Understanding the present madness | Power Line


Andrew Stuttaford at NRO’s Corner presents four passages that help explain the current rioting and other manifestations of hysteria that have been disrupting the U.S. this year. The first is the take of the University of Connecticut’s Peter Turchin :

Turchin has warned that “elite overproduction” can be a precursor of turmoil to come. To oversimplify, this occurs when members of the elite (or those with the talents to join it) become too numerous for society to accommodate their aspirations. Thus, Turchin noted, the Arab Spring was preceded by “a remarkable expansion of the numbers of university-educated youths without job prospects” — in other words, by elite overproduction.

Recall that the two people arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail into a police car in New York City are unemployed law school grads, one of whom had been cut loose by a big law firm.

The second passage is this quotation from Ed West, deputy editor of UnHerd:

[w]hile around half of 18-year-olds are going onto college, only a far smaller number of jobs actually require a degree. Many of those graduates, under the impression they were joining the higher tier in society, will not even reach managerial level and will be left disappointed and hugely indebted. Many will have studied various activist-based subjects collectively referred to as ‘grievance studies’, so-called because they rest on a priori assumptions about power and oppression. Whether these disciplines push students towards the Left, or if it is just attending university that has this effect, people are coming out of university far more politically agitated. . . .

[I]t’s arguable that a tiny number of very intelligent people being taught the theories of Marcuse or Foucault is probably going to have a limited social impact; when these ideas are disseminated among huge numbers of the young, many of them conformists sensitive to the social cues around them, then quite extreme ideas about dismantling society become normalised.

(Emphasis added)

Especially when the groundwork for these ideas has been laid at the K-12 level.

The next passage is from Michael Lind, author most recently of The New Class War: Saving Democracy From The Managerial Elite:

The goal of so-called progressivism in 2020s America is to expand employment opportunities for college-educated, center-left professionals, while adding new wings to the welfare state that are tailored to their personal needs. The slogan “Defund the police” is interpreted by the bourgeois professional left to mean transferring tax revenues from police officers, who are mostly unionized but not college-educated, to social service and nonprofit professionals, who are mostly college-educated but not unionized. The enactment of proposals for free college education and college debt forgiveness would disproportionately benefit the professional bourgeoisie, not the working class majority whose education ends with high school. . .

I am not the first to observe that what were initially legitimate protests against the use of excess force and racism by particular police departments have turned into a campaign for greater funding for social-services jobs and diversity officer jobs for members of the professional bourgeoisie in their twenties and thirties.

(Emphasis added)

Finally, there is this from Ross Douthat of the New York Times:

Imagine yourself as a relatively privileged white person exhausted by meritocracy — an overworked student or a fretful parent or a school administrator constantly besieged by both . . .Wouldn’t it come as a relief, in some way, if it turned out that the whole “exhausting ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Red Queen Race of full-time meritocratic achievement,” in the words of a pseudonymous critic, was nothing more than a manifestation of the very white supremacy that you, as a good liberal, are obliged to dismantle and oppose?

If all the testing, all the “delayed gratification” and “perfectionism,” was, after all, just itself a form of racism, and in easing up, chilling out, just relaxing a little bit, you can improve your life and your kid’s life and, happily, strike an anti-racist blow as well?

And wouldn’t it be especially appealing if — and here I’m afraid I’m going to be very cynical — in the course of relaxing the demands of whiteness you could, just coincidentally, make your own family’s position a little bit more secure?

(Emphasis added)

The unifying theme here, as Stuttaford points out, is class struggle, albeit of a peculiar kind. But maybe not so peculiar. Revolutions have often by led, and to a considerable degree made, by people who think they have unjustly been denied entry into the elite strata and/or people who believe their class status is under challenge.

The theorizing Stuttaford presents reminds me of the explanation a Dartmouth professor offered in the late 1960s or early 1970s for the disruptive behavior of left-wing students at the time. The professor was Roger Masters, a Straussian as I would later learn.

If I recall correctly, Masters attributed the disruptive behavior of student radicals to impatience with having to wait so long to take their place in society coupled with uncertainty about where in the pecking order that place would be. This was a far more sophisticated explanation than the normal one — that we were scared we would end up fighting in Vietnam.

Whether Masters’ explanation was correct is another question. As one of the disrupters (though never a violent one), I am not an unbiased judge of the matter.

However, I do think that the sociological explanations Stuttaford presents, or some of them in some combination, go a long way toward explaining the current madness.



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