Kathleen McNamara

Constructing Economic Interests: Geography, Culture, & the Liberal International Order

The liberal international order seems to be resting on very shaky ground. While the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote were startling shocks, these developments represented only the most extreme outcomes of anti-globalization and anti-establishment politics that had been growing for some time. As analysts today struggle to understand these complex phenomena, they most often divide their explanations into two opposing camps: identity politics versus economic anxiety. I argue that we need instead to understand the new political cleavages in terms of the interactions between economic circumstances and culture, rather than thinking of them as competing explanations. I offer a new way of theorizing about where interests come from, one that focuses on the stark geographic cleavages of the new post-industrial economy and how these material circumstances have created polarized everyday lived experiences. Although I focus on the US case in this short memo, this emphasis on the cultural class cleavages created by the twenty-first century economy should also illuminate some of the drivers for Brexit and the rise of populist politics more generally.

Link to the full paper here.