by Doug Henwood published in Jacobin
Read original on Jacobin's website
Henwood gives us a history of the American "ruling...Show description
Posted 715 days ago
Although Henwood's article was deeply investigated and informative at length, I couldn't quite get what we are supposed to take away from it. The title, the "Rot of the American Ruling Class" seems to imply that it has fallen into disorder in recent years. But, Henwood does make clear that even though it is "rotting," it's not something we should lament:
We shouldn’t be nostalgic for them; they were often deeply racist and driven by notions of the “white man’s burden.” But they had a unity and authority that our current rabble of grifters and parvenus lacks.
Even though the past had some sense of stability due to what he calls WASPs (white anglo-saxon protestants) who ruled the northeast and all went to the same elite schools and married between elite families, an aristocracy is obviouslynot something we should try to turn back to. It does, however, give us insight into where power resides in the current political moment.
So he embarks on a journey to show how WASPs made their way into Wall Street, big money, and big business. In that group, however, is missing the most vocal supporter of the Right. Who are the people who support radical libertarianism and/or Trumpism? Generally, Henwood says that these supporters don't really come from the older, ruling elite. They come from smaller "second or third tier" capitalists who run private businesses, that although make a lot of money, don't have the same status or influence as the big businesses on the Fortune 500. Instead, they keep their businesses private to stay largely out of the public eye and use their profits to fund think tanks and politicians that push their politics. This class has been enormously succesful, being able to influence national politics on a level that is beyond their weight class, as Henwood says.
Then where do the capitalists of the big companies lie? There are certainly some that fund think tanks of the Right, but most fall somewhere on the center of the spectrum. They understand the modern rhetoric of social justice and look to avoid polarizing topics in politics, focusing rather on the economic growth and profits of their company and capital. Henwood says that this class of people find it hard to organize together, because they don't really have a powerful message that either the Right or the Left employ.
Where once these big companies would have been run by WASPs, passed down through families or friends or people in the same circle going to the same elite schools, there is now a greater focus on profitability above all else, and that brings in many other people into the fold that have the skills and intelligence to compete there. So the American meritocracy is true in some sense, and has actually largely eroded the traditional ruling class. What has emerged then, as Haywood ponders, is a more unstable and less powerful group. He writes:
Bourgeois pundits often lament “divided government” and the inability to compromise, which they attribute to partisanship or bad temperaments. A more fundamental reason may be that no fraction of capital, neither the older centrist kind nor the upstart right-leaning kind, is able to achieve hegemony.
Whethere or not you might believe this, or if it is true or not, it's curious to think about. Henwood does a great job at reviewing the change in elite status and culture, as well as its composition, and outlines how the "fringe" players in politics and capitalism came to the forefront of the nation's agenda.