Elite vs. Elite

by Andrew Stuttaford

Via the Daily Telegraph’s Brendon O’Neill a fascinating article (written before the vote) by Joel Kotkin about the way in which this election has been a struggle between two elites.

Kotkin opens by noting that the “corporate ultra-rich” were rallying behind the Republicans (something of a shift from 2008, which I discussed from a somewhat different perspective here), but then:

…Don’t mourn too much for Obama, who’s held his own in the cash race by assembling a new, competing coalition of wealthy backers, from the “new hierarchies of technical elites” that Daniel Bell predicted in 1976 in The Coming Of Post-Industrial Society. For that group, Bell wrote, nature and human nature ceased to be central, as “fewer now handle artifacts or things” so that “reality is primarily the social world”—which, he warned, “gives rise to a new Utopianism” that mistakenly treats human nature as something that can be engineered and corrected by instruction from their enlightened betters. This approach, although often grounded in good intention, can easily morph into a technocratic authoritarianism. Along with Hollywood, Obama’s big donors have come from the tech sector, government, and the academy…

…These idea wielders make fortunes not through tangible goods but instead by manipulating and packaging information, and so are generally not interested in the mundane economy of carbon-based energy, large-scale agriculture, housing, and manufacturing. They can afford to be green and progressive, since they rarely deal with physical infrastructure (particularly within America) or unions or the challenges of training lower-skilled workers.

There is a growing synergy between science, academia, and these information elites. Environmental policies pushed by the scientific community not only increase specialists’ influence and funding, but also the emergent regulatory regime expands opportunities for academicians, technocrats, and professional activists. It also provides golden opportunities for corporate rent seeking, particularly among those Silicon Valley figures involved in a host of heavily subsidized “green” ventures, most famously Solyndra…

There’s an old name for this new group of winners: the Clerisy, which British poet Samuel Coleridge defined in the 1830s as an enlightened educated class, made up of the Anglican church along with intellectuals, artists, and educators, that would school the rest of society on values and standards.

But in many ways the New Clerisy most closely resembles the First Estate in pre-revolutionary France, serving as the key organs of enforced conformity, distilling truth for the masses, seeking to regulate speech and indoctrinate youth. Most of Obama’s group serves, as Bell predicted, a “priestly function” for large portions of the population….

Read the whole thing.

Writing after yesterday’s vote, O’Neill adds:

Yesterday’s result was certainly a historic one, because it represented the further consolidation of this New Clerisy and its orthodoxies. That Obama’s influential supporters in the media fail to recognise the increasingly cut-off nature of the Obama camp is not surprising – members of an elite never believe that they are members of an elite.

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