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Political Implications of New Copernicans

If New Copernicans are the first post-Enlightenment generational cohort, then their attitudes toward Enlightenment-based political institutions will not be based on Enlightenment polarities. Some have found that according to the World Value Survey millennials are the most politically radical generation ever recorded. But it would be a mistake to assume that this means that they are consistently progressive. What this really means is that they are no longer confident in the institutions of politics themselves and how they frame reality. They aim to completely reframe the way we think about politics. They are more radical than most realize.

Researchers Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk writing in the Journal of Democracy

found that both Americans and Europeans have become more distrusting of their political institutions, more cynical about the worth of democracy and liberal democratic values, and more politically extreme. Catherine Rampell writing for the Washington Post summarizes their findings,

"Arguably, the most salient characteristic of the lefty candidates whom millennials idolize is not so much their leftiness, but their anti-establishment, at times barn-burning populism. During the U.S. presidential campaign, Bernie Sanders railed against globalization nearly as much as Donald Trump did. Sanders’ millennial-beloved British analogue, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, espouses far nuttier and more troubling beliefs (including past praise of Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Moammar Gaddafi).

As Mounk has suggested, the proper way we should perhaps think about political divides going forward is not so much left vs. right or liberal vs. conservative. Rather, it’s something more akin to belief in a closed society vs. an open one, nationalism vs. internationalism."

Millennials are reframing the entire debate in non-Enlightenment terms. They are more cynical and apathetic about the entire political project. And when they do vote—and it’s not often—it is more often a vote of protest, an anti-establishment middle finger, as much as a statement of ideological affirmation. The media, which insists on seeing politics in traditional dualistic left vs. right categories, is completely missing the deeper realities behind the surface appearances. In the short term we can expect continued political chaos. Democratic institutions are not a societal inevitability. Social patterns are now indicating their decline.

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