Transcript: David Goodhart On Overvaluing Smarts
The British writer talks about the moral tensions of the modern economy.
David Goodhart is a British journalist. In 1995 he founded Prospect, the center-left political magazine, where he served as editor for 15 years, and then became the director of Demos, the cross-party think tank. His book The Road to Somewhere coined the terms “Anywheres” and “Somewheres” to help us understand populism in the contemporary West. We also discuss his latest book, Head Hand Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century.
The episode aired on June 17, 2022. Some money quotes from David:
“It’s a bit like people sometimes talk about the classics as an intellectual gymnasium, and learning how to argue. If you are a young Marxist, you have to have a theory about everything. I mean, it basically got me interested in ideas.”
“My problem with meritocracy is the cognitive meritocracy. We just need a wider appreciation of other skills and virtues.”
“Now most of us, even in rich Western countries, you need two incomes, or at least one and a half, to have a decent standard of living. So your income’s going up, but actually you are feeling more rushed and there’s never any time to do anything.”
“This is one of the great failures of modern liberalism, to denigrate the familiar.”
Andrew: Hi, we're back, another Dishcast. We've been having a lot of big thinkers on the Dishcast lately, and we've got a really big one today. Someone I've been reading on and off for a couple of decades, I think, if I were to have any memory left. He's a British journalist, David Goodhart. But that doesn't really tell you much about him. In 1995 he founded Prospect, which I think was a center left magazine, a bit New Republic-y, but monthly. He served there as editor for 15 years after which he became the director of Demos, which is a cross party think tank.
He then, in his evolution of thinking, wrote a book called The Road to Somewhere, where he reimagined left-right politics as conflict increasingly between what he called "anywheres" and "somewheres." People who could easily live anywhere and those who were attached to a particular place and sometimes a particular time. And the conflict that has brought, that crept up on us, and that led to populism and it's response in the current cycle of intense polarization which we are experiencing currently in the U.S.
But the real reason I want to talk to him is he also has a book, which he brought out in the pandemic called Head Hand Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century. It's about the ways in which human beings work, the way in which we live, the way in which our brains are important, but also our ability to interact with other human beings and also our mastery of our own physical environment. Those three things have gotten out of whack, he would argue, in our current culture and economy.
He's trying to figure out where to start finding a better balance in the West. That's a incredibly crude and brief introduction, David, but I hope I haven't done massive violence to your general theses. [Laughs] We will get into all the details of it for, is that okay?
David: No, no. It's a good summary. And thank you for inviting me on. I'm a big fan of the program.
Andrew: Well, thank you.
David: You've touched on all of these issues in recent discussions with Johann Hari, with Nicholas Christakis, and others. So I think it's one of your themes, I hope.
Andrew: Well, it's the central theme of our time, I think. Trying to figure out what populism is, trying not to suddenly lapse into one side of this question rather than the other. And try and see how we can drag something constructive out of the conflicts that we are in.
Before we started going on the air, we talked a little bit about where we were, the two of us, in our late teens or early 20s, politically. It's weird because I think there's been a weird diversion and then a coming together. Tell us about your evolution. By the way, where did you grow up? What part of England did you grow up and go to school?
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