conservatism, even before Trump. Neoconservatism may have had liberal roots, but it was justified to the masses using nationalistic rhetoric. The GOP’s fiscal conservatism had nationalist appeal; white voters’ support for welfare declined when dog-whistle messages about free-loading minorities were used. Republicans have won elections primarily by defining the nation against a foreign threat- communists, Islamic extremists, and now immigrants. The GOP aversion to liberalism didn’t start with Trump, and it won’t end when Trump is gone. The sooner Frum realises this and renounces the American conservative movement, the better.