Our Revolutionary Elite
Class Warfare, Professional Managerial Class (PMC), The Community of Fashion, The Elite
Leighton Woodhouse, on his Social Studies Substack, identifies the PMC as the new Revolutionary Vanguard, dedicating to overthrowing the existing order of everything in order to seize power.
Coming Apart, a book I recently read by Charles Murray…, exhaustively documents the consolidation of what he calls “the new upper class,” by which he means not just the business owners but the managers, professionals, intellectuals and cultural creatives that we all recognize as Blue State America. He shows how, between 1960 and 2010, members of this class have clustered themselves into geographical bubbles in which they rarely have to interact with anyone outside of their general income and education level. That class segregation has carried over from neighborhoods into educational institutions, work sites, marriages, cultural pastimes, and, of course, political parties. Today, if you’re born into the professional elite (as I was in another era), it’s exceedingly easy to live your entire life, cradle to grave, without ever having an interaction more substantive than a commercial transaction with a member of the working class. And as Murray shows, while the new upper class has remained as prosperous and happy as its counterpart was six decades ago, on almost every important metric of social stability and personal happiness, the new lower class has plummeted, to the point at which working class “communities,” both urban and rural, have barely any social bonds left, but stunning levels of crime, violence, addiction, divorce, broken homes and unemployment.
There couldn’t be a clearer picture of a new “ruling class” than the one that Murray paints through his meticulous analyses of quantitative data. And that new ruling class doesn’t just exist objectively as, in Marx’s terminology, “a class in itself.” Today, it is very plainly a self-conscious “class for itself.”
As I explained in an earlier post, the reason why intellectuals tend to ally themselves in solidarity with the downtrodden and against the economically powerful is not because of some intrinsic enlightenment and abundance of empathy, but rather because by attacking the moral legitimacy of economic capital, they elevate the value of the cultural capital in which they possess an advantage. This was Bourdieu’s explanation for the default leftward political bias that prevails among the intelligentsia and the professional classes in general.
But even this pretense has seemed to largely vanish. Aside from a few radical chic gestures toward defunding the police and allying with trans “lives,” the professional managerial class has, over the last few years, stood in consistent and open opposition to the interests of the working class: the zealous support for Covid lockdowns and the indifference to the economic pain they caused, the insistence on vaccine mandates on threat of unemployment and the angry, authoritarian retaliation against anyone who dared to oppose them, the reflexive censorship of anyone who defied the authority of the expert class. Even when the PMC has acted in a spirit of ostensible generosity, it has been largely self-serving.
Aside from the occasional jab at culturally disfavored billionaires like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, the PMC and its political organ, the Democratic Party, has more or less abandoned even its performative opposition to the power of multinational corporations and finance capital. Nowadays, you’re more likely to find Republicans attacking huge corporations and Democrats defending them. The intra-elite struggle between the holders of economic capital and the holders of cultural capital seems to have become a thing of the past; the PMC, now indistinguishable from the capitalists, is finally behaving as a proper ruling class, acting politically in its own naked interests and either sneering at the ignorant proletarians or extending them a paternalistic hand. They may or may not outright own the means of production (a question for another post), but their control over the production process is so complete that it doesn’t really matter that much that its legal ownership is technically in the hands of various financial institutions, themselves controlled by the PMC. Albeit premature, this was exactly Burnham’s prediction.
In this context, the madness of woke discourse begins to make a little more sense. The foundational values that social justice activists have routinely maligned in recent years as outdated, reactionary or “white supremacist” are precisely those that were championed by the emergent capitalist class in the early modern period. Individualism, meritocracy, equality before the law, the Protestant work ethic — all have come under fire as pillars of oppression, in the same way that the cult of personal fealty and the entire moral code of feudalism was challenged by the rising bourgeoisie. Perhaps the rhetoric of the woke generation, then, is less about liberating the oppressed than it is about setting the table for a new ruling class and the new relations of production that that class will usher in. I don’t yet have a theory on how the specific tenets of wokeness favor managerial rule, but I suspect it has something to do with what Foucault calls “governmentality” (again, a subject for a future post).