All culture wars, all the time

by John Quiggin on March 18, 2012

I’ve been meaning for a while to write a post about the way in which all US political issues are viewed, particularly from the right, through the lens of the culture wars. The same is true for the large segments of the right in other English-speaking countries that take their lead from the US. I decided to get it done after reading this piece from Jonathan Haidt in the NYT, which makes quite a few of the points I had in mind, but treats political tribalism as an eternal reality (here evo-psych raises its inevitable head) rather than a factor that varies in importance at different times and places.

What really prompted this was the way in which the health care debate, which only a few years back was the province of the wonkiest of policy wonks, is now a battlefield over religious liberty, state control over ladyparts and so on. The same is true in spades of climate change, and environmental protection generally,  an area that was pretty much bipartisan at one time.

It’s even more striking in relation to foreign policy. With the exception of unconditional support for Israel (or more precisely for the Likud party line), there’s no longer any core Republican position either on particular issues (which wars to support or oppose) or on general principles like Jacksonian, Hamiltonian and so on.

It’s not that they disagree on these foreign policy issues, it’s the the policy issues are now secondary. What matters is support for the military as an institution, for military values, and for American military greatness as an end in itself. Michael Ledeen’s observation that “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business” is an exact description, except that the purpose is not to show the world anything but to bolster American self-esteem.

The culture war dominance even extends to the basic issues of class and economic policy. I was always puzzled by the way the term “working class” was used in the US, until I discovered that the standard criterion was not having a four-year college degree. With that definition, and the well-known correlation between education and political liberalism, it’s unsurprising to find that Republicans do well with white “working class” voters, and particular with those members of the “working class” who make more than $50 000 a year, and may even be employers. In this context, the explicit attack on higher education by Rick Santorum (JD, MBA) is particularly noteworth.

Coming finally to economic policy, Repubs seem to have little remaining interest in arguing that their preferred policies will actually benefit anyone outside the 1 per cent. Rather, it’s all about Donner Party conservatism, punishing welfare queens and so on.

Most of the time Haidt treats all of this as an illustration of a universal truth. But in his final para, he recognises, at least implicitly, that the total dominance of culture war isn’t the normal state of politics

The timing could hardly be worse. America faces multiple threats and challenges, many of which will require each side to accept a “grand bargain” that imposes, at the very least, painful compromises on core economic values. But when your opponent is the devil, bargaining and compromise are themselves forms of sacrilege.

You don’t have to buy the “grand bargain” story, or to be an enthusiast for bargaining and compromise, to recognise that a political system dominated by tribal shibboleths is unlikely to produce good outcomes.

It’s not easy to see how this can be resolved through methods of political debate. Rather, it’s a matter of which side can gain and hold the majority. In this respect, there’s a striking difference between Republican tribalism and the kind of identity politics that has long characterized parts of the left. Left identity politics typically involves focusing one aspect of your identity (gender, sexuality, race, religion, class) and organizing around issue that affect the relevant group. We spent a lot of time in the 70s arguing over whether gender trumped class and so on, and getting nowhere, with the result that the left side of politics, to the extent that it can be viewed in these terms, is, as Haidt puts it, a coalition of tribes.

But that’s not true of the right – it’s core tribal appeal is to white, anti-intellectual, non-feminist, non-poor, Christian, heterosexuals who identify themselves, and others who share all these characteristics as “real Americans’. The problem they face is that each of these taken individually is a majority characteristic, the majority of people deviate from the model in one way or another. So, the way to defeat Repub tribalism is to peel off everyone who is on the wrong side of one or another of their culture wars, and reduce them to a minority

That’s more than enough from me, and I’m sure I’ve got plenty wrong, so feel free to set me straight.

 

 

{ 289 comments }

1

DCA 03.18.12 at 6:39 am

And don’t forget methods of teaching reading: whole-word is liberal, as opposed to the kind of good old-fashioned phonics that real Americans use. (As it happens I am a liberal who supports phonics, but so help me this is what has happened, at least on the conservative side).

2

Doctor Science 03.18.12 at 6:48 am

Footnote 1 is rather enigmatic, I find.

fixed thanks – JQ

3

Chris Bertram 03.18.12 at 7:53 am

David Graeber has an essay, The Political Metaphysics of Stupidity (pdf) , that has a nice Bourdieu-influenced analysis of the roots of the Republican “working class” resentment of the intelligensia:

bq. Bush voters, I would suggest, tend to resent intellectuals as a class more than [they resent] rich people, largely because they can imagine a scenario in which they might become rich, but cannot possibly imagine one in which they or any of their children would become a member of the liberal intelligentsia. If you think about it that’s not an unreasonable assessment. A truck driver’s son from Wyoming might not have very much chance of becoming a millionaire, but it could happen. Certainly, it’s much more likely than his ever becoming an international human rights lawyer, or drama critic for the New York Times. Such jobs go almost exclusively to children of privilege. Insofar as there are not quite enough children of privilege to go around—since elites almost never produce enough offspring to reproduce themselves demographically—the jobs are likely to go to the most remarkable children of immigrants.

And of course the intelligensia’s contempt for “rednecks” (and, increasingly in the UK for “Chavs” – on which see Owen Jones’s recent book) reinforces those people’s resentment towards the pointy-headed effete class.

My impression is that this wasn’t always so. There was a period starting in the 1950s and which maybe closed with Reagan/Thatcher when there were plenty of opportunities for working class kids to enter the intelligensia and they did so. But elite higher ed is now reserved for the children of elites and “not for us”. Hence a powerful resentment-fuelled cycle.

4

Jexpat 03.18.12 at 7:56 am

Santorum’s credentials are BA, JD, MBA although in America it’s customary to leave off the undergraduate degree and only list the Doctor of Jurisprudence and Master of Business Administration behind one’s name.

Other than that, you’ve got this mostly correct.

fixed thanks – JQ

5

bad Jim 03.18.12 at 8:41 am

The problem for the right is that the intersection of each majority attribute (white, Protestant, uneducated, non-urban) describes a shrinking group and nearly by definition excludes the possibility of recruitment. This can’t work in the long term. It isn’t even a majority now.

6

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.18.12 at 9:21 am

Left identity politics typically involves focusing one aspect of your identity (gender, sexuality, race, religion, class) and organizing around issue that affect the relevant group.

Well, first of all, identity politics is not ‘left'; there is no reason for the left to create, and endlessly promote stupid ‘black vs white’, ‘women vs men’ dichotomies.

I’ve never heard them focusing on, or even mentioning ‘class’, in the marxist sense: the conflict between owners of means of production and those who sell their labor. So, if it’s true that all politics is ultimately an expression of class struggle, then democrats’ identity politics serve exactly the same purpose as republican culture wars: to obscure and distract.

7

Nick 03.18.12 at 10:00 am

Actually, dont the democrats do substantially better in working class communities than repubs? I keep reading results like that from Andrew perhaps I’m missing that point in this article.

For another global comparison, you might enjoy the strange death of moral Britain by Christie Davies. Explains how the authoritarian institutions of church, family and army reinforced rejection of homosexuality, and how their erosion altered political discourse in uk away from what you see in the us.

8

Nick 03.18.12 at 10:02 am

That’s andrew Gelman.

9

roger 03.18.12 at 11:29 am

Chris, excellent find! This is why the sniffiness about ‘ignorant’ or ‘tribal’ non-college educated people drives me crazy. And why I can’t stand the “what is the matter with Kansas’ thesis, which I think is completely silly in every way – not only with the presupposition that economic self interest should always cap cultural values (which the Elites sure don’t think is true of themselves – it is rare that you will hear the argument that homophobia is to be avoided unless you can make an extra thousand dollars on it per year) but is also untrue about economic values (it completely ignores the freeriders advantage). This, too, may be why the liberalism characteristic of Hollywood has made little dent in the popularity of Hollywood – which has long encouraged the idea that the Wyoming truck driver’s son or daughter can get into the movies, or become a pop star. Britney is a much more vibrant Red State icon, when all is said and done, than Joe the Plumber.

10

J. Otto Pohl 03.18.12 at 12:07 pm

I don’ t think you are right about the appeal of modern conservatism. It is not aimed as some hodge podge of whites, rural dwellers, Christians, etc. It is rather aimed at a national vision of Americans. It is true that historically the US nation has been constructed around institutions and values associated with many of the categories listed, but the actual larger group that is being targeted are not those specific categories. Rather it is the larger category of patriotic Americans adhering to traditional values. Hence it is quite possible to integrate blacks, Jews, and members from other groups of people that express support for the institutions and values upheld to be American. Peeling away various groups of people from this core on the basis that they don’t fit some leftist view of all Republicans as rich, white, heterosexual, Christians is thus a non-starter. The concept of ‘real Americanism’ is not based upon having all or even any of these features. It is based upon feeling part of a larger American nation and having a particular view of the history and institutions of that nation. Otherwise there would be zero instead of few Jewish, black, gay, etc. Republicans.

11

Watson Ladd 03.18.12 at 1:33 pm

How do you explain Chicago politics, where the strength of the traditional democratic party is in the southwest and northwest wards, as well as the South Side, while the reformers are all by the lake?

J. Otto Pohl, it’s not clear what that view of America is. Neocons would probably view the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil War in very different terms then the State’s Rights people who inhabit the Republican Party. Neoconservatives are also, see David Brooks, much less willing to draw a divide between the cultural elite and the rest of the country.

Or to put it another way: the image of the US as a unique country that is the arsenal of democracy and the home of freedom doesn’t stop the Republicans from being harsh to those who want to come here.

12

Shane Taylor 03.18.12 at 1:40 pm

Compromise is for those who are concerned about governing and who have some rough agreement on how to define the country’s problems. But as Chris Ladd argued in an under-appreciated post, you can’t assume either with the Christian Nationalists. Their threats and challenges aren’t Haidt’s threats and challenges.

13

Uncle Kvetch 03.18.12 at 2:35 pm

Are we quite sure we’re witnessing some kind of big structural shift here, and not something more ephemeral?

Specifically, sometimes I think that Barack Obama, and the skin color thereof, is the elephant in the room here, and that what we’re experiencing in the US is a spasm of crazy that will subside dramatically the day there’s no longer an uppity negro in the White House.

I have a cousin who posts all kinds of wingnutty stuff on Facebook, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the folks in his circle find the very existence of Barack Obama maddening. Regardless of the subject matter, the tone is invariably one of “Who the hell does he think he is?” It’s never explicitly racial, but the subtext is unmistakeable.

14

LFC 03.18.12 at 2:41 pm

C Bertram @3
Graeber’s point may sound intuitively plausible but I’m not sure the evidence supports it. For one thing, ‘elite’ education in the US is not exclusively ‘consumed’ (for lack of a better word) by children of the elite. One has to distinguish betw. economic inequality on the one hand and, on the other hand, who gets which particular jobs. There are still sectors of US society in which ‘the career open to talents’ probably applies to some extent. Conversely, there are probably a fair number of children of the elite — or let’s just say middle-class children who get college degrees — who never achieve their career aspirations (whatever they might be). I’m speculating but so is Graeber, and the fact that his anthropological work on Madagascar, debt etc. is impressive does not mean that his armchair sociology of the US, as represented by the quoted passage about the imaginary Wyoming truck driver’s son, is necessarily right.

15

LFC 03.18.12 at 2:45 pm

P.s. There may be a ‘resentment-fuelled cycle’ but it’s not necessarily fueled mainly by the supposedly ‘closed’ nature of certain ‘elite’ occupations. A lot of other things can breed resentments.

16

Omega Centauri 03.18.12 at 2:57 pm

Uncle,
I’m not so sure? I remember the viseral hatred of anything Clinton. Admittedly this included the charge that Clinton was “the first black president”, made because his policies were popular with said group. I think the “tribal” identity is more along the lines of “hates anything liberal”.

We will see about the peeling away, coming from self actions on the R side, rather than policies of the left. War against women, and war against Hispanics, if they both excluded the entire groupings would be sufficient to doom the party.

17

Manta1976 03.18.12 at 2:58 pm

Fully agree with Henry @6: while republicans and democrats fighted their culture wars, on the economic issues they “compromised” all the time (where by “compromise” I mean that they sold out to the rich).
I would also add that there is a more a divide among liberals and the actual policies of democrats in congress and as presidents than among conservatives and repulicans in power.

18

Manta1976 03.18.12 at 3:00 pm

Forgot to add: also on “national security” and “foreign policy” issue the agreements between democrats and republicans (in power) is complete.

19

marcel 03.18.12 at 3:06 pm

Several comments on the comments.

1) I agree with Dr. Science

2 & 3) Bad Jim wrote:

The problem for the right is that the intersection of each majority attribute (white, Protestant, uneducated, non-urban) describes a shrinking group and nearly by definition excludes the possibility of recruitment. This can’t work in the long term. It isn’t even a majority now.

J. Otto Pohl wrote (I think in partial response):

Hence it is quite possible to integrate blacks, Jews, and members from other groups of people that express support for the institutions and values upheld to be American. Peeling away various groups of people from this core on the basis that they don’t fit some leftist view of all Republicans as rich, white, heterosexual, Christians is thus a non-starter. The concept of ‘real Americanism’ is not based upon having all or even any of these features. It is based upon feeling part of a larger American nation and having a particular view of the history and institutions of that nation. Otherwise there would be zero instead of few Jewish, black, gay, etc. Republicans.

I think that what has happened over time is that the groups defined as “white” and “Protestant” and “non-urban” have been redefined over time as necessary.

Between the 2 WWs, “white” was expanded to include pretty much all Protestants and in the 1950s and 1960s, only partially in response to the Civil Rights Movement, it continued until it included Jews and Catholics (and the Orthodox, a much smaller collection of groups in the U.S.) — pretty much everyone whose ancestors could be traced to Europe before the modern period. I say “only partially in response to the Civil Rights Movement” because this trend began during the interwar period but was certainly completed only simultaneous with the CRM. This expansion of the notion of “white” can be traced back at least to the 1840s, when frequent skepticism of the whiteness of the Irish was commonly expressed, only to disappear, by and large, by the end of that decade.

Distinctions between different Protestant religions were once important, often reflecting regional and class differences, but have now largely faded so that what is important is conservative Christian vs. all others (although skepticism of the the Christianity of others, e.g. of Mormons, remains, similar to the skepticism of the whiteness of the Irish). It is difficult to imagine Santorum winning a primary, Democratic or Republican, in Mississippi or Alabama, a generation ago. The tent has been enlarged as necessary.

Finally, although this is less clear, “non-urban” has grown to include “suburban”.

This strain of Americana is as protean as Whitman.

20

Uncle Kvetch 03.18.12 at 3:30 pm

Uncle,
I’m not so sure? I remember the viseral hatred of anything Clinton. Admittedly this included the charge that Clinton was “the first black president”, made because his policies were popular with said group. I think the “tribal” identity is more along the lines of “hates anything liberal”.

OC, I go back and forth on this myself. I do think it’s significant that Clinton’s legitimacy as president wasn’t questioned in the same way from Day 1 — that took several years of dogged persistence and panty-sniffing to establish the fact that he had no “right” to the office. There was no equivalent to birtherism in the Clinton years, and I think that’s significant.

But you may be right that we’re going to see these culture-war freakouts any time a Democrat manages to get into the White House, and that while the details may change, the essentials are unchanged.

I think the “tribal” identity is more along the lines of “hates anything liberal”.

And of course with both Clinton and Obama, the hated “liberalness” existed far more in the right’s fevered imagination than in the reality of policy.

21

christian_h 03.18.12 at 4:09 pm

I want to comment on John’s trouble with the American notion of “working class”, in partial agreement with Henri at 6. (The agreement with Henri is only partial b/c I believe Henri is over-egging the pudding, as it were, about left politics of identity – most of which are not, in fact, based on exclusion or separation. You will have a hard time finding radical feminist influence in actually existing feminist politics, for example.)

Anyway, on that “working class”: I do think part of the blame for this mis-use of the term as a collection of cultural markers (rather than, for example, as a description of one’s position relative to the means of production) does lie with the new left’s turn towards politics of identity; not because being anti-racist or feminist necessitates a turn away from class (I’d argue the opposite, in fact), but because it led to an understanding of class as just another identity among many being “performed” by individuals.

22

Ed 03.18.12 at 4:17 pm

I agree with Uncle Kvetch. Its difficult to tease out the white racist vote in 2008, since by that time most of the remaining white racists (and there are fewer of them than in the past) have become regular supports of Republican candidates. But its generally agreed that racists among whites are more likely to be found among the poorer, less educated, less urban voters away from the coasts and this is where Obama underperformed, or even got a lower percentage than Kerry, in 2008. But these same areas have been trending Republican for lots of other reasons for some time, so the effect is really difficult to determine.

Another thing is that the personal villanfication of the candidate of the “wrong” party in the U.S. today is pretty tame compared to the nineteenth century. Democrats do it too, though more mildly, modern Republican presidents are invariably portrayed as stupid (not so much Nixon and GHW Bush, because the charge would have been obviously ridiculous, but certainly for Ike, Reagan, Ford, and Dubya). Its too easy to make too much of these things.

23

Ed 03.18.12 at 4:24 pm

Sometimes U.S. politics reminds me of the system in India, where the BJP started out trying to appeal to Hindi speaking Hindus (there was also a considerable caste dimension which I am completely ignoring). Well, a big majority of voters in India are Hindi speakers, and a big majority are Hindus, but the minorities in both cases are large and those who fall into both categories, and are willing to identify primarily as such, are bare majorities of the electorate at best. The party recognized that and started forming alliances with parties and running candidates from minority religions and regions.

The paradox is that in polyglot nations you usually will have a majority or even dominant region, religion, race or ethnic group, language and so on, but the people who are in the majority in every relevant category are themselves a distinct majority, usually just under 40% of the population. If this group is large enough you have the basis of a party system where one party identifies them as their base electorate.

24

Ed 03.18.12 at 4:27 pm

“Actually, dont the democrats do substantially better in working class communities than repubs? “

No they don’t, but the lack of a clear and accepted definition in the U.S. for what constitutes the “working class” means there are endless arguments about this. And race complicates things here as with everything else.

25

geo 03.18.12 at 4:50 pm

roger @9: I can’t stand the “what is the matter with Kansas’ thesis, which I think is completely silly in every way – not only with the presupposition that economic self interest should always cap cultural values

What is completely silly in every way is your understanding of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, which doesn’t say or imply anything of the sort. What the book documents and deplores is the way a generation of unscrupulous, demagogic Republican campaigns have persuaded people who are, rightly or wrongly, unhappy with the state of popular culture and social morality that everything wrong with the world is the fault of un-American liberal elites, whose worst offense, by the way, is that they want to interfere with the workings of the free market. Doesn’t make sense? Welcome to American politics.

26

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.18.12 at 5:09 pm

not because being anti-racist or feminist necessitates a turn away from class (I’d argue the opposite, in fact)

Oh, please. Of course in US politics it does. In US politics having 50% of the CEOs female and black would be lauded as the greatest achievement. President whose father was an African makes people ecstatic.

Or take the most obvious: the struggle for equal pay. Nothing’s wrong with it, of course, but how is it not taking a turn away from class? I don’t see how insisting that men and women are exploited equally is a lefty goal.

27

christian_h 03.18.12 at 5:29 pm

Henri (26.): Note the word “necessitates”. Note also I’m talking about left politics. That liberal bourgeois politics incorporates feminism or anti-racism into their ideological framework in its own way is not surprising, nor should it be; that the politics of identity are even turned into commodities should not come as a shock either – it’s what capitalism does.

Your error is not in deploring this incorporation of eg feminism into a bourgeois framework – it IS in fact deplorable and hugely damaging to the cause of feminism itself – your error is in thinking that feminist or anti-racist struggle somehow are to be held responsible, that if they did not exist US liberalism would magically become the struggle of the unified working class. This is mystifying to me. Quite the opposite is true: the struggle for the rights of oppressed groups is crucially important to working class struggles (and vice versa!) – that’s really Marxism 101. And yes, this includes struggles for equality within bourgeois capitalism. Not only because it’s the right thing to do anyway, but because the history of class struggles shows that, for example, the fight of female workers for equality often leads to a more general fight of workers against their bosses. It comes across as quite patronizing, I’d say, to suggest that female workers are not aware that struggling for the right to be exploited equally isn’t enough.

There’s this little book “Feminism is for everyone” by bell hooks which is highly recommended reading :)

28

JSE 03.18.12 at 5:32 pm

There was no equivalent to birtherism in the Clinton years, and I think that’s significant.

The kind of people who now question Obama’s citizenship were, fifteen years ago, saying that Clinton killed a dude, wrapped his body in a carpet, and dumped it in a DC public park.

29

christian_h 03.18.12 at 5:34 pm

P.S.: In my view, the struggle for equal pay is manifestly a turn towards class, not away from it. Because it is a struggle not of female CEO’s or academics, but of some of the most exploited strata of the working class – cleaners, wait staff, nursing aids etc. Because it can succeed only through inflicting massive defeats on the capitalists. This particular issue has played a large role in many of the few organizing successes the US labour movement has seen lately (not coincidentally, it also intersects with the struggle for the rights of immigrant workers…)

30

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.18.12 at 5:52 pm

the struggle for the rights of oppressed groups is crucially important to working class struggles

I don’t get this. People are exploited, some more than others. Cleaners, waiting staff are exploited more; there are some that are chronically unemployed and live in a ghetto.

Why is it not enough to identify them as ‘waiting staff’ and ‘chronically unemployed’? How does it help to group them by some other characteristic, and then demand that this characteristic is equally distributed? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

31

fs 03.18.12 at 5:56 pm

next up to be defined as white? probably Asian, in particular South Asians – if they’re from a high caste, which most of them are (in the US I mean). Jindal, etc. They may have become Christians but as Indians know well – that is a minor thing compared to caste.

It could be the same with Hispanics, i.e. trying to differentiate within a very diverse group, but probably won’t because of the migration pressure.

32

chris 03.18.12 at 6:05 pm

Henri @6: I’ve never heard them focusing on, or even mentioning ‘class’, in the marxist sense: the conflict between owners of means of production and those who sell their labor.

If you’re suggesting that by Marx’s formulation a neurosurgeon and a janitor are on the *same* side of the class divide, I’m hardly surprised modern liberals dare to question that orthodoxy. Society has moved on from the days of the ancien regime rentier-aristocrat, and so has the class struggle. On many policy issues the neurosurgeons and their ilk are the ones trying to keep the rabble outside the walls (in some neighborhoods literally, except of course when they have to be let in the gates to mow the lawns and take out the garbage, or for that matter, man the gatehouse) and, of course, out of their children’s schools.

Uncle Kvetch @13: Are we quite sure we’re witnessing some kind of big structural shift here, and not something more ephemeral?

Specifically, sometimes I think that Barack Obama, and the skin color thereof, is the elephant in the room here

But the Obama presidency *is* a manifestation of a big structural shift; he’s the first black President but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be the last. We are on the brink of the total collapse of the idea that you have to be a white male to *really* matter in this country, and there’s nothing ephemeral about that (even if the next president or two might be white males, we’ll all still know that they didn’t *have* to be).

JQ @OP: You don’t have to buy the “grand bargain” story, or to be an enthusiast for bargaining and compromise, to recognise that a political system dominated by tribal shibboleths is unlikely to produce good outcomes.

Sure, but who says your approach to politics has to be viewed through the lens of the outcomes it produces? Not everybody, clearly. Tribalism doesn’t need a narrative about how it is justified because it produces better outcomes; tribalism is its own justification.

Liberals sometimes joke about the idea that conservatives don’t care which way the bus is going as long as they are in the driver’s seat, but I don’t think it’s really a joke. The idea that the most important thing about the political system is not who is winning, but what kind of outcomes it produces for people’s lives, is one competing viewpoint of what politics is about, and I’m not at all sure it commands a majority.

I think that’s also why you don’t seem to quite grasp conservative foreign policy:

“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business” is an exact description, except that the purpose is not to show the world anything but to bolster American self-esteem.

Showing the world we’re in charge (which is what Ledeen really meant by “we mean business”) IS how they bolster American self-esteem. Being the country that pushes the others around is desirable for the same reason as being the ethnic group or religion that pushes the others around.

33

Dr. Hilarius 03.18.12 at 6:10 pm

christian_h at 21 is dead on about “working class” being more a tribal or cultural marker than an economic class. You can make millions a year from investments and call yourself working class (or average American or real American) by virtue of eating red meat, watching Nascar or sporting a Confederate flag decal on your Hummer. And the strange thing is that you can get away with this fiction.

In my experience, the cultural/tribal issue has intensified over the last 30 or 40 years. Nixon’s southern strategy whipped up existing racism and began the process of identifying blacks with crime, drugs, sexual excess and welfare. The Vietnam war created an additional fracture between those who could admit to American failure and those who saw the “loss” of South Vietnam as due to the disloyalty of college students, commie faculty and elitist intellectuals (ignoring the fact that the architects of the war were elitist intellectuals a la McNamara and Kissinger). From the vantage point of being a military brat it was clear that Vietnam marked a sea change in how the military was viewed in the US. Unquestioning support of all things military was a litmus test for Americanism.

All of the looney aspects of the current right wing (creationism, religious conservatism, fear of female sexuality, American exceptionalism …) were all present in the 50’s and 60’s. What has happened is that what were once marginal, fringe elements on the right, such as the John Birch Society and Rand worshipers, have become centrist dogma. Jesus, Barry Goldwater would be considered a leftist by his party today.

The rise of tribal identification worked against economic class as a determinant of party affiliation. Working class voters who had been strong democrats no longer wanted to be identified with uncomfortable cultural changes such as feminism or gay rights. Environmentalists are a relatively new addition to the right’s enemy list. Pick at the particulars of What’s the Matter with Kansas, but I see it’s general thesis born out in everyday encounters. The bursting of several economic bubbles has made some Americans more class conscious as in the Occupy movement. People I know who subscribe to all manner of right lunacy (I have no choice in my relatives) have moved into ever darker fears of bankers and jews.

34

Chris Bertram 03.18.12 at 6:38 pm

LFC: Graeber is (a) a (working class) American who has taught at an elite US school (Yale) and (b) is heavily involved with Occupy. So I imagine he does know whereof he speaks. But if you do have counterevidence, I’d be interested to read it.

35

JollyR 03.18.12 at 6:40 pm

Seems to me that both major American parties in action are guilty of paying what amounts to lip service to ideologies and of focusing mainly on winning the next election. Not to recognize that the Republican Party consists of a coalition of ideologies, just as does the Democratic Party, reveals a lack of depth in thinking, or a superficiality of study, of who the various Presedential Nominee contenders represent. Main ideologies within the Republican Party coalition include Christian Democrats, who have fled from the Democratic Party despite a strong socialist and progressive base within that ideology,note that I would throw the Religious Right as a subgroup within the Christian Democrats; National Socialists; Libertarians, who are almost necessarily against whoever is in power; thinly disguised Mercantilists; and Federalists. This coalition has considerable internal tension since all the groups except the Libertarians accept that government is the answer (the Federalists believe government is the answer, they just don’t think that Central government is the answer), but they differ in other important aspects and priorities that are difficult to resolve. Further complicating things is that groups such as the Christian Democrats think they are against growing central government, when in fact they are not. They just want a central government that promotes their values instead of the competing values.

Regarding the Econ 101 emphasis on “selfishness”, I guess it depends on how it is taught. At one point there was an attempt in “Econ 101″ to escape saying that everyone was basically a miser by talking about “utility”, which could mean anything. That concept seemed to confuse more than it enlightened. (The concept of utility also was doomed by the generally, although not universally held, concept that price transmitted all necessary information on average marginal utility in a free market with properly balanced monetary policy. Although academia seemed to recognize that not all of the conditions for price transmitting this information could not be met, none the less, it pervailed.) One of the teachings of game theory is that it is important to understand what your opponent considers to be a payoff, paying particular attention to the fact that their perspective may not be the same as your own. Responding in one’s own best interest can mean a relatively high level of altruism, if that is where one’s heart is. Despite the centuries that have passed since the Enlightenment and the advance (and decline) of Classical Liberalism, pure selfishness in the narrow sense has not gained a majority following, and would seem unlikely to do so. In short I would argue that Dr. Quiggin is more opposed to the average understanding of Econ 101 than he is to the actual theory.

It is tempting to say that currently the US Democratic Party stands for social and economic equality and that the US Republican Party stands for economic progress for all, even it that means that inequality remains or grows. My perception is that those concepts of priority are only a part of the debate and do not fairly represent the grass roots level support. In the end, I more or less agree that politics are “tribal”, although I object somewhat to use of that term as misleading. The endurance of this political “tribalism” in any society would seem to be based mainly upon whether or not diversity of opinion within that society also endures. The Libertarian within me is rooting for “all culture wars, all the time”.

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bianca steele 03.18.12 at 6:41 pm

This interview with Haidt from the Boston Globe has a different focus, and I’m not sure it fits the argument in the OP, though maybe so. (I think you need a free login, though I’m not sure, the site can’t seem to keep me logged in.)

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Tim Wilkinson 03.18.12 at 6:48 pm

ever darker fears of bankers and jews

Definitely ‘and jews’? I only ask because anti-semitism is routinely ascribed to various constituencies (conspiracy theorists, populists, antiLikudniks etc.), often in what appears a highly prejudicial way, and such ascriptions tend to be waved through with similar presumption.

If you are right, that’s depressing, but handy for bankers. (See also http://crookedtimber.org/2009/11/24/im-with-stupid/#comment-296481 , etc.)

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Barry 03.18.12 at 6:51 pm

J Otto @ 10 – the big question is short-term vs long-term. For example, in the short-term we are watching the GOP base eject Hispanics, for the most part. IIRC, GOP identification has been slipping for quite some time among people with a college degree or higher. In terms of Protestantism, the GOP has become much more an evangelical/fundamentalist party, as we see now. I have a feeling that the GOP is going to have major losses among women.

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Salient 03.18.12 at 6:57 pm

geo, lots of love and all as always, but we might have to go toe-to-toe on this one.

have persuaded people who are, rightly or wrongly, unhappy with the state of popular culture and social morality that everything wrong with the world is the fault of un-American liberal elite

Everything wrong with the world is the fault of un-American liberal elite. These voters have not been misled in any way. Their definition of ‘wrong’ predated any kind of Republican reclamation, and in fact ‘we’ exploited them far more crassly for forty years not quite one century ago, in order to install a welfare state.

And we really did dump a massive and ongoing categorical betrayal on the ‘working class’ (which, c’mon folks, in America means ‘white male bigot’ class, and nothing more than that–ever notice that approximately zero females or persons of color are pointed out as representatives of the American working class? ever wonder why? ever notice that a waiter or bus driver is not under any circumstances American working class? There’s a reason white male plumbers have been the quintessential American working class person for some time now, and it has a lot to do with a not-well-acknowledged stereotype of plumbers as ‘no-nonsense’ ‘common-sense’ ‘ordinary-guy’ bigots.)

The problem is twofold. One, these folks have wised up to our misleading of them in the early 20th century, and two, their understanding of the world is now getting accurately acknowledged and explicitly catered to by the conservative party. What’s actually the matter with Kansas is (1) their definition of ‘wrong’ is awful, and (2) there is now a party that is willing to acknowledge their perspective and represent it accurately.

Just because we managed to trick them for a couple of generations into fighting for the wrong side doesn’t mean we’re entitled to their alliance.

whose worst offense, by the way, is that they want to interfere with the workings of the free market

No. The worst offense is that a black man can marry their daughter and there’s fuck all they can do about it now. Our country’s culture has become absolutely insufferable, and that ‘worst offense’ example sums up exactly what’s so insufferable about it. Try thinking about it for a minute. A black man. Marrying your daughter. Doesn’t it make you feel sick inside? [If it doesn’t, either your imagination is failing you or you’re not trying hard enough. Occupy the mindset in which this is the worst future for your daughter that you can imagine.]

Anyway, the rest of this writes itself. The second-worst offense is, of course, that we let a pregnant woman interfere with God’s plan for a fetus in her body (unless a black man inseminated a white woman who now expresses appropriate regret for her malfeasance; you might be surprised what a large contingent of staunch ‘pro-life’ working-class people will feel honestly conflicted about the prospect of aborting such a monstrosity).

And, of course, the third-worst offense is that we tricked them into supporting a welfare state that treats black people and women like human beings that are not beneath them. This idea that conservative economics conflicts in any way with the desires of social conservatives is obviously wrong. If your societal goal is to reinforce bigotry, then your economic goal is to reinforce bigotry. This is exactly what conservative economics does: it attempts to destroy the welfare system that we tricked them into enshrining into law.

Doesn’t make sense?

Makes perfect sense. ‘We’ want a world that ‘they find repellent. Might as well acknowledge that.

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Uncle Kvetch 03.18.12 at 7:00 pm

The kind of people who now question Obama’s citizenship were, fifteen years ago, saying that Clinton killed a dude, wrapped his body in a carpet, and dumped it in a DC public park.

Wait, I thought that was Hilary…

But seriously, no argument, JSE. I’m not saying the vilification was any less unhinged with Clinton, only that it had a different character. It’s the endless “othering” of Obama — non-citizen, closet Muslim, etc. — that’s different this time. And I do think there’s an undeniable racial current to it.

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bianca steele 03.18.12 at 7:02 pm

@LFC, Chris Bertram:
Look up Ross Douthat’s articles in The Atlantic over the past 10-15 years and you will find a string of laments that unprepared kids (“unprepared” as defined by Bourdieu, of course) get into elite schools, like Harvard from whence a plurality of Atlantic byliners hail, and feel subsequent distress which could have been avoided were the Ivy League to stop admitting children unfortunate enough not to have attended St. Mark’s and Choate. The move is toward the situation described by Graeber, it hasn’t happened yet.

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Bruce Wilder 03.18.12 at 7:12 pm

Ed @23: “a big majority of voters in India are Hindi speakers”

Sadly no. Hindi-Urdu native speakers are maybe 40% of the population, and native speakers of the Khariboli dialect, which is used for official Hindi on the federal level, and is dominant in the mass culture of cinema and television, are probably not quite a majority even within that loosely defined 40%. Hindus in southern India, of course, speak Dravidian languages, unrelated to the Indo-European Hindi of the north. Forging a national language has been part of the nation-building project in India, just as it was in Germany, Italy and some other European countries in the 19th century, with varying degrees of success. For India, though, language politics also occurs at the state level, in that country’s federal politics, as the states have been defined around local language majorities, where Hindi becomes a “co-official” language for some states. And, then, there’s the problem that Urdu is the dominant language of Muslim Pakistan, and there’s a strong incentive to distinguish officially sanctioned Hindi, by Sanskritization, from the strong influence of Arab and Persian introduced during the domination of the Muslim Mughal Empire, which the British took over.

It wouldn’t be CT, if pedantry didn’t contradict ill-advised analogies. Please don’t let this comment be an excuse for pointless thread hijacking.

Ed’s point that the construction of political parties follows the fault lines of cultural and linguistic identity has some validity, but I think the “40%” regularity he observes has more to do with the strategic value in political organization of coherence vis a vis inclusiveness than it does with any given, pre-existing distribution of cultural or linguistic identities or communities. It is worth noting, too, that broad agreement on the legitimacy of the nation-building project and the promotion of a common language underlies the evolution of Party division; the character of politics would change dramatically, if some group were to take up the banner of national separatism in a radical way.

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js. 03.18.12 at 7:14 pm

Barry,

It doesn’t actually speak against your point, but this Rick Perelstein /a> article is worth checking out on the question of short vs. long term party identification (Shorter: It’s far from obvious that GOP losses in these constituencies are helping or will help Democrats.)

More generally, I don’t quite know what to say about “tribalism”, but I disagree that it’s all about cultural markers as opposed to class interest. Surely, part of what’s been going on is a backlash real or perceived losses of (economic and social) privilege as previously underprivileged groups gain greater representation. That’s as much “economic” as it is “cultural”.

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christian_h 03.18.12 at 7:25 pm

CB (34.): So are you saying that Graeber is a counter-example to his own hypothesis? Just to be clear, I do believe that getting into the “liberal intelligentsia” is quite as hard for kids from working class backgrounds as becoming filthy rich – I believe being conscious of the discourse that has been constructed in academically educated circles and the way it excludes people from non-academically educated backgrounds is quite as important as being conscious of the way women and racial minorities are excluded – but is it harder? I seriously doubt it.

It may well be that the son of the Wyoming truck drives believes that it is, but that would be because of two hundred years worth of propaganda making the dish-washer to millionaire story much more common than it is.

Henri (30.): it’s not us making up some artificial groups (women, people of colour) in order to narrow our struggles. These groups are constructed through ruling class ideology (yeah too perfunctory here apologies) in order to inhibit those struggles, and ignoring the reality of that is not going to make it go away. In a racist society, we can’t be “colour blind”; in a sexist society, we can’t ignore gender.

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christian_h 03.18.12 at 7:27 pm

Salient (38.), I’ll be rude and say this reads like an exercise in essentializing to me.

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parsimon 03.18.12 at 7:28 pm

The OP:

I’ve been meaning for a while to write a post about the way in which all US political issues are viewed, particularly from the right, through the lens of the culture wars.

I’d redirect the discussion a little bit: it seems to me to be worth a bit of time to consider the matter not in terms of what conservatives really think/believe, but in terms of how their opinion leaders frame the narrative. It seems clear that in this election cycle, as in the past but to lesser degree, there is great electoral value in framing things in culture war terms. Ultimately, though, this is just a battle for control of government purse strings. The hearts and minds of the electorate matter only to the extent that their votes are needed, chiefly on the Republican side. The public can be drawn along, because it is in a state of general besiegement: it (call it the 80%) is increasingly reduced to making ends meet, and so is deeply vulnerable to whatever narrative gets its blood flowing. The true battle is not between Christianists and secularists, is not over social issues, but between those controllers of capital who want less or more industry regulation. Follow the money, indeed.

None of this is to say that Haidt’s — and related — observations aren’t worthwhile; just that the current surge in culture war rhetoric from the Right is primarily instrumental. (Santorum is a slightly different matter. He seems to be a true believer. But this conversation has been had: the Republican party is likely chagrined at what it has wrought.)

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.18.12 at 7:46 pm

These groups are constructed through ruling class ideology (yeah too perfunctory here apologies) in order to inhibit those struggles, and ignoring the reality of that is not going to make it go away. In a racist society, we can’t be “colour blind”; in a sexist society, we can’t ignore gender.

And why not? I see that even the wikipedia entry for “marxist feminism” tells you that you should: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marxist_feminism
You are supposed to address the root cause, not superficial symptoms, right?

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parsimon 03.18.12 at 7:51 pm

Salient seems pretty upset in 38. I take he or she is channeling conservative Republicans. No doubt our recent economic woes are rendering the fight over distribution of economic resources particularly bitter.

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Watson Ladd 03.18.12 at 8:10 pm

The liberal intelligentsia is an elite. The business elite is an elite. But they are different elites, with different cultural and political beliefs. A stereotypical red-state inhabitant can see a wealthy businessman as part of the same community with similar beliefs and habits. He can’t see a professor as one: they will send their kids to different schools, pray at different churches, and have very distinct values. You wouldn’t begrudge your neighbor a promotion or a raise, but you probably would be more likely to begrudge someone, whose habits were different, a change in your way of life they instigated.

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Bruce Wilder 03.18.12 at 8:13 pm

It seems to me that the NYTimes editor, who chose the headline for Haidt’s op-ed, probably understood the truth. The headline is: “Forget the Money, Follow the Sacredness”. Of course, one should do the exact opposite, to understand American politics.

I find much that is persuasive in Haidt’s analysis, but not his own pose of political centrism of the “very serious person” kind. This privileged son-of-Scarsdale ending his piece with talk of a “Grand Bargain”, which has become code for gutting Social Security and further destroying the middle classes to pay for taxcuts for the rich, undermines the legitimacy of his argument for me.

Someone is paying for American politics, and if “Repubs seem to have little remaining interest in arguing that their preferred policies will actually benefit anyone outside the 1 per cent”, well, that might be a clue as to who is paying for this on-going horror show, and why.

You cannot possibly have total political domination by a tiny hoi oligoi, and democracy governing on issues of economic substance at the same time. Maybe, you can have a little, side-show democracy on issue the hoi oligoi largely do not care about, but I doubt even that can last long, under the kind of authoritarianism, which will be required to enforce economic exploitation on the prospective scale and depth.

I think Democrats are being herded like cattle, just as much as Republicans, prodded by the repulsive spectacle on the Right, to be sure, but mostly willing to remain uncritical of the pro-plutocratic, authoritarian character of the Obama Administration.

Liberalism cannot achieve political power in a democracy without taking responsibility for leading large blocs of people, who are likely to have the political attitudes of “authoritarian followers”. Liberals (using the term for American ideological meaning) like to wonder why hoi polloi would vote against their economic interest, without recognizing that pursuit of the economic interest of the masses requires considerable political organization, including membership organization. That kind of organization scarely exists; ordinary working class and middle class people do not feel themselves part of any effective organization, pursuing or protecting their economic interests — certainly the Democratic Party under Obama is demonstrably not doing so. There’s plenty of evidence of plutocratic corruption undermining even the faint remnants of such organization, from AARP to New Deal 2.0.

The same people, whose resentments and ignorance are being exploited by cynical Republicans, could, in other circumstances, be stalwart supporters of egalitarian projects and values. The kind of crude, clumsy social dominance demonstrated by a Santorum advocating for curbs on contraception are not inherent characteristics of the mass of followers, who are abandoned to the Republican machine, by liberals and Democrats, and vilified for their alleged racial bigotry for their trouble. The alleged racial bigotry is closer to the truth, since people, whose political attitudes and psychology are in “authoritarian” cluster are very sensitive to in-group appeals and out-group vilifications. High-minded liberals may have a hard time grasping what it is like to be scared, vulnerable and ignorant, I guess. A lot of liberals reject polititical solidarity as a matter of principle; it makes liberals untrustworthy as representatives of economic mass interests — liberal positions on immigration and free trade and lukewarm support for unions mark them out as likely to betray the interests of ordinary workers, but liberals seem unaware of the consequences of their high-mindedness.

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Alex 03.18.12 at 8:16 pm

It might be an idea to introduce some data to this discussion! Here is some exit polling from the 2008 presidential election.

You will note that contra pretty much everyone, it is simply not so that the poor and uneducated lean Republican. This isn’t a fascinating phenomenon that needs explaining, it’s a propaganda myth that needs the Mencken Horselaugh. By income, you had to get over $100,000 a year before you hit a majority Republican group. In 2008 there wasn’t an educational group that voted over 50% R, but it was true that the Democratic share of the vote fell with increasing education until you got to people with post-grad degrees.

Mind you, it’s telling that you can’t instantly find a demographic cross-break by socioeconomic class, like you can in the tables for literally every UK opinion poll ever…

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Alex 03.18.12 at 8:20 pm

A stereotypical red-state inhabitant can see a wealthy businessman as part of the same community with similar beliefs and habits. He can’t see a professor as one: they will send their kids to different schools, pray at different churches, and have very distinct values.

This probably needs some kickable evidence. There are plenty of US businessmen who like to pretend to be cowboys (Harry Stonecipher of Boeing frex), and plenty who prefer to project cosmopolitanism (Steve Jobs). Likewise, if you’ve not noticed the existence of right-wing professors, you’ve not been reading the Kochtopus/climate wars threads.

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Yarrow 03.18.12 at 8:45 pm

christian_h @ 44: CB (34.): So are you saying that Graeber is a counter-example to his own hypothesis?

Graeber says just that: “The fact is that stories like mine—stories of dramatic class mobility through academic accomplishment—are increasingly unusual.”

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Yarrow 03.18.12 at 8:56 pm

Salient @ 39: There’s a reason white male plumbers have been the quintessential American working class person for some time now,

Something about that nagged at me until I remembered that my first girlfriend’s father was a plumber. A gentle, shy plumber. Her mother wrote off-Broadway plays. They were Universalists (the working class half of the Unitarian Universalist Assocation.)

I don’t suppose that having him become the stereotypical working class male image would be possible; but it sure would be neat.

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geo 03.18.12 at 8:56 pm

Salient @39: Everything wrong with the world is the fault of un-American liberal elite. These voters have not been misled in any way.

I suspect I’ve missed a good many subtleties in the rest of your comment, which would render this reply to the above sentence nugatory. But just to be literal-minded about it: by “liberal elites,” Republican propagandists mean anyone, regardless of income, power, or status, who favors unions, progressive taxation, a government safety net, environmental and occupational-safety regulation, laws (preferably enforced) against racial or sexual discrimination, respect for international institutions and international law, and separation of church and state. By this definition, you are an un-American liberal elitist. I am an un-American liberal elitist. Virtually everyone who reads and/or comments on Crooked Timber is an un-American liberal elitist. But we are not responsible for all the ills — both real and fancied — that afflict Kansas and the rest of the Republican base.

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Sus. 03.18.12 at 8:58 pm

@Alex (51) – Note in OP: “non-poor” is aligned with the right, not the poor. Your data certainly don’t dispute that. And it’s not clear to me that they address the “anti-intellectual” characterization of the right either since years of education doesn’t strike me as being a particularly good proxy for intellectual leanings (except perhaps for more esoteric graduate degrees).

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LFC 03.18.12 at 9:08 pm

C. Bertram @34: I’m sorry I don’t have systematic (i.e. non-anecdotal) counterevidence to offer (or the time to dig for it right now). Graeber may well be right, but I would prefer not to rely on his word for it, that’s all I’m saying; his personal experiences are relevant, yes, but not necessarily conclusive. However I’m not, admittedly, in a position to contest his conclusions.

Bianca Steele re Douthat: No I’m not going to look up his blatherings in The Atlantic, sorry. His argument as you summarize it strikes me as quite ludicrous on its face. (Bourdieu to one side; I have little to no idea what this reference means in the context, which is no doubt a result of my not having attended a private boarding school.)

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J. Otto Pohl 03.18.12 at 9:41 pm

I guess academics are liberal elites in the US. But, here in Ghana we are unionized so we are definitely working class.

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Dr. Hilarius 03.18.12 at 9:49 pm

Tim, the role of anti-semitism is a very confused one in wing-nut politics. I hear the usual stuff about the Federal Reserve, Goldman Sachs, and Lehman being tools of the jews but almost in the same breath support for Israel bombing Iran. Evangelicals are well-know for their support of Israel but that support is to bring about the Apocalypse.

It’s useless trying to make sense of the stew of right-wing crank views. Incoherence is not a problem once you tossed all reason and logic. The addition of Fox News and it’s internet counterparts can’t be underestimated. In 1965 if you were a John Bircher you were pretty isolated. You met like-minded people in small meeting halls and low-circulation newsletters. Now you have Very Important People on the TV validating your beliefs.

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Hartal 03.18.12 at 11:07 pm

Great post

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Watson Ladd 03.18.12 at 11:54 pm

Alex: I’ve found indications here that the faculty are deeply different from the rest of the US population in religion. In particular there are massively fewer evangelical Christians, as well as many more Jews especially at the nondenominational private schools. Evangelicals have distinct values from the rest of the population, and are not known for a lack of successful businessmen.

As for businessmen that is harder to determine. Income tax data is of no help, as it conflates professionals with entrepreneurs. However, college admissions data from large universities would indicate parental education and income, which should enable the question to be answered if businessmen value different things in education then professionals. The answer I have anecdotally seen is yes: a student at Chicago is the child of a doctor, a lawyer, or a professor far more often then would be expected, particularly if they are from states without a major metropolis.

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gordon 03.19.12 at 12:34 am

The one thing that everybody I know who has visited the US says on their return is that the US is impossible to describe as a single entity. It’s too various, the parts too different geographically, socially and in every other way. If that’s true, it’s not really hard to understand how difficult everybody here is finding it to define and describe a single, National political situation. There may not be one. I tend now to think of the US as fissile – having strong tendencies to fly apart into pieces. And I therefore tend to think of the US ruling class as having a constant struggle to just hold the pieces together, let alone try to map out National objectives or aspirations. Just getting through another day without the whole thing falling apart counts as a good day, in that kind of world.

Thinking of the US that way, the obsession with patriotism becomes understandable – it’s a sort of glue poured on very liberally to try to hold the parts together. The obsession with free-riders also becomes understandable – it’s a reflection of the fissile nature of the place. The various parts don’t see they have anything in common with other parts.

If the fissile nature of the US increases, efforts to hold it together will become more and more extreme and indeed desperate. Discovering or inventing a foreign enemy has always been good for promoting national unity, and though it would have to be described as a desperate option, it looks as though the US has definitely got to that position now.

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lupita 03.19.12 at 12:38 am

Haidt contrasts two narratives that actually stand out for how much they have in common. Both start with “Once upon a time” and end with, as the Brain from “Pinky and the Brain” would say, “TAKE OVER THE WORLD!” The inter-tribal differences depicted (family values vs. individual rights) pale in comparison to having a whole national tribe that is wounded and armed to its teeth worshiping the idol of global supremacy.

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John Quiggin 03.19.12 at 12:48 am

@hartal

@Alex What Sus said. In more detail, you’re right on the paucity of data, but what I’ve seen suggests that, in a multiple regression analysis, income should be strongly +ve correlated with Repub voting, while education (even measured inadequately by years of college) is -ve. A measure of education that downweighted vocational courses (eg business degrees) would probably do even better.

We get spurious correlations from the fact that income and education are +ve correlated.

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chris 03.19.12 at 12:56 am

By this definition, you are an un-American liberal elitist. I am an un-American liberal elitist. Virtually everyone who reads and/or comments on Crooked Timber is an un-American liberal elitist. But we are not responsible for all the ills—both real and fancied—that afflict Kansas and the rest of the Republican base.

I thought Salient’s point is that this depends very much on what you mean by “ills”. For example, we coastal liberal elites are very much responsible for the fact that they have to send their children to school with n*****s and f*****s and Jews, which they can’t even beat up and put in their place like any decent God-fearing person ought to do, and worse, they’ll be taught to believe in evolution and question the Bible while they’re there! And we don’t try to deny or apologize for any of that. If that’s your idea of what ills afflict you, then it’s not a lie or even misinformation to say that liberals are responsible for it.

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Salient 03.19.12 at 1:14 am

Salient (38.), I’ll be rude and say this reads like an exercise in essentializing to me.

Neither rude nor incorrect. You might say it’s counter-essentializing, in the direction opposite to the essentializing that Thomas Frank does.

The biggest of the problems with what I’m saying (and there are several) is that I’m whitewashing the fact that ‘white male bigot’ and ‘American lefty social-democrat’ are categories that overlapped extensively and gradually decoupled over time and then got blown in different directions during and immediately after WWII. There are still a number of white male bigot American lefty social-democrat folks, but they’re a relatively small and completely unorganized and somewhat marginalized subgroup of lefty folks at this point, composed of folks who are generally speaking quite chronically self-unaware of their own racist or misogynist streaks, and testy about getting called on ‘em.

Salient seems pretty upset in 38. I take he or she is channeling conservative Republicans.

I do write in a style that sometimes sounds much more upset than I actually am (something I’ve been working on correcting for years, with only slow and partial progress) but the second sentence is probably accurate, I am channeling the white male bigot, just in a kind of indirect way.

I guess academics are liberal elites in the US. But, here in Ghana we are unionized so we are definitely working class.

In America, being ‘working class’ has nothing to do with being working class, and everything to do with being a prig. Yarrow’s got a perfect example of someone who is literally working class, but not ‘working class’ in the evocative sense the phrase is used by, say, David Brooks.

I suspect I’ve missed a good many subtleties in the rest of your comment, which would render this reply to the above sentence nugatory.

In what follows I try to use brackets to be clearer about the subtleties, but I’m struggling to express them successfully, so it might take me a couple tries…

But just to be literal-minded about it: by “liberal elites,” Republican propagandists mean

…wellll, let me pause there, the whole thing we’re arguing about (or at least the whole thing I’m on about) is whether this is something deviously implanted in the white male bigot’s mind by crafty Republican propagandists, or whether this is something in the white male bigot’s mind that is explicitly acknowledged and catered to by modern-day Republican operatives who want to undo the damage [to white male bigot security and comfort and supremacy] that liberal elites inflicted [by pursuing the establishment of civil rights].

In other words, we’re disagreeing about who is leading whom. Did the Republican operatives mislead the white male bigot, or did the Republican operatives read the white male bigot mindset and decide to represent it accurately? You would say the former, I would say the latter — and yes, this definitely includes the vast majority of the Republican businessman’s platform both in letter and in spirit (but I feel a need to try to be clear about my basic perspective before getting into that, so I don’t say much about the details of that).

The pre-1950s are the archetypal time that [white male bigot] Americans wish to revert to because at that time [white male] Americans got all the advantages of a fully functioning welfare state [read: the GI bill, the GI bill, the (white) Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, and the GI bill] but didn’t yet have to contend with any of the destruction that liberal elites [e.g. civil rights activists] inflicted on [white male bigot] America in the decades that followed [by extending the goodies of the welfare state to persons who were not white male veterans; seriously, the heyday of the white male bigot began in 1944 and ended less than a decade later with Brown v. Board of Education].

By this definition, you are an un-American liberal elitist. I am an un-American liberal elitist.

(nodding) … are you trying to suggest we’re not? I’d take that as an insult.

But we are not responsible for all the ills—both real and fancied—that afflict Kansas and the rest of the Republican base.

…but we are. If it wasn’t for us [so to speak], they’d be able to contentedly enjoy the spoils of the GI Bill welfare state, without any trace of concern that colored persons or WMB-unapproved women would be eligible to compete for them. What ills are you talking about? There’s only one ill, and it’s the provision of opportunity to people who shouldn’t get a share of the opportunity [because they are not white men].

[Given that in these comments I’m conceding the language to the white male bigot crowd without conceding the correctness of their perspective,] I am personally quite proud to be an un-American liberal elitist [which means ‘supporter of undermining white male bigot supremacy’], I am pleased to be in some way partially responsible for at least some of the ills affecting [white male bigots in] Kansas [such as the unprecedented destructive horror of women having more extensive control over their own reproductive, marital, and economic fates], and I’m thoroughly relieved that liberal elites destroyed this country [for white male bigots] as far as they were able. I see the work of destroying [white male bigot dominance in] America [by extending civil rights, security, privacy, and liberty, to persons who are not white male bigots] as an important and explicit goal of my political self.

(Brackets throughout are a kludge, and probably are so obviously redundant as to be painful to wade through, but I wasn’t sure what else to try. I tried to go back and put scare quotes in to emphasize this, but I ended up with nearly every word in everything I’ve typed scare-quoted, making it illegible. Which brackets probably also did. This stuff is hard…)

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Salient 03.19.12 at 1:20 am

Actually it occurs to me that David Brooks conflates the working class person as described by Yarrow (sweet, gentle) and the ‘working class’ person as self-conceptualized by the white male bigot (who I would describe as ‘self-satisfied’ and consider ‘full of themselves’ if I wasn’t currently in the process of trying to convince geo that they haven’t been misled in the slightest and actually are quite incisively attuned to the likely consequences of the economic policies for which they express, and feel, support–a claim for which I have not yet offered substantial evidence because I need to make sure we’re on the same page before I start adding bullet points to it…).

68

Matt McIrvin 03.19.12 at 2:39 am

I do think it’s significant that Clinton’s legitimacy as president wasn’t questioned in the same way from Day 1—that took several years of dogged persistence and panty-sniffing to establish the fact that he had no “right” to the office.

Not true, actually: conservatives said he was an illegitimate president from day one on the grounds that he hadn’t won a majority of the popular vote (because of Ross Perot).

69

Watson Ladd 03.19.12 at 2:46 am

Salient, I don’t quite buy that narrative. Many women are anti-abortion, and anti-Semitism is much more likely to be found on the fringes of the Democratic Party then in the Republican Party. It’s difficult to say that anti-Semites are going to vote for candidates who proudly proclaim their support for Israel, and the number of people who are anti-Semites who know what Pesach is or that Obama appears at the White House Seder is probably minuscule. Bigotry is very out of style in America, even in the old South, in a way that it wasn’t before.

The reason Republicans deploy culture war arguments on the national stage is primarily that they fracture the Democratic base. Supporting abortion rights in a moderate district loses a certain amount of the people who otherwise might vote for you, while going against abortion rights, or even remaining neutral, offends big spenders. Similarly targeting affirmative action (a blatant violation of the 14th amendment imho) splits blacks off from wealthy white professionals, many of whom are made very uncomfortable by the rhetoric around it. Most people don’t care about these issues at a national level: abortion access is being effectively reduced by the states, homosexuality is beyond federal power, affermative action is mostly court battles.

But there are national issues where politicians are effective, most obviously taxes (and spending), immigration, and defense. Here an argument that Republicans are against taxes because the wrong people benefit really falls down: the rhetoric against black welfare dependency is rooted not in skin tone, but rather supposed cultural insufficiency: you, the worthy recipient, at one point worked, whereas the unworthy recipients never have and remain thus unworthy of a claim on society. Calvinism has much more to do with it as far as I can see. It’s also unclear that blacks would naturally welcome anyone to the shores of the US: racial politics in California centered around anti-Asian discrimination supported by Black leaders as just one example. That leaves defense, where I don’t see race as really entering into it.

70

geo 03.19.12 at 3:24 am

What ills are you talking about? There’s only one ill, and it’s the provision of opportunity to people who shouldn’t get a share of the opportunity [because they are not white men].

71

geo 03.19.12 at 3:24 am

What ills are you talking about? There’s only one ill, and it’s the provision of opportunity to people who shouldn’t get a share of the opportunity [because they are not white men].

72

geo 03.19.12 at 3:34 am

Sorry, finger slipped. The ills I was talking about are ones that the Kansans share with the rest of us: economic insecurity, the export of jobs and destruction of localities, crappy health insurance, the threat of losing pensions and Social Security benefits, the squeezing of public education, and the degredation of the environment, among others. They’re induced to blame us for these ills along with the one you mention, or else simply to forget about these ills in their (hyped-up) indignation at the one you mention.

73

Kaveh 03.19.12 at 3:59 am

Wattson @69 anti-Semitism is much more likely to be found on the fringes of the Democratic Party then in the Republican Party

Citation needed. Or by “anti-Semitism” do you mean “being critical of Israel”?

On topic, I found this interesting–an interview with authors of a book on multi-culturalism. I think the title is a bit too dire, I don’t think multi-culturalism is in danger of disappearing. They showcase a number of cities and provinces that are very successful as multicultural states/municipalities: Kerala, Tatarstan, Marseilles, and Queens.

I think multiculturalism is an ethos, very nearly an inversion of the above-named faux working class/white male bigot identity, that is shared by a plurality if not a majority of the American public, but that is rarely named and championed. Many if not most Americans are multicultaralist without realizing it. The Obama campaign subtly tapped into this, to great effect, but Obama ended up disappointing with his mediocre performance on civil liberties issues.

Multiculturalism as an ethos is inclusive of both people who want to pursue a vigorous politics of racial justice and people who don’t formulate their politics in those terms, and who might not be aware of some of the worst injustices, but would be opposed to them if they knew. As a positive political vision, multiculturalism doesn’t rule out recognizing and addressing historic injustice–it doesn’t have to be an empty slogan. It’s more a matter of putting the emphasis on what kind of society we want to see, and creating a positive national self-image that doesn’t rely so much on patronising faux authenticity of a [lily-white] “small town America” that looks very… retro in the 2010s.

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ezra abrams 03.19.12 at 3:59 am

I think the idea in teh post, that imagination helps define ones enemys, is important; from my limited contacts, I think most rightwingers understand that mitt romney and the wealthy are their enemy; they know perfectaly well that Romney hasn’t created a single dam job, but thru financial skulduggery, destroyed middle class jobs at stationary stores, and moved the jobs to min wage at staples
but it’s hard to imagine something so far away; an environmentalist telling you you can’t burn leaves in your backyard, or ride a snow machine (sno mobili) where ever you want – thats tangible.

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Kaveh 03.19.12 at 4:01 am

(oops, this needed more editing: “The Obama campaign subtly tapped into this, to great effect, but Obama ended up disappointing with his mediocre performance on civil liberties issues.” I meant to add to the end of that “and his cabinet appointments and his general unwillingness to have a backbone, and on top of that a crappy Congress.”)

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Ed 03.19.12 at 4:06 am

Alex’s arguments don’t really follow from the data he presented, which as he acknowledges simply doesn’t contain much information about class.

I don’t want to hijack the thread, but here are some of the larger problems. The NY Times contains a breakdown by education as follows:

Not a high school graduate: 4% of the electorate (!), 63% voted for Obama

High School graduate/ some college: 51% of the electorate, 51% voted for Obama.

College graduate: 44% of the electorate, 53% voted for Obama.

This is a well educated electorate! Actually “college graduate” in the U.S. can mean anything from community college (though these might be put in the “some college” group, without definitions its hard to tell) to people with doctorates. But the main problem is that this is a data set that appears to give information but really doesn’t. If the poll is accurate, 96% of the electorate graduated from high school (or obtained a GED?), and 52% of these voted for Obama, which is pretty close to his national percentage. Its meaningless data. Whoever devised the categories on this question did a terrible job.

The exit poll in the Guardian measures votes by income, so this might be more informative:

$0 to $15 K 73% voted for Obama

$30 K to $50 K 55% voted for Obama

$100 K to $150K 48% voted for Obama

$200 K + 52% voted for Obama

There are some big gaps in this data, particularly the $50 K to $100 K income group (household median income in the US at the time was just over $50 K per year, though its slipped during the Obama administration). And we don’t know what percentage of the electorate was made up of these groups. But even from the data presented, it appears that a majority of the the “elite”, people making over $200 K, voted for Obama. The data by itself supports the thesis of the Democrats being a “high-low coalition”, in other words they grab the elite and poor minority groups, but working and middle class whites vote Republican, though the data is too incomplete to conclude much.

Also if you want to counter the charge that working class white voters voted mostly Republican in 2008, you really need to break down these income and education figures by race, which we don’t have from these tables. As it happens Obama took 44% of the white vote, which made up 76% of the electorate. This isn’t surprising, Democrats have been beaten among white voters in every presidential election since 1964. But for Republicans to do this well among white voters they have to be making big inroads among lower income and lower education white voters, unless these groups aren’t voting at all and American elections are fought entirely among the relatively well off.

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Alex Prior 03.19.12 at 5:17 am

I wish I could find it online again, but during the 2008 election, there was a delightful article published by Le Monde, whose correspondent was struggling to understand why the American poor voted against their own economic self- interest. Free universal healthcare simply makes economic sense if you are poor, the bewildered Frenchman opined. Ditto unemployment benefits. Given that it was a Le Monde feature, the journalist had the space to use all 150,000 in the language, and dutifully set about interviewing a swathe of small town Americans, and telling their stories of hardship. His heart broke. His Gallic outrage grew. His bafflement was mixed with rage and pity. And in the end he could only agree with Watson Ladd and blame it on a Frenchman. Vive le monsieur Calvin.

78

js. 03.19.12 at 6:04 am

Salient (re geo):

In other words, we’re disagreeing about who is leading whom. Did the Republican operatives mislead the white male bigot, or did the Republican operatives read the white male bigot mindset and decide to represent it accurately? You would say the former, I would say the latter

But surely it’s both. There’re a set of (perhaps inarticulate) resentments ready to be stoked and flamed, and a set of political operatives ready to stoke and flame them, and thereby also articulate and (for a while at least) perpetuate them.

More generally, I think I’m mostly with you, Salient, (and chris, if I understand him(?)) insofar as I don’t think the “duping” line is all that useful explanatorily. At the same time, I’m a lot less convinced of the straight “bigot” description (and e.g. what seems to like the rank irrationality chris describes at 32). If I can put this, umm, rather elliptically, one’s (reasonably) perceived class interests can run radically counter to one’s real class interests. So, e.g., I don’t want that dark lookin’ dude I was used to ordering around or the woman who did what I said to suddenly be in socio-economic competition with me. Obviously, yes, this is bigotry. At the same time, I think it’s better to realize the importance of the “I used to” rather than engage in (what to me sounds like) full on “Other-ing” (so to speak). Or in other words again, real class solidarity is really hard and takes a lot of work.

(Just in case this becomes about “identity”: I’m not a white male.)

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Salient 03.19.12 at 6:08 am

Many women are anti-abortion, and anti-Semitism is much more likely to be found on the fringes of the Democratic Party then in the Republican Party.

I never mentioned anti-Semitism or the Democratic Party, and really only mentioned the Republican party only to deprecate their role — whatever you’re responding to, it’s not a comment of mine, at least not in a way that is meaningful to me. And honestly, I stopped reading at “bigotry is very out of style in America” because I’m incapable of taking that seriously; you’re certainly welcome to interpret this as my failing.

The ills I was talking about are ones that the Kansans share with the rest of us: economic insecurity, the export of jobs and destruction of localities, crappy health insurance, the threat of losing pensions and Social Security benefits, the squeezing of public education, and the degredation of the environment, among others.

If we’re going to discuss something like whether or not a white male bigot is getting duped into supporting economic policies they would not support if they weren’t victims of propaganda, we probably need some better agreement about the point we’re starting from.

What I am thinking is, before we bring in anything about our own assessments of the problems that are plaguing white male bigots [and the rest of us]–assessments which I’m pretty sure –shouldn’t we establish some common ground regarding what the white male bigots themselves would regard as problems (and what they would regard as their own political goals or desires), in the hypothetical absence of Republican propaganda? I dunno, there’s something wrong with my approach to getting off the ground here.

80

Salient 03.19.12 at 7:02 am

copy-paste editing fail of mine worth correcting — assessments which I’m pretty sure we’d agree on, at least in the main.

There’re a set of (perhaps inarticulate) resentments ready to be stoked and flamed, and a set of political operatives ready to stoke and flame them, and thereby also articulate and (for a while at least) perpetuate them.

Except what we’re debating is whether or not the resentful people in question have at any time been misled or tricked into supporting policies they would otherwise oppose, presumably if they had better information. Pretty sure neither geo nor I would disagree with the proposal that giving voice to resentment gives it strength, for example.

Notice there’s no dispute about whether or not the policies are economically bad for them in various meaningful ways, because I think disputing that would be silly. I mean, I sure as hell support policies that are economically bad for me and bad for ‘people like me’ for various meanings of that phrase, such as grad-school-educated. I do this because I value various visions of ‘a good society’ much more than I value maximizing my share.

The dispute is over whether or not folks have been tricked into supporting what they would not otherwise support, which requires some analysis of what kinds of policies they would support in the absence of trickery.

81

Phil 03.19.12 at 7:52 am

I think most rightwingers understand that mitt romney and the wealthy are their enemy; they know perfectaly well that Romney hasn’t created a single dam job, but thru financial skulduggery, destroyed middle class jobs at stationary stores, and moved the jobs to min wage at staples
but it’s hard to imagine something so far away; an environmentalist telling you you can’t burn leaves in your backyard, or ride a snow machine (sno mobili) where ever you want – thats tangible.

What’s “far away” (let alone “hard to imagine”) about pay cuts, job cuts, megastores and retail deserts? These guys must have a really short working week if leaf-burning looms so much larger in their lives than working and shopping. (And a really long Autumn.)

82

bad Jim 03.19.12 at 7:52 am

The average white man isn’t wrong in thinking that things have gotten worse for him since the 60’s. While conditions have improved for blacks and women and gays and the environment, while Latinos and Asians have swelled our ranks, incomes stagnated and housing costs soared, so now most households require two earners, economic inequality has become an international spectacle, and social mobility, once a tangible and nearly universal reality, is now largely a fiction.

I’d blame these problems on a long run of Republican governments, eight years of Nixon/Ford, twelve years of Reagan/Bush, and eight more years of Bush, Jr., conceding that four years of Carter and eight of Clinton didn’t do as much as they could have to reverse those trends. Someone else might note that most presidents have had to deal with Congresses controlled by the opposite party, and that both parties have been somewhat complicit in the policies whose results we all now deplore.

The two parties distinguish themselves by their narratives. The Republicans blame our problems on our lack of virtue, on precisely those initiatives from the 60’s of which we are most proud: racial equality, sexual liberation and environmental protection, and they do so by describing the other half of the country as not authentically American: godless urban elites, tree-hugging hippies, pill-popping Feminazis, shiftless welfare queens and lazy illegal immigrants: the problem isn’t Wall Street destroying our jobs, it’s Hollywood corrupting our virtues.

This is nothing original of course; it’s the linked column, it’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas”. The point is that this pitch sells the product. The consumer isn’t rational. We need psychology, history and anthropology to make sense of the electorate.

The other point is that the Democrats always try to improve the life of the average white man, improving health care, raising the minimum wage, enforcing safety standards, cleaning up the air and water and food supply and everything else the other side doesn’t care about. This is widely resented as intolerable intrusion by the Federal Government, while more invasive depredations by private enterprise are simply endured.

I’m a rich old white guy, and I prefer Democrats because I make more money when they run things. There definitely seems to be something about taking care of the average chump that makes the whole economy work better.

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Alex 03.19.12 at 8:46 am

Ed: however, they certainly don’t provide evidence for the “Republican poor” thesis. The only way you can claim that the working class supports the Republicans is if you define-out anyone who is black, Hispanic, or lives in a big city, or lives in the Northeast or California or the Pacific Northwest or I could go on. Not coincidentally, this is precisely the claim both the Republicans and the Blue Dogs stand on.

Taking advice from your sworn enemies is not a canon of good practice.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.19.12 at 9:12 am

@bad Jim 82 The consumer isn’t rational.

The consumer is rational, perfectly rational – within the paradigm offered. Bulldozing Wall Street is not an option. If someone has to be unemployed – and someone has to be, that’s the official policy of the central bank – then better you than me. If ‘equality’ means that you’re paid more and I’m paid less, so that the total payroll amount stays the same, for the boss to preserve his share, then hell with equality. What’s irrational about that?

85

bad Jim 03.19.12 at 9:29 am

Henri, it’s irrational to blame the tree-hugging vagina dentatas when your insurance company rescinds your policy and refuses to pay your bill because once upon a time you had a hemorrhoid. Sure, we’re all saying “Do it to Julia, not to me!” and in such a situation it’s difficult to do otherwise, but we ought to be able to do better than that.

That’s not to say I know how.

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Joe 03.19.12 at 10:25 am

Alex @77, this baffling phenomenon seen by that French journalist is the result of decades of deliberate propaganda efforts by the corporate news media. Many working class Americans genuinely believe that voting against their own economic interests is the right thing to do. It’s the American equivalent of South Korea’s fan death syndrome (Google it) – an insular belief that is easy for outsiders to mock, but taken very seriously at home.

87

reason 03.19.12 at 11:35 am

“It’s not easy to see how this can be resolved through methods of political debate. Rather, it’s a matter of which side can gain and hold the majority.”

I’ve been pushing the idea for a while that the only hope for American politics to stop being disfunctional, is to break down the two party system. Notice how your discussion is all binary?

88

Uncle Kvetch 03.19.12 at 1:45 pm

Not true, actually: conservatives said he was an illegitimate president from day one on the grounds that he hadn’t won a majority of the popular vote (because of Ross Perot).

I don’t remember that, Matt, but I don’t doubt it for a moment. Point taken.

And honestly, I stopped reading at “bigotry is very out of style in America” because I’m incapable of taking that seriously; you’re certainly welcome to interpret this as my failing.

Given that Watson also made the perfectly bizarre assertion that “homosexuality is beyond federal power,” I’d say that not taking him seriously is generally a safe bet.

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geo 03.19.12 at 3:49 pm

Salient @80: The dispute is over whether or not folks have been tricked into supporting what they would not otherwise support, which requires some analysis of what kinds of policies they would support in the absence of trickery

The story line of What’s the Matter with Kansas? is: “Here is this region of former prairie populists, over whom the conventional Beltway wisdom of 100 years ago was shaking its head and saying: ‘What’s with those crazy populist radicals and their economic egalitarianism and mistrust of Wall Street?’ Today they elect economic royalists and Wall Street lackeys. How did this happen? Think I’ll go home to Kansas and find out. … [Year or two later, after talking to lots of fellow Kansans:] Huh, looks like a lavishly-funded cadre of outside agitators has come in and stirred them up about the decline of family, neighborhood, community, morality, decency, civility, individual responsibility and has found a way to blame all that on ‘liberal elites,’ who just happen to be the same people who are conspiring to take away their liberty by regulating business and taxing the rich. Pretty cockeyed, but you can fool or at least distract) some of the people some of the time, which turns out to be enough to win some elections, which is all the opening the wrecking crew needed to hollow out government and dismantle the New Deal. Now that we’ve got a government that doesn’t work, it’s all the easier to convince people that government can never work, and that their only recourse is to trust to the (ultimately) benign Invisible Hand of the Free Market.”

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Rob in CT 03.19.12 at 4:02 pm

[88] I do remember that. No mandate!

As for the rest, I think Salient has made some good points, but I think there is a reinforcing cycle here. The egg (which comes first) is the mindset of the voter. The Chicken comes next. The GOP decides to pander to the mindset. This works. So they keep pandering to it. Their messaging becomes increasingly about addressing certain concerns (to the exclusion of others). This is where the charge of propoganda comes in. The “white male bigot” type might actually care about more than just hating on/not wanting to share with others, but if he gets a steady stream of messages that push his buttons, maybe he never quite gets around to paying too much attention to those other things. I dunno, I’m no expert.

I do think Salient is spot-on about a substantial chunk of white voters (not just white male, IMO) who basically want their welfare state but don’t want to share (or are willing to pay for a welfare state that helps people like them, but balk at paying for “others” however others may be defined). Political messaging can help define others, of course…

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lupita 03.19.12 at 4:10 pm

shouldn’t we establish some common ground regarding what the white male bigots themselves would regard as problems

This is clear: the problem is the erosion of global power. As Haidt states, “When people feel that a group they value — be it racial, religious, regional or ideological — is under attack, they rally to its defense, even at some cost to themselves.” Haidt curiously forgot to mention national and supra-national groups.

Justifications for continued supremacy vary among political parties of Western nations: exceptionalism, humanitarian intervention, terrorist threat, drugs, liberty, prosperity, tradition, oil … whatever. What matters is the broad consensus to preserve the global financial system, even it it means some countries going under; to maintain military supremacy, even if it means Greece deviating resources from basic hospital supplies to sophisticated German weaponry; and to foster the illusion of GDP growth through bubbles, bailouts, mass immigration, and the fudging of statistics.

Everybody knows what is at stake, not just white, male bigots. The only question left is how much are the populations of the great Western tribe willing to sacrifice. The sacred narrative selected while doing so is of no consequence and fools nobody.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.19.12 at 4:11 pm

anti-Semitism is much more likely to be found on the fringes of the Democratic Party then in the Republican Party

And this is why something like 75% of American Jews vote Democratic. We’re just delusionally self-hating that way!

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Arkie 03.19.12 at 4:24 pm

3: “Certainly, it’s much more likely than his ever becoming an international human rights lawyer, or drama critic for the New York Times. Such jobs go almost exclusively to children of privilege.”

Human rights lawyers are the real elite, the real children of privilege, whereas millionaires have worked hard for their money? Was this snippet intended as a parody of right-wing talk radio or is this serious?

94

Ed 03.19.12 at 5:26 pm

“The only way you can claim that the working class supports the Republicans is if you define-out anyone who is black, Hispanic, or lives in a big city, or lives in the Northeast or California or the Pacific Northwest or I could go on. Not coincidentally, this is precisely the claim both the Republicans and the Blue Dogs stand on.”

The Republicans and Blue Dogs are NOT claiming that the entire working class supports them, eg the working class including blacks and Hispanics. They are claiming the WHITE working class supports them. Most of them don’t care about whether they get the votes of blacks and Hispanics, these people are by definition on the other team. Do Democrats care if they get the support from white working class voters or not?

And the data does indicate that the white working class in the U.S. has become a fairly reliable Republican constituency, and the trend will continue as the New Deal generation dies off. This also is not to be confused by “the poor”.

I’m confused about the part about the cities and the regions. In most cities, there isn’t much of a white working class, they all moved to the suburbs some time ago. But for what its worth, I live in New York City, and here if you see a “white ethnic”neighborhood, eg Italian or Irish or increasingly also Jewish, you basically see a Republican neighborhood, though these voters will still elect Democrats in local races. Now these areas have median incomes well above the national average (we really need a “median income ex housing costs” statistics), but they are widely regarded as “working class”.

95

Watson Ladd 03.19.12 at 6:22 pm

Salient: Outright bigotry is today much less popular. It’s impossible to imagine a race riot over busing happening in a major city today, but that happened with regular frequency during the 1970’s. Support for the Civil Rights Act in South Carolina around 58%, with 27% not sure of what it is. data here. “Vote the crook, it’s important” is a slogan you would not have heard in Louisiana in 1960, and when a national Republican endorsed the Democrat against a Klan leader that was an important indicator of just how much things had changed in the South.

Kaveh, Jerry: I said the fringes for a reason: neither party would tolerate open anti-Semitic bigotry today. But if you’ve ever seen Gentleman’s Agreement you’ll see to what extent that wasn’t true a half-century ago. Palestinian activists (some of whom harbor outright anti-Semitic beliefs, and others who don’t) are closer to the Democratic party then the Republican one, while anti-bank conspiracy theories are the province of some fringe Republican supporters. But there is a lot more pressure on the Democratic party from anti-Semites then on Republicans. (Regardless of whether we think one-state solutionists are anti-Semitic, some no doubt are. Certainly I don’t remember MoveOn.org arguing that we should pressure Republicans to agree to prevent Israel from retaliating against mortar fire.)

Uncle Kvetch, explain to me how a federal ban on homosexuality would work. Forget Lawrence v. Texas, just remember Lopez and Morrison. Maybe you could try to reach homosexuality through the strain it induces on the KY jelly market, but I doubt the Solicitor General would be able to keep a straight face when making that argument.

Arkie, if you’ve ever heard the joke about the first Jewish President you would realize that yes, it is serious. Some of the humor of that joke revolves around the non-universality of that judgement, but a good deal of it revolves around the perception that everyone hearing and telling it shares that judgement!

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Uncle Kvetch 03.19.12 at 6:31 pm

the KY jelly market

Watson, what on earth made me think you were anything than just one more fucking troll? Anyway, thanks for clearing things up.

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geo 03.19.12 at 6:44 pm

Arkie, if you’ve ever heard the joke about the first Jewish President you would realize that yes, it is serious.

You mean this one? What’s serious about it?

The first Jewish President is elected.
He calls his Mother: “Mama, I’ve won the elections, you’ve got to
come to the swearing-in ceremony.”
“I don’t know, what would I wear?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll send you a dressmaker”
“But I only eat kosher food”
“Mama, I am going to be the president, I can get you kosher food”
“But how will I get there?”
“I’ll send a limo,just come mama”
“Ok Ok, if it makes you happy.
The great day comes and Mama is seated between the Supreme Court Justices and the Future Cabinet members, she nudges the gentleman on her right. “You see that boy, the one with his hand on the Bible” “His brother’s a doctor!”

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Watson Ladd 03.19.12 at 7:26 pm

Uncle Kvetch, you are asserting that homosexual conduct is within the reach of federal power. As a practical matter since Lawrence v. Texas that’s not the case, and I doubt it ever was the case because the US Congress doesn’t have a general police power. If you disagree, state your reasons: It’s possible there is a case I’ve overlooked. But saying this is ridiculous when there not only is a colorable argument to the contrary but one that actually succeeded in Lawrence v. Texas against the states is deeply odd.

Gay marriage isn’t something that the Federal government can do much about either. States are free to recognize gay marriage or not, and defending single filling status for two person households in a gay marriage is not exactly what people rally around when they hear defending marriage.

geo: the one issue I have is that you’ve defined the leftism of Kansas as natural because it wasn’t the result of outside interference. That isn’t the case: left organizations had a national base which they used to make Kansas leftist. As for the joke, what’s serious about it is what it shows about the values of those who tell it: I committed a sin with a dangling modifier in my sentence,which Arkie’s comment makes clear.

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Bruce Wilder 03.19.12 at 7:28 pm

WL@95: “explain to me how a federal ban on homosexuality would work”

The same way it worked in the 1950s. Homosexuals would be banned from Federal employment. Positive portrayal of homosexuality in literature or other media would be deemed obscene, and public broadcast or distribution would be prosecuted. Employment discrimination against homosexuals would be positively encouraged; morals clauses in licensed professions and explicit or implicit employment would be invoked to justify firing homosexuals. Discrimination in housing and services would be encouraged. The freedom, say, of Christians to discriminate against apparent homosexuals in all kinds of economic relations would be affirmed. The homosexuality of the victim would become an affirmative defense against a charge of murder or assault. Homosexual behavior would be criminalized under the state model penal code and the UCMJ, with severe penalties, and no objection would be raised, under the Federal Constitution; Federal protections of the personal rights of homosexuals under the 4th, 5th, 8th or 14th amendments would be, once again, a dead letter.

Federalism is no barrier to the most severe authoritarianism. For more than 75 years, Federal authority was invoked to affirm and protect chattel slavery.

100

piglet 03.19.12 at 7:29 pm

3, 93, let’s slightly modify the example:

“A truck driver’s son from Wyoming might not have very much chance of becoming a millionaire, but it could happen. Certainly, it’s much more likely than his ever becoming an international *corporate* lawyer”

Graeber would never have written this statement and nobody would have understood if he had. But it’s certainly no less plausible (in terms of its reality content) than what he wrote about human rights lawyers. Do I need to say more?

Right-wing Americans resent education and those that are educated. Even educated right-wing Americans resent education and those that are educated. That resentment is real but it’s certainly not natural. It doesn’t logically follow from the reality of class structure in America. It’s not a consequence of the reality of life experienced by these people. It is a product of very hard ideological work done over decades. That hypothetical truck driver’s son who resents human rights lawyers didn’t come up with the idea of resenting human rights lawyers all by himself, just as he would never have dreamed of resenting climate scientists as a liberal elite if he hadn’t been told to (while of course he doesn’t resent petroleum geologists since nobody told him that).

These ideas of who to resent have been planted in him by careful propaganda. And the tragedy, or travesty, is that that propaganda has been so successful it is now being parroted by liberals. I don’t get the Jewish allusion in 95 but it gives me a nice excuse to draw a parallel with antisemitism. One sometimes hears the argument that antisemitism can be explained by the fact that the Jews really were rich and privileged. Except that of course, it is not a fact. Now we have the argument that “liberal intellectuals” in America are really a privileged, powerful elite and so we shouldn’t be surprised that “ordinary” Americans are resentful. That is equally nonsensical and there is really very little difference between these ideologies. In fact, as I really shouldn’t have to point out in this forum, anti-intellectualism is a variant of antisemitism.

101

piglet 03.19.12 at 8:22 pm

Ed 76
“if you want to counter the charge that working class white voters voted mostly Republican in 2008, you really need to break down these income and education figures by race, which we don’t have from these tables.”

If you insist on defining working class as “white working class” then you are right, he probably didn’t have a majority there. But that is probably true in any class. Overall, Obama won a majority in almost any demographic grouping. But within the white electorate, he probably lost in almost any demographic grouping.

http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/results/president/national-exit-polls.html

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Watson Ladd 03.19.12 at 8:25 pm

Bruce, first two nitpicks: 1)federalism was invoked against the Fugitive Slave Act.
2) the Model Penal Code didn’t exist in the 1950’s.
You are right that things could be a lot worse, and were. But we aren’t discussing some sort of extensive rollback of society, but the passage of federal law and appointment of judges in today’s society to try to roll back these rights. Much of what you describe requires the states to play along: obscenity law is now dependent on local conditions, federal power is more limited then in the 1950’s, and there is no general police power. When politicians talk about banning gay marriage or marriage amendements, they aren’t seriously proposing it at the federal level: there are too many obstacles that cannot be overcome.

piglet: that’s a good point: beliefs are shaped by social environment. But propaganda cannot do everything. Something makes it possible to attack the elite as bringers of un-American values, and makes that resonate with those to whom it is targeted.

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Jake 03.19.12 at 8:41 pm

Graeber would never have written this statement and nobody would have understood if he had. But it’s certainly no less plausible (in terms of its reality content) than what he wrote about human rights lawyers. Do I need to say more?

But it is less plausible. Law school is really expensive and the only plausible way to pay off the massive debt incurred to get the JD is to be a corporate lawyer. Glamorous and non-soul-sucking legal jobs like being a human rights lawyer are luxury goods.

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Barry 03.19.12 at 9:23 pm

Watson Ladd 03.18.12 at 8:10 pm

” The liberal intelligentsia is an elite. The business elite is an elite. But they are different elites, with different cultural and political beliefs. A stereotypical red-state inhabitant can see a wealthy businessman as part of the same community with similar beliefs and habits. He can’t see a professor as one: they will send their kids to different schools, pray at different churches, and have very distinct values. You wouldn’t begrudge your neighbor a promotion or a raise, but you probably would be more likely to begrudge someone, whose habits were different, a change in your way of life they instigated.”

I’m seconding Alex here – I don’t believe this. The family with $300K in yearly income is not living in the same neighborhood as the family with median income, nor are the children going to the same schools. And even for churches, I don’t believe this, since we’ve moved more into a world of market-niche driven churches.

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Barry 03.19.12 at 9:24 pm

Also, the business elites are the elites who have the frequently exercised power to crush towns. Professors can’t do that (the only ones who even pretend are actually just propagandists for the guys with the actual power).

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Barry 03.19.12 at 9:33 pm

Watson Ladd 03.19.12 at 8:25 pm

” Bruce, first two nitpicks: 1)federalism was invoked against the Fugitive Slave Act.”

Unsuccessfully, please note:

1) It fell well within the federal government’s constitutional powers, especially with those clauses requiring other states to hand over slaves, and to respect the laws of other states (full faith and credit?).

2) The same slavers who whined about states’ rights whenever that would help slavery had absolutely zero problems passing sweeping federal legislation – the principle of federalism was nothing more than an excuse, tucked away whenever it became inconvenient.

Are you actually that ignorant?

107

Ed 03.19.12 at 9:35 pm

Piglet (at 8:22 pm), I’m not insisting on defining “working class” as “white working class”. I am insisting on defining “white working class” as “white working class.”

To avoid going around in circles, the claim that has been put forward is that white voters (only) are voting more among class lines, and among the white electorate (only), the separation is on the lines of low income and low education voters to the Republicans, high income and high education voters to the Democrats. I think this is a plausible claim, given the data, with the caveat that most low income and low education voters of all races don’t vote at all, and the caveat that class voting behavior isn’t easy to tease out of U.S. electoral data.

The implication is that the Democrats have become a sort of “high-low” coalition of elites from the dominant ethnic group, and most people from ethnic minorities. This isn’t unprecedented in the developing world, and since I tend to view party politics in the U.S. more through the lens of developing world politics, and have given up trying to understand it in the context of European/ Anglo systems, I don’t find this particularly jarring but others might.

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John Quiggin 03.19.12 at 9:54 pm

Ed, this is wrong. It’s a mistaken inference from the fact that rich states tend to vote Democratic. Here’s the data, by race, showing that, for all races, higher income voters are more likely to be Republican.

http://andrewgelman.com/2008/08/my_comment_on_b/

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Watson Ladd 03.19.12 at 10:42 pm

Bruce, invokations of principle don’t have to be successful. Over time the Federal government became more intolerant of free states, eventually prompting a backlash. In particular the fugitive slave act prompted riots in which slaves would be freed from Federal custody. Hume is on point: government depends on consent in a very fundamental way, and can’t do anything without it. Ultimately the Fugitive Slave Act mattered more as a rallying cry for freedom then as support for slavery.

Further, a businessman doesn’t close a business out of spite. He closes it because he can’t make money from it.

JQ: I’m looking at those curves and Ed isn’t exactly wrong. He’s certainly not right, but you would have trouble torturing a line to those. In particular it’s not implausible that there is a narrow professional class, leaning democratic, with incomes on the low end of rich. What is implausible is that this class will win you an election in combination with the poor.

What all of us, myself included, seem to be doing, is attributing actual reality to the elements of propaganda, the New Yorker cover to the contrary. The image of out of state liberal elitists from New York certainly has people who fit it, but probably not as many as we all imagine. Similarly, the racist white worker doesn’t actually exist in numbers as great as his political invokations make us think he does.

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chris 03.19.12 at 10:48 pm

among the white electorate (only), the separation is on the lines of low income and low education voters to the Republicans, high income and high education voters to the Democrats.

Is this a typo? ISTM that you mean to say high income and low education to the Republicans, low income and high education to the Democrats, with the waters considerably muddied by the income/education correlation.

Among nonwhites, all subdemographics go heavily to the party that doesn’t publicly flirt with white supremacy. Gee, what a surprise.

111

piglet 03.19.12 at 11:10 pm

Jake 103: Is the argument now that devoting one’s career to a cause one believes in, as opposed to making money, is un-American? Or is the claim that the less money one makes, the more elite that person must be? That twisted kind of argument reminds me of the old truism that the Jews are dangerous because they are rich capitalists and also because they are socialist agitators. It makes exactly the same amount of sense.

(Mind you I’m not ascribing that position to anybody here – just pointing to the structural parallel.)

112

Salient 03.19.12 at 11:21 pm

geo, a friend commented to me (I think this is the opposite of the “friends support me in email” meme) (paraphrasing) “You’re ignoring the Southification of the Midwest and Plains, you’re looking at Birmingham and thinking it’s Topeka.”

…well, hell. As the thesis I was working on is pretty decisively undercut by that bit of insight, I’m… well among other things, I’m very tempted to make some kind of “we’re not in Kansas anymore” joke at my own expense, but I’m also looking into specifically GI Bill reclamations in the Plains states to get a sense of welfare state participation in the region prior to the, uh, …Southification? (Is this even a word?)

113

Jake 03.19.12 at 11:35 pm

Piglet 111: not at all. The point is that if being part of the liberal elite requires an expensive education and doesn’t pay well, then some truck driver in Wyoming is going to see it as being out of his kid’s reach. Which is pretty much true. Now maybe the truck driver is overestimating the chance of his son becoming a millionaire by going from owning one truck to being the head of a decent-sized trucking company, but what can you do?

114

John Quiggin 03.20.12 at 12:24 am

@chris (110) you have it right. I’m hoping to get some better data on this soon.

115

piglet 03.20.12 at 12:31 am

“The point is that if being part of the liberal elite requires an expensive education and doesn’t pay well”

If being part of the elite doesn’t pay well, then it’s not much of an elite.

What you are suggesting is that people of modest means never ever would become idealists, making sacrifices to a cause they believe in. The argument you give, that they couldn’t afford such sacrifice, is BS. That truck driver’s son almost certainly couldn’t afford law school to begin with but IF he managed to get through, the suggestion that the distinction between elite and non-elite law graduates is that the former make less money is grotesque.

This debate started from Graeber’s claim that “working-class” anti-intellectualism has a rational core because working class people cannot imagine themselves ever being intellectuals. But given that premise, there is no factual reason why that anti-intellectualism should target the human rights lawyer but not the corporate lawyer, or the climate scientist but not the petroleum scientist. The fact that the US education system is economically stratified (which in itself is a result of right-wing policies probably supported by that hypothetical right-wing truck driver) doesn’t explain why some types of education should evoke resentment but not others.

Ellen Willis deconstructed the absurdity of the “liberal elite” meme in her excellent review of The Bell Curve (the Murray/Herrnstein tract). Unfortunately I can’t find it online (it is published in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bell_Curve_Debate_%28book%29) but I wish I could quote from it. Liberal intellectuals in the United States are not an elite in any meaningful way. They don’t have power, they don’t have money, they don’t matter. They may dominate a few college departments (while conservatives dominate others) but the idea that they wield any relevant power is laughable. What is amazing is that quite a few liberals have bought into the right-wing “liberal elite” narrative. Ellen Willis pointed out that this part of The Bell Curve – its claim that “elite” intellectuals were increasingly in charge of the levers of power – remained unchallenged in the heated debate provoked by the book. That was almost 20 years ago. Why is this meme, despite its obvious absurdity, so widely accepted? Is it because quite a few liberal intellectuals are flattered to hear how important right-wingers say they are?

116

piglet 03.20.12 at 12:54 am

“The point is that if being part of the liberal elite requires an expensive education and doesn’t pay well”

I also thought that Hollywood stars and George Soros were part of the liberal elite?

117

MarkUp 03.20.12 at 1:03 am

All the way back @25 Geo – “…ightly or wrongly, unhappy with the state of popular culture and social morality that everything wrong with the world is the fault of un-American liberal elites, “

I’ll give you a low high five knuckle bump for that, but Santorum wants to take you to the mat and pile drive your Liberal ars… no wait that won’t work… where’s that damn WWE guidebook when you need it? I’ll be back once I deregulate the shelves a bit.

118

Bruce Wilder 03.20.12 at 1:30 am

What is “resentment”, if not the antonym of “admiration”? Certainly, it is not the expression of a simple grievance, which might logically target a correctly identified oppressor, for the oppression. The self-referential is an essential element in the definition of resentment: resentment is centered in the self, in feelings of personal frustration, futility, jealousy, weakness, and it functions, psychologically, to defend against shame at culpability for one’s condition. Resentment invents an enemy, and resentment loves a fake.

The politics of resentment cannot be separated from the politics of domination. The authoritarianism of the Right is a politics of people, who seek to dominate others. This is the politics of building economic prosperity on eliminating the minimum wage and labor unions.
http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/03/16/446351/akin-steelman-brunner-minimum-wage/

The politics of authoritarianism and domination is not inherently a politics of reason. I trust I do not need to explain further. It is also not inherently a popular politics, for obvious, material reasons. But, everyone seeking office in politics is, to some large extent, seeking power and status.

Resentment is an emotion of inferiors, and the resentments of followers is part of a reactionary political symbiosis between authoritarian followers and those, who seek to lead and dominate them, as a means to achieve office and as an end in itself.

Stoking resentments is a psychological means of making political appeals to authoritarian followers, to people, who feel vulnerable, ashamed, weak, inferior. It is, therefore, useful to dominators and exploiters, since it involves little or no promise of material benefit.

I think there’s considerable political confusion, surrounding the failure to clearly distinguish leaders from followers. Domination is a goal of the leaders and resentment is the defense of the followers.

Behind the puzzlement of liberals over the resentments of the followers lurks considerable contempt for the followers. The contempt and the resentments might be linked in multiple ways, just as the domination and the resentments are linked.

119

LFC 03.20.12 at 1:51 am

Law school is really expensive and the only plausible way to pay off the massive debt incurred to get the JD is to be a corporate lawyer. Glamorous and non-soul-sucking legal jobs like being a human rights lawyer are luxury goods.

I’m pretty sure there are fewer human-rights lawyer jobs available than corporate-lawyer jobs, but I believe some law schools (don’t know how many) forgive loan payments or otherwise try to make it easier financially for people who want to take public-interest jobs (and can get them) to actually take them.

120

Watson Ladd 03.20.12 at 2:00 am

piglet, the liberal elite is an elite. They control the most powerful paper in the US, really the only paper in the US. The vast number of cultural foundations that they inhabit is staggering. Prestigious higher education is dominated completely by their values. Is the Fourth Pillar of the Netherlands not an elite, merely because it has less political power then it used to?

I’ve documented upthread that the elite is of a different religious background then the rest of the country. Look in the wedding announcements of the NY Times to see other clues to its composition and experiences. Furthermore, if we buy the hypothesis that this elite exists we see that it has been fabulously successful in achieving its goals: looking at Pat Buchanan’s Culture Wars speech we see that all 4 of the elements Buchanan warned of exist in the US: prayer in schools remains absent, homosexuals can marry in many states, as well as serve in the military, abortion remains legal, although waiting periods and availability restrictions exist, and there absolutely is a litmus test on abortion for the Supreme Court. Okay, so we got 3 out of 4, with the round still continuing on number 4.

So over the past decade has a small minority successfully imposed its will on the rest of the country? It depends: the answer is closer to yes with prayer in schools, where the courts are the final arbiters. Abortion is similar, as is the litmus test. But gay rights are the result of increased popularity for the cause, rather then judicial arguments.

The real problem for the liberals is this: As I mentioned about the Fugitive Slave Act law cannot exist without popular support. The less popular support exists for a law, the harder it is to defend and enforce, and even harder to expand. Roe v. Wade may have cemented the worst of all possible outcomes for women: one where abortion is restricted by rules specifically intended to limit access as much as possible in revenge for its legalization, and where the hope of future political change is short-circuited by the resentment of what amounts to an imposition of judicial will. This is not to say I disagree with Roe, but rather that it, unlike Brown, remains controversial long after it was decided.

121

js. 03.20.12 at 2:45 am

the liberal elite is an elite. They control the most powerful paper in the US, really the only paper in the US. The vast number of cultural foundations that they inhabit is staggering. Prestigious higher education is dominated completely by their values.

Names, Watson, we need names! No, seriously, what the fuck are you talking about? Also:

I’ve documented upthread that the elite is of a different religious background then the rest of the country. Look in the wedding announcements of the NY Times to see other clues to its composition and experiences.

Again, umm, what? Why don’t you supply some of these “clues”, Watson?

122

Substance McGravitas 03.20.12 at 2:47 am

Once again, every institution not explicitly right-wing is that other thing because there are only two things.

123

geo 03.20.12 at 3:05 am

No, seriously, what the fuck are you talking about?

Astonishing, isn’t it, how often Watson elicits this reaction, often in these very words? Still, I treasure him.

124

Bruce Wilder 03.20.12 at 3:32 am

Watson @ 120 seems to have departed from shared reality.

Here on Planet Earth, the dominant political Media are uniformly parts of giant corporate conglomerates, dependent financially on corporate business advertising, and these Media cooperate in pushing economic views and policies friendly to corporate interests and hostile to liberal values. The N.Y. Times, though widely regarded as “liberal” because its pages largely reflect the social values of its urban, cosmopolitan readership is no exception; its editor, a Roman Catholic and political Centrist, is the son of former chief of Chevron.

As Chris Hedges has documented in his book, The Death of the Liberal Class, the liberal elite is largely gone now, blown away from the heights of academia, the professions, the law, the churches, labor unions and the political parties, by some combination of corrupt accomodation with business corporations and withering erosion at the hands of a rising conservative movement.

Rockefeller Republicans are nothing, but a historic footnote, while the Democratic Party is completely dominated by neoliberals and corrupt centrists. Labor unions have declined into insignificance. Right-wing bishops and corrupt evangelicals preaching a prosperity gospel dominate religious leadership. The Federalist Society dominates the Federal judiciary, with predictable results. Journalism is nothing but the pursuit of an empty celebrity. Once proud institutions like the Brookings Institution or the Council on Foreign Relations rent themselves out to reactionary billionaires.

The policies of perpetual war and upward redistribution of income and wealth of the plutocracy are no more popular than the social agenda of Christian dominionists and would-be theocrats, but the organized opposition to either is weak and growing weaker. Many of the plutocrats are indifferent to, or actively hostile to religious fundamentalism and social intolerance — the activities of principled liberals have little enough to do with the impotence of the minority of religious fanatics clamoring for a theocratic state. But, on the issues important to the plutocrats — bank rescues or perpetual war or low taxes on business and billionaires — the real weakness of liberalism shows up in technicolor. No matter how popular Social Security, single-payer, an end to the pointless, costly wars may be — and no matter how unpopular billions for predatory finance and low taxes on billionaires may be — all the serious people agree on the need for “shared sacrifice” of the poor and middle class together on the altar of Mammon.

125

piglet 03.20.12 at 3:48 am

119: “I’m pretty sure there are fewer human-rights lawyer jobs available than corporate-lawyer jobs”

There is no such a thing as a career path called “international human rights lawyer” but there are plenty of avenues for law graduates to do idealistic work (pro bono work for non-profits, legal clinics for low-income people, etc.) if they are so inclined.
There is certainly no liberal conspiracy preventing anybody from doing that kind of work.

Part of what makes this bogus example fascinating is that none of us can even *name* a prominent human rights lawyer. (Try googling “human-rights lawyer” and all you’ll find are reports of lawyers in prison). Yet the example resonates with at least some self-described liberals (I won’t mention our resident right-wing trolls) such as David Graeber and Chris Bertram. Why? This is a serious question. Anybody got a serious answer?

126

Bruce Wilder 03.20.12 at 4:01 am

WL@109: “Bruce, invokations of principle don’t have to be successful.

I have no idea to what you are referring.

WL: “Over time the Federal government became more intolerant of free states, eventually prompting a backlash. . . “

I’m sure you think you have some point. You don’t. People in politics struggle with one another over power, not principle. Southerners largely controlled national politics and the Federal government right up until Lincoln’s election signalled that they wouldn’t much longer, and then they bolted from the halls of power, and found themselves on the receiving end of Federal power. Lincoln’s Administration had the consent of a Constitutional majority, but precious few Southerners.

This whole line is a distraction. Leave it.

127

CRW 03.20.12 at 4:23 am

piglet@125 My son aspired to be an international human rights lawyer – he did an early internship at the Human Rights Court in Costa Rica. Alas he succumbed to the competitive drive for the 2nd year internship and a high-paying corporate job, and worked for a firm on Wall Street. He did a lot of company pro bono work mostly on immigration issues during his sojourn in Babylon. After three years he said he was sick of feeling like he was on the wrong side of every issue and quit to join an immigration non-profit. His law school (NYU) is helping pay off his student loans. He has since left New York (following his academic wife’s career) and is now in solo practice and doing a lot of political advocacy around the DREAM Act. He makes a little more than half of what his wife does. I don’t suppose he’ll ever be rich or famous, but he’s happy. And I’m proud of him.

His dad and I are both children of farmer/school teachers and live in a flyover state, and although we’re both over-educated, we’ve never cracked six figures in household income and probably never will. Is he a member of the liberal elite or no?

128

Bruce Wilder 03.20.12 at 4:30 am

piglet: “(Try googling “human-rights lawyer” and all you’ll find are reports of lawyers in prison).”

I did google and got a Wikipedia article, links to an institute at Columbia and a program at Harvard, a lobby group, somebody getting an award, three links to news items about human rights lawyers jailed in Iran (two about the same person), some websites doing attorney referrals and a bunch of ads for attorney referral or law firms.

Evidently, there are quite a few lawyers dealing with civil liberties and immigration issues, who could fit a broad definition of “human rights attorney”.

129

Substance McGravitas 03.20.12 at 4:45 am

130

piglet 03.20.12 at 5:00 am

That was interesting CRW 127, thanks.

Bruce 128 my top two hits for “human rights lawyer” (in quotation marks) are two different lawyers in prison, in Iran and Malawi, then comes wikipedia, then a story of a lawyer on trial in China. Then I get four more hits from the Iranian lawyer who was sentenced to 18 years. Yes, it’s a glamorous profession and no wonder so many people are angry at the liberal elite that would deny so many working-class Americans access to the inner circle of human-rights-law power.

131

js. 03.20.12 at 5:14 am

Piglet,

I think a lot of us would agree with your claim earlier that the idea of “the liberal elite” is a right-wing fabrication with no real basis in reality (I anyway would agree wholeheartedly). I think Bruce Wilder made this point just recently as well. But this human rights lawyer business seems like weird tangent, and a dead-end to boot. Anyway, I’m not seeing the point.

132

piglet 03.20.12 at 6:10 am

“I think a lot of us would agree with your claim earlier that the idea of “the liberal elite” is a right-wing fabrication with no real basis in reality (I anyway would agree wholeheartedly).”

Well David Graeber wouldn’t agree, for one (read his preface if you are in doubt), and a number of posters here have expressed the belief that his is an insightful analysis. The liberal elite fabrication is an extremely influential one, accepted even by many liberals. And I am truly curious why.

133

piglet 03.20.12 at 6:12 am

Graeber:

“In a broader sense, what the right is waging is a broad assault on the ability of the liberal elite—from which their constituents have been so effectively excluded—to control what in classic Marxist terms would be called the terms of social reproduction.”

134

Bruce Wilder 03.20.12 at 6:25 am

whose constituents?

135

christian_h 03.20.12 at 6:28 am

There’s no such thing as a “white working class”. There may be individual people who are both working class (in either the traditional sense of class, or the weird US sense that reclassifies the petty bourgeoisie as “working class” while eliding large numbers of people actually living off selling their labour power from it) and white. But there is manifestly no coherent group that could be called “white working class”. Just because there’s an entry in some table cross-tabulating race and income (or education) where the row says “white” and the column says “working class” does not mean that this is anything more than a statistical category.

It is an unfortunate fact that there is a commonality of interests between liberals and reactionaries on this issue: for the reactionary, the “white working class” serves as a mythical carrier of real American values, while for the liberal it serves as the carrier of racism, sexism and bigotry that the liberal of course is too enlightened to be implicated in. Both are wrong, but it’s convenient for them to be wrong.

136

christian_h 03.20.12 at 6:40 am

piglet, the fabrication is the claim that there is no liberal elite. I imagine you believe this because you operate from an extraordinarily narrow definition of what “liberal” is, that serves to exclude anyone with power from being considered liberal. I disagree, as does Graeber it seems. If you wish you can call it the neoliberal elite, but it makes no functional difference whatsoever. Liberalism has always been a bourgeois ideology, and there is for example no doubt that the NYT is a liberal paper in the sense that it reflects the current politics and ideology of that strain of bourgeois thought that at least used to be called liberalism. Similarly, you may think that our current president is no liberal, but he is in fact the product of the development of political liberalism in the US. And so forth.

137

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.20.12 at 8:28 am

Well, for that matter, the whole point of American Project is liberalism; Santorum and such are wholly un-American. No wonder the liberal elite that controls the republican party is making a tremendous effort to take him down.

138

Katherine 03.20.12 at 10:29 am

none of us can even name a prominent human rights lawyer.

Speak for yourself. Cherie Booth/Blair. Oops, sorry, wrong country.

139

Katherine 03.20.12 at 10:30 am

Also, Geoffrey Robertson, but I’m cheating now since I actually studied international human rights.

140

dsquared 03.20.12 at 11:02 am

Part of what makes this bogus example fascinating is that none of us can even name a prominent human rights lawyer.

Mike Mansfield. Carlos Moreno-Ocampo. Imran Khan.

141

John Quiggin 03.20.12 at 11:06 am

The name Alan Dershowitz occurred to me, and sure enough he’s won awards for it, presumably based on his passionate advocacy of kinder, gentler methods of torture.
http://www.jpost.com/Experts/AuthorPage.aspx?id=17

142

Chris Bertram 03.20.12 at 11:19 am

Sure there’s a liberal elite if we’re talking about a cultural dimension of stratification now. I’m sure that people in marketing have worked out pretty well what their shared characteristics are too and are busy selling them stuff.

Oh, and Clive Stafford Smith.

143

John Quiggin 03.20.12 at 11:21 am

More seriously, as a US instance, Dawn Johnsen. I think in the US domestic context, human rights lawyers aren’t a separate category, rather the subset of constitutional lawyers who support human rights.

144

Watson Ladd 03.20.12 at 11:46 am

Bruce, the history of abolitionism shows a real increase with the Fugitive Slave Act. For the first time slavery had to be actively supported by every state in the Union. This is the interpretation I have of the tensions that doomed any compromise.

To bring it back to the topic, let’s think about how Dred Scott was received in the North and compare to how Roe was received in the South. Both involved the Supreme Court upsetting a delicate balance between states. Both appeased a section of states gradually losing power. (The population center of the US is moving southwards) And both sparked immediate and wide opposition, sometimes in the form of violence. This isn’t coincidental: people are angrier when something is imposed upon them instead of being freely chosen. They were against slavery or abortion before, but now that had to mean taking action instead of lip service.

Lastly, our ideas of conservatives are badly distorted. David Brooks might be squeamish on abortion. He’s never going to support banning it. He’s also fine with the existence of New York City or San Francisco. That’s not the case for a lot of conservatives.

Maybe I should reverse my argument: There is a large religious minority in the US, 1/3 of all US residents, that has no representatives on the Supreme Court, that is not found in higher academia, that doesn’t sit on the editorial board of the NY Times. And that minority is evangelicals. The first evangelical president was Jimmy Carter, the second George W. Bush, who was an Episcopalian earlier, and whose church is still mainline.

Evangelicals, in other words, are a minority that can easily feel put upon by people who aren’t like them. When a national issue reaches the Supreme Court, it’s decided by people who aren’t like them, and reported from a standpoint they don’t share. No wonder there is resentment!

145

bjk 03.20.12 at 1:13 pm

“But that’s not true of the right – it’s core tribal appeal is to white, anti-intellectual, non-feminist, non-poor, Christian, heterosexuals who identify themselves, and others who share all these characteristics as “real Americans’.”

It looks like JQ lives in Australia. Has he ever met any of these people? Or does he feel free to opine about them from another hemisphere? I seem to remember during the riots in London that some of the UK posters complained about US IP addresses commenting on the riots, which struck me as more than a little hypocritical.

146

engels 03.20.12 at 1:14 pm

It’s a testament to American English that the meanings of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘working class’ have evidently now become confused enough to make this discussion impossible. Maybe it would have gone better in German?

147

Barry 03.20.12 at 1:20 pm

Watson Ladd: “And both sparked immediate and wide opposition, sometimes in the form of violence. This isn’t coincidental: people are angrier when something is imposed upon them instead of being freely chosen. They were against slavery or abortion before, but now that had to mean taking action instead of lip service.”

This actually isn’t true; the immediate reaction (from the white right-wing evangelical/fundamentalist wing) was not much. It was only when their segregation academies were threatened that they decided to make a fuss.

148

MPAVictoria 03.20.12 at 1:20 pm

Bruce at 124 has won this thread.

149

MPAVictoria 03.20.12 at 1:45 pm

“There is a large religious minority in the US, 1/3 of all US residents, that has no representatives on the Supreme Court”

You are high.

150

Katherine 03.20.12 at 2:14 pm

people are angrier when something is imposed upon them instead of being freely chosen. They were against slavery or abortion before, but now that had to mean taking action instead of lip service.”

I just love how “not owning slaves” and “not preventing women having abortions” is framed as “people” having something “imposed upon them”.

151

Uncle Kvetch 03.20.12 at 2:19 pm

This actually isn’t true

In the case of abortion, it’s completely untrue. The initial anti-Roe backlash was spearheaded by conservative Catholics — it was only subsequently that southern Evangelical Protestants jumped on the bandwagon, when they recognized its potency as a hot-button issue.

No wonder there is resentment!

Indeed; they’ve only occupied the White House for three of the last nine presidential terms!

I think I’m starting to see what geo sees in you, Watson…there’s something quite dazzling about your ability to hold forth with such absolute certainty on subjects you clearly know nothing about. Throw in the occasional gratuitous, tasteless fag joke and you have all the makings of a troll for the ages.

152

dsquared 03.20.12 at 2:39 pm

I seem to remember during the riots in London that some of the UK posters complained about US IP addresses commenting on the riots, which struck me as more than a little hypocritical.

I just checked the archives and this isn’t true. Chris noted that it was “good to see so much instant wisdom from our commenters from Japan, America and Australia” but that’s it.

Since your own contribution to that thread had been the overwhelmingly idiotic “Like the Roman, I see the streets of London drowning in rivers of Chinese electronics and Italian shoes.”, I think Chris was being not so much “hypocritical” as “downright charitable”.

153

bjk 03.20.12 at 3:10 pm

That was one of my better lines, actually. Thanks for reminding me.

You didn’t bother to search further down the thread, tho. Here’s a deal: you take back Andrew Sullivan, who seems to share the “how can Americans be soooo stooooopid” view of US politics, and we’ll promise never to pass judgment on British politics.

Chris Bertram 08.09.11 at 2:50 pm

I’m sure that the people of Croydon are very glad of the advice you’re dispensing from, I think, Chicago, Watson. Good to know that some people know what the right solution is in all times and places.

and

Chris Bertram 08.09.11 at 4:35 pm

I realise that there are (some) Americans who think that everything is about you, but this is actually happening in the UK.

154

dsquared 03.20.12 at 3:35 pm

Well yes; my verdict that Chris was being mild and charitable in the face of quite absurdly ill-informed and narcissistic commentary (mainly from yourself, Watson Ladd and Jack Strocchi) was informed by a reading of the whole thread.

155

Barry Freed 03.20.12 at 4:00 pm

“But that’s not true of the right – it’s core tribal appeal is to white, anti-intellectual, non-feminist, non-poor, Christian, heterosexuals who identify themselves, and others who share all these characteristics as “real Americans’.”

It looks like JQ lives in Australia. Has he ever met any of these people? Or does he feel free to opine about them from another hemisphere?

Well, I live right here in the good old U S of A and think JQ is pretty much on the money as I’ve met more than my fair share. In fact, I was talking to one such just the other day; I call him “Dad.”

156

Barry Freed 03.20.12 at 4:01 pm

Oops, second paragraph should be in italics too.

157

Jerry Vinokurov 03.20.12 at 4:13 pm

This thread is already doing a fine job with regard to various other insane propositions made by Watson, but I can’t let this go:

But there is a lot more pressure on the Democratic party from anti-Semites then on Republicans.

Indeed, are you high? Is there any plausible sense in which this is true? What anti-Semitic pressures are there on the Democratic party? I want names and details, and no, referencing some ADL newsletter about how someone said something insufficiently admiring about Israel is not “evidence.” This doesn’t even begin to reflect the reality on the ground.

158

christian_h 03.20.12 at 4:30 pm

I never get why it should matter where a commenter is. Watson’s comments in that thread were absurd not b/c he is in Chicago, but b/c, well, it’s Watson. As for JQ, criticise what he wrote by all means, but don’t try to dismiss it just because he comments from Australia. Jeez.

159

chris 03.20.12 at 4:35 pm

There is a large religious minority in the US, 1/3 of all US residents, that has no representatives on the Supreme Court

Because the politicians they support *chose* to appoint Catholics, which as a result are grossly overrepresented on the Court, and just happen to have nearly-identical views to evangelicals on the issues most entangled with religion.

160

Chris Bertram 03.20.12 at 4:39 pm

Location as such doesn’t matter in the least Christian. But when man-with-a-keyboard in Little Rock pontificates about social practices elsewhere, on the assumption that pretty much all human behaviour is the same, it can get a bit galling.

161

dsquared 03.20.12 at 4:42 pm

I never get why it should matter where a commenter is.

it sometimes matters a bit – for example, when someone comments on a thread about rioting in London by talking about private ownership of firearms, it’s possible to extend them a bit of charity by suggesting that they’re being ignorant because they’re American and don’t understand that things aren’t the same overseas, rather than because they’re just an ignorant person. As it turned out, Chris was wrong to make this assumption of locational rather than intrinsic ignorance on the part of Watson et al, but you can’t blame him for trying.

162

john c. halasz 03.20.12 at 5:19 pm

Umm…yes, Jq is an Aussie, but doesn’t he currently or recently reside in the U.S.A.?

163

soullite 03.20.12 at 6:37 pm

LoL. Look how quickly the ranks of the so-called ‘elite’ close whenever someone suggests that anti-intellectualism could have something to do with the fact that they’ve made sure that their children ‘consume’ about 90% of the top-rated educations and have priced everyone else out.

No, it’s all the fault of those other people. It’s all the yokels, and the hicks and the rednecks – the poor people you all stopped caring about decades ago. You found a new shiny – pretending to help darker skinned people – and that let you assuage your guilt while not actually doing anything to limit your economic or political power. It only limited the power of the white working class, and with globalism, the working class in general. but that, obviously, has nothing to do with this. Only a fool or a madman would ever suggest otherwise!

Don’t worry – nothing is ever your fault. Chock it all up Brahmin man’s burden.

164

nick s 03.20.12 at 6:39 pm

Closing [/holierthanthou] tag.

165

piglet 03.20.12 at 6:51 pm

138-143: I’m glad I finally got a few responses. Wherther these individuals are examples of “international human rights lawyers” as described by Graeber, I don’t really need to get into this. But I asked for a “prominent” example. Most of these are not names that people not specifically interested in the field will ever have heard. Certainly not a hypothetical truck driver from Wyoming being abused as a stereotype of working class resentment by some liberal elitist quoted on Crooked Timber.
And sorry but none of these names came up in my google search and google is the final arbiter of truth and everything.

166

Kaveh 03.20.12 at 6:57 pm

Culture war is really just a matter of creating an overarching narrative of who the other side is, what they want to do, and why this is bad. This strategy isn’t unique to Republicans, we’re just shocked because we don’t think much of conservative claims to moral legitimacy (who could be pro-bigotry nowadays, we ask?). The idea of a liberal elite is just a well-applied framing device, an ad hoc category that the right wing has invested a lot of time and effort into promoting. Whether or not it comes apart at the seams (maybe nth-generation immigrants will become more amenable to complaints about illegal immigration, as they feel more settled and integrated?), I think one strategy that might be very effective is to point to the inherent contradiction in any modern conservatism, which is that deference to authority of some kind is at the core of any form of conservatism. So what authorities would modern-day conservatives have us defer to? Christianity? The military? Stopping climate change is not something that hurts any number of white male bigots; if they don’t accept the authority of the scientific community, then what authority do they turn to? Creating the sense of unity around positive goals that we work towards (stopping climate change, preserving civil liberties, resolving/ending the war on drugs, controlling healthcare costs, having a functioning economy, vibrant culture, sensible information & copyright policy) allows us to define conservatives as a radical fringe of assorted parasites on the body politic, in opposition to those goals. Think Obama-ism with a backbone.

167

piglet 03.20.12 at 6:59 pm

christian_h 136:

piglet, the fabrication is the claim that there is no liberal elite. I imagine you believe this because you operate from an extraordinarily narrow definition of what “liberal” is, that serves to exclude anyone with power from being considered liberal.”

You are not paying attention. Nobody denies that there are liberals who are member of the elite. The claim to be justified is that there is a Liberal Elite as a definite, separate entity, or (in the strongest form of the claim) that The Elite (or The Cultural Elite)is quite simply a liberal institution. That is the fabrication I am talking about and it is being promoted by people like Graeber who, for example, would consider the unpaid intern of the NYT food critic a member of the cultural elite but would never consider, say, a Fox News anchor as member of the cultural elite. What happens is precisely the opposite of what you accuse me of, namely Graeber etc. are operating with a concept of cultural elite that automatically excludes anybody that can’t be marginally plausibly described as liberal.

Anybody theorizing about the liberal elite should be able to answer at least these questions: how do you define that entity, what makes it liberal, and what makes it an elite?

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Matt 03.20.12 at 7:01 pm

Look how quickly the ranks of the so-called ‘elite’ close whenever someone suggests that anti-intellectualism could have something to do with the fact that they’ve made sure that their children ‘consume’ about 90% of the top-rated educations and have priced everyone else out.

People who embrace anti-intellectualism about higher education weakening religious belief and breeding anti-Americanism are really just angered that their kids were crowded out of the most renowned godless indoctrination centers?

169

piglet 03.20.12 at 7:09 pm

Bertram 142:

“Sure there’s a liberal elite if we’re talking about a cultural dimension of stratification now. I’m sure that people in marketing have worked out pretty well what their shared characteristics are too and are busy selling them stuff.”

I don’t know what you are talking about when you use that terminology but David Graeber, in the essay that you quoted, is definitely not talking about marketing research and neither am I. See the quote at 133 but your own at 3 will also do.

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Chris Bertram 03.20.12 at 9:13 pm

piglet: your personal charm and sunny disposition have won me over.

171

James 03.20.12 at 9:34 pm

piglet @167 “Nobody denies that there are liberals who are member of the elite. The claim to be justified is that there is a Liberal Elite as a definite, separate entity, or (in the strongest form of the claim) that The Elite (or The Cultural Elite)is quite simply a liberal institution.”

Rather than get into the problems of overcoming observer bias for defining Liberal, it is easier simply recognize Liberal Elite as short hand for a block of elites who happen to advocate some US defined version of left leaning ideals in a power struggle with a competing block of elites. So when an oil company, etc., complain about the Liberal Elite, they are referencing well off individuals who favor tougher environmental regulations. When religious organizations complain about the Liberal Elite, they are referencing well off individuals (usually Hollywood, etc.) who have different standards on sex, marriage, etc. Liberal Elite does necessarily refer to the same group of people in every instance.
This works for several reasons. It creates a convenient and readily understood other. The anger or resistance to this other for one topic readily transfers to support for other topics. Every time someone in one of the ‘Liberal Elites’ groups calls the masses stupid, the phrase becomes more entrenched. This takes advantage of the tendency to deal with outside groups as monolithic entities rather than a coalition of smaller groups. There is little to gain by trying to define it away.

172

piglet 03.20.12 at 9:51 pm

“Every time someone in one of the ‘Liberal Elites’ groups calls the masses stupid”

I know, it happens all the time. All the right-wing blogs say so. Is anybody here even remotely interested in the empirical reality of what supposedly is being debated or am I in the wrong party?

173

John Quiggin 03.20.12 at 10:09 pm

For the record, I’m back in Australia now, but I have spent extended periods living in the US, most recently last year, and I follow US events pretty closely.

As regards this post, this is not particularly relevant. As I mention in the post, the US culture wars have been exported to Australia and other English-speaking countries. The main difference is the relative balance of forces, predominantly driven by the fact that Christianity (and even more, political Christianism) is much weaker here. But there are lots of parts of the US where that’s true.

174

James 03.20.12 at 10:40 pm

piglet @172 “I know, it happens all the time. All the right-wing blogs say so. Is anybody here even remotely interested in the empirical reality of what supposedly is being debated or am I in the wrong party?”

If this is the only part of my comment you disagreed with, then we can move on and agree that the term ‘Liberal Elitists’ exists per the definition I provided. It really is a waste of time to point out how often someone with a large bully pulpit has said something in the US that has offended another group of people. Then we have to get into does this person really represent a “True Scotsman” (in this case an elite who happens to be liberal). It is not about whether you as an individual recognize something as offensive or the believe the speaker is representative of a Liberal Elite. It is whether it can be sold to as offensive and the originator as a Liberal Elite. So if President Obama says small town Pennsylvanians get bitter and cling to guns or religion. It doesn’t matter if happens to be true, or if you, as a liberal, don’t find it offensive. It matters if someone points to this as incident as one in which an Elite who happens to be Liberal called Pennsylvanians stupid, etc. and the people of Pennsylvanians agree.

175

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.20.12 at 11:06 pm

I know, it happens all the time. All the right-wing blogs say so.

maybe you should re-read this here comment thread; the phrase “white male bigot” has been repeated at least a dozen times. Imagine if instead it was some other, not so acceptable stereotype.

176

Watson Ladd 03.20.12 at 11:17 pm

MPAVictoria: Last I checked 25-30% was the current estimate. So at least a quarter, not quite a third. I was working from memory at the time I wrote that.

chris: Six justices are Roman Catholic, three are Jewish, and they all went to Princeton or Harvard. The Supreme Court is probably the only institution in the US that gets less diverse in a meaningful sense when a Latina joins it replacing a New England WASP!
It also isn’t the case that this prompts an agreement between the court and evangelicals on religious disputes: the Court shows no signs of permitting prayer in school, despite evangelical pressure to do so, and is much more pro-abortion then you would expect from the demographics.

Jerry, we may be arguing over which haystack has more pins in it. The Republican party does have its share of traditional Fordist “the Jews run everything” conspiracy theorists, but I’m pretty sure the idiots participating in rallies alongside Hamas sympathizers aren’t voting for the Republicans. (Yes, one can be against the war and not support Hamas. But the way to do that does not involve chanting “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.”) Cindy Sheehan comes to mind as someone whose pronouncements on the issue did not prevent progressive activists from embracing her.

piglet, is the Fourth Pillar of the Netherlands an elite? If so, then why can’t we define the equivalent class in the US as an elite? Cable news and AM talk have far fewer listeners then broadcast TV, and there aren’t right-wing newspapers at all similar in scope of coverage or quality to the NY Times. The WSJ is in a bit of a bind: it’s core audience remains Wall Street, even if Murdoch seeks to make it more appealing to heartland America.

177

Cranky Observer 03.20.12 at 11:32 pm

= = = Watson Ladd @ 11:17
“chris: Six justices are Roman Catholic, three are Jewish, and they all went to Princeton or Harvard. The Supreme Court is probably the only institution in the US that gets less diverse in a meaningful sense when a Latina joins it replacing a New England WASP!” = = =

Except for those who received their JD from Yale and Columbia I guess. And the three recently retired justices are still listed as associates on the court web site which changes the count a bit more. Not disagreeing that the tendency of Presidents of both parties to appoint only Yale and Harvard graduates is a bad thing, but your inability to check even the basic facts calls the rest of your argument into question.

= = = “It also isn’t the case that this prompts an agreement between the court and evangelicals on religious disputes: the Court shows no signs of permitting prayer in school, despite evangelical pressure to do so, and is much more pro-abortion then you would expect from the demographics.” = = =

Prayer is permitted in public school anywhere and any time a student or staff member desires to do so, so long as they don’t disturb others. Religious after-school groups are also allowed as long as there is no compulsory attendance and all religions are given equal access. I think what you mean by “prayer in school” is forced recitation of Christian prayers led by faculty/staff with disciplinary and/or social penalties for those students who refuse to participate; you are correct that that is no longer permitted. Prayer? Go to it.

Cranky

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piglet 03.20.12 at 11:40 pm

James 174, I’m not aware that you have provided any definition of anything. If what you are saying is that it doesn’t matter whether the liberal elite is real as long as people believe in it, I think I have addressed that already (see 100).

HV 175: “maybe you should re-read this here comment thread; the phrase “white male bigot” has been repeated at least a dozen times.”

Yes, by a single poster. And the evidence that that poster is a member of the elite is …? Leaving aside whether your reading of Salient’s comments is accurate (e. g. “ever notice that approximately zero females or persons of color are pointed out as representatives of the American working class”, i. e. Salient refers to the construction, not the reality, of the working class), it is a case in point for my argument that some anonymous comments taken out of context at some liberal blog site are taken as proof of the existence of the “liberal elite”.

179

Watson Ladd 03.20.12 at 11:41 pm

Cranky, when people talk about prayer in school, that’s usually what they mean. You are correct about my mistake: Thomas went to Yale, but while Ginsburg’s diploma says Columbia she earned it at Harvard, transferring her last year and serving on both law reviews simultaneously. Thanks for the correction and clarification.

180

christian_h 03.20.12 at 11:59 pm

piglet (167.): I think you are misunderstanding Graeber (and by extension, me) – or at least you are picking one extreme reading of what he says and then claim that this extreme reading is wrong. The point is not to assert that our ruling class, or our cultural elites, is wholly liberal or controlled by liberals or that there is no reactionary cultural elite.

Rather, the point (my point anyway, I can’t speak for Graeber) is that the liberal faction of the ruling class and their ideologists in the media and academia, being the people who define liberalism in the public eye (as they make up the political candidates liberals support, the newspaper writers and TV personalities liberals read and view) are every bit as exclusionary as their reactionary counterparts; are as out of touch as any Mittens Romney can be; and often make no effort whatsoever to connect to the working people (of all colours and both genders!) who they claim to represent or speak for. It is also quite simply a fact that the Yale professor, the Wall Street banker, the Silicon valley billionaire, or the lawyer in a major firm (all groups with a very strong liberal presence, to say the least) have more in common with the oil magnate than either the middle school teacher or the roughneck.

I do not disagree at all that this tendency towards being out of touch and exclusionary by liberal elites is blown out of all proportion by right-wing propaganda and centrist vacillation. But it exists, nonetheless. There is some fire behind the smoke.

Disclaimer: As should be clear from my previous posts on this and other threads, I do not agree with Henri and others who somehow manage to subsume the unemployed anti-racist activist or the feminist graduate student living on poverty stipends in the “liberal elite”.

181

Jerry Vinokurov 03.21.12 at 12:09 am

Cindy Sheehan? That’s your example? Dude, Cindy Sheehan has, like, zero influence over anything any Democrat has ever done. Any notion of her exerting “pressure” on Democratic politics is laughable.

The faux-diversity of the Supreme Court is a valid point though, although it’s really a characteristic of government in general. If you’ve gone to the Right Schools and made the Right Connections with the Right People, you can ride that carousel forever. The fact that there’s basically zero influx of thought from anyone who didn’t attend the Ten True Institutions of Higher Learning should be worrying to everyone.

182

js. 03.21.12 at 12:20 am

christian (180): I think you’re quite right. The complication though is that the phrase “liberal elite” is most often used by various players, operatives, and just people on the right. And, there, it’s used as much if not more to obfuscate than to describe any actually existing reality—of course, in some hands, the obfuscation may not be entirely intentional. Part of what’s going on (I think) is that “liberal elite” is used to suggest “The Elite”, say along the lines of the consensus-view style liberal elite that did exist in the 50’s and 60’s (and against which of course the modern right defined itself). But obviously, nothing like that exists anymore. So then it basically functions as the sort of thing James is describing at 174. But again, this is completely compatible with what you’re saying.

183

js. 03.21.12 at 12:27 am

(Or rather:)…the sort of thing James is describing at 171.

184

LFC 03.21.12 at 12:29 am

W. Ladd:
Six justices are Roman Catholic, three are Jewish, and they all went to Princeton or Harvard.

Princeton doesn’t have a law school. If your claim is that they all went to Princeton or Harvard as undergraduates, that is wrong.

I believe this has probably been gone through on this blog before, but:
Scalia: Georgetown and Harvard Law; Thomas: Holy Cross and Yale Law; Kennedy: Stanford and Harvard Law; Breyer: Stanford, Oxford, Harvard Law. Ginsburg went to Cornell as an undergraduate. The most striking lack of diversity is in where their law degrees are from: all Harvard or Yale, except for Ginsburg, and even in that case she spent most of her law school time at Harvard, as you mention.

185

christian_h 03.21.12 at 12:36 am

I’d like to point out that chanting “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea” is in no way anti-semitic. I’d add that those of us chanting things like that do indeed have zero influence in the Democratic party. The racists who do not want Palestine to be free anywhere, on the other hand, have loads of influence.

186

LFC 03.21.12 at 12:37 am

If you’ve gone to the Right Schools and made the Right Connections with the Right People, you can ride that carousel forever.

Of course, not everyone who goes to the (so-called) Right Schools makes the (so-called) Right Connections or is even interested in doing so.

The fact that there’s basically zero influx of thought from anyone who didn’t attend the Ten True Institutions of Higher Learning should be worrying to everyone.
If it were a fact it should be worrying. But it’s not a fact.

187

Watson Ladd 03.21.12 at 12:50 am

christian_h, it’s using a name for the entire territory that ignores the actual existence of people living there who don’t call it by that name, and equating the land with its people in a way that ignores them. Somehow I doubt you would give a radical settler the benefit of the doubt if he insisted Israel would be free from the river to the sea. You are also misrepresenting the views of even the most hardline of mainstream Israeli opinion, which is committed to a Palestinian state existing as part of a final peace settlement.

LFC, it just isn’t my day with Supreme Court trivia today. Thanks for pointing out the further problems: I should just have stuck to searching for this worthwhile post on the subject.

Jerry, can you show an anti-semite with influence over something a Republican has done, more then Cindy Sheehan has? Parties aren’t just the people who get elected: they are also activists who help elect those people.

188

christian_h 03.21.12 at 1:00 am

I strongly disagree Watson, but given the policies of this blog regarding the subject of Palestine I’ll leave it be.

189

Jerry Vinokurov 03.21.12 at 1:00 am

Jerry, can you show an anti-semite with influence over something a Republican has done, more then Cindy Sheehan has? Parties aren’t just the people who get elected: they are also activists who help elect those people.

Pat Buchanan. If I recall correctly, a real life anti-Semite even ran for governor of New York not that long ago. But let’s stick with Buchanan.

Also, FYI, most Republicans, especially ones with a national profile, are not going to be out there Sieg heiling all over the place. But I’m going to bet dollars to donuts that at least half the time “Hollywood” is code for “J-E-W-S.”

190

christian_h 03.21.12 at 1:02 am

Ignoring the question whether Cindy Sheehan is an anti-semite or merely someone not supportive of Watson’s pro-colonial politics, how is her running against Nancy Pelosi “helping Democrats get elected”? Is this in some parallel universe the rest of us can’t see?

191

piglet 03.21.12 at 1:04 am

It is also quite simply a fact that the Yale professor, the Wall Street banker, the Silicon valley billionaire, or the lawyer in a major firm (all groups with a very strong liberal presence, to say the least) have more in common with the oil magnate than either the middle school teacher or the roughneck.

I dispute that Wall Street bankers, billionaires and lawyers in general are in any meaningful way liberal groups. Just because a million right wing web sites say they are doesn’t make it so. And it is fascinating (I still think it is) to observe the two examples Graeber presents of liberal elitists provoking the truck driver’s justifiable resentment: human rights lawyer and NYT drama critic. Let me repeat that: it’s the human rights lawyer and the NYT drama critic, NOT the silicon valley billionaire or the Wall Street banker, that for Graeber (as for Fox News) exemplify the “liberal elite — from which their [working class] constituents have been so effectively excluded”.

And everybody nodded in agreement to that profound insight of the venerable anthropologist, at least until I showed up and spoiled the party.

192

christian_h 03.21.12 at 1:05 am

Actually I have trouble leaving it be given that Watson is blatantly lying both about Palestinians and about (weasel word alert!) “mainstream” Israeli opinion. (Btw Watson i was talking about Democrats, meaning people in the US. That you conflate this with Israelis themselves shows a lot about your world view…) . I’ll just keep it at pointing out that he is, in fact, blatantly lying.

193

christian_h 03.21.12 at 1:07 am

I dispute that Wall Street bankers, billionaires and lawyers in general are in any meaningful way liberal groups.

Well then you have, as I pointed out before, merely defined the issue out of existence. All these groups give money overwhelmingly to politicians and causes self-identifying as liberal.

194

christian_h 03.21.12 at 1:08 am

And everybody nodded in agreement

Where “everybody” is about as accurate a description as saying that “white male bigot” has been used in this thread numerous times.

195

john c. halasz 03.21.12 at 1:29 am

“can you show an anti-semite with influence over something a Republican has done,”

Shark as a means of space travel.

196

Salient 03.21.12 at 2:03 am

Where “everybody” is about as accurate a description as saying that “white male bigot” has been used in this thread numerous times.

…well, schucks, I see that it was a mistake on my part to say “white male bigot” in order to specify that I was talking only about bigots, and specifically those whose bigotry is directed toward nonwhites and/or females, and not the entirety or even plurality of white men. Blast it, sorry. It was kind of a kludge, I vaguely remembered the phrase “angry white men” bandied about at some point waybackwhen, and there was some pushback from (for example) white male lefties who self-identified as ‘angry’ but who, quite reasonably IMO, didn’t feel like they ought to be put in the same group as … bigots. But pretty clearly my revised three-word-phrase didn’t work any better.

Look, I was trying to describe the group we imagine these devilish Republican operatives luring into supporting politicians and policies and political perspectives that they wouldn’t naturally support, if it weren’t for the fact that they’d been tricked into identifying those perspectives as interwoven with ‘culture warrior’ perspectives they actually possess and feel strongly about. Sensible and sincere suggestions for alternative language will be warmly welcomed. I wouldn’t have kept using the phrase had I noticed someone object to it earlier.

My trying to focus in on the precise group of people the thread is about seems to be protested on the grounds that my characterization of that precise group of people is bad. So hey, happy to accept suggestions for what I should adopt, alongside the criticism. Thoughts? Who constitute the ‘culture warriors’ of which we speak, if we drop euphemism and try to be literal?

Not quite so happy to extend receptivity to anyone making use of my attempt to carefully distinguish subject from object in my paragraphs as the opportunity to make some kind of zinger statement about what I meant, which they know to be false. FFS, why would I bother to say “white male bigot” at all if I wasn’t taking pains to distinguish the white male bigot subsubset of people from the set of white male people? Subject: white male bigot. Object: white males. Verb: desires-to-see-hegemony-for, or something like that. White male bigots desire hegemony (or what have you) for a wider class of white males than they belong to, so it would not have been as accurate for me to use [white male bigot] in the bracketed sections where I typed [white male]. It was in fact realizing this that prompted me to go back and delete ‘bigot’ from several bracket statements before submitting the comment. Did I make a mistake there?

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christian_h 03.21.12 at 2:55 am

Salient, I did not in any way comment on your use of the phrase, but rather on the use another poster made of your use of it.

That said, what does bother me about your employing the term is that you somehow seem to think that there is a class of white male bigots whose essential, unchanging characteristic is being white, male, and bigoted. It’s quite similar to the way white male bigots use the term “Islamic terrorist”.

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white collar crime kills 03.21.12 at 3:03 am

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white collar crime kills 03.21.12 at 3:14 am

Which definition of “elites” shall reign!?

More seriously, should we limit the definition(s) to only those in the minds of whoever we’re actually discussing?
This thread is so long, I’ve probably forgotten that someone(s) have already suggested this.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elite

The elites. They’re ALIIIIIVVVE!

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js. 03.21.12 at 3:18 am

Umm, what’s the “Palestine policy” on this blog? Seriously. (A link’ll suffice.)

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christian_h 03.21.12 at 3:35 am

My understanding is the bloggers have decided any discussion of the issue would quickly devolve into a string of accusations and counter-accusations with no hope of useful debate and hence the topic should be avoided. For various reasons I disagree (and of course I might be wrong about the policy), but can see the point.

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white collar crime kills 03.21.12 at 3:41 am

p: dispute that Wall Street bankers, billionaires and lawyers in general are in any meaningful way liberal groups…
Just because a million right wing web sites say they are doesn’t make it so
Yes. Cons grind on ‘trial lawyers’, forgetting that the saintly defendant employs ‘corporate’ lawyers.
Cons pretended to be anti wallstreet, anti-tarp merely to get obama. Teas exposed this shallow fakery with their, “those smelly hippies use iphones! hypocrits!”
And “anti-capitalist” is the word teas use to criticize people who oppose excessive speculating costs.

(of course, common tea anti or pro wallstreet sentiment doesn’t prove the real wallstreeters favor or disfavor tea.)

ch: All these groups give money overwhelmingly to politicians and causes self-identifying as liberal.
Some searching suggests wall street bankers circa 2008+ have been reducing whatever they’d been donating to “liberals”.

silicon valley *illionaires tend to to fund dems, but *illionaires elsewhere?

maybe a site somehere has collated the type of profession vs “donee” data we need…

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js. 03.21.12 at 3:49 am

christian (201): Thanks. I suppose I can see the point too (barely); but mostly just wondering how much worse it could be than a discussion concerning abortion.

(Mods: feel free to delete if too off-topic or massive derailment threat.)

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.21.12 at 7:18 am

Yes, by a single poster

Come on, piglet, it’s a very common stereotype. Sometimes it’s about ‘white male evangelical’ or ‘southern white men’. Pops up in serious discussions all the time, on the liberal side. Which probably seems reasonable to you, but it’s common for groups being stereotyped in a negative way to react angrily to this sort of things.

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Chris Bertram 03.21.12 at 8:09 am

AFAICS, piglet seem unable to grasp the idea that there might be different dimensions of stratification, and so the very notion of “academic elite” “aesthetic elite” etc don’t compute for him or her unless those people also exercise political or economic power.

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chris 03.21.12 at 12:19 pm

maybe nth-generation immigrants will become more amenable to complaints about illegal immigration, as they feel more settled and integrated?

IIRC, one of the most prominent anti-immigrant state legislators in Virginia is Irish. I don’t know whether he is that ignorant of the history of his own people or just doesn’t mind being a massive hypocrite, but either way, I find it rather sickening.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other examples too.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.21.12 at 12:41 pm

@206, but is he an illegal (or undocumented, if you wish) immigrant from Ireland? Assuming that he legally applied and patiently waited a few years, you can understand why he might find jumping the queue objectionable. And there is nothing hypocritical about that.

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James 03.21.12 at 1:31 pm

My antidotal survey tells me that US legal immigrants are very anti-illegal immigrant. The bone of contention seems to be the effort they, the legal immigrants, went through to get into the country vs. the illegal immigrant. They also believe that the number of legal immigrant spots is lowered due to factoring in the number of illegal immigrant entering the country.

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JanieM 03.21.12 at 3:03 pm

I don’t know whether he is that ignorant of the history of his own people or just doesn’t mind being a massive hypocrite, but either way, I find it rather sickening.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other examples too.

Concerning this and the subsequent comments: Without denying the reality of the legal/illegal dynamic, I would say that simple chronology — “we were here first” — is even more fundamental. That is, even if there were no illegals at all and illegal immigration was not the huge issue it is in this era, lots of the people who came earlier would resent the people who came, or tried to come, later.

When I first moved to Maine 25 years ago, a crotchety old Maine lady (well, probably no older than I am now…and no crotchetier, either) said, “So you’re more of those folks who want to come here and slam the door behind them.”

She was a descendant of the first European settlers on land that she still lived on. I was an interloper, but of course there was no way she considered herself and her ancestors interlopers on land they had taken from the people who inhabited it before them.

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JanieM 03.21.12 at 3:04 pm

Grrrrr. The second little paragraph should be italicized; it’s part of Chris’s comment @12:19.

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Salient 03.21.12 at 3:14 pm

Sometimes it’s about ‘white male evangelical’ or ‘southern white men’.

A rather awful and daft thing to say after I specifically clarified that I chose the word ‘bigot’ specifically because characterizations like ‘white male evangelical’ or ‘southern white men’ are unfair to white male evangelicals and southern white men who are not bigots. I boo in your general direction, having anticipated this reply from you and responded to it in advance:

Not quite so happy to extend receptivity to anyone making use of my attempt to carefully distinguish subject from object in my paragraphs as the opportunity to make some kind of zinger statement about what I meant, which they know to be false. FFS, why would I bother to say “white male bigot” at all if I wasn’t taking pains to distinguish the white male bigot subsubset of people from the set of white male people?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.21.12 at 4:09 pm

Salient, not everything is about you. I’m sure you didn’t mean anything objectionable, and some of your best friends are white men. I’m not going to search for examples now, but like I said, this sort of stereotype pops up in (presumably) serious discussions quite often.

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piglet 03.21.12 at 5:01 pm

christian_h 193, Bertram 205: Hand-waving won’t do. I challenged you to provide a definition of what you think is the Liberal Elite (see 167). If you think that NYT drama critics can reasonably be described as an elite, why don’t you explain that a bit. What are your criteria for what is, and what isn’t, an elite. You (esp. Bertram) have so far proven yourself unable to respond to any of my arguments. AFAICS it seems you are unable to grasp the difference between offering an argument and parroting some popular stereotype.

I shall restate in a bit more detail what the liberal elite thesis requires. First, the burden of proof is clearly on those who believe in the reality of the concept, not those who question it. You must be able to provide a definition of the entity you perceive as the liberal elite, a definition that is noncircular (i. e. not including the terms liberal and elite), and you must explain what makes that entity liberal and what makes it an elite. For example, if you think that the liberal elite is formed by Wall Street bankers and NYT drama critics, you have to provide evidence that these groups are indeed liberal (in the US sense of the word, since that is what we are debating) and that they are indeed an elite (i. e. have disproportionate influence and power – not necessarily political or economic power but something relevant and verifiable). I think you’d also have to show that that entity functions to some extent as a group. It won’t do to point to individual liberal billionaires as evidence for a liberal billionaire elite. What you need to show is that individual billionaires don’t just push individual preferences that sometimes happen to happen to be liberal, but that they function as a group to further a distinctive liberal agenda. Of course none of this is true. What is true however is that while there are plenty of right-wing billionaires pushing a right-wing agenda, nobody seems to perceive them as a right-wing billionaire elite. And that is baffling.

I think the “Liberal Elite” is one of the most influential and successful propaganda inventions of the past decades. To be fair, it wasn’t a new invention – fascist propaganda made heavy use of it and variations on the theme have probably existed for much longer. But in recent decades, the old canard was successfully repackaged and recirculated to the extent that it is now one of the unquestioned truisms of American public discourse, accepted and perpetuated even by many liberals. American liberals will always lose the political battle as long as they allow themselves to be painted in the elite corner. Occupy Wallstreet is finally beginning to break the pattern and show who really the elites are. No wonder that the right-wing media elite reaction has been to insult the Occupiers as puppets of “wealthy, ultra-liberal power brokers”.

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christian_h 03.21.12 at 5:15 pm

US liberalism is a political-ideological tradition; it’s not “whatever piglet defines it to be” or “what it was in 1935″. The current leadership of this tradition does not lie with the Occupy movement (most of whose activist members would be very upset to be called “liberal”), it lies with the corporatist leadership of the Democratic Party. The ideological reproduction of the tradition is not done by the Occupy Wall Street Journal, but by major newspapers like the NYT, by liberal foundations (Gates etc.) and crucially by the academic elite. One can of course simply ignore this, but I’m afraid that does not make them go away.

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Bruce Wilder 03.21.12 at 5:15 pm

What’s the antonym for elite? Common? Ordinary?

Most people are, pretty much by definition as well as by practice, outside the elite, meaning at the very least, that they lack the resources and privileges, power and honors and security of people, who can claim “membership” in the elite. Resentment is their lot, stoked by contempt from their betters.

The common folk should be forgiven for wanting membership and its privileges, whether that membership is something as a common as a race or citizenship or, say, status as a veteran, who has served his country, or a senior, who has paid into Social Security.

The liberal habit of wanting egalitarianism for the common folk can have sharp, cutting edges. Matthew Yglesias doesn’t see why barbers should be licensed, or why it wouldn’t be better policy to just let the masses rent their homes. Mark Thoma is sure productivity and efficiency would be enhanced by open borders. Why should the white bigots be allowed to control their neighborhood schools? Digby feels indignantly justified in her contempt for the angry, presumably racist, tea party voter. All of us urban, thoughtful liberals have thought thru the issue, and recognize that tripling the price of gas to save us from global warming is the right thing to do; why do these angry, reactionary people have to be so dumb, have to follow the rich liars so easily? Why do they cling to “god and guns”?

Every society has an elite — or if you prefer, a bunch of elites. It is a necessary part of the division of labor. (I won’t trouble myself with the fantasies of anarchists and others, who dream of a radically horizontal and local society.) The job of the elite is to lead and control, but the elite may not do its job, or may not do its job well. The commons has very limited and poor means of disciplining the elite, even in the best societies. The privileges of the elite are privileges, after all. And, elites may well come to view their privileges as sacred, the enjoyment of which is the job; elite becomes a matter of status ceremony and hanging out with the rich and famous and powerful. Responsibility and accountability does not enter into it.

The job of the liberal elite is to lead the commons, the ordinary folk in keeping the elite accountable for doing a good job, a job that benefits the whole society, that benefits ordinary, common folks, accountable for keeping a society decent and honest in its government and in its economy.

The contempt of liberal elites for ordinary, common people is just an excuse for not doing the job of liberals, for not doing the job of leading the smelly, ignorant common people. When liberals abandon that leadership job, when they abandon, say, trade unions as one example, there are plenty of right-wing demagogues willing to step up, to lead ordinary people into racism and fascism and lots of ugliness, to stoke the resentments and focus those resentments on targets, where they can have no effect on how society functions, or even bad effects: deficits in a depression, or better health insurance in a society with record rates of medical bankruptcy, or “immorality” or some lesser race or caste.

Yes, common ordinary people, without much economic security, feel powerless and scared, and are prone to misunderstanding the complex world of economics and politics, or oversimplifying, and they are prone to putting on a team jersey, and blaming whatever out-group can be identified as different and deservedly inferior. Work is hard.

Liberals love to talk about Nixon and the Southern Strategy, and how the Republicans went after the racist vote. They don’t like to talk about abandoning Southern populism, about abandoning trade unions, about abandoning regulation, about busing to destroy neighborhood schools, and on and on. The neoliberal turn that gave us the left hand of Carter, Clinton and Obama, to Reagan’s right hand, goes curiously unremarked.

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Salient 03.21.12 at 5:28 pm

Salient, not everything is about you.

Then don’t make this about me: don’t go attributing some stupid thing I wrote to the other commenters here, as if a phrase I was using (which did not prove at all popular) was one they adopted. Accusing me of belonging to a group that stereotypes isn’t the problem; accusing the general population commenting here of belonging to that group, based only on things that only I have said, is doing them the disservice of attributing to them my stupidity.

this sort of stereotype pops up in (presumably) serious discussions quite often

Willing to hear you out on this (provided you don’t continue to tar everyone else here with what I’ve said), but phrasing the accusation this generally makes it hard to know what you mean. This sort of stereotype of whom, here? Of white men, or of culture warriors? Or… something else entirely?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.21.12 at 5:31 pm

There’s liberal and liberal. One ‘liberal’ is economic liberalism, which includes everybody, from Rush Limbaugh to Paul Krugman. It tells them that they must compete, be self-sufficient, dynamic, flexible, entrepreneurial, make a career, climb up, prosper, save for retirement, make their fortunes. Basic economic liberalism, The American Way. It’s also called ‘conservatism’.

And then there is the other liberalism, that includes all of the above, and then add some: take care of the less fortunate, treat everybody equally, think of the common good. That’s American Liberalism. A very odd, contradictory hybrid of (mostly) liberalism and (some) socialism.

If I am supposed to work hard and get rich by competing, pushing the envelope, and, generally, climbing over dead bodies, then why are you telling me to worry about the environment and to respect women? Are you fucking kidding me?

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piglet 03.21.12 at 7:01 pm

214: “US liberalism is a political-ideological tradition; it’s not “whatever piglet defines it to be” or “what it was in 1935”.”

christian_h, I’m calling BS on you. I asked you repeatedly, and in vain, to define what you mean by liberal elite. I never asked you to adopt my definition, just to provide some argument rather than hand-waving. Your latest comment proves you a troll and I’m through with you.

Wildre 215: The rambling perceptions you offer say little about the real world. Take this:

“All of us urban, thoughtful liberals have thought thru the issue, and recognize that tripling the price of gas to save us from global warming is the right thing to do”

That description might apply to me. Problem is, I’m not part of any elite. Most of us environmentalists are not part of any elite. The position of the real elites (political, economic, and media) is to push for more subsidies for the petroleum industry and more oil and gas drilling. The real elites tell us to ignore or even deny Global Warming. They say, and you echo them, that environmentalism is an elite preoccupation and that “ordinary Americans” will be harmed by higher gas prices but do I really have to point out that environmentalists are not in charge of anything, that they are not setting any agendas? When a minority view that has not the chance of a snow-ball in hell to ever become implemented as policy in America (e. g. higher gas prices) is perceived as a hallmark of “elite” thinking, then the term elite has become completely meaningless.

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James 03.21.12 at 7:09 pm

liberal elite
n
(Sociology) the group of people in a society who are considered as having a high level of education and liberal ideas
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/liberal+elite

Liberal elite is a political stigma used to describe affluent, politically left-leaning people. It is commonly used with the pejorative implication that the people who claim to support the rights of the working class are themselves members of the upper class, or upper middle class, and are therefore out of touch with the real needs of the people they claim to support and protect. The phrase “liberal elite” should not be confused with the term “elite” as used by writers such as Vilfredo Pareto and C. Wright Mills. They use the term to mean those who exercise the most political power.

The label is essentially a rhetorical device with flexible meaning depending on where in the English speaking world it is used. As a polemical term it has been used to refer to political positions as diverse as secularism, environmentalism, feminism, and other positions associated with the left.

The originating usage in the United States is applied with various changes to other English speaking countries and by extension to left-leaning elites in other countries.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_elite

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.21.12 at 7:20 pm

all good red-blooded Americans wanted to drill for oil in ANWR. Even ‘em Eskimos. People’s representatives voted to allow drilling in ’98, and then liberal liberal liberal president (who didn’t even get a majority) vetoed the bill that would allow many of us to fulfill our American Dream. All for the sake of not disturbing a couple of arctic bears. And you say there is no liberal elite?

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Frank in midtown 03.21.12 at 7:59 pm

They hate the liberal elite because we tell that they are no better than the n****r’s, S**c’s, f*g’s or non-christian “boys” while we are better than all the rest of them. They like the conservative elite because they tell them that they are better than the n****r’s, s**c’s, f*g’s, non-christian “boys”, AND the liberal elite. Cognative dissonance discharged, pleasure center stimulated, universe recentered appropriately.

Middle class is anyone off the dole who doesn’t have enough money to be plane rich.

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Sebastian H 03.21.12 at 8:15 pm

I’m not a sociologist, but I’m pretty sure that the term ‘liberal elite’ (as used in the US) is intended to suggest in many cases Democratic Party-leaning rich people who went to highly elitist Ivy League Schools and through the operation of social connections (both through their families and as formed at the elite schools) as much or more than intelligence/hard work are found at high levels of government. The term also carries connotations of: they think they know how to run your lives better than you do.

I’m not arguing for the appropriateness of the term, or whether or not it is fair or unfair to use the term. But I think trying to draw a stark contrast with ‘elite’ in the Mills sense isn’t correct. The ‘liberal elite’ are a subset of ‘elite’ in the sense of having or controlling outsized portions of political power. They are contrasted with things like ‘real businessmen’ who allegedly gain money and political power through more mundane business and ‘work’.

Again, I’m not defending the term as highly accurate (though it may have a loose ring of truth to it, which can make it more persistent than rigorously fair), merely unpacking it.

But there appears to be some tendency on this thread and other recent ones to act as of the liberal elite don’t have any real political power. That seems to be a pretty big mistake.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.21.12 at 8:25 pm

The word ‘elite’ has a wider history and meaning. Off the top of my head, I’d say it’s generally been used to signify a group whose members have special expertise which is associated with performing an especially important job, task, role etc., and who are assumed to have been selected for membership on the basis of a special aptitude for developing such expertise.

In my brief sojourn at an Oxford college, elitism in this sense was palpable, and I’m pretty sure the same attitude is prominent in the US equivalents (the Ivy League?).

It’s a rather unfortunately euphemistic term when used to signify the ruling class.

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piglet 03.21.12 at 8:53 pm

When a minority view that has not the chance of a snow-ball in hell to ever become implemented as policy in America (e. g. higher gas prices) is perceived as a hallmark of “elite” thinking, then the term elite has become completely meaningless. And I should add: that’s precisely what the real elites want.

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Sebastian H 03.21.12 at 9:09 pm

“Off the top of my head, I’d say it’s generally been used to signify a group whose members have special expertise which is associated with performing an especially important job, task, role etc., and who are assumed to have been selected for membership on the basis of a special aptitude for developing such expertise.”

I might agree with “used to signify a group whose members purport to have special expertise, etc…..”

For an example of non-liberal elite with long history, see clergy…

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Sebastian H 03.21.12 at 9:12 pm

Actually the clergy example might be even better than I originally thought in conveying the proper connotations–as most here would agree that clergy claim to have special expertise in an important role, but that such role about knowing how the common man should live his life is actually quite suspect. ‘Liberal elite’ is meant to describe the class with the same skepticism that you might have in trusting clergy.

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LFC 03.21.12 at 9:12 pm

I think there is such a thing as the U.S. ‘liberal elite’ or ‘liberal establishment,’ although its power is greatly exaggerated by the right wing and by some on the left and it no longer occupies the position in American life that it once did, decades ago. The NYT is probably justifiably described as part of this establishment, although a particular occupational category, e.g. drama critic for the NYT, may not be. On the academic side one institutional expression might be the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; take a glance at the current issue of its (quite good) journal, ‘Daedalus’. Last point: To admit the existence of a ‘liberal elite’ is not necessarily to view it with the amt of disdain and loathing that christian_h does. The Gates foundation, e.g., has done some good things, regardless of its overall ideological position.

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Ed 03.21.12 at 9:14 pm

I’m coming back to the discussion late, but after some eighty comments arguing over how to define the liberal elite, maybe the problem is the “liberal” part of the term? Maybe “secular elite” or “bicoastal elite” would be clearer?

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piglet 03.21.12 at 9:17 pm

James 219: “The label is essentially a rhetorical device with flexible meaning”
Correct. Generally speaking, it means precisely what right wing propaganda wants it to mean. The question is, why have some liberals internalized the right wing dictionary?

Back to Graeber, where this whole mess started, he clearly used the term as if it had an independent reality, rather than being just a rhetorical device. He made the specific claim that anti-intellectual or anti-education resentment had a *rational core* because, he said, the highly educated are an even more exclusive group, even less accessible to working class Americans, than were the rich. That claim is factually wrong period. There are many more educated than rich Americans. It is much more common (though not nearly common enough, if you believe bleeding heart liberals as opposed to working class heroes like Santorum) for working class people to attain education than to become rich. Graeber makes his claim sound marginally plausible only by rigging the comparison, by comparing the group of all millionaires with a very narrow group of specific educated people. At that point he was engaging in misleading rhetoric worthy of Fox News. All of this isn’t difficult to see and it is hard to believe that there should be real debate about it.

The other problem with the liberal elite rhetoric as used by Graeber etc., which I have pointed out way back, is that even when the ostensible elite characteristic is held to be education, it somehow never applies to educated right-wingers. Which of the following people/institutions would be perceived as “elite”?

1. NYT – Fox News
2. English department – Business School
3. Climate Scientists – Petroleum Geologists
4. Planned Parenthood – Catholic Bishops
5. Sierra Club – Exxon
6. Gates Foundation – Heritage Foundation
7. Human rights lawyer – Corporate lawyer
8. Sandra Fluke – Rush Limbaugh

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LFC 03.21.12 at 9:20 pm

Maybe “secular elite” or “bicoastal elite” would be clearer?

Problem is that it’s not entirely — largely, yes, but not entirely — bicoastal. Nor has it always been entirely secular.

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piglet 03.21.12 at 9:24 pm

“Maybe “secular elite” or “bicoastal elite” would be clearer?”

How close to the coast would you have to live to belong to the bicoastal elite?

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LFC 03.21.12 at 9:27 pm

Piglet: The commenter James was quoting Wikipedia, though that wasn’t entirely clear from his comment. (So the line you are quoting is from Wikipedia not James.)

More to the point, you have been confusing two separate questions: (1) Does the liberal elite have ‘an independent reality,’ i.e., is it an identifiable ‘thing’ rather than just a rhetorical construct? and (2) Is Graeber’s particular discussion about exclusion/resentment vis-a-vis the liberal elite correct? My answers are: (1) yes, and (2) probably not, although as I admitted to C Bertram a while back, I don’t have the hard evidence to back this up.

This discussion wd improve, piglet, if you would stop confusing these 2 separate questions.

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Tim Wilkinson 03.21.12 at 9:43 pm

Sebastian H: yes, I did not mean ‘signifies’ to be factive; ‘means’, ‘has the sense of’ (bleurgh), ‘connotes’ would have been better; or indeed your gloss.

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piglet 03.21.12 at 9:48 pm

OMG LFC. I know what James quoted from.

So you nasty elitist accuse my working class ass of confusing the issues. That’s so typical of you liberal elitists. Why would I ever have expected anything different?

No I’m not confusing these issues. But I appreciate that you agree with my assessment of Graeber’s argument. I invite you to argue in favor of the liberal elite having an independent reality by answering my 213 comment. As long as you don’t tell me what exactly you mean when you say “liberal elite”, I simply cannot judge whether that thing really exists or not.

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Ed 03.21.12 at 10:05 pm

LFC, then maybe a better term for “the liberal elite” would be “nomenklatura”. Though “the Court ” would also work and would be more in keeping with anglophone traditions.

Piglet seems to be confusing these people with the intelligentsia.

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Watson Ladd 03.21.12 at 10:30 pm

Ed, that would mean defining the liberal elite as the people who defend estate tax repeal and act as mouthpieces for policy. I don’t think that’s what’s meant when a right-winger talks about a liberal elite.

Sebastian H, consider the Fourth Piller. I know this is an example I bring up over and over again, but it’s worth thinking about. Can an elite be an elite when outside of political power? Is there a special demographic set, namely professional college graduates, whose social roles and political views are at odds with people living in the rural areas of the country, and whom make decisions or interpret them in ways that the other people have to live with?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.21.12 at 10:35 pm

Nomenclatura is just the top layer of the government bureaucracy. The liberal elite, to paraphrase what someone said above, is a bunch of smug rich people lecturing a car mechanic, who is two paychecks away from being homeless, on the virtues of equality and cleanness of the environment.

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piglet 03.21.12 at 10:36 pm

LFC, then maybe a better term for “the liberal elite” would be “nomenklatura”.

The Komissariat? Bicoastal apparatchiks?

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piglet 03.21.12 at 10:40 pm

“The liberal elite, to paraphrase what someone said above, is a bunch of smug rich people lecturing a car mechanic, who is two paychecks away from being homeless, on the virtues of equality and cleanness of the environment.”

That at last is a definition. And NYT drama critics are finally off the hook. They must be so relieved.

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Chris Bertram 03.21.12 at 10:57 pm

You know, one thing this discussion brings back to me is the experience of attending a conference in the United States in the not too distant past, attended by leading figures from Ivy League universities (including senior administrators). To my English ears it was slightly shocking how easily such people talked about their task of educating the people who staff the top layers of business, the arts and media, and about their confidence that they were training future leaders of their nation. (Of course Oxbridge does the same, but we’re less explicit about it.) Lots of shared cultural assumptions too, about what is of value in art, cuisine, etc. . Really very highbrow. I also found the simultaneous espousal of democracy and confidence in who would be leading it somewhat in tension. I think if I were an ordinary American from the sticks I’d have been thinking “Who do these people think they are?”

Anyway, piglet has put my mind at rest. It was all a dream. Such people don’t exist.

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LFC 03.21.12 at 11:04 pm

One of the problems w/ this discussion, as I said above, is that ‘the liberal elite,’ however defined*, wields much less power (political, cultural, other) than it used to. Thus in 1980 Leonard Silk and Mark Silk could publish a book called The American Establishment, which treated institutions like Brookings, Ford Foundation, Council on For. Relations, NYT as a ‘third force’ alongside ‘big business’ and ‘big government’. No one would write such a book today b/c the institutions in question are much less powerful than they used to be, having been overtaken by the AEIs and Heritage Foundations and whatnot. It’s not that a ‘liberal establishment’, which is basically I think what the Silks were talking about, no longer exists, but it’s considerably less consequential than it used to be. Right wingers no longer even really bother to target the institutions the Silks dealt with, instead directing their wrath at the supposed hypocrites of Hollywood, etc.

*I can’t give the kind of airtight, precise definition piglet is demanding. The best I can do is point to various examples of institutions that would fit under the label.

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christian_h 03.21.12 at 11:09 pm

piglet (218.): so now in addition to defining what liberal is you also get to be the arbiter of who is a troll? I gave you a definition of liberal elite, repeatedly. So either you are arguing dishonestly when you claim I didn’t, or you are not reading what I wrote.

But since I am a patient guy, I’ll explain again: the liberal elite consists of the people leading the political tradition that in the US goes by “liberal”, as well as the leading producers of ideology for that tradition. As I pointed out before, it includes but is not limited to, the leadership of the Democratic party, the main financiers of that party (on Wall Street, in law firms, in Silicon Valley for example) and the people who reproduce the liberal political tradition through their ideological work, concentrated in parts of the media and academia.

I’ll leave it at this – if you still refuse to comprehend that’s really your problem.

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LFC 03.21.12 at 11:10 pm

C Bertram 240:
yes, rather perceptive I think. Only thing I would add is that it’s not just ivy league administrators who blather on about how they are training future leaders etc. Virtually all American university administrators do that (in my admittedly limited experience). It can sound grating and insufferable (even to someone not from the sticks).

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Tim Wilkinson 03.21.12 at 11:14 pm

The (minor college, pretentious) elitism, I should add, was distinctively conservative, not liberal in any sense.

Maybe all elitism is illiberal (seems implausible without heavily loading that -ism).

A preoccupation with elites, anyway, certainly has an authoritarian tinge (q.v. Hollywood films passim.)

245

christian_h 03.21.12 at 11:16 pm

I find it simply unbelievable that not even two years ago proponents of the US liberal tradition were in control of the presidency and both houses of congress and yet I am told by numerous commenters on this blog that there either is no liberal elite or if there is any it has practically no influence.

This kind of head-in-the-sand position is strategically highly dangerous for anyone claiming to be on the political left, in that it amounts to a wilful refusal to identify an important faction of the enemy.

246

john c. halasz 03.21.12 at 11:20 pm

I guess Bourdieu should have confined his attention to them Berbers.

247

Tim Wilkinson 03.21.12 at 11:28 pm

There was some film about Ivy league kids on the eve of something or other etc., in which they were doing the elitist shtick. With a Fourierist scholarship boy or something. Crap film but had a ring of truth to that extent.

Which is not meant to be evidence but illustration.

248

Cranky Observer 03.21.12 at 11:37 pm

= = = christian_h 03.21.12 at 11:16 pm ” I find it simply unbelievable that not even two years ago proponents of the US liberal tradition were in control of the presidency and both houses of congress and yet I am told by numerous commenters on this blog that there either is no liberal elite or if there is any it has practically no influence.” = = =

You’re just playing around with the multiple US definitions of the word “liberal”, as has been noted. The managers of the Democratic Party, the Senators, Clinton, Obama, Clinton, Geither, etc are at most neoliberals; they have perhaps 2% connection with what was considered ‘liberal’ from 1965-1985 and zero connection with an adjunct lecturer in feminist theory at Small State U.

Pretending that Charles Peters, the “Washington Monthly”, neoliberalism, the DLC, Third Way, Think Progress, and the new neoliberal commetariat that is coalescing around Ezra Klein etc don’t exist, didn’t have incredible influence on policy [1], and are in any case ‘liberal’ is a head-in-the-sand position which is strategically highly dangerous.

Cranky

[1] Clinton’s Telecommunications Act anyone? Repeal of Glass-Steagal? FISA and FISA renewal? Bowles-Simpson Commission?

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christian_h 03.22.12 at 12:06 am

Well Cranky, my view of “liberalism” (and for that matter other terms like it – conservatism, Stalinism, Trotskyism etc.) is as a political tradition. The ideological content of such political traditions does, of course, change, as does the influence various ideological currents within the tradition have. Eventually a tradition like this may transform into something wholly new and different – I don’t think this has happened to (US) liberalism. (In fact ironically what you want to call liberalism grew out of a tradition you would not admit as being liberal – but then I might say that if anyone should choose a new designation for their list of ideological precepts, it’s you.)

It also bear pointing out that the majority of self-identified liberals in the US view themselves as being very much part of the same political movement as Obama or Pelosi – who are you to excommunicate them?

In any event you may disagree with the definition I’m employing (liberalism as a historcially determined political tradition, as opposed to a fixed set of ideological precepts), but what you may not do as long as you argue honestly is claim it is not a definition at all.

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LFC 03.22.12 at 12:16 am

Cranky,
Yes, but from christian’s perspective, there’s little difference between, e.g., Eisenhower and LBJ; they just represent, at most, different ‘factions of the enemy’. So the fact that neoliberal Bill Clinton had more in common with Eisenhower (or even G.H.W.Bush) than with LBJ (on domestic policy) is irrelevant to christian.

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christian_h 03.22.12 at 12:44 am

LFC: wrong. There is a big difference and it’s very relevant. It means that political liberalism in the US has changed, for the worse. More power to those who struggle to change it for the better!

252

piglet 03.22.12 at 1:12 am

christian_h 242: “so now in addition to defining what liberal is you also get to be the arbiter of who is a troll?”

That’s right.

“the liberal elite consists of the people leading the political tradition that in the US goes by “liberal””

This is hilarious. I asked for a non-circular definition. But whatever. There have now been a number of attempts at defining, or at least explaining, what is meant by “liberal elite”. This has been a very interesting experiment and the result is this: many people around here insist that a thing called “liberal elite” exists in the real world but no two among you agree even remotely what it is. HV thinks the liberal elite are rich people. Most others disagree. Chris Bertram thinks it’s Ivy League professors and administrators. christian_h thinks it’s Clinton and Obama. Graeber thinks it’s NYT drama critics. None of you even remotely refer to the same thing when you say “liberal elite”. Or rather, what you all do refer to is not a distinct part of empirical reality but a right-wing propaganda fiction that you all have internalized. As soon as you try to explain that fiction in terms of empirical reality, you start talking gibberish.

And Chris Bertram 240, I am so gratified by your admission that all you have to say on the subject is anecdotal. Thanks for letting us all know that you once attended a conference “attended by leading figures from Ivy League universities”. That certainly makes me think. Not sure about what exactly but … something will surely come to mind.

253

LFC 03.22.12 at 1:26 am

christian 251:
ok, glad to agree with you here

254

Cranky Observer 03.22.12 at 1:33 am

= = = piglet @ 1:12 am “None of you even remotely refer to the same thing when you say “liberal elite”.

Well, everyone also seems to agree that any definition of “liberal” must trace back to the works and theories of specific 19th century political philosophers. No one, however, can agree on which philosophers or exactly what the implications of their work are for a taxonomy of modern US politics.

Cranky

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Salient 03.22.12 at 1:43 am

The liberal elite, to paraphrase what someone said above, is a bunch of smug rich people lecturing a car mechanic, who is two paychecks away from being homeless, on the virtues of equality and cleanness of the environment.

piglet’s narrow interpretation of this was pretty uncharitable, I think. and I think it’s finally through my skull that we’re trying to characterize the ‘liberal elite’ directly rather than treating it as the second step of a two-part process. The shorthand of ‘car mechanic’ was a bit hard to de-euphemize (possibly because of bad anecdata; the car mechanics I know are, to a person where ‘to a person’ means 3, war-gaming strategic/analytical geniuses who excitedly tell me about the engine in a Leaf and who are )

But the “two paychecks away from homeless” part resonates with me and seems like the takeaway.

If by ‘working class’ we mean desperate people in perpetual and indefinite financial tension, well, that seems like a good place to start. To me, it’s a description of actual working class persons. Whereas I was more interested in the vision of ‘working class’ you see magnanimous odes to on e.g. CNN panel discussions, and the vision these liberal elites construct in their imagined “working class” persons’ minds about the “liberal elites” who are somehow not a superset of CNN panel discussion participants, who exhibit chaotically varying degrees of self-awareness about the group to which they belong.

I was thinking, if we’re talking about the so-called ‘working class’ and their disdain for the so-called ‘liberal elite,’ how on Earth are we going to get a sense of who the so-called ‘liberal elite’ is until we’ve got a handle on what is meant by the ‘working class’ who apparently have the clearest and strongest (or at least the most relevant) sense of who they perceive as the ‘liberal elite’? As in, liberal eliteness is a second-order thing. Basically the chain of conception in my mind goes, say, CNN anchorperson –> working class person –> liberal elite person, where in the first arrow the CNN anchorperson gets to romanticize bigotry and in the second arrow they get to stand with the bully who is picking on the kid who is not them.

The problem is, from my perspective, is that ‘working class’ seems to be a euphemism among the ‘liberal elite’ which makes the whole thing circular. Where I thought I could make inroads was, at least it’s pretty clear what the self-called ‘liberal elite’ (e.g. David Brooks) think ‘working class’ means — a good ol’ boy, which I really do think is used as an identifier for a white male bigot, though in America we actually have the weirdest euphemism for bigot ever, namely, “someone you’d like to have a beer with.” (The meaning of this phrase is actually, someone you’d like to be able to shoot the breeze with in an un-PC environment where you can be honest, i.e. uncodedly bigoted, about whatever it is you’re talking about.)

Somewhere in there that view of ‘working class’ got attributed to me (or for that matter, to the whole fucking set of thread participants) but hell, at least I’m starting to get a sense of how we’re approaching this.

Something nonetheless unnerves me about this approach, but I can’t figure out what specifically. I think it’s just that these terms of conversation, in their attempt to identify the constructed and artificial notion of a ‘liberal elite’ class (and compare that construction to a reality in which actual liberal elites exist), it seems entirely complacent about the equally constructed and artificial notion of a ‘working class’ (which I personally think ought to be contrasted, as Yarrow kindly offered, with the literal group of literally-working-class persons — consider, what is the picture we imagine the speaker has in mind when we hear someone invoke the ‘working class’ label? Such as, does Yarrow’s memory of a sweet and gentle plumber, who reminds me in a very dear way of my own grandfather, meet the ‘would like to have a beer with’ CNN criteria, fulfilling the CNN correspondent’s vision of a ‘working class’ person? I won’t claim to know any definitive answer, but it’s the kind of thing I was trying to ask about; I suspect the CNN correspondent confuses the two very different sorts of persons often enough to be problematic, attributing the worldview of the first to the second, because the second is, in some sense, a quieter person than the first.

256

christian_h 03.22.12 at 2:22 am

piglet, I don’t think you know what a “circular” definition is. Avoiding circularity does not – you may be surprised to hear – require reducing everything in a definition to first principles. For example, if someone were to define what a “white male bigot” is, it would be rather amusing to complain about circularity when that someone failed to provide a definition of “male”.

The definition of liberal elite I am using, to come back to the matter at hand, relies on the observation that there is such a thing as a political tradition in the US that goes under the label “liberal”. Weirdly enough, this does NOT require that I define what “liberal” is. It’s amusing that you seem to think it does. To provide yet another example, if I were to discuss star NBA players you might claim there aren’t any and demand a definition. I might proceed to define them as those among the NBA players who have never started a game. Now this definition would not agree with the usual one, but what made it problematic wasn’t that my failure to define “NBA player” makes it circular.

Finally, your strange fixation on which individuals or professions constitute the liberal elite – especially your ridiculous insistence that if Graeber mentions a profession that children of the liberal elite can more readily get into than children of Wyoming truck drivers, then he must mean that this profession is constitutive of the liberal elite – shows a distinct lack of understanding of how social stratification works, how social groups and classes are constituted and reproduce themselves etc.

Finally your supposed position comes down to simply this: Rush Limbaugh talks out of his ass about a non-existent liberal elite that wants to force real Americans to have abortions. You don’t like Rush Limbaugh (neither do I – I’ll let CB speak for himself). Therefore there cannot be such a thing as a liberal elite. It’s a curious way to think through a question – letting Rush Limbaugh think it through for you.

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christian_h 03.22.12 at 2:26 am

Cranky (254.): Well, everyone also seems to agree that any definition of “liberal” must trace back to the works and theories of specific 19th century political philosophers

No. Nobody else mentioned any philosophers from any century.

258

piglet 03.22.12 at 2:29 am

254: “Well, everyone also seems to agree that any definition of “liberal” must trace back to the works and theories of specific 19th century political philosophers.”

There are several competing definitions of American liberalism but the most influential one is probably: “any person or position that Fox News disagrees with”. Doesn’t require any 19th century philosophers.

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piglet 03.22.12 at 2:56 am

christian_h 256, you are very charitable in the enumeration of things you think I don’t understand. You exhibit that full-of-yourself-ness that by some accounts (240) is so typical for the liberal elite so admirably that maybe at the end of this exchange I will have to revise my position after all.

Apart from that, you are not addressing any substantial argument and it’s probably pointless to try to engage with you as in fact I have already been aware. I have laid out the burden of proof you must meet in 213 and you have completely failed to address that. You think that “liberal elite is what looks to me like a liberal elite” is a noncircular definition. Fine. I’m only a trained mathematician so obviously I don’t know what circularity means. However let me point out that even accepting your “definition”, there is no way it can be reconciled with the concepts used by others, including Graeber. Unless you want to argue that indeed, drama critics count as among those who are “leading the liberal political tradition” of the US. Also, most political scientists would disagree with your identifying liberalism with the Democratic Party (as you effectively do in 242 and 245). Finally, if you think that taking Graeber’s writing (which frankly I doubt you have read as you seriously misrepresent it in 256) seriously leads to “ridiculous” results, then I suggest you should blame Graeber, not me.

260

piglet 03.22.12 at 3:05 am

To explain the parentheses in the last sentence of 259: Graeber’s argument is not that “children of the liberal elite can more readily get into [certain professions] than children of Wyoming truck drivers”. His argument is that they can more readily become millionaires than members of what he calls “the liberal intelligentsia”. See 229 for more details.

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Bernard 03.22.12 at 3:31 am

to call Obama a liberal is another stretch of the word “liberal” which Obama is not. anyone working to destroy Medicare and Social Security is not a “liberal” in the “old sense” of the word. Neo liberal or conservative is more an apt definition.

to watch the back and forth in following the discussion of the Conservative/Republican “meanings” of the culture wars is proof there is very little “Left” left. That’s most amusing and sad for me to watch.

so much of the “Republican” definition of the conversation” using Conservative defined “meanings” is the obvious part i see taken for granted as part of the conversation. Also the idea that Democrats are anything less than “Republicans” in anything but name, i.e Blue Dogs, is also a fascinating word play obsfucation.

Liberal has the worst connotation of any “label” outside of “atheist” in America nowadays. Sounds just like the Weimar take on “socialism” in my view. The success of the destruction of the “Other” is so well done and complete after 40 years of repetition. i just wonder what date will be agreed to as to when the final nail was hammered in. the end of one era and the onset of another, like BC/AD.

the Left has been so deconstructed, demoralized and satanized in America, while the response from the Left to the various Culture Wars, Women, Blacks, Gays, Latins, the Others, is so weak and reactionary. never seems to be a force leading but a response to. reactionary vs. proactive. This reaction formation type of self defense never seems to do anything but defend itself from attacks from the Right, never able to Lead. Never Pro active and changing the conversation, refocusing the argument. the Conservatives have taken the Lead and the Left has all these argument about how to respond, which seems to be “focus” and as if this is a way to counter, but not how to undermine the Actions of the Conservative Argument.

winning battles once in a while would be a great thing for morale, too. this sense of “how do i respond” and “that ain’t true!!!” seems to be the main response. the Left is apparently too cautious about using upsetting language cause it might offend someone the Left might need later on isn’t something the Conservatives have had to consider for a long time. Right now after 40 odd years of demolishing the New Deal and Destroying the common/public foundation the New Deal created, only after some 40 odd years is the Right having to face the demons it created, i.e. the war on women. the Right still has abortion, guns, immigrants/latins, taxes, unions to pillory the Left with as the problems for Real Americans. this possible atomization of the Right is only occuring now due to their rapacious greed. slowly bleeding America for the last 40 years has been quite a successful venture. only once the Right wing greed has gotten too impatient has some fractures started to show, but still the Right completely owns the self hating voter who still votes against their own interests. and with a Republican like Obama, they still will enact the Republican Contract on America. Who needs Romney or Santorum to enforce Right wing dogma when Obama offers up the New Deal Safety net as proof of his neo liberalism. Obama is the best Republican Wall St. has ever invested in.

the Left has all these noble and correct ideas of how things got the way there are. Making Nice is however the Democratic way/Third Way BS/ today, the Left has been sold out by the Democrats who want their share of the theft and graft. Blues Dogs are quite upfront and honest about staying elected/plying the Republican brand. these ideas are completely and willfully unacknowledged by the so called Republican/white male voter/low education voter of the last 40 years. as long as the Left plays by the rules of the Right, this pattern of self inflicted destruction will continue for both the so called Left/Democratic party/mindset and the Right wing voter. only a mass economic implosion or societal crash can bring these birds home to wake these zombies up. or kill them, whatever it takes to destroy the coalition of the willing Republican/Democratic Party.

watching the Left wither in the blistering attacks of the Right for over 40 years has been more than enough to wish i could move to a land where the Lunatics weren’t in charge. both sides of the same Republican/Democratic party. and even “educated” people buy the Republican BS that Reagan sold. can’t say these people are intelligent, just that they learned to recite and repeat the lies St. Ronnie and the Republicans sold. they believe St. Ronnie 100%. never doubt that. they don’t.

262

white collar crime kills 03.22.12 at 5:30 am

ok. *ling down on Teh War on Teh Eleetz…
a thing as the U.S. ‘liberal elite’ or ‘liberal establishment’

“But, you are The Man”
“I know”
“So you’re sticking it to yourself…”

No doubt he Rides A Harley weekends…
or is that what only good old boy unelite unliberal elites blue collar executives do? (“people do“) Like chopping wood back on the ranch?

One problem I’ve noticed repeatedly, repeatedly again, and again again repeatedly, is that too many people (more often teabonkers) absorb jokes/movies/lyrics as if fact. I wonder if psychologists have a term for this?
Al Gore sez he invented the internets.
Sarah Palin sez she kin see Russher from her backyard.

263

white collar crime kills 03.22.12 at 5:41 am

Letting el lushbo define a term isn’t completely inappropriate. e.g., “feminazi” means nothing concrete, in the sense that Santa Claus exists as a oft reused fictional character.
However, a term like “liberal elite” appears less fabricated because it consists of more identifiable real words.

264

js. 03.22.12 at 5:45 am

christian_h (251):

It means that political liberalism in the US has changed, for the worse. More power to those who struggle to change it for the better!

But if you’re willing to say this, wouldn’t you also be willing to say that at some point the Democratic leadership may become such that it doesn’t anymore make any kind of sense of to call it “liberal”. Even while accepting your points that (a) liberalism describes a political tradition anchored by certain long-standing institutions, e.g. and quite prominently, the Democratic party, and (b) that the current incarnation of the Democratic party is a result of a certain evolution of (what used to be?) the liberal tradition.

I myself don’t have all that much of a stake in this (see below), but I think that a lot of people who do or want to self-identify as liberals (in the US) think that the Dems have reached the point (esp. re domestic policy) where it doesn’t make any sense to identify them with the earlier tradition of American liberalism. I suspect this is part of the confusion/talking past each other here.

Speaking for myself, I’ve always been opposed to the mid-century “consensus” shit, so I have a fairly deep-seated dislike for American liberalism (I understand those two to be very closely tied, tho not inclined to give an explanation or defense right now.)

265

Chris Bertram 03.22.12 at 6:45 am

_Chris Bertram thinks it’s Ivy League professors and administrators._

Since my comment clearly referred to the people that those professors and adminstrators were training, it is plain that in “piglet” we are dealing not only with someone who cannot think, but also who cannot read.

266

piglet 03.22.12 at 6:58 am

“Since my comment clearly referred to the people that those professors and adminstrators were training”

The Liberal Elite = George W. Bush.

267

piglet 03.22.12 at 7:00 am

There’s a nice web site on that topic: http://www.ivyleagueelitists.com/

268

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.22.12 at 9:08 am

Salient, you know, this obsession with bigots, but (notably) not all of them, only a certain kind, I think I understand it perfectly. I’m also a product of a certain ethno~religious~socio~economic environment, and I too have grown to resent it. I too often feel that its parochial mentality is the root of evil in the world. The feeling is natural, understandable, but come on, you have gotta realize that this is really a very minor thing. Like with all other human beings, human beings of all ethno~religious~socio~economic backgrounds, there is much, much more and incredibly more important and consequential there, than their silly petty prejudices.

269

Katherine 03.22.12 at 11:00 am

But I asked for a “prominent” example. Most of these are not names that people not specifically interested in the field will ever have heard.

I realise this is waaaay back now, but the reason I first posted Cherie Booth/Blair is because she is a prominent example, in that most, if not all, people in the UK will have heard of her, and most will also be aware that she is a barrister frequently working in the field of human rights.

Like I said, wrong country.

270

Katherine 03.22.12 at 11:02 am

Anyway, my using this example was not meant to derail your point as such, piglet, just point out that it was entirely US specific, and I have this annoying habit of being annoyed when people from the USA assume their country to be the whole world. That was arguably disingenuous, since this post is about US culture wars, so I apologise.

271

Katherine 03.22.12 at 11:42 am

After having the misfortune to have read this whole thread (it’s a slow morning), I get the following arguments:

- the “Liberal Elite” is a right wing construction that people have internalised but that actually means nothing meaningful, since no one group that can be accurately described as “liberal” holds meaningful power;

- counter – the “Liberal Elite” actually exists, and groups that self-identity as “liberal” do indeed have power. A rough definition agreed on by more than one person is however yet to emerge;
– no one knows what the hell “working class” means in the US.

I have to say, I’m at a loss to understand the levels of vitriol, but hey, tone is difficult to read in text.

272

Ed 03.22.12 at 12:46 pm

“– the “Liberal Elite” is a right wing construction that people have internalised but that actually means nothing meaningful, since no one group that can be accurately described as “liberal” holds meaningful power; – counter – the “Liberal Elite” actually exists, and groups that self-identity as “liberal” do indeed have power. “

Note that both of these arguments can at the same time be true (and probably actually are). The key words here are “accurately” and “self-identify”.

273

James 03.22.12 at 1:14 pm

The contention here is a carryover from the real political stage. If you can define Left or Right as closer to your individual ideal, at least in the States, you can actually move the politicians in that direction. Corporate interests are actively protected by both parties; the battle is over all the other issues.

274

bianca steele 03.22.12 at 1:31 pm

I’d like to add something to Katherine’s post (which was excellent), if I may be permitted to.

I think this from christian_h, “This reaction formation type of self defense never seems to do anything but defend itself from attacks from the Right, never able to Lead. Never Pro active and changing the conversation, refocusing the argument. the Conservatives have taken the Lead and the Left has all these argument about how to respond, ”, is overstated: . Liberals do not allow conservatives to define their terms for them. The use of their own terms and ideas is exactly what I meant when I referred, too glibly, to liberal “dogwhistles,” in the other thread.

That said, I’m not convinced there is such a liberal intellectual tradition in the US. Google “david riesman liberal failure of nerve.” There’s a lot of activity, but where are the institutions? The Cold War is partly responsible for this. There’s more than a little bit to be said for the 1950s Left critique of their contemporaries’ liberalism, that they had conceded way too much to the Right for comity’s sake. But I think it starts back before the war. The big “liberal,” Progessive magazines were pretty much successful in creating a lasting respect for American literary writers like Twain and Hemingway, but not so obviously successful in creating a stable liberal political or intellectual tradition. In part this is also the fault of the Cold War. So there are a series of fresh starts, like Michael Harrington’s, which you have to call liberal, but which don’t seem to directly develop out of the previous generation’s liberalism, and, I suppose, quite possibly won’t feed directly into the next generation’s. But there is also—I’m going to step out on that limb—an excessive respect, by liberals, for higher education. If a college professor says it, it’s liberal—and it isn’t just the reactionaries who think this way. (Rorty seems to, at times.) So the most backward-looking Hegelianism is automatically “liberal.” This is probably also connected to the inferiority complex that the Progressive editors were trying to repair, as it seems very specifically American.

And then there’s Ann Coulter, who I sometimes suspect thinks of Jesuits as “liberals.”

275

bianca steele 03.22.12 at 1:33 pm

And in Cold War I should possibly include the CPUSA, who, often, were less interested in socialism in the US than in undermining a rival.

276

James 03.22.12 at 1:56 pm

Politically speaking Liberal or Left is not some absolute sociological term. Not for the voters. It is descriptive reference used to compare one group of candidates to another group. It is always comparative to where the individual voter is. From the US perspective a large segment office holders in the Democratic Party are in fact Liberal. It is all relative. Since the OP is US culture wars in a political setting, the Liberal / Conservative divide is defined by Democrats as Liberal-Middle and Republicans Conservative-Middle (With the caveat that no one who votes for one party believes the other party represents the middle).

277

piglet 03.22.12 at 5:36 pm

Katherine: “I have this annoying habit of being annoyed when people from the USA assume their country to be the whole world. That was arguably disingenuous, since this post is about US culture wars, so I apologise.” Thanks for raising the tone of debate by a mile. I apologize likewise if I gave the impression of US-centeredness. Let me ask though, obviously Cherie Blair is well known but do you think she is well known as a lawyer working in the field of human rights, rather than as the spouse of the former PM? I doubt that but I may be wrong.

My point when when I said that nobody knows any human-rights-lawyers, and I may have stated that poorly, was really about Graeber’s use of human-rights lawyers as a stereotype of liberal privilege. It is a stereotype that simply doesn’t make sense to me but it does seem to make sense to a lot of others who have come to Graeber’s defense. I am still trying to understand this reaction. I am quite certain that Graeber couldn’t have written what he wrote for a French, German, or Canadian audience. It wouldn’t be understood. I wonder how does it sound to British ears?

“– the “Liberal Elite” is a right wing construction that people have internalised but that actually means nothing meaningful, since no one group that can be accurately described as “liberal” holds meaningful power; – counter – the “Liberal Elite” actually exists, and groups that self-identity as “liberal” do indeed have power.”

It’s a bit more complicated. The liberal elite construct is not based on self-identification – it is a stereotype. Second, the stereotypical liberal elite includes groups that have little or no power – and not just drama critics. In the liberal elite discourse, a poor or middle class educated person challenging powerful corporate interests can without contradiction be described as a liberal elitist. Third, it always implies an asymmetry. There is no “conservative elite” discourse. There simply isn’t (compare 229). If this were about empirically observable power relationships, it wouldn’t be possible to describe “liberal” institutions as the locus of elite power. And re 245, it doesn’t matter who happens to be president. Graeber’s essay was actually written in 2005, when a conservative Ivy League graduate was president and both houses and the Supreme Court were controlled by the Republicans (many of whom were also Ivy League graduates). The mythical elite still had to be liberal.

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zbs 03.22.12 at 6:33 pm

To explain the parentheses in the last sentence of 259: Graeber’s argument is not that “children of the liberal elite can more readily get into [certain professions] than children of Wyoming truck drivers”. His argument is that they can more readily become millionaires than members of what he calls “the liberal intelligentsia”. See 229 for more details.

I suppose this is immaterial, since after this amount of commentary, whatever was originally being discussed has decomposed into the exercise of rhetoric and defensiveness. But, alternately, instead of 229, see the original PDF, where Graeber says one sentence later that the truck driver’s son “might not have very much chance of becoming a millionaire,” and “what matters is not so much how much this
was really true, as whether it seemed plausible.” Whether or not they’re factually more probable to become millionaires–even if he suggests this–is not the point; his point is that the category of rich person is viewed differently–resented less, or not at all–compared to the category of liberal elite. And he wonders why this is. (And whether or not there is such a thing as a “liberal elite” which has a party roster and necessary and sufficient conditions is not important, since we’re talking about attitudes towards the concept.)

Arguing around the particularities of this claim doesn’t seem to do you much good, though. I don’t think this part of the paper is terribly interesting or particularly well-argued: as is implied by the foreword, the application of his more in-depth value analysis to the “Republican mindset” that appears at the start is sketchy. What he thinks may be a “rational core” to their actual voting behavior seems highly speculative to me, but that’s not the real point, which has more to do with (imagined) systems of value.

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zbs 03.22.12 at 6:42 pm

Sorry, that was re: piglet. And re the examples of drama critic or humanitarian lawyer: they may not be the best examples, but their purpose is to point out that–because of the the unpaid internship, or assumption of debilitating debts–these careers are presumed to be less available to those outside of the elite, and this perception has an effect. If you’re already convinced the elite is liberal (as the truck driver’s son may conceivably be) then the fact that these paths are more or less closed to you becomes a supporting perception relative to the rest of your assumptions. I don’t think Graeber, or anyone else, would argue that no Wyoming truck driver’s son would or could ever turn out to be a drama critic. Or that all drama critics are liberal, etc.

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piglet 03.22.12 at 9:45 pm

I’m sorry but I’m just taking seriously what Graeber actually wrote: he says it’s “not an unreasonable assessment” that being rich was more likely than becoming educated, and he says it “certainly” is “much more likely”. He sees this as a factual observation, not just a perception. And his argument does not state the assumption that the truck driver is “already convinced the elite is liberal”. Graeber ostensibly tries to explain why the truck driver is resentful against what is perceived as liberal intelligentsia. Of course when you start with that assumption, you haven’t explained anything.

It is a mystery to me why you and others insist so badly in defending Graeber where he so clearly goes wrong. It would be more convincing if you conceded that his argument is poorly executed, and then offered a better argument.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 03.22.12 at 10:04 pm

I’m not even a truck driver, but I sure can easily imagine a scenario in which I might become rich: by winning a lottery, for example. International human rights lawyer or drama critic for the New York Times – not gonna happen. No scenario.

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Watson Ladd 03.22.12 at 10:56 pm

piglet, if we’re talking about discourse let’s bring in examples. I’ve brought in the Culture War Speech of Buchanan. There liberal elites are figures in power or in lobbying organizations enacting change that his audience doesn’t want. They aren’t poor people. If you can bring in some examples where it is anyone who is liberal is a liberal elitist, then I will concede the argument. But its worth noting that ACORN wasn’t liberal elitists, but rather criminal scum in the Republican mind.

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christian_h 03.22.12 at 11:22 pm

piglet (259.): I have laid out the burden of proof you must meet in 213 and you have completely failed to address that.

And yet, in as stunning a display of a lack of self-awareness as I’ve witnessed on the internet, you accuse others of being “full of themselves”. Has it crossed your mind that maybe we do not agree that you are the one who gets to “lay out the burden of proof” and who “meets it”? Have you considered that your complete failure to engage at all with what others are writing, or arguing, might indicate that you are caught in an argumentative dead end, and have been since about your second comment on this thread?

Since then, you have basically yelled “you’re wrong!” over and over and over again.

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christian_h 03.22.12 at 11:26 pm

Bianca (274.): I think this from christian_h, […]

Huh? Did I write something while drunk and forgot about it – I did not write what you quote me as having written.

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bianca steele 03.22.12 at 11:26 pm

Of course, the former NYT theater critic is Frank Rich, who’s now on the op-ed page. Rich was much hated in certain circles in the 1980s, when the number of newspapers was dwindling and his power was unprecedented, and his tastes were said to be unusually middlebrow. (I personally saw an out of the way show go from 1/2-2/3 full houses to oversold every night after a good review from him.)

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bianca steele 03.22.12 at 11:32 pm

christian_h: You’re right. The next paragraph was meant to mention your 214, but Bernard wrote the part I quoted. Sorry.

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christian_h 03.22.12 at 11:43 pm

Re: liberalism. I am not sure there was a coherent ideological system that could be called “US liberalism”. The “white male bigots” of salient’s for example, used to be part of the liberal political coalition in the US. Now of course they are not; but there are countless other examples that can be made to illuminate the way “liberalism” in the US changed its ideological content, in some cases radically. I simply don’t see why it should make sense to take the ideological content of liberalism in one particular time period (or rather bits and pieces of that ideological content) and declare it to be the unchanging essence of what it means to be “liberal” in the US.

That said I did state in an earlier comment that I believe a political tradition can undergo change so drastic it becomes something completely different. And in any event I do not at all object to calling out the Clintons of this world for their betrayals of what liberalism used to stand for – but that’s a different debate than the one about the liberal elite.

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John Quiggin 03.23.12 at 4:58 am

Thread derailment is as inevitable as death and taxes I guess, but I can’t say I’m happy to see a post on the US right turn into a flamewar about the Liberal Elite. Nothing more on this, please.

I’m going to close off soon, but if anyone has any comments on any other aspect of the post, now is the time to send them in.

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Sebastian H 03.23.12 at 7:00 am

I wonder if those who think the liberal elite don’t exist would similarly agree that the christian right does not exist. It shares many of the same definitional problems.

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