Back in September 2018, Steve Bannon was interviewed by Zanny Minton Beddoes at the Open Future Festival in New York. The event was organized by The Economist. At that moment, the interviewer had served as its editor-in-chief for three and a half years, and the interviewee had been out of his briefly held White House job for more than a year.
Minton Beddoes started the conversation by pointing out what appeared to her a contradiction:
But you also want to radically reduce legal immigration. You are of Irish and German stock. Your forefathers came to this country as immigrants. So can you explain to me why you now think this country’s future no longer lies in being welcoming to immigrants.
Bannon didn’t use the opportunity to point out a similar, although less obvious or pronounced, contradiction in his interviewer’s background. A fascinating subject: I wrote about it in some detail in 2018 and have just put together this page as an index.
Minton Beddoes comes from a rather long line of Shropshire landowners. For centuries, their land holdings passed undivided from generation to generation owing to the law of primogeniture and entail — a feudal principle inimical to the spirit of free markets.
The Economist was founded by James Wilson in 1843 to campaign against the Corn Laws and for free trade. Under Walter Bagehot’s editorship, the magazine published in 1866 an article explicitly attacking primogeniture and entails. One has to read it to appreciate the animus and resentment towards the landowning classes expressed by the Economist‘s editors on behalf of the commercial classes – the “persons engaged in trade or manufactures.”
In response to a hypothetical query from Bannon – “Aren’t you descended from provincial English landlords, once the free marketers’ foes and bugbears?” – Minton Beddoes could have argued that some of her forefathers went into the professions. They either had been born second or third sons, not expecting to inherit the estate, or sought to supplement the income from the estate. But those questions were never asked.
As for me, I don’t think arguments like this, “your ancestors were X and now you’re against X,” should have much weight by themselves. I wish I had thought through a more serious parallel – in this case, between immigration restrictionism and primogeniture after the Norman conquest.