Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wisdom of the "New Class"

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, a discussion of something called "New Class" was prompted by a series of articles in a philosophical journal that most of us will never read. While the prose is leaden and dense and indeed, invited the scorn of most commenters, the article gave me a something to think about and ways of looking at Obama and his coterie that I had not previously considered. First a taste of what you've been missing:

The paradigm of a "new class" originated in socialist Eastern Europe among dissidents and other regime critics as a way to describe the ensconced stratum of managers, technocrats, and ideologues who controlled the levers of power. The rhetorical irony of the phrase depended on the implied contrast with an "old class" as well as the good old class theory of the orthodox Marxism that once served as the established dogma of half the world. The history of class struggle, which had been history altogether, had culminated in the victory of a proletarian class that in turn had ushered in—or was well on its way to ushering in—a classless society. Or so the grand narrative went. To talk of a "new class," then, conjured up the unquestionable epistemology of class analysis, while simultaneously challenging the notional outcome: instead of the end of the state and classlessness, one was stuck with police states and a new class that, while eminently cooler than the Bolsheviks of yore, still exercised a dictatorship (of the not-proletariat) while skimming off the benefits of unequal power. The phrase turned Marxism against Marxism during those decades when the fall of the Berlin Wall was not even imaginable.

Migrating across the Atlantic, the term took on a new meaning in the last third of the twentieth century as a designator of the rise of a new post-industrial professional class, the cohort of the student movement after 1968 on its trajectory into social, cultural, and political power. At stake was the gradual displacement (if not disappearance) of the old markers of class distinction and the alternative privileging of sets of linguistic and intellectual capacities, combined with the assumption that greater intelligence implied a de facto natural claim on greater power: meritocracy means that the smarter should rule. Yet this trope just reiterated, in a new context, the problem of intellectuals and power, a curious echoing of East European rhetoric. As the best and brightest claimed power in order to rule better and with greater radiance, their critics came to dub them a "new class" in order to draw attention to their sanctimonious aspirations to pursue their own interests by remaking society in their own image. Paradoxically, the conservative critique of the new class could make the "Marxist" move of pointing out how universalist claims masked particularist interests. What ensued was a decades-long conflict between, on the one hand, advocates of more enlightened and ever more expansive administration of society, and, on the other, proponents of reduced state oversight, defenders of society against the state, and the deregulated market against the long reach of political power. The political wrangling of our current moment still takes place within this framework. The complexity of the new class and its culture, however, is that while it sets out to administer society and establish bureaucracies to regulate social and economic life domestically, at the same time it attempts to ratchet down the political and military power that might be projected externally: a strong state toward its subjects, a weak state toward its enemies!

Reading the whole article, and some Volokh commentary, they are saying that pointy headed professors who take over political parties think they know more than the rest of us and should be allowed to tell us what to do.

OK, that was an oversimplification. What astounds me is that cleverness by itself is considered to be superior to experience. In some ways you could say that both liberals and neocons suffer from this same malady, but in different ways. The neocon view of Iraq, was in a word naive. That a defeated people would welcome us with open arms and we therefor did not need "boots on the ground" to secure the victory was shown in hindsight to be a grave error. But liberals suffer their own delusions about foreign policy.

Its signature contribution to foreign policy is "smart power," a term that nobly implies that boots on the ground are dumb and that some—still elusive—strategic rhetorical eloquence will make enemies vanish without ever firing a gun, since language is its ultimate power. The corollary economic policy is negative, defined by discourses of environmentalism that imagine achieving greener national spaces by exporting dirty manufacturing and energy consumption to the developing world: not in our backyard.
Obama's promises to talk to Iran are the epitome of this arrogance. Note also the dichotomy of dispensing with the use of physical power abroad, but the ease to which the whip is applied to one's own citizenry. That is because it is for their own good. But we conservatives note that, and rightly, that the imposition of a greater regulation and entitlements, to be administered by an ever hungrier regime of bureaucracies guided by the professoriat, becomes self perpetuating and devolves power permanently to those who have the hubris to believe they should wield it. It is in fact, the Road to Serfdom.

Which brings me to why Sarah Palin is so hated by the Left. She is the only politician who ever laid a glove on Barack Obama, he of the golden tongue. His soaring rhetoric induced some to forget that he had achieved relatively little in his public life. She did so in a way that in our gut, we knew was true, because it talked to our experience of others like Obama who are "all show, and no dough." She did so with humor and with a reminder of the value of traditional values. Her success and her rhetoric were both an affront to the members of the "New Class" who see themselves as superior because they hold superior opinions and have a large vocabulary.

Tradition and religion, values, and experience born of difficulty are all the enemies of the "New Class" because they stand in direct opposition to their agenda of imposing the "Wholly Administered Society" on the rest of us. Sarah Palin is the walking example of success born of those attributes. Her degree from a small state school, her love of hunting and the fact that she is a good looking woman to boot, presented too much cognitive dissonance for the left to take. Hence the unbridled derangement.

Obamacare is the direct outgrowth of this thinking as well. Decades of experience with the failures of central planning do not deter those who wish power for themselves at our expense. It is an issue of freedom, and not just in the particulars, but in the global sense that it removes from us the responsibility for our own choices, without which freedom cannot exist.


  1. So, what you are trying to say is that the statists who currently hold sway in academia and politics are a bunch of flaming and damnable hyprocrites?

    Link forthcoming

  2. That's one way to put it. I am just trying to understand their psychology to better defeat them.

  3. Outstanding post. Have you seen the videos of Evan Sayet's lecture at the Heritage Foundation yet? Check them out and see where it leads your thinking. This post will take me some time to digest. The contrast of Sarah Palin with the ivory tower types really hit home, but I think there's more to it than that.