Read: Will Corbynism survive Jeremy Corbyn’s defeat?
The reasons to lump Corbyn and Sanders together are obvious enough. During the prime of their political careers, they were both dissidents howling at the neoliberal consensus. Decades of defiance left them as the lone, rumpled tribunes of an ideology that had supposedly been vanquished by history. But when the financial crisis of 2008 stoked raging indignation against the prevailing order, the zeitgeist unexpectedly gusted in their direction. Everything that had held them back—their righteous indignation, their indifference to artifice, their political isolation—suddenly propelled them forward.
While they share a skepticism of capitalism, they have different defining passions. As anyone who watched Bernie Sanders’s campaign in 2016 can attest, he doesn’t care that deeply about foreign policy. (For the first five months of that campaign, his website didn’t have a foreign-policy section.) Corbyn, by contrast, comes from a segment of the left motivated by anti-imperialism and its impulse to display solidarity with the subaltern. This makes Corbyn both more skeptical of his own government—as well as of the European Union—and more sympathetic to whatever groups he deems colonial victims. He made apologies for the Syrian barrel bomber Bashar al-Assad and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. He once described members of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends,” despite their histories of terrorism—a description he eventually retracted, after it already betrayed his core beliefs.
There’s no doubt that Sanders shares some of the Corbyn view of the world. He will sometimes invoke the inglorious American history of intervening in Latin America. But Sanders is less conspiratorial and more open-minded than his British cousin. Consider how differently they have reacted to Vladimir Putin. When the Russians poisoned an ex-spy and his daughter in Salisbury last year, Corbyn expressed immediate skepticism about how quickly the British government apportioned blame for the crime. Sanders hasn’t similarly hesitated to criticize Putin. He readily condemned Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. And he has said that he would make opposition to authoritarian kleptocrats central to his foreign policy. (His speeches linking global inequality to illiberal authoritarianism contain a theory of kleptocracy that other candidates should borrow.)
While Sanders might have been a foreign-policy outlier in the years immediately following 9/11, his views aren’t so far from the prevailing post-Iraq consensus. He doesn’t reject humanitarian intervention on principle, even as he rails against endless wars. Sanders supported the U.S. air strikes during the Kosovo War; he was sympathetic to Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya, although he eventually came to view that policy skeptically. Where Corbyn has said that he wished NATO never existed, Sanders has merely bellyached about member states paying their dues.