The Fracturing of Liberal Pangaea

Kenneth Anderson of The Volokh Conspiracy has a must-read post titled “The Fragmenting of the New Class Elites, or, Downward Mobility:”

The problem the New Class faces at this point is the psychological and social self-perceptions of a status group that is alienated (as we marxists say) from traditional labor by its semi-privileged upbringing — and by the fact that it is actually, two distinct strands, a privileged one and a semi-privileged one.  It is, for the moment, insistent not just on white-collar work as its birthright and unable to conceive of much else.  It does not celebrate the dignity of labor; it conceived of itself as existing to regulate labor.  So it has purified itself to the point that not just any white-collar work will do.  It has to be, as Michelle Obama instructed people in what now has to be seen as another era, virtuous non-profit or government work.  Those attitudes are changing, but only slowly; the university pipelines are still full of people who cannot imagine themselves in any other kind of work, unless it means working for Apple or Google.


As Anderson notes, “In social theory, OWS is best understood not as a populist movement against the bankers, but instead as the breakdown of the New Class into its two increasingly disconnected parts:”

The upper tier, the bankers-government bankers-super credentialed elites.  But also the lower tier, those who saw themselves entitled to a white collar job in the Virtue Industries of government and non-profits — the helping professions, the culture industry, the virtueocracies, the industries of therapeutic social control, as Christopher Lasch pointed out in his final book, The Revolt of the Elites.

This dovetails into a comment that Ace made last year, during Obama and the MSM’s polling meltdown over the Ground Zero Mosque, that it’s possible to hold yourself out as part of the liberal elite, without having great wealth or power. All it takes is constantly holding contrary positions and an elitist worldview:

I was having a debate with steve_in_hb yesterday. Steve proffered his boring, conventional, dumb opinion that the supposed elites are drawn to this position because they are compelled to take a position that finds America to be the Great Satan at every turn.

I agreed with Steve’s stupid civilian poorly-thought-out opinion, but opined that I thought it wasn’t as simple as his low-functioning unenlightened moron-brain conceived it; my belief is that these people take a psychological comfort, a psychological delight, in taking positions that the majority of their fellow countrymen find repugnant, because this affords them what they really want: A method of differentiating themselves from the common and thereby elevating themselves to ranks of elite.

And note this is quite necessary: The “elite” are not made up of the rich. Sure, there are many rich in the elite, but that’s not what makes them elite. There are many poor “elite” who claim to be elite not due to their salary or position but due to thinking what the other elites think only.

Similarly with education — yes, the elite contains many educated people (many overeducated people, who proclaim things so stupid only an intellectual could believe them) but, again, this “elite” is not just comprised of those who hold post-graduate degrees. Or college degrees. Or high school degrees. Or even GEDs, for that matter. No, once again, “elitehood” is conferred not by any extrinsic indicator like level of education but by proud proclamation of agreement with others presumed to be in the “elite” class.

It is based on this phenomenon, of course, that trolls who clearly do not have a high school education to their credit come on to this blog and tell us how dumb we are.

So my brilliant observation, as opposed to Steve’s pedestrian, sloven-brained one, is that these positions largely proceed not by mere happenstance to dispute the commoners’ opinions, but indeed wind up in that conflict by design.

They must take a position opposite the common people, otherwise, how could they be elite? One cannot be elite if one holds common positions, can one?


Ironically though, it’s much easier to embrace that level of smugness during a booming economy — you’re much more likely to find a job that suits your elitist worldview when unemployment is low, the stock market is booming, venture capital money is sloshing around, than during our current seemingly endless “Unexpected” Recovery Bummer grind, with high unemployment and businesses terrified to hire or expand because they don’t know which legislation is going to randomly bite them on their asset sheet. Unfortunately, economic growth requires government getting out of the way; the last 100 years have been a constant reminder that you can’t regulate your way into prosperity.

Or as Anderson concludes:

The OWS protestors are a revolt — a shrill, cri-de-coeur wail at the betrayal of class solidarity — of the lower tier New Class against the upper tier New Class.  It was, after all, the upper tier New Class, the private-public finance consortium, that created the student loan business and inflated the bubble in which these lower tier would-be professionals borrowed the money.  It’s a securitization machine, not so very different from the subprime mortgage machine.  The asset bubble pops, but the upper tier New Class, having insulated itself and, as with subprime, having taken its cut upfront and passed the risk along, is still doing pretty well.  It’s not populism versus the bankers so much as internecine warfare between two tiers of elites.


Except that one group really is an elite — and can weather the downturn relatively unscathed, as Anderson notes. The other is a pose. Good luck maintaining that in bottomed-out economy.


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