The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class

RevoltAgainstTheMassesSuggested by Glenn Fairman via the Claremont Review of Books • This short book rewrites the history of modern American liberalism. It shows that what we think of liberalism today – the top and bottom coalition we associate with President Obama – began not with Progressivism or the New Deal but rather in the wake of the post-WWI disillusionment with American society.
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11 Responses to The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Glenn, thanks for bringing this book to our attention. I especially like the facts that:

    A) It’s short (240 pages)
    B) It’s available in Kindle format
    C) It promises to get to root causes rather than slinging around “thinking via sound bytes or bumper sticker slogans” which is so typical of these days.

    I’m in the middle of reading another Allan Quatermain book (Finished – free from Gutenberg) with a biography (also free from Gutenberg) of Nathaniel Hawthorne on the side (who, coincidentally, attended Bowdoin College, a college mentioned in an astutely frank pdf document titled What Does Bowdoin Teach? which was mentioned in Avi’s article on the declining standards of education).

    Would a Hawthorne exist today if he had attended today’s Bowdoin? According to Frank Preston Stearns in The Life and Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne, probably not:

    The question may well be raised here, how it happened that America produced so many men of remarkable intellect with such slight opportunities for education in former times, while our greatly improved universities have not graduated an orator like Webster, a poet like Longfellow, or a prose-writer equal to Hawthorne during the past forty years. There have been few enough who have risen above mediocrity.

    It is the same, more or less, all over the civilized world. We have entered into a mechanical age, which is natural enough considering the rapid advances of science and the numerous mechanical inventions, but which is decidedly unfavorable to the development of art and literature. Everything now goes by machinery, from Harvard University to Ohio politics and the gigantic United States Steel Company; and every man has to find his place in some machine or other, or he is thrown out of line. Individual effort, as well as independence of thought and action, is everywhere frowned upon; but without freedom of thought and action there can be no great individualities, which is the same as saying that there can be no poets like Longfellow, or writers like Hawthorne and Emerson. Spontaneity is the life of the true artist, and in a mechanical civilization there can be neither spontaneity nor the poetic material which is essential to artistic work of a high order. There can be no great orators, for masses of men are no longer influenced by oratory, but by newspapers. Genius is like a plant of slow growth, which requires sunshine and Mother Earth to nourish it, not chemicals and electric lights.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I’m in the middle of reading another Allan Quatermain book

      I just finished “Allan and the Holy Flower”, which was quite good. This was also downloaded from the Gutenberg project.

      Next I will tackle, “Nada the Lily”.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I started reading the Kindle sample of this book last night. I ran into a couple great quotes:

    The Education described Henry Adams’s [yikes…actually a distant relative of John Adams] disappointment with an American society that did not pay him due deference. Adams’s disaffection created the model for much of what became left-wing intellectual life. Adams turned his sour complaints of being bypassed and his sense of himself as a failure into a judgment against the American people . . . Henry Adams grounded the intellectual’s alienation from American life in the resentment that superior men feel when they are insufficiently appreciated in America’s common-man culture.

    No wonder the kind of culture the Left want must be atheistic. Can one name any other humbling and truly equalizing force in Western Civilization other than Judeo-Christianity?

    And note, this is why StubbornThings is not particularly interested in being the vehicle as a jumping-off point to fame. Granted, if we can help to get Glenn on a Fox News panel and replace that twits that frequent it now, all the better. But inwoven with much of the conservative/Establishment Republican media is the desire to use it as a stepping stone for fame and fortune. Fame and fortune are not officially frowned upon at StubbornThings but if that is what is motivating you, seek other venues.

    Here’s a great quote from the introduction to this book:

    The best short credo of liberalism came from the pen of the once canonical left-wing literary historian Vernon Parrington in the late 1920s. “Rid society of the dictatorship of the middle class,” Parrington insisted, referring to both democracy and capitalism, “and the artist and the scientist will erect in America a civilization that may become, what civilization was in earlier days, a thing to be respected.”

    It’s interesting that Siegel says that the liberalism we are dealing with today was an attack not just on conservatives but on the Progressives of Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson. I’m not so sure that’s a good analysis, for the Left has always been full of like-minded factions who trash each other in the race for the elitist socialist Utopia. But I’ll stay with his premise and see where it goes.

    Certainly we see why the media stays with their racial story lines. Theirs is not the search for truth. And it’s certainly not a search for even racial or “social” justice. There aim is no less and no more than to be the self-anointed elite. They are to be a cut above. In order to do so (at least in their own minds, and that’s all they ultimately have is their conceits) they must stay between the guardrails of their four or five Primary Conceits, no matter the truth, no matter who else suffers.

    Mankind has always divided itself into classes. And its interesting to note this human need to be thought of as superior — even if one is making more money, has a better job, a nicer car, etc., than the “middle class” folk who are so despised by the elite. I can’t relate to that, but surely the perks of privilege and the right to show yourself at the most swank cocktail parties are like a drug.

    Perhaps the fact is that it’s difficult for a poor man to think of himself as an elite. But it’s odd that for those who have more (power, money, fame, etc.), this self-evident station in life is not enough. Perhaps it even brings on feelings of inferiority. Why should another man need to denigrate others who are self-evidently lower than them (by the standards they apply) in order that he not feel so alienated?

    Why this burning sense of failure that brings on the need to feel superior over other men? Why not just work at something and earn your self-respect? Or is liberalism forever and always about being a moocher? Those at the top are trying to take an unearned shortcut to accomplishment (social mooching, one could say), so therefore they would automatically breed the same attitudes in their supposed underlings — you don’t have to earn anything. It all should be provided for you by those other people who have more than they should and gained what they have in crass ways. Isn’t Michelle Obama of this type?

    Could this explain the evil of Barrack Obama, a man who has no limit for his hatred of American culture? He has a burning need to feel superior, and even as President of the United States, this need is insatiable. He never fills that gaping hole. Note that his evil and deranged type will tear down entire civilizations in order to try to fill that hole. Again, stating a truism of mine, many of these people who run for office would be better off spending that time on a psychiatrist’s couch.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    Modern leftism, no matter what it’s called, is different from previous movements. Unlike classical liberalism, it rejects individual liberty, preferring to substitute group “rights”. Unlike progressivism, it rejects middle-class morality as fiercely as Alfie Doolittle (and his creator, George Bernard Shaw). Modern leftism mixes elements from progressive, fascist, and socialist ideologies as needed, perhaps most closely resembling fascism (though I think their hearts are socialist). They even add a degree of emotional anarchism — liberals hate authority (or at least any authority over them) even as they seek to maximize authority’s power. But of course that authority is supposed to be exercised over the masses by the elites.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It’s interesting seeing Siegel, at least in the early going, giving yet more distinctions between various groups on the Left. Maybe we need a symposium on this subject for there are many opinions about this — so much so that the point seems to be hopelessly muddled.

      What binds them all? Well, alienation, grievance, and a disdain for the common man. Why? For some it’s a psychological tonic, or path to power, or path to fame, or perhaps it’s just an expression of that inner emotional immaturity that never comes to terms with one’s limitations. For others it is truly an expression of undiluted evil.

      It’s also, and undoubtedly, representative of a spiritual deficit. These people have no other measuring stick for their life than the pecking order of humans, so all one has as a measure of success is to put oneself above others. And this, by necessity, requires constant maintenance. And, it is said, hell is spending eternity with one’s friends. To have one’s life grounded in no more than social interactions is to be adrift, measured by a thing that is inherenty corrupt, deceitful, and at the very least flakey.

      This is no doubt why many people looking for reliable love get a dog.

  4. Glenn Fairman says:

    My understanding of the Progressive movement is that at the turn of the century this populist movement sprung up and attempted to “moralize” government by bringing it in line with middle class values of fair play and popular sovereignty —waylaying the graft and corruption that was seen as diluting democracy. California’s Initiative, Recall and referendum system, under the governorship of Hiram Walker in 1911, was instituted for this very purpose—putting power in the hands of the people and short circuiting the “smoke filled room.” In retrospect, these legislative flourishes had the unintended consequences of relieving legislators of their accountability and made California elections hostage to interest groups with large funds who could bankroll their legislation. While corruption was always the case with big money sponsors, the initiative system has turned into a monstrosity and it hides its malignancies behind the mask of “the people.”

    Progressives also had a root that was antagonistic to the constitution. Woodrow Wilson sprang from this academic movement and its attempts to streamline government. The checks and balances that served as roadblocks for the amassing of power and majoritarian tyranny were viewed by these academics as “mechanical’ and arcane in a 20th century where organic speed and technical proficiency were paramount in service to a better more oiled government. Pre-WW1 was a time of heady dreams and utopian longings that promised that the best days were just ahead. WW1 shattered those adolescent illusions about the moral/political.

    Siegel’s thesis is that after the great disillusion of WW1 and with Wilson’s institution of traitorous policies that seemed to contradict the Progressive spirit, A zeitgeist of intellectual dissatisfaction grew amongst the “natural aristocracy” of learned men who believed that Middle class morality, babbitry, and the smug Rotarian tyranny of business, material progress, and the urge to get ahead was jejeune and soul choking. These men felt trapped and unappreciated having to swim in the American backwater morality of little towns and little men. They despised the mundane beliefs and aspirations of America writ small. Moreover, they felt disrespected and cheated in that their European proclivities of taste and moral political observations were not held in high esteem.

    Siegel goes on to summarize the movers and shakers of the American literary world in that era and how their judgments and works revealed this great condescending critique of Middle class values and dreams. The great economic expansion of the 20’s only solidified their opinions of the crude masses. After the Depression hit, the intellectuals could not move fast enough towards Communism and then New Deal Socialism…………The streak of haughty condescension, the idea that the idiot classes have no idea what their best interests are, is the animating soul of today’s 3rd wave managerial liberalism…….Siegel shows us that it has been present all along.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I read a history of the Progressive movement some time back. One interesting aspect is that a lot of the Progressives had no use for FDR and the New Deal. (Of course, Alice Roosevelt Longworth was a staunchly partisan Republican, but many had an ideological grievance. Recall how Al Smith opposed it. In 1933 the early left split into 2 wings, one of which — the New Dealers — has become the modern left (though even many New Dealers, probably including FDR himself, wouldn’t recognize it).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Thank you for that explanation, Glenn.

      One could say there have always been elite wanna-bes. And given that there is much truth in the fact that the “unwashed masses” are not suited to governing themselves, let alone anyone else, there is a need for an elite of some sort.

      America’s answer was that we would have more or less a meritocracy made up of a moral and educated populace, by and large. Or, more to the point, the point of society wasn’t social climbing, per se, but having the freedom to get ahead for yourself in that “crass” material way of actually working hard — an idea (work itself) that was historically frowned upon by the elites.

      In this American scheme, there was no need to ingratiate oneself to the usual avenues of power to up one’s position. One could simply be self-made. Perhaps that, more than anything else, upset the racists (also known as “elitists”), for what good is it being an elitist if you gained that status by mere mechanical effort.? Unless one is innately and intrinsically an elitist — a blue-blood — then what is the point? The point for an elitist is to be intrinsically better because of who they are, not what they have done. (Or, in today’s lingo, by what liberal faith propositions one professes to show one’s moral blue-bloodedness.)

      It sounds as if these early liberal elites were intellectual elites. One wonders if they were more or less destructive than today’s emotional elites — those people who tell us how much more they “care” for humanity than the rest of us (never mind that these same types tend to support Hamas, not Israel, and are fine with apologizing for black thugs even though they are the cause of many innocent black victims…just so long as they show us how much they “care” about racism).

      Karl Marx was an intellectual elite, to the extent you can call his childish ramblings “intellectual.” Bill Clinton was part of the emotional elite, and he told us so when he said “I feel your pain” — a remark perhaps in keeping with a Dr. Phil type of TV show but not the presidency of a country of self-made men and women who have no time for such babble.

      Only, we did have such time for that babble. Legions of people now consider themselves among the emotional elite (with a hint of intellectualism as well, for they think they are not only kinder but smarter). They prove it every day by saying that they are for “gays” in some way, while caring not a whit that their “caring” may bring great destruction in other areas of society (and even to homosexuals themselves). They “care” so much about the planet that they believe in Global Warming, no matter what destruction this may bring in terms of dollars wasted and freedoms lost.

      And on and on. This is one reason (and certainly not the only one) that I mock the Left and Progressives. Theirs is an emotional commitment to junk science and junk elitism that can only be severed by getting most people to see their beliefs as foolish and therefore as “uncool.”

      • Timothy Lane says:

        It’s appropriate at this point to mention that Bakunin referred to Marxism as a “pedantocracy” — basically, rule by intellectuals. This fits in with the mindset of the People’s Will, the tiny band of intellectuals who prated of their working-class ties and murdered the reformer Alexander II.

        The interesting thing about the modern elites is how regressive they really are. (No surprise; we have the most illiberal people claiming to be “liberal” and race-baiters denouncing others as “racist” for opposing race-based classification, so it’s hardly a surprise that those who call themselves “progressive” would really be rather backward.) Their mindset is much the same as the medieval aristocracy (which, it might be noted, was very hostile to the medieval bourgeoisie, just as their modern successors are). Many of their nanny-state restrictions even serve as equivalents to medieval sumptuary laws.

  5. Glenn Fairman says:

    Bill McClay’s instructive review of “Revolt” that led me to consider this book a very important one indeed.

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