The End of the Working Class and What Comes Next

Detail of a New Deal-era mural in the Coit Tower of San Francisco, California, January 6, 2009
Detail of a New Deal-era mural in the Coit Tower of San Francisco, California, January 6, 2009 (Thomas Hawk)

Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the rising popularity of the National Front in France have all been explained as working-class revolts against urban, liberal elites (including by me.)

The Niskanen Center’s Brink Lindsey argues in The American Interest that this isn’t quite right. These democratic expressions of discontent should rather be understood as the convulsions of a working class that is dying. Read more

Party Asymmetry in the Age of Trump

Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins, Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats (2016)
Matt Grossmann and David A. Hopkins, Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats (2016)

Regular readers of the Atlantic Sentinel will be familiar with Matt Grossmann’s and David Hopkins’ theory of asymmetric politics. I’ve referenced their thesis to argue why Hillary Clinton, not Bernie Sanders, was the proper Democratic candidate in 2016 and how Republican anti-establishment sentiment wrecked American politics.

Now they have put their theory in a book, which goes into greater detail and explains how this asymmetry between the parties manifests itself in other areas, like the media and policymaking. Read more

Michael Pye’s History of the North Sea Disappoints

Michael Pye, The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe (2015)
Michael Pye, The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe (2015)

In The Edge of the World, Michael Pye sets out to explain “how the North Sea made us who we are.” He at least succeeds in showing how, through the centuries, the lands around the North Sea were in constant communication with each other and influenced developments in law, science and trade, perhaps more than most historians assumed.

But he does so while tearing down a familiar narrative about the rise of capitalism in the region without volunteering an alternative interpretation.

Pye’s book is organized around themes: the invention of money, the writing of law, fashion, urbanization. The book as a whole covers centuries but most chapters deal with a much shorter time and dwell longer on the stories of individuals — whom we have to assume are representative of bigger trends — than they do on tying in events to produce something resembling a theory.

It’s interesting to learn how Roman law was rediscovered in Icelandic and Irish monasteries and then spread to other parts of Northern Europe. But why is this relevant? What is the meaning of this? Read more

The Inescapable Cold War: Deutschland 83

Publicity photo of Jonas Nay and Maria Schrader on the set of Deutschland 83
Publicity photo of Jonas Nay and Maria Schrader on the set of Deutschland 83 (UFA Fiction)

Deutschland 83 is Germany’s answer to the highly successful American television drama The Americans. Whereas the latter follows two well-trained KGB “illegals” in the United States, Deutschland 83 centers on a young East German border guard who is unwillingly thrust into the middle of a nuclear standoff.

The two series have a powerful theme in common: the way in which the extreme polarization of the Cold War could destroy families. Read more

Old-Fashioned Detective Work in The Day of the Jackal

Fred Zinnemann directs Edward Fox on the set of The Day of the Jackal (1973)
Fred Zinnemann directs Edward Fox on the set of The Day of the Jackal (1973)

When French president Charles de Gaulle agreed to Algerian self-determination in 1961, his right-wing supporters were outraged. They had supported his return to power only three years earlier so he would put down the bloody uprising in France’s most prized colonial possession. Some of the pieds-noirs, the Algerian French, and their sympathizers in the army banded together in the paramilitary Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS) to stop the independence process with assassinations and bombings.

The Day of the Jackal, based on Frederick Forsyth’s novel of the same name, fictionalizes the group’s plots against De Gaulle. Read more

Iron Kingdom: Prussia’s Success Foreshadowed Its Demise

Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (2006)
Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (2006)

In Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, Christopher Clark succeeds marvelously in explaining how a medieval backwater managed to transform itself into the driving force behind the most powerful empire in Europe — and how its very success foreshadowed its disappearance from the map.

Prussia, in Clark’s telling, largely came about as a result of the (iron?) will of its kings, the Hohenzollerns. Originally a minor aristocratic family from the south of Germany, they came in possession of Brandenburg (now in East Germany) and Prussia (roughly corresponding to Russia’s modern-day Kaliningrad Oblast) and managed to turn these territories into the most powerful German-speaking state through a combination of flexible diplomacy, military genius and occasional luck. Read more

Reagan’s Rebellion and the End of the Cold War

James Mann, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War (2009)
James Mann, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War (2009)

In university, I once attended a panel discussion about the Cold War where one of the organizers of the large antinuclear demonstrations that took place in the Netherlands in the early 1980s startled the audience by saying he believed President Ronald Reagan had been a “nuclear pacifist.”

Many of the students, who had been taught Reagan was a cowboy, a radical rightwinger and a strident anti-communist who spoke of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” just as Mikhail Gorbachev set about reforming the country, found the old peacenik’s admiration of the Republican president difficult to understand. Hadn’t Reagan stepped up the arms race, they asked? Wasn’t it his administration that deployed cruise missiles in Western Europe — the very missiles he protested against at the time? Read more