Manhattan Upper West Side brownstones
William Deresiewicz has an uncharacteristically self-critical commentary on the aesthetic sensibilty of the urban-based community of fashion elite.
[N]ow I wonder if there’s also something new. Not middlebrow, not highbrow (we still don’t have an avant-garde to speak of), but halfway in between. Call it upper middle brow. The new form is infinitely subtler than Midcult. It is post- rather than pre-ironic, its sentimentality hidden by a veil of cool. It is edgy, clever, knowing, stylish, and formally inventive. It is Jonathan Lethem, Wes Anderson, Lost in Translation, Girls, Stewart/Colbert, The New Yorker, This American Life and the whole empire of quirk, and the films that should have won the Oscars (the films you’re not sure whether to call films or movies).
The upper middle brow possesses excellence, intelligence, and integrity. It is genuinely good work (as well as being most of what I read or look at myself). The problem is it always lets us off the hook. Like Midcult, it is ultimately designed to flatter its audience, approving our feelings and reinforcing our prejudices. It stays within the bounds of what we already believe, affirms the enlightened opinions we absorb every day in the quality media, the educated bromides we trade on Facebook. It doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know, doesn’t seek to disturb—the definition of a true avant-garde—our fundamental view of ourselves, or society, or the world. (Think, by contrast, of some truly disruptive works: The Wire, Blood Meridian, almost anything by J. M. Coetzee.)
There is a sociology to all of this. As Clement Greenberg pointed out in “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” (1939), the predecessor to Macdonald’s essay, high culture flourished under the aristocracy. Mass culture came in with mass literacy, while Midcult is a product of the postwar college boom, a way of catering to the cultural aspirations of the exploding middle class. Now, since the ’70s, we’ve gone a step further, into an era of mass elite and postgraduate education. This is the root of the so-called creative class, the Bobos, the liberal elite as it exists today. The upper middle brow is the cultural expression of this demographic. Its purpose is to make consciousness safe for the upper middle class. The salient characteristic of that class, as a moral entity, is a kind of Victorian engorgement with its own virtue. Its need is for an art that will disturb its self-delight.
That sound chap James Delingpole sticks up for Prince Harry’s right to do the sorts of things high-spirited and unmarried young men are wont to do on weekends of leisure at resort locations with like-minded young ladies. The prince will be old and respectable one day.
Anyway, the nude photos of Prince Harry in Vegas cannot be allowed to pass without comment. They have, I note, prompted an outbreak of massive prudery among some of my Telegraph colleagues. And perhaps you feel the same way: that the third in line to the British throne should not be seen cavorting naked with young women in American gambling resorts.
To which I’d reply: are Harry’s critics remotely familiar with British history? This is what young royals do. It’s what they’re supposed to do. Look at the roistering buck that Henry VIII was (before he grew fat and syphilitic); look at the very type of the Regency buck – the Prince Regent (later George IV); look at the playboy Edward VIII (and indeed his grandfather Edward VII); look at Harry’s namesake – Prince Hal – who, if we are to believe Shakespeare, deliberately cultivated an image of debauchery and irresponsibility the better “like bright metal on a sullen ground” to set off the magnitude of his reformation on assuming kingship …
Harry also acts as a very entertaining foil to his more staid elder brother William. I find their evident love for one another one of the most delightful things of all the Royal Family. One of Harry’s functions, I suspect, is to do all the things that William would like to do but can’t being heir to the throne. So Harry acts as his pressure valve, his fantasy alter ego …
Plus, of course, Harry has served his country, on the front line in Afghanistan, so I think deserves to be cut a bit of slack.
Angelo M. Codevilla, in the American Spectator, describes the great division in American society between the rulers and the ruled, explains how someone like Barack Obama can make a career as a professional Alinskyite agitator while remaining a member in good standing of the establishment elite, and addresses the dilemma of the oppressed “country class:” how does a Burkean class, conservative in temperament and habits, finding itself revolutionized over a substantial period of time make its own revolution?
Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters—speaking the “in” language—serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America’s ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government. ...
Who are these rulers, and by what right do they rule? How did America change from a place where people could expect to live without bowing to privileged classes to one in which, at best, they might have the chance to climb into them? What sets our ruling class apart from the rest of us?
The most widespread answers—by such as the Times’s Thomas Friedman and David Brooks—are schlock sociology. Supposedly, modern society became so complex and productive, the technical skills to run it so rare, that it called forth a new class of highly educated officials and cooperators in an ever less private sector. Similarly fanciful is Edward Goldberg’s notion that America is now ruled by a “newocracy”: a “new aristocracy who are the true beneficiaries of globalization—including the multinational manager, the technologist and the aspirational members of the meritocracy.” In fact, our ruling class grew and set itself apart from the rest of us by its connection with ever bigger government, and above all by a certain attitude. ...
Professional prominence or position will not secure a place in the class any more than mere money. In fact, it is possible to be an official of a major corporation or a member of the U.S. Supreme Court (just ask Justice Clarence Thomas), or even president (Ronald Reagan ), and not be taken seriously by the ruling class. Like a fraternity, this class requires above all comity—being in with the right people, giving the required signs that one is on the right side, and joining in despising the Outs. Once an official or professional shows that he shares the manners, the tastes, the interests of the class, gives lip service to its ideals and shibboleths, and is willing to accommodate the interests of its senior members, he can move profitably among our establishment’s parts. ...
Its attitude is key to understanding our bipartisan ruling class. Its first tenet is that “we” are the best and brightest while the rest of Americans are retrograde, racist, and dysfunctional unless properly constrained. ...
Our ruling class’s agenda is power for itself. While it stakes its claim through intellectual-moral pretense, it holds power by one of the oldest and most prosaic of means: patronage and promises thereof. Like left-wing parties always and everywhere, it is a “machine,” that is, based on providing tangible rewards to its members. Such parties often provide rank-and-file activists with modest livelihoods and enhance mightily the upper levels’ wealth. Because this is so, whatever else such parties might accomplish, they must feed the machine by transferring money or jobs or privileges—civic as well as economic—to the party’s clients, directly or indirectly. This, incidentally, is close to Aristotle’s view of democracy. Hence our ruling class’s standard approach to any and all matters, its solution to any and all problems, is to increase the power of the government—meaning of those who run it, meaning themselves, to profit those who pay with political support for privileged jobs, contracts, etc. Hence more power for the ruling class has been our ruling class’s solution not just for economic downturns and social ills but also for hurricanes and tornadoes, global cooling and global warming. A priori, one might wonder whether enriching and empowering individuals of a certain kind can make Americans kinder and gentler, much less control the weather. But there can be no doubt that such power and money makes Americans ever more dependent on those who wield it. ...
By taxing and parceling out more than a third of what Americans produce, through regulations that reach deep into American life, our ruling class is making itself the arbiter of wealth and poverty. While the economic value of anything depends on sellers and buyers agreeing on that value as civil equals in the absence of force, modern government is about nothing if not tampering with civil equality. By endowing some in society with power to force others to sell cheaper than they would, and forcing others yet to buy at higher prices—even to buy in the first place—modern government makes valuable some things that are not, and devalues others that are. Thus if you are not among the favored guests at the table where officials make detailed lists of who is to receive what at whose expense, you are on the menu. Eventually, pretending forcibly that valueless things have value dilutes the currency’s value for all.
Laws and regulations nowadays are longer than ever because length is needed to specify how people will be treated unequally. For example, the health care bill of 2010 takes more than 2,700 pages to make sure not just that some states will be treated differently from others because their senators offered key political support, but more importantly to codify bargains between the government and various parts of the health care industry, state governments, and large employers about who would receive what benefits (e.g., public employee unions and auto workers) and who would pass what indirect taxes onto the general public. The financial regulation bill of 2010, far from setting univocal rules for the entire financial industry in few words, spends some 3,000 pages (at this writing) tilting the field exquisitely toward some and away from others.
Our lords and masters of the national elite may have been defeated in the election last November, but they are still our rulers.
Just to drive home the point of who is in charge in this country, the liberal establishment took the lame duck congress it controls and delivered its own special Christmas present to a prized constituency. Now those second-class citizens who fail to attend elite institutions, who live outside the coastal cities and suburbs which call the shots, who bitterly cling to God and guns and are stupid enough to serve in the US military for chump change will have to accept as their equals (and often, undoubtedly, their superiors in rank and command) persons who choose to define themselves on the basis of an inclination to engage in certain kinds of unconventional (intrinsically non-reproductive) sexual activities.
Liberals don’t themselves actually serve in the military anymore. Liberals usually do not even support the military operations in which members of the armed forces risk their lives. Liberals frequently make strong efforts to undermine and delegitimitize the causes for which Americans serving in the military are fighting. Liberals routinely provide aid and comfort to the enemy opposing US forces in the field. Liberals undermine domestic support for our military’s efforts, destroy our national morale, and work tirelessly to bring about our Armed Forces’ failure and withdrawal. Liberals devote their energy to voiding and rendering useless all the American military’s efforts and sacrifices. But the liberals get to tell the American military with whom they will have to shower, beside whom they will have to sleep, who will be serving beside them, and on whom they will have to depend in action.
A certain amount of social friction and the occasional incident of abuse of authority to obtain affection is obviously an insignificant price for the American Armed Forces to pay to permit those wiser and better than themselves to deliver social equality to the oppressed and despised. Besides, along with the burden of providing a new field for the social engineering of a better future for all of mankind comes very possibly a rise to new social acceptability for the American military. Columbia’s President Lee Bollinger is quoted today predicting that, along with transgendered roommates and more interesting activities in the showers, military personnel can look forward to a “new era” in the relationship between American universities and “the uniforms that guard them while they sleep.”
Isn’t that just ducky? They may allow recruiters back on Ivy League campuses, just so long as drag queens can join the Marine Corps.
Tony Blankley says it’s time for Americans to put our self-appointed rulers, the urban pseudo-intellectual community of fashion, in its place. Register and be sure to vote in November. Let’s restore democracy and take America back.
A foul and dangerous brew is heating up that is composed of: (1) The economic collapse that started in 2008; (2) the radical, “fundamentally transforming” left-wing agenda of the government; and, (3) the thwarting of the public will—with glee—by the entrenched, non-elected powers (in the courts, media, colleges and government bureaucracies) as they get into the face and under the skin of the cultural and political majority.
It is insufferable (and will not long be suffered) to be lectured to and imposed upon by a ruling class that loathes our nation’s history, values and accomplishments; by those who are not, in fact, our genuine betters. They are neither better educated nor more profoundly morally versed.
In fact, they are our intellectual and moral inferiors—not superiors. Constantly grinning Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan didn’t think the Declaration of Independence’s proclamation that human beings “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” should in any way affect her understanding of our constitutional rights—presumably, if any.
Part of the building danger derives from the fact that Americans now tend to self-select our news, opinion and entertainment sources based on our political beliefs and cultural and religious preferences. As a result, the nation no longer shares a common database of civic reality. Many liberals have no sense of how deep and roiling this no-longer-just-conservative passion is. Or they assume it involves some small, mendacious, ideological faction rather than a broad-based, nonideological, building national majority, which it does.