Two years ago, at the blog Freedom Democrats, I argued that TARP and the bailouts were going to infuse the popular political dialogue with “class consciousness.” By class consciousness, I didn’t mean the standard tripe of income classification or the color of one’s shirt collar at work, but one rather one rooted in the ruling class vs the ruled class. This was contra to the wisdom being spouted off by much of the mainstream political punditry at the time that viewed the government intervention as signaling a new accepted ascendancy of an elite political class. In other words, a new era of “Progressive Corporatism,” to borrow a phrase from David Brooks.
While in practice we are indeed experiencing a new era of this “progressive corporatism,” it is also true that language of “class theory” has taken firm root in the political critique. And it’s a critique that spans the political spectrum, whether conservative, progressive/liberal, or libertarian. It’s a trivial exercise to reference the growing class critique in libertarianism. Rather I will note two recent class critiques: one from a conservative side, the other from a progressive side.
The American Spectator:
America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution
The Real U.S. Government
Let’s examine the American Spectator version. The author, Angelo M. Codevilla, correctly notes that the passage of TARP gave prominence to the language of the “political class,” and the ad hoc bailouts lent prominence to the language of the “ruling class”(which is the nexus of political and corporate interests). Codevilla correctly observes that both Republicans and Democrats “show a similar presumption to dominate and fewer differences in tastes, habits, opinions, and sources of income among one another than between both and the rest of the country. They think, look, and act as a class.” I’m somewhat in agreement with Codevilla’s critique of the meritocracy of the political class. However, Codevilla’s critique of meritocracy is a hardly a conservative insight. I list a progressive blog, Stop Me before I Vote Again, that makes a living mocking the meritocracy class of corporate liberalism.
But Codevilla’s analysis soon begins to go astray when he nonetheless begins casting class conflict in terms of communitarian politics. I should remind Codevilla that progressivism originally arose out the Republican Party and to cast the class conflict as being between the Democratic Party and the “Country Class” is nonsense for many reasons. From communitarian politics, it should be noted that yes, the Democratic Party has entrenched identity elite politics, but all the elitists go to church and prayer breakfasts and revere the military. The government has waged continual war on Drugs, pornography, and even video games. Many of the underclasses of the Democratic identity groups are in jail or at risk of being imprisoned. The Republican underclasses, the so-called country class, hasn’t had to bear the same burden of elite rule. In other words, it can be argued the Dem Party screws over it’s own constituencies much worse than the so-called “country class.”
In many ways the Karl Rove strategy for permanent GOP rule was dependent on maximizing turnout of this “country class.” When the reign of Bush discredited the GOP, many conservatives, with the election of Obama, feared that the brunt of elite rule would begin to fall on this very “country class.” Thus, I think this essay, which attempts to expound on class theory, in the end, fails, and can be labeled as reactionary.
At Freedom Democrats I argued that in order to have a resurgence of radical politics, a radicalism based on “class consciousness,” we would need a transcendence of communitarian politics. The likes of Codevilla trying to cast class politics into those who stand proud at the playing of The Star Spangled Banner versus those who wince is Exhibit A of the point I was trying to make.
Let’s turn to Glenn Greenwald’s recent essay. Greenwald is a former lawyer who made a name for himself criticizing the civil libertarian abuses of the Bush Administration. However, when it became clear that the Obama Admin was more or less the third term of Bush, or worse, the second term of Dick Cheney, Greenwald’s rhetoric began to take on the more radical tone of class theory. Thusly, unlike the likes of Kos, Greenwald’s concern with civil liberties was not a partisan wedge issue, but, in fact, genuine. Unlike Kos’ phony “libertarian Democrat” manifesto, Greenwald’s interactions with libertarian outlets, such as Antiwar.com, or the now defunct blog, The Art of the Possible, were genuine. Although there are progressive and liberals at the margin who are critics of Obama and the Democrats, it’s safe to say that Greenwald’s writings, particularly as they have shifted to a rhetoric of class theory, have had a major impact on the progressive crack-up.
Greenwald’s latest piece, commenting on the Washington Post’s series on the “sprawling, unaccountable, inexorably growing secret U.S. Government” under the National Security State is a gem of a radical writing. Before Bush, I was a typical Cato-type libertarian with a strong civil libertarian streak. It was the Patriot Act, even more than the Iraq War, that turned me into a radical libertarian and an anarchist. The establishment of a formal stasi internal security bureaucracy that enwraps domestic law enforcement isn’t going to end well. Any idiot should be able to see this. You are going from mere “Public Choice” to outright radical class theory. In the end, what is the function of a vast internal security apparatus? It is to protect power; it is to enforce obedience to power by fear.
TARP and the Bailouts should have given some clues. The fact is under Bush and Obama, the US Government is in the process of consolidating the 4 monopolies described by Benjamin Tucker. And now there is a vast internal security bureaucratic apparatus to enforce it. Get a clue, people. You can’t reform this.
In a sense, then, I agree with the conclusion of Codevilla at the end of his essay, although for different reasons. You can’t reform the ruling class. It would take a dictator, and, in such a case, the cure would be worse than the disease. It requires a revolution without imposition; that is, a revolution at the bottom; that is, an evolution. That is to say, an evolution of new institutions out the failure of political institutions. But put away the battle hymns, the flags and the salutes. The evolution is of a “free class,” not of a “country class.”