Friday, March 10, 2017

Class through the decades

From the new "serious" version of the Journal of American Greatness, American Affairs, Julius Krein's article about the administrative elite --

Today, with the old partisan categories in disarray, many pundits have begun to acknowledge the existence of a transpartisan elite with its own interests, if only as the antithesis of so-called populists. Yet although many efforts have been made to examine the motives—and, almost always, the pathologies—of populism, little serious thought has been given to the interests and character of the elite as a class. This refusal to interrogate or even conceive of a ruling class of elites reflects the once prevalent—and still lingering—belief that ideological conflict ended after the Cold War. Without a critique of the dominant ideology, the distinct class consciousness and interests of the elite seem to disappear. If there is no critique of the general political consensus, then there is no critique of the political elite, for it is that elite which constitutes and defines the larger society.

Robert Reich in the New York Times Magazine, January 1991 --

In all these ways, the gap between America's symbolic analysts and everyone else is widening into a chasm. Their secession from the rest of the population raises fundamental questions about the future of American society. In the new global economy -- in which money, technologies and corporations cross borders effortlessly -- a citizen's standard of living depends more and more on skills and insights, and on the infrastructure needed to link these abilities to the rest of the world. But the most skilled and insightful Americans, who are already positioned to thrive in the world market, are now able to slip the bonds of national allegiance, and by so doing disengage themselves from their less favored fellows. The stark political challenge in the decades ahead will be to reaffirm that, even though America is no longer a separate and distinct economy, it is still a society whose members have abiding obligations to one another.

The point is that while it's good to see renewed focus on a broader concept of elite than Piketty's billionaires, Krein severely limits his focus by wanting to position his telescope with James Burnham's 1940s-1950s perspective, refracted only by Irving Kristol in the 1970s. But that ignores a considerable New Class literature (referenced frequently on this blog last year as the Trump and Brexit phenomena unfolded) -- the work of Alvin Gouldner, Michael Walzer, the aforementioned Robert Reich, and David Brooks (name-checked but not elaborated, by Krein).

All of these writers in some way broadened the concept of the managerial elite beyond the 1950s notion of operators of economic command and control (whether in state or corporate structures) and analyzed cultural and sociological aspects of it.

So where Krein despairs that managerialism may be so embedded that we've forgotten it's there (or, implicitly, that it takes a Trump to get it to reveal itself), these other writers give us much clearer ideas about where to look for this particular elite. Brooks might suggest starting at your local Whole Foods (or boutique gym), and for a place like Ireland, Walzer's phrase bourgeoisie de robe is especially apposite.

No comments: