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We are, or so we are told, being swept by anti-establishment fury. Voters in their wisdom have decided to kick the elites and reject the establishment they form. Everywhere the hallowed institutions of the West seem to totter before the storm; pundits solemnly prophesy the decline of the western-led global order; others of bleaker mien question the very notion of progress itself. But a curious fact remains: Unlike almost every other such ‘anti-establishment’ storm in history, this revolution – if revolution it be – is one overwhelmingly opposed by the young.

For better or worse, the young have stood in the vanguard of revolutionary change throughout modern history. From 1840s Germany through to the tumult of 20th century China and onto the Arab Spring, youth and youthful passion has challenged the established order. The anti-establishment politics of the contemporary Anglosphere thus represents a strange phenomenon. No more should it be presumed that it is the fresh-faced who line up to assault the established order. Quite the opposite: this is not a movement of youth.

Young British voters supported Remain by an overwhelming margin. Some 73% of 18-24 year old supported Remain, along with some 62% of 25-34 year olds. Of voters aged 20-29 in the US, 55% voted for Clinton and 37% for Trump; the remainder chose alternative candidates. In the immediate aftermath of both the Brexit vote and Trump’s win, thousands of younger voters took to the streets in protest; anguished articles and shared screeds on social media discussed the threat to internationalist values that the young purport to cherish; in the UK, many wrote of a political divide falling as much along generational as class or geographic lines. The millennial voter, it seems, is the greatest proponent of established liberal values.

Playing the Pied Piper: unlikely apostles of the Millennial age

Yet youthful disaffection clearly has a role to play. Transatlantic trends also ran in parallel with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. Similar in age and improbability, both achieved extraordinary late success as leaders of insurgent political campaigns, each fuelled in large part by the devotion of youthful supporters. Sanders won more primary and caucus votes among under-30s than Clinton and Trump combined, and it has become a truism of writing on Corbyn that his rallies are filled with the enthused young. Both politicians profited from attacks on a system seen as ‘broken’, a rejection of managerial politics, and a desire for far-reaching change among younger citizens.

This dichotomy between the status-quo liberalism of younger voters and their support for the anti-establishment radicalism of Corbyn and Sanders may be in part explained by a consideration of the word ‘establishment’. An establishment exists in institutions, networks, and attitudes. In Britain, our favourite notion of the establishment is that stemming from our traditional class structures; the commingled networks of influence once tying together the public schools, Oxbridge, Guards Regiments, landowning gentry, Anglican Church and upper echelons of the Conservative Party.

The contemporary global establishment is different. Based on the presumption of meritocracy, today’s elite is at base educational – schooled in Oxbridge, the Ivy Leave, and institutions such as the Ecole Polytechnique. The financial establishment gains its further training in the elite institutions of global capitalism (Goldman Sachs, McKinsey), its meeting grounds in conferences like the Davos Forum, and its mouthpiece, the sublimely self-confident Economist magazine. Beside them stands the political establishment. In Britain, this is ever more the preserve of the educated. According to the Sutton Trust, of the members of the 2015 parliament, 33% attended a private school, and almost all possess a degree, and a quarter of MPs had an occupational background in politics prior to becoming an MP – the think tanks and lobbying firms that form the penumbra to political power.

Alongside this is the cultural establishment: academics, journalists, TV commentators. It is this establishment that does the most to form the norms of public discourse, to structure public narrative, and to create the cultural symbols by which social and political consciousness is mobilised. Uniting all three is professionalisation, a process that encourages area expertise and specialisation; but some say the British public has had enough of experts.

Different elements of the populace rail against different strands of ‘the establishment’. Much of Brexit and Trump campaigning was couched in anti-professionalism and a rejection of the cultural elite, whose preoccupation with identity politics some argue played into these dynamics. Much populist behaviour may be seen to be carried out in rejection of immigration, diversity, and identity politics. Millennials – ‘snowflakes’ and ‘Stepford Students’ to some right-wing journalists – are broadly identified as comfortable with all three.

In this sense, younger voters are not anti-establishment, for they have imbibed the social liberalism espoused by cultural elites since the 1960s. Younger voters tend to be more accepting of ethnic diversity and tolerant of alternative lifestyles. Above all, these voters tend to be more urban, and with the expansion of further education in Britain and the US, more educated too. Sharing an increasingly global and liberal culture, these younger voters congregate together in the great cities.

It is the under-30s who will most contend with the emerging experience of economic precarity – caught between the imperatives of student loan repayments, rapid change in the jobs market, a stagnant income, and inflated house prices. The preconditions of Millennial radicalism are there – and while Millennials supported Remain and (largely) came out for Hillary, Sanders and Corbyn have demonstrated the deep reserves of millennial frustration. As automisation and AI come further to transform the jobs market and with economic inequality rising across the west, politicians would do well to take note.

James Kingston is a member of Bright Blue. He is an entrepreneur and activist. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.