Radical Elites


Anthony Quintano: Black Lives Matter Protest, Times Square, New York City, June 7, 2020 (CC)

From Year Zero:

One study found that 78% of June Black Lives Matter protesters in New York City were white and 13% were black, whereas the city as a whole is 46% white and 24% black; similar numbers prevailed across the country. Given the high average rates of education and income of urban whites, it’s reasonable to infer that a considerable proportion of marchers and rioters alike would meet many standard definitions of “elites.” Appropriately enough, the author of the much-discussed new manifesto In Defense of Looting, which makes the “case for rioting and looting as weapons that bludgeon the status quo while uplifting the poor and marginalized,” is a Cornell graduate and with an MIT professor for a father.

In the “The Real Class War,” an American Affairs essay from last year, Julius Krein argued that the 99% vs 1% framing popularized by the Occupy movement was missing the real story of contemporary politics: “elite radicalization.” Krein asserts that the working class “has scarcely any political agency in the current system and no apparent means for acquiring any.” Much of what presents itself as working-class revolt, he claims, is driven by “disaffected segments of the elite,” whose “‘discovery’ of working-class immiseration” is “a media phenomenon arguably pro­voked by renewed elite anxieties.” The “real class war,” in Krein’s account, is “between elites primarily dependent on capital gains and those primarily dependent on profes­sional labor.” The latter sector has faced declining prospects in recent years, and has responded by embracing a militant sensibility.

Krein does not cite the work of the historian Peter Turchin, but the latter’s studies of “elite overproduction” arrive at a related conclusion.

The reality today is that the educated elite is internally fractured and contains a large subset of precarious malcontents. The values of this radicalized sector of surplus elites are mostly consistent with what Lasch observed among their better-positioned predecessors thirty years ago. They have little loyalty to the nation, and indeed tend to see national identity and its symbols as oppressive, as their participation in the recent dismantling of statues nationwide demonstrates. One might also view this attack on the material manifestations of an earlier era as an expression of technologically derived social constructivism. It is not just a revolt against particular symbols, but against the sheer solidity of the physical world as opposed to the malleability of the digital: a photoshopping of public space.

That the main non-symbolic target of the current revolt is the police presents ironies and ambiguities when viewed from a Laschian perspective.

“From Secession to Revolt”, Geoffrey Shullenberger, Year Zero

Comments are closed.