call for papers: Pluralism, Polarization and the Future of Democracy

The Good Society: A Journal of Civic Studies is seeking articles on the theme of “Pluralism, Polarization, and the Future of Democracy.”

Many scholars and practitioners argue that cultivating a culture of “pluralism” is key to sustaining and renewing democracy, and that polarization—or more precisely, “affective” polarization, the translation of ideological differences into social, cultural, and personal antipathy—is a direct impediment to the pluralist project. As a result, scholars have conducted extensive research into the micro- and macro-level factors that generate polarization and undermine a pluralistic public culture.

Scholars concentrating on the micro-level focus on the psychological roots of affective polarization, while “bridge building” organizations seek to cross divides via facilitated conversations, swapping of personal narratives, and other efforts to build empathy. Scholars concentrating on the macro-level seek to identify the structural causes of affective polarization, while likeminded practitioners advocate and implement policies assumed to reduce it, including reforms to voting processes, campaign financing, and districting procedures. Still others argue that history reveals an important but often overlooked wellspring of pluralist democracy: citizens—elites and ordinary people alike— working together across difference to solve public problems. While often supportive of cross-partisan dialogue and institutional reforms, those in this last camp think of themselves primarily as witnesses—and in many cases, contributors—to sites of civic co-creation hiding in plain sight.

The Good Society seeks article-length submissions on pluralism, polarization, and the future of democracy, broadly construed. We are especially interested in contributions that engage (both constructively and critically) the work of nonprofits, scholar-practitioners, and other “civic professional” actors dedicated to the renewal of citizen-centered, pluralistic democracy. We also welcome more traditional research articles as well as critiques of the emerging pluralism paradigm.

The editorial board invites papers of 6,000 to 8,000 words that address the issues above, as well as other relevant questions emerging from serious inquiry into the character of a good society and the conditions for achieving and maintaining it. Please submit papers by March 1, 2023 to: http://www.editorialmanager.com/gs/default.aspx

For more information regarding this call, write Trygve Throntveit, Editor, trygve@mnhum.org; and Isak Tranvik, Associate Editor, itranvik@gmail.com.

The Good Society is the flagship journal for the interdisciplinary (between disciplines) and transdisciplinary (beyond disciplines) field of Civic Studies. For more information on Civic Studies, please visit https://tischcollege.tufts.edu/civic-studies or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civic_studies.

social class inversion in the 2022 US elections

I’ve argued that democracy is dangerously threatened when influential left parties rely on upper-income voters and influential right parties depend on working-class support. In such cases, the left parties block significant progressive change and frustrate disadvantaged constituencies, while the right shifts from libertarian to chauvinist policies.

There is evidence of this class inversion in many democracies, including (among others) France and Germany. In the US, the inversion is partial, because race, income, and education push in different directions. This partly explains the incoherent positions of both major parties. Democrats draw highly educated whites and people of color; Republicans attract whites at both ends of the socioeconomic scale.

I have graphed the difference between Democratic support among college graduates and non-college graduates by state and candidate in 2022. If college is a proxy for the upper portion of the socioeconomic scale, then Democrats should perform better among non-college graduates, but the opposite happened in every case.

At a national scale, the Democrats won a majority of voters with college degrees (54%), but a minority of those without college degrees (43%). That 11-point gap is evidence of one kind of class inversion. On the other hand, the Democrats won a majority of voters with household incomes below $50,000 (52%) and a minority of those above that threshold (45%) and above $100,000 (46%). They drew half the white college graduate vote (50%), just 32% of the white non-college vote, and 68% of people of color with or without college degrees. Again, the picture is mixed.

There were some interesting differences by state. The class inversion was most pronounced in Wisconsin, where Gov. Evers won 62% of the college vote and 45% of the non-college vote on his way to reelection: a 17-point gap. Evers drew the support of only 37% of white voters without college degrees, 59% of white voters with college, and 83% of voters of color, regardless of education.

In the Ohio and Pennsylvania Senate races, the Democratic candidates explicitly courted working-class voters of all races. These campaigns were experiments in reversing the class inversion. Both Democrats lost non-college voters, and neither performed much differently from the national average with that demographic group. (Ryan got 34% of non-college white votes; Fetterman got 38%.) Of course, they had different opponents. JD Vance made an explicit pitch to non-college whites in Ohio that may have worked for him, whereas Mehmet Oz lost overall in Pennsylvania.

In Michigan, traditionally a blue-collar state, the Democrats performed very well. The interplay of class and race was particularly evident in that state’s results, with Gov. Whitmer drawing 42% of non-college whites, 60% of college whites, and 82% of non-college people of color. In other words, she reflected the Democrats’ formula of educated whites plus all people of color. That formula can win elections but makes Democrats dependent on an upscale portion of their electorate.

In Florida, the Republicans simply performed better than in other states. The demographics there are also somewhat unusual. The Exit Polls report all people of color as one category, and in Florida, that means more Latinos than in some other states. Notably, DeSantis won almost half of voters of color with college degrees (48%), who represented 14% of the state’s electorate. But he got 70% of white voters without college.

See also: class inversion as an alternative to the polarization thesis; social class in the French election;

the 2022 youth vote

Joe Biden today: “I especially want to thank the young people of this nation who, I’m told, voted in historic numbers again, and just as they did two years ago.”

For much detail on the youth vote, follow CIRCLE on Twitter, @civicyouth, or on their Election Center website. New analysis is appearing regularly. Some highlights so far:

  • “youth (ages 18-29) are the only age group in which a strong majority supported Democrats.”
  • “89% of Black youth and 68% of Latino youth voted for a Democratic House candidate. Among white youth, the vote was 58% for Democrats and 40% for Republicans.”
  • “In the Pennsylvania Senate race, where Democrat John Fetterman won by a slim 3% margin, youth ages 18-29 preferred Fetterman 70% to 28%, compared to 55% to 42% among voters ages 30-44, with voters over 45 preferring Republican candidate Dr. Oz.”

Europa was an Asian woman, and other thoughts on the definition of Europe

Europa was Phoenician. She was a princess of Tyre, now in Lebanon, which is in Asia. If we take the myth literally, her native tongue would have been Semitic, part of the Afroasiatic language family. Zeus, disguised as a bull, carried her off to Crete, where she bore him three sons who ruled domains from Anatolia to the Cyclades. She gave her name to the continent where she landed.

That is one story about Europe and its neighbors. Here’s a more influential one. Long ago, Spain was populated by people who were Christian and European and whose language and culture derived from ancient Rome. A conquering army arrived from Africa, bringing a foreign religion and language (an Afroasiatic one, in fact). Their advance was checked by a European army at the Battle of Tours. Then, gradually, the surviving Christian leaders “reconquered” the peninsula and drove the foreigners away.

Now here are some problems with that story. Both Christianity and Islam (and Judaism) began in the same region of western Asia. Many people in both northwest Africa and the Iberian peninsula converted to one of those religions, or to one and then another. Members of the same families belonged to both. ‘Abd al-Rahman III, the powerful monarch who founded the Caliphate of Cordoba, had a Christian grandmother, Princess Onneca of Pamplona, and a Christian slave mother, Muzna. He dyed his fair beard dark to look more like one of his very distant patrilineal ancestors from the Arabian peninsula (Brian Catlos, Kingdoms of Faith, p. 130).

Although the origins of the peoples of both modern Spain and Morocco are unclear, there’s at least some evidence that they descended from a common “Ibero-maurusian” culture that spanned the straits. The invaders in 711 included many Christians as well as Muslims. Some people whose ancestors had lived in Spain before 711 thoroughly acculturated to Arab language and customs while remaining Catholic. However, it was largely because of the influence of the Muslim and Arabic-speaking Abassid Caliphate far to the east that texts, ideas, and aesthetic values that had been important in ancient Rome spread into the Iberian peninsula, and from there into northern Europe.

It is hard to shake an equation of European with Christian, Latinate, and white. But this is a misleading mental model, as well as often a racially prejudiced one. The Spanish story of “reconquest” is one of its sources.

We can trace the model one step back from Spain to the court of Charlemagne, where Alcuin of York (c. 735–804) used the word “Europe” for the region where he lived. For instance, Alcuin wrote, “Almost the whole of Europe was destroyed by the fire and the sword of the Goths or the Huns. But now, by the mercy of God, as the sky shines bright with stars, so Europe shines with the ornament of churches, and in them the offices of the Christian religion flourish and increase.”

Alcuin wanted to differentiate Charlemagne’s empire (headquartered in what is now the French/German border) from its pagan Nordic enemies, the Slavic peoples whom Charlemagne raided for slaves, the Iberian Arabs whom Charlemagne’s grandfather had fought at Tours, and especially the Greek-speaking Christians based in Constantinople. Hence Alcuin defined a continent that encompassed Charlemagne’s possessions while excluding all other lands, including the empire of the Greeks.

Alcuin didn’t invent the word “Europe”; he reformulated ancient precedents. For Herodotus (485-425 BCE) the line between Asian and Europe ran through the Kerch Strait (the site of Putin’s bridge today), the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara, and then between the coast of Asia Minor and the Aegean islands. Herodotus described many closely associated cities and people on both sides of this line. Meanwhile, he defined the border between Asia and Africa as the River Nile, which split the Kingdom of Egypt between two continents:

I cannot guess for what reason the earth, which is one, has three names, all women’s, and why the boundary lines set for it are the Egyptian Nile river and the Colchian Phasis River [now in Georgia] … ; and I cannot learn the names of those who divided the world, or where they got the names which they used. For Libya is said by most Greeks to be named after a native woman of that name, and Asia after the wife of Prometheus … But as for Europe, no men have any knowledge whether it is bounded by seas or not, or where it got its name, nor is it clear who gave the name, unless we say that the land took its name from the Tyrian Europa, having been (it would seem) before then nameless like the rest. But it is plain that this woman was of Asiatic birth, and never came to this land which the Greeks now call Europe, but only from Phoenicia to Crete and from Crete to Lycia. Thus much I have said of these matters, and let it suffice; we will use the names established by custom.

Herodotus, The Histories (trans. A. D. Godley) 4:45

Thus, for Herodotus, the distinctions among continents were arbitrary (there was one connected “earth”) and did not mark cultural boundaries. These distinctions were basically local, because he admitted that he did not know how far the continents extended. He did not intend to contrast people from China, Scotland, and Nigeria, but rather those from Lycia and Lesbos, which lie a few miles apart. (One of Europa’s sons by Zeus, Sarpedon, was the mythical founder of Lycia, which Herodotus counted as Asian. Another son was Minos, the mythical king of Crete, which he considered Greek.)

However, Herodotus begins his histories with a strong binary opposition between the “Hellenes” and the “barbarians” (Hdt. 1.1.0). He retells a series of mythical tit-for-tat abductions or rapes–from Europa to Helen–and then blames the Greeks for escalating these conflicts into full-scale war by invading and destroying Troy. He offers what he calls the Persian take on this matter:

“From then, we have always held the Greeks to be our enemies.” For the Persians claim Asia and all the barbarian peoples who live there as theirs, and they consider Europe and the Greeks to be separate.

(Hdt. 1.4.4, my trans.)

Thus, for Herodotus, the Europe/Asia distinction is really a Persian construction–but it matters deeply to him because he sees the Persian Empire of his time as the chief threat to Greek liberty.

Thucydides may obliquely criticize Herodotus when he notes that Homer never named Agamemnon’s forces as “Hellenes,” nor did Homer use the word “barbarian” at all. Thucydides argues that the concept of Greekness arose long after the Trojan War, once the city states centered in Greece had developed sufficient wealth and power that they could act in concert (Thucy. 1.3). In other words, for Thucydides, Greek identity and opposition to Persian power were political accomplishments, not natural facts.

Twenty-five centuries later, these distinctions–much evolved and redefined–still influence us. Herodotus would be perplexed to hear barbarians from the distant west define themselves as Europeans, yet a long thread connects him to them.

The idea of “Europe” can be inspiring. I was exposed to benign propaganda in favor of European integration when I was a child in London in the 1970s, and for me, the EU still invokes cosmopolitan, peaceful, and democratic values. I was moved to see EU flags on many private buildings in Lviv and Chernivtsi in 2015. On the other hand, “Europe” can also be an exclusionary idea, a boundary. In the case of Brexit, it even serves as a way of turning very close neighbors into foreigners. It’s always worth recalling the arbitrary origins of the concept and remembering Herodotus’ point that the earth is really one.

See also: the history of the phrase “the West”; don’t name things Western but call out imperialism; to whom do the ancient Greeks belong?Jesus was a person of color; Brexit: a personal reflection; etc.

Civic Engagement in American Climate Policy:
Collaborative Models

Newly published on Tisch College’s CivicGreen website is “Civic Engagement in American Climate Policy: Collaborative Models,” a report from CivicGreen in cooperation with the Center for Communities by Design, the American Institute of Architects, and the Kettering Foundation. Carmen Sirianni has been a key organizer of this work, along with Ann Ward and others.

The report is a detailed guide to incorporating public engagement and public work in addressing the climate crisis. It’s not about public advocacy or popular pressure to enact environmental policies, but rather the public’s role in implementing policies–from local planning to paid service jobs that offer pathways to green careers. It draws on extensive experience with:

  • sustainable cities and local climate planning
  • collaborative environmental justice and the EPA’s CARE program
  • community design and public interest design
  • urban and community forestry
  • collaborative community conservation and ecosystem management
  • environmental education
  • coastal management and sea level rise
  • civilian conservation and climate corps
  • citizen science
  • digital and geospatial mapping tools
  • climate and science communication
  • civic professional practice and training

I observe some environmentalists framing public engagement as basically a barrier to efficient climate policy. They fear that NIMBY citizen organizations may block green projects or divert funds that were intended for climate to other purposes, thus weakening their impact.

I also see some progressives trying to redefine environmental policies to accomplish other social-justice goals using money that was earmarked for climate. I get their motivations, but diverting funds threatens climate outcomes.

In my view, public engagement is essential for making green investments actually work for their intended purposes. For instance, funds for public transportation will only cut carbon emissions if people ride the new trains and buses–and communities know what transit is needed. If more people are paid to address climate problems in their daily work, the constituency for environmental reform will grow, especially if these workers are organized, not only to advocate for wages (which is good) but also to address environmental issues. Public engagement must go well, which is by no means inevitable. This new report offers detailed, experienced-based recommendations.

See also: the major shift in climate strategy;  A Civic Green New Deal; and the Green New Deal and civic renewal