128 | Martha Nussbaum

A break from Brexit! This week we talk to one of the world's leading moral philosophers Martha Nussbaum about the really big stuff: anger and disgust, trust and hope, childhood and experience. Can contemporary democracy cope with the growing fears of its citizens? What are we so afraid of? And what does Trump's election tell us about where we should look to rebuild faith in politics?  Martha Nussbaum's latest book is The Monarchy of Fear: https://bit.ly/2zwpLR9

DAVID: Hello, my name is David Runciman and this is Talking Politics. Today I'm talking to the philosopher Martha Nussbaum about the politics of fear and of anger and of disgust but also the politics of faith and of hope. Martha Nussbaum is a philosopher who's written on a remarkable range of subjects. She draws, as you'll hear in a moment, on the philosophy of the ancient world. And one of the things that connects all her writing is the basic philosophical question, ‘What would it mean to lead a good life?’ She's just published a book called The Monarchy of Fear, which was partly inspired by the election of Donald Trump. And that's one of the reasons that we were keen to talk to her. This conversation was recorded in the Tea Room of the hotel she was staying in London. You might hear the clinking of cups in the background. It was also I think the pinkest room I've ever been in. I don’t know if you’ll be able to hear that or not. I started with a question that we used to ask people quite a lot on this podcast: what was their experience of the night that Donald Trump got elected? And as you’ll hear, Martha Nussbaum was somewhere far away.

MARTHA: Well first of all it wasn't night for me because I was in Japan and it was bright, cheery daylight—beautiful fall day. And I had arrived to receive the Kyoto Prize so my duty for the foundation was to appear very happy and grateful. So as the bad news kept coming in there were these very lovely young people coming into my room trying to explain to me all the ceremonial events and the job of the Inamori Foundation to support compassion in public life. And I kept hearing in the background this news coming in and getting more and upset and fearful for the things I care about but also for the country in general and the polarization of the country. And then, by the time it was clear that Clinton had lost and he had won, I had to go out to the foundation, and I put on this cheery suit, which indeed was blue, so there was that. But I had to appear very happy and grateful because Japanese people, although they of course know about it and care about it but not not in the same intense way… and if I had been at home I would have been hugging my friends. But as it was I was all by myself in respect of my emotions and when I got home after the ceremonial dinner I just thought, ‘What on earth is going on?’ And I did start to focus on fear. In the earlier part of my career I've written a lot about emotions but I've taken the emotions sort of one by one. One book on disgust, one book on anger, and so on. And it occurred to me in the middle of the night, being jet lagged also, that this was actually not the right way of approaching the subject. That fear, being both probably the infant's first emotion and one that's in evolutionary terms quite primitive, is behind all the other emotions and infects them, infuses them with a kind of toxic power in politics. So I started thinking about the other emotions: anger, disgust, and envy through the lens of fear and I got this book project. And even while I was in Kyoto I set myself to write the book and I wrote a book proposal.

DAVID: You mentioned disgust and anger, and I know a lot of people, that was their first response. Something traumatic happens in politics and certainly anger is something that people go to quite quickly but also to explain it. We had Pankaj Mishra on this podcast. He's written about this is the age of anger, not the age of fear, but the age of anger. But as you say, behind all of these emotions there may well be one emotion that we need to understand the range of people's responses. So just explain to us how fear in your mind relates to anger and to disgust.

MARTHA: Fear is an infantile emotion. It's our first relation to the world when we come out of the womb and suddenly are in a cold place where we're hungry and need to depend entirely on others. And human infants have a life cycle that's very different from any other animal because other animals if they can't move, feed themselves within an hour of birth they're going to die. But human beings are completely impotent and helpless physically, while they're very cognitively aware. And that gives rise to a pretty dangerous dynamic because we need to depend on others and to rush for comfort, but we can't actually rush into the arms of a powerful protector. And we also find ways of ordering other people around by yelling, by making noise. So fear conduces to monarchy. It makes us need an all powerful protector. And it also gives us dispositions that are those of monarchical behaviour. Freud called the infant ‘His Majesty the baby,’ and that's a very good way of thinking about it. So I think that always stays there. And when we realise we're going to die, fear wells up perhaps even more powerfully than it did in our infancy. So that's always simmering behind the more mature dispositions of an adult. And in this part of the book, I follow Donald Winnicott and talk about what it is for a child to develop the capacity for concern and reciprocity, which of course is what democracy needs and rests on. And that needs to be nurtured in the family by a kind of security that shows the child that the child can depend on other people. And gradually the child begins to trust and to be capable of genuine concern. But, as Winnicott also said at the end of his life, it needs to be nourished also by social security, by a kind of strong social safety net that makes people feel fear is not too terrible, that they can depend on society for many things. Now I think what's happening in our own time is that instability… in the United States of course the complete shredding of the social safety net is a part of it. But all over the world, this sudden, sweeping changes in employment, the replacement of manual labor by automation and outsourcing, and therefore the loss of status for man, if not most working class men, income stagnation has led to very real and demonstrable bad things. [7:20] Angus Deaton the economist and his wife Anne Case show that working class men in America have huge health problems, declines in longevity, high level of opiate addiction and so on..So these are the fruits of fear, if you want, the insecurity that rises up. But to kind of comfort themselves, people have a way of demonizing other people. Now I think that anger has two parts. One part is the protest part, where you say that's wrong, let's change it. And that part is constructive. It focuses on the future. I follow Martin Luther King here in separating anger into the two parts. The other part is the retributive part, saying I'm going to solve my problems by inflicting pain on someone else. And as both Gandhi and King thought, that part is not constructive it is just backward looking and it creates more pain rather than solving the actual problem. But unfortunately Donald Trump is a master manipulator of the kind of fear that leads to scapegoating and deflection from the real problem into witch hunts of other groups and people, particularly immigrants. So it's very comforting to think, ‘Oh we'll build a wall.’ That's a symbolic thing. Even immigration experts don't think that that would do any good. But people think, ‘Oh, that calms us. We can blame the immigrants and we can say there's this caravan, there's this infestation on the way.’ And by blaming immigrants, who of course demonstrably do not cause crime in America, they are not the source of big social problems, people feel comforted while not solving at all the real problems. [9:05]

DAVID: That phrase, that Freud phrase, ‘His Majesty the baby,’ that to many people brings Trump right to the center of their minds. And so one of the things that so striking here, as you just described it, we've got the fear that is being felt by ordinary Americans and a lot of it is rational, it's based on their experience of the world. And it’s then being projected in certain ways. But in political terms it's latched on to this figure who also in his own way, he's not just channeling their fear. He also embodies fear himself. He is the child, he's the monarch, but he's also the child. How does that relationship work? I Mean you can see how he's manipulating but why does does that fear project itself onto a political figure who is himself so childish?

MARTHA: Well I think that's of course a complicated question and there are plenty of people who psychoanalyze Trump. I actually, having been myself a professional actress for a part of my life, I see Trump through the lens of theater. And I think whatever else he is, he's a master actor of a kind of improv sort. He picks up cues from his audience like a good standup performer and he’s fed by the reactions of the audience. So when I talk about his hatred and disgust for women, whether he has that in his heart of hearts or whether there is even a heart of hearts I don't really care. But it's reading the public and their cues. So of course part of the cue is to embody the needy baby as you say. But another part of it is also to embody the powerful strong protector that puts the baby's fear to rest and it's quite a remarkable tour de force of performance that he can embody both.

DAVID: The other thing that you say in the book is that fear has a close connection to narcissism. And that's also part of the childishness in some ways or fear. And of course if there’s another word that people often associate with Trump and his kind of politics… It's not just him; you wee it in other leaders around the world, there's a kind of narcissism to it. Do you think that that cuts across both ways? Because Trump is the narcissist, we can see that. But is there something narcissistic about the fear that's brought him to office do you think?

MARTHA: Oh yes I think so for sure. The U.S.—and I mean obviously the book is much broader than just the U.S.—but you know in the U.S. we've always been a pretty narcissistic country in the sense that trusting others and having relationships of trust and reciprocity has always been difficult for a nation that's founded on huge physical insecurity. I mean don't forget that this is a nation built by people who came to a place that was harsh, harsh climate. Roger Williams the great religious thinker had to navigate in a canoe up and down the Atlantic Ocean seaboard. And you know then when the frontier was opened that was another source of insecurity. So the solution to that has typically been, let's not depend on anyone else. Let's not rely on democracy. Let's just be a household alone that can have its gun and protect itself from all the elements. So that tendency has always been there and it's been overcome only with a lot of work and difficulty. The wonderful musical Hamilton which I do talk about in the book is an example of how a very creative person got Americans to actually trust that a centrally planned economy might be something good. I think it's quite remarkable that a play really by immigrants and for immigrants and so on, that he was able to take this figure who's the figure of the centralized bank and the centrally planned economy and make him a hero for Americans and I think it's a good thing too that we realized that a strong federal government is not the enemy of people who are needy on the left or on the right. But most people don't actually believe that. They think that the government is really their enemy and all they can rely on is themselves. And so that's what you get at this time and you get it mostly on the right. But there's a way in which you get it on the left, just in this thought that, ‘Well, all the things that are happening in Washington are corrupt and we can't trust anything done by the elites in government.’ So there's kind of left anarchism that you see welling up at this time too.

DAVID: I was very struck in that image of the child as the kind of infant monarch and you describe, and it comes out of Enlightenment thought, the process by which a child learns to depend on other human beings but also to work with other human beings as a kind democratizing process. And there's almost something natural in this account about moving from monarchy to democracy which is the process of growing up. Do you think we've lost that? I mean if that's true it's a profoundly important insight. It means that there is something inherently natural about democracy. And yet we're living in an age where people think democracy is, for good reason, extremely fragile. Do we need to get back to the thought that the thing that actually makes us adults is that we learn to live democratically?

MARTHA: Well that's a very good question and I would say it's something that happens if both the family and the environment are good enough. He uses this phrase good enough as a kind of vague place holder for something that, you know it's there under favorable conditions but of course it might not be there. And he saw plenty of children of course traumatized by the Second World War for whom it wasn't there at all, who were displaced from their homes, who couldn't depend on anything. So it requires conditions that could be stably met if society is well organized and people are doing the job of being decent parents. But often it's not. And even if it is, and this is where I would try to add something from Lucretius, let's say, to Winnicott, you know, we're mortal. Winnicott didn't have much to say about the fear of death. But I think underneath the surface of the aspiring democratic citizen that we would like to be and that we often are when we grow up is this simmering fear. And in my country right now the symbol of it is no health care, you know. And of course it's not just a symbol. It's real. People are terrified because at any moment they might be bankrupted. My own son in law was hospitalized for three weeks suddenly, and foolishly, he had no insurance and we thought, ‘Oh God everything is at an end.’ Well it turned out well thanks to Colorado, the state he lives in, having a very forward looking public health program which the nation as a whole doesn't have. But we didn't know that the beginning.

DAVID: That was luck. I mean it's the combination of mortality plus luck that's terrifying in this context.

MARTHA: Yes. And of course Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of my great heroes, said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Now I think literally that's not true. At that time we had Naziism to fear, we had hunger, social instability, these were rational fears. But he was right to say that the fear can become its own problem and to say we have to address it with social engineering. So the New Deal was born out of his intelligent desire to control fear. And it was of course not possible to make people not fear death but indeed they didn't have to fear that they wouldn't have Social Security for their own old age and so on. I do think that as we grow older, fear can get out of hand if the social conditions are fragile. And in many ways of course Trump has made lower middle class people think that the conditions are fragile for the wrong reasons. Instead of pointing to changing social conditions and to the absence of a strong social safety net. He places blame on immigrants entering the country, on women and minorities entering the workplace: ‘They have taken your jobs,’ is what he always is telling people. So when you get that combination of the fear with the false news then you can get a horrible upsurge of anger and persecution. [17:23]

DAVID: As you’ve described it, this is a story as old as the story of human beings. And yet there are some distinctive 21st century features to it. So you drawn Aristotle for a definition of fear, which is that it is the fear of some future dread that we feel powerless to resist and it's the powerlessness. And I was thinking human beings have always had that kind of fear, and we've always been at the mercy of acts of God and of disease and the family and so on. But the things that we feel powerlessness in the face of today are things that human beings are responsible for. I mean that's one of the things is distinctive here. I've just been reading Martin Rees’ new book about the human future and it's the big theme that we're facing these enormous threats that are human-made threats. And that's a different quality about fear. So whether it's environmental or whether it's even economic, the thought that some catastrophe might be around the corner and we are simultaneously powerless and responsible. So that seems to me to be the difference relative to in the past, where some act of God is going to strike you down, you're powerless but you're not responsible. And something about the 21st century version of this seems to me to be particularly fraught because it's us.

MARTHA: I think that's an excellent point and I'm very eager to read his book. I was on a panel with him defending the role of the humanities in society, and you know, science and humanities are great allies in thinking we really need to understand ourselves if we're going to face these man-made catastrophes well. And of course people don't want to accept responsibility for climate change or for any of the other problems that we're facing. They'd rather just put their head in the sand and say, ‘Oh no, there's no real problem. The real problem is these immigrants,’ or something else like that. And I'm afraid we tell ourselves stories like that from early childhood, where… I say in the book that fairy tales typically have this structure so Hansel and Gretel are hungry children and their parents are working at low wage jobs so the family doesn't have enough to eat. That's a real problem. It requires a structural solution. But the story tells you that's not the real problem, the real problem is a witch who lives in the woods who turns literal children into gingerbread. And lo and behold, when the witch is put into the oven the world is quite okay. So we learn to do that. And we don't take responsibility at all for the problems that we've created. Of course hunger is a problem that's man-made as well. It's really not… My collaborator Amartya Sen showed in some of his Nobel prize winning work that hunger is man-made in the sense that it's a problem of scarce entitlements to food. It's not a problem of food shortage in and of itself. So even that is man-made. And now of course, as you say, there are many more man-made problems. [20:12]

DAVID: Because one of the ironies that comes out of that is that powerlessness is a kind of comfort there. So something I've been really struck by is we're living in an age where there's a taste for dystopias. The I always think of is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a novel which is about the worst that a society can be, but people find it deeply comforting because it doesn't specify the cause of the problem, it's just, he literally says, it's this thing happened on the horizon and everything fell apart. And there is a comfort in fear in that context because it takes the responsibility off us. And I think that is a big part of the 21st century version of this.

MARTHA: Yes I think that's very insightful. But see, I would like to make this point also, about the emotions themselves. That it's very comforting to say, ‘Oh fear, anger, disgust, that's human nature. We can't do anything about that.’ Now my view is that these emotions embody thoughts about well-being and if not the whole of the emotion itself, at least those thoughts about what is worth fearing, what is worth getting angry about, those thoughts are under our control in the sense that societies make them, and societies can unmake them. We used to feel disgust for the bodies of children with disabilities, then we thought again about that and we created conditions where those children can go to school with other children and have friendship and not be objects of disgust. We've tried to do that with racism, I think much less successfully but it's still worth trying harder and with sexism as well. So we can change the conditions of emotional outbursts. And yet by telling us these things are hardwired and society has nothing to do with it, it's in human nature, we take ourselves off the hook.

DAVID: With disgust, again this might be a timeless thing, but there is a 21st century feature to it I think as well, which is, and you write about this, that we're living in an age that's called the Instagram age, where people have an online persona and they want that online persona to be the pure version of themselves. So they kind of curate how they look. They make sure that they are blemish free and at least some part of their lives. And it's hugely punishing and often damaging for people to have to kind of maintain this clean version of who they really are, particularly, I think for young people, particularly for young women. And that is a huge part of . maybe not the age of fear but the age of anxiety. The self disgust going on here in the age of Instagram to preserve the version of yourself that is blemish free. And that psychologically has got to be damaging.

MARTHA: Well yes. I think that the research of psychologists like Paul Rozin has shown that disgust is always at some level self-disgust in the sense that it has a cognitive content that is about the refusal to be contaminated by the reminders of our own animality and mortality. So bodily waste products, sweat, feces, urine, menstrual secretions, even breast milk are objects of disgust in the primary sense. And what people are saying when they feel disgust about those things is that I want to distance myself from these reminders of my animality and mortality.

That's the simple disgust but it gets even worse because in every society people then find a group that's relatively powerless who can be surrogates for the feeling of disgust. And they say, ‘Oh we're above the animal body but those people’—whether it's African-Americans or members of lower caste or women—’They're hyper-animal, hypersexual hyper-bodily. And those groups become the vehicle for desire to avoid contamination. And people think, ‘If just refused to allow black people to drink from the drinking fountains then I'm that much closer to being an angel above the body myself.’ So yeah, I mean the Internet I think doesn't cause anything totally new to happen, but as you say, it causes even more focus on the curated, cleaned up version of the self. It's observed by feminists that Internet porn pervays a picture of the female body that is not real. No pubic hair no secretions no smells and so on. So it makes it that much harder for young men not to be misogynistic when they encounter a real woman's body. That's really a new problem, I think. There's always been that tendency, and pornography in all eras has had that kind of cleaned up nature,even ancient Greek vase paintings, you know, where the young man is always depicted as having a perfect body, but probably it's one little level worse in the Internet era. [25:04]

DAVID: We're going to get onto the upside at the end of your book because I don't want this all to be about fear because you talk about hope there too, and you know, that’s a really important part of this. And I don't want this all to be about Trump. But one more Trump question because reading your account, the monarchical baby, the narcissist, but also disgust, if there's something that people know about Trump, he channels these emotions but he also manifests them. We know that he is absolutely disgusted and appalled by what the body does, whether it's the women around him who have to present themselves in a certain way, his obsessive hand washing, his fear of germs. He seems like the embodiment of this both ways. It's hard not to be struck by the thought that his gift in channeling this is because he knows it. He knows it so well. He is he is someone who feels disgust acutely.

MARTHA: OK. Let me make a distinction first because as an amateur singer, I myself have to be very careful of germs, and when they do these little tests about disgust, they always include things like handwashing, and would you touch somebody who had a cold and so on. But I think they mingle two different things: disgust and rational fear of danger. In fact, we all know that hand washing is extremely important and that in hospitals a lot of infections that are lethal are spread by the fact that doctors themselves are not washing their hands. And I must say, when I give a lecture and then everyone shakes my hand and then sits down to dinner, I think this is actually very irrational behavior, and I have taken to carrying hand sanitizer around. So I share that one thing with Trump because of course, if you're a singer and you get a cold, you know you just can't do anything. And you have to cancel that appearance. So that I don't blame him for at all. I think the thing that it gets blended together with is the expressed disgust about women's bodies: women who are overweight, women who are thought to have their period, Hillary Clinton taking a bathroom break during the debate. And of course that's not about rational fear of danger. There's no danger coming from those things. That is true irrational disgust. And whether he feels that or not, I have no idea. I think it's interesting and significant that it sets off a cue in his base. What is it that people are feeling when they laugh uproariously at that picture of Hillary Clinton's trip to the bathroom. I think it's the desire to see women as really as shit and to see them as below. Disgust always has this superiority in it where you're saying I'm above the body and this person is mere body. It's like unmasking the woman. She's pretending she could be president, but it's like Jonathan Swift ending his poem with ‘Celia Celia shits.’ That's really what's being said: ‘Like the one who pretends to be so like me is not like me at all but is just a body.’

DAVID: Reading your book I thought of various points of Tocqueville. Because you make the point that religion is possibly a crucial part of giving us the ability to think hopefully about the future and also to work together. It's an important part of the communal human experience. And facing a future which is so radically unknown, more than in the past. I think we have to accept this is different, that life might have been harder in the past but it was harder in predictable ways. And when we try and think 50 years ahead, it stretches our imaginations I think beyond the point that we can do it. Can we do it without religion? How important is religion? Because Tocquevillian version of this is actually the revival of democracy is going to have to depend on religious impulses. But particularly in Europe, in Europe we are secular societies increasingly. Does that worry you, the absence of religion in some of the responses, particularly the liberal responses?

MARTHA: Well you know my version of this comes from Kant, who said that in order to keep yourself going toward doing good for others and obeying the moral law, you first of all need hope, and you're therefore morally obliged to work yourself into a posture where you'll have hope because it energizes your projects, it gets you to do something rather than sitting home in despair. But he also said that it needs a group because alone we often lapse into despair and inactivity but a group can get us going in a way that without a group we can't. Now he thought that group had to be religious because it had to be united by the idea of a higher being and a hope for another world. I don't believe that. But I do think for many people who are isolated in society that's the natural kind of group for them to turn to, and certainly in American society where people are so geographically isolated, where they don't have other sources of social contact, particularly people who are aging, that is a particularly useful kind of group for them to form. I'm a member of a Jewish synagogue and I feel it's a synagogue that's not particularly theistic. It’s actually, like most reform Jews, we’re united by a desire to forward political justice. We have the largest food garden that produces fresh produce for the poor and so on. But, you know, being part of a group that's doing those things is a lot better in many ways than trying to do them on your own. I also of course have a group of colleagues in the university and students, so I'm lucky in that respect. But I notice that people do get nourishment out of being a part of our group, and I think particularly African-Americans in America have always found sustenance in the black churches. You can see this very clearly on the South Side of Chicago, where I live, where you know things could be pretty hopeless, the scourge of crime and gang activity, the lack of future especially for young black men who so quickly get deflected into a life of crime because there aren't other things they can hope for. So many of their fathers are in jail because of the terrible social evil of mass incarceration. So, you know, to turn to religion is one of the few sources of hope for the children and the matriarchs often of those families. And the black churches have been a central source of social action, of marches for peace and so on. I described some of those efforts in the book. So I guess I think it doesn't have to be religion at all, and maybe Europe doesn't need religion as much as America does because Europe has closer knit social structures and it has ways that… you know you're not separated from your family by 2000-3000 miles. [31:46]

DAVID: The other way that goes with hope his faith. And I sometimes think, it seems from inside universities, particularly elite universities, there's this view that the solution to these problems is better policy, there are kinds of intellectual, rational ways that human beings can get a grip over their fate again. But the thing that's missing from all of this is the fact that this unknown future is going to require a lot of faith to get us through it. And there is something about I think the overtly policy oriented or maybe rationalistic approach which misses that and is actually deeply alienating. it doesn't bridge this divide between the fearful people and the people who are on the right side of history, it actually makes it wider.

MARTHA: I don't talk much about faith. I do talk about hope, and right away my Dean of Humanities, who is a medieval musicologist said, ‘Why on earth when you talk about hope don't you draw on the medieval iconography of hope and its links to faith and so.’ Well, you know, as a Jew it's just not natural to me to do that. I'm a convert so I know about Christianity but I was never asked, ‘What do you have faith in?’ You asked what you're going to do. And you just don't bother sitting around having faith, you get to work. And so that's my approach. But I guess it is true that my great hero King did talk about faith as well as hope because he needed to address the despair and isolation that people often have. And when you're facing hostile people and you're being told you've got to hope for something better and for change, you need some sort of faith system, I mean faith that it could actually happen. Now of course King didn't ask people to hope for salvation in the other world. Absolutely not. So he's with me and saying what we’ve got to do is work in the here and now. But faith that the people who are now so much against us might actually work with us to create a better world. And if you go back and you look at the end of the “I Have A Dream” speech you see that what he asked people to have faith in was not something that was other-worldly or even utopian. It was something in the here and now, that their own efforts, we can now look back and say decades later, their own efforts did create that. I have a dream that one day right there in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words interposition and nullification, one day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. Well, yes, I  mean that does happen. It doesn't happen everywhere or all the time. But Alabama has now elected a very pro-black senator who had the support of the whole black community. So you know these are things that human effort created. But unless you believe it might possibly happen then you probably won't do the work. [34:42]

DAVID: My instincts are all on the secular side of this. But my worry in a way about progressive politics at the moment is the thing that is missing is a kind of faith in the future. Actually, ironically, it's the conservative side, the backward looking side, that still has a picture of the future that some of these of the rationalist accounts don't have. And also that hope the word itself has been a little bit devalued. After all we've had two Democratic presidents who made it  their… we had the boy from Hope, Bill Clinton, we had Barack Obama, for whom hope was his slogan. And I have some worry—I don't know if you share this—that what Sarah Palin called “the hopey, changey thing,” has been slightly devalued by overuse, or maybe over promise and under delivery in recent progressive administrations.

MARTHA: Well I don't actually agree with that. I think Obama was a realist like King, who was his great mentor too. And I think that he pinned hope to things that were achievable and that he actually did achieve: The Affordable Care Act. Now at first that looked like that was cheap and it was going to be devalued by the right. But now it's become the linchpin issue in the midterm elections. People love Obamacare all of a sudden. I just campaigned very hard for a congressional winner in a suburban district in Illinois that had a Republican incumbent. And this young African-American woman, Lauren Underwood, who's a nurse, who campaigned solely on the issue of affordable health care, she won by a very strong majority in this heavily Republican district. So that message is resonating all over the country. So I think Obama is the long term winner. Maybe he looked like a short term loser. What I am troubled by on the left is… I mean I always have been. I was never part of the SDF in the 70s… is a kind of utopian politics. The idea that of course some versions of Marxism have always had of an ideal future under socialism. And I'm afraid that although Bernie Sanders is a very admirable person, he harks back and draws on a kind of nostalgia for that moment in the 70s where people were saying, ‘Make love not war,’ and we'll have this ideal kind of socialism. And even young people who weren't alive then they think oh yes this ideal is so wonderful. Actually we don't need those kind of romantic pictures of socialism. We need specific pieces of legislation that can actually be enacted. And I think that's what Obama knew.

DAVID: We will tweet links to Martha’s writing. We are going to get back to Brexit. We can't avoid it. The date of the vote in the Commons has been announced. It's going to be Tuesday the 11th of December. Helen and I will be here the morning after the night before to try and make sense of it. This time last year we put out a lecture that I gave on the end of democracy. That's the basis of the book I published. Next week I'm going to be doing another talk on something that I've mentioned a few times on this podcast, which is, ‘What does it mean for democracy that we're all getting so old? Do you please join us for that. My name is David Runciman and we've been talking politics.