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America's Ruling Class

More required reading. This describes very well the revolution that has taken place in American politics in recent decades and the nature of the ruling class as presently constituted. The only point of contention I have with it is its nostalgia for the good old days of WASPish bourgeoisie rule.

But until our own time America’s upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and “bureaucrat” was a dirty word for all. So was “social engineering.” Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday’s upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.

I’m not sure I buy that. C. Wright Mills’ “The Power Elite” demonstrated pretty well the monolithic nature of the old elites.

The heads of the class do live in our big cities’ priciest enclaves and suburbs, from Montgomery County, Maryland, to Palo Alto, California, to Boston’s Beacon Hill as well as in opulent university towns from Princeton to Boulder. But they are no wealthier than many Texas oilmen or California farmers, or than neighbors with whom they do not associate — just as the social science and humanities class that rules universities seldom associates with physicians and physicists. Rather, regardless of where they live, their social-intellectual circle includes people in the lucrative “nonprofit” and “philanthropic” sectors and public policy. What really distinguishes these privileged people demographically is that, whether in government power directly or as officers in companies, their careers and fortunes depend on government. They vote Democrat more consistently than those who live on any of America’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Streets. These socioeconomic opposites draw their money and orientation from the same sources as the millions of teachers, consultants, and government employees in the middle ranks who aspire to be the former and identify morally with what they suppose to be the latter’s grievances.

In fact, it is possible to be an official of a major corporation or a member of the U.S. Supreme Court (just ask Justice Clarence Thomas), or even president (Ronald Reagan), and not be taken seriously by the ruling class.

This is too narrow a focus. This author ignores the Sunbelt insurgency fueled by the growth of the military-industrial complex in the postwar period which became the leadership of the kind of “movement conservatism” the author is obviously a product of. I wrote about that here. Like many conservatives, the author of this piece is very astute at pointing out the sins of the Left, but glosses over some of the sins of more traditional institutions or values. It’s still an excellent article, however.


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3 replies »

  1. Another quibble is that the author doesn’t fully understand the nature of the elitism of the ruling class. He’s right that members of the ruling class are driven to conformity by their desire to be accepted by other members of the ruling class, but what they arrive at is a form of egalitarianism which could be called, IMO, egalitarian elitism–elitists believing in egalitarianism to prove that they are elite. Larry Summers rolling over in 2005 when he was clearly in the right to suggest that the possibility of gender differences in math and science proficiency should be explored is an example of this:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/02/why-feminist-careerists-neutered-larry-summers/3795/

    Summers could have stood his ground and won the support of lots of people, but it wouldn’t have been from the right kind of people. To be accepted by “the smart people” at Harvard, he had to accept an obvious untruth, that people are equal.

  2. “He’s right that members of the ruling class are driven to conformity by their desire to be accepted by other members of the ruling class, but what they arrive at is a form of egalitarianism which could be called, IMO, egalitarian elitism–elitists believing in egalitarianism to prove that they are elite.”

    It’s also rather interesting and eerie how similar this is to the Leninist idea of the elite party functionaries supposedly enlightened by egalitarian ideology but who rule as an educational or caretaker dictatorship.

  3. The points you both make also fit in with a tendency I’ve noticed – that PC allows bourgeois liberals to engage in class-snobbery under the guise of benevolent progressivism.

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