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Mead on the pessimism of today’s liberal elites

For the past year or so, Walter Russell Mead has written extensively on The American Interest website about the steady disintegration of the post-New Deal social order, which he calls the "blue social model". Mead, a professor at Bard College and a prolific blogger, argues that we cling to old notions, even as our economy and society have irrevocably changed.

In his latest instalment, "Futuristic blues," Mead writes about how today's liberal leaders have a "darker and more elitist vision", which is "much more pessimistic than liberalism...was in its prime." The difference between the old and new liberalism is highlighted by their contrasting views of the masses. First, regarding the older liberal elites:

These earlier generations believed that liberal politics would uplift the common people over time—and that the common people were on a rising historical trajectory....Thanks to the enlightened leadership of gentry liberals, the common people would become better educated, more politically aware, more economically productive and more able to take their fate into their own hands. The liberal tradition is one in which elites, very much aware of their privilege and not at all inclined to throw it away, justify their privilege by linking it to a political program aimed at, in the long run, making a less privileged society.

Today's liberal elite share the same sense as their predecessors that they are guiding national development, however, according to Mead, "what’s changed is that the blue elite no longer sees a bright future for the masses."  This pessimism is tied to lower expectations about the potential for economic growth to create jobs and lift the masses. Instead, liberals imagine the economy continuing  along its current path (which would continue to benefit industries such as finance, hi-tech, media and entertainment - all big Democratic party supporters), and they worry that inequality will continue or worsen.

The key development is that the "rise of the common people" has come to an end, writes Mead:

In the industrial economy, the rising productivity of ordinary people underpinned their rising political power. Karl Marx was not the only observer who could see that a country where the majority worked in factories was a very different place from a country where the majority were peasants on farms. History demonstrated nothing if it didn’t show that peasants could be oppressed with impunity for hundreds of years. Industrial workers, though, literate, organized, and urban, were a much more formidable force.

But with the demise of an organized working class, the liberal elite have adopted a patronizing view of the masses, and the concerns they express today are more about social control than anything else:

Gentry liberals today see something different: the ‘ungifted’ majority is the object of their pity and care, rather than a force that demands their respect and even their fear. As they contemplate what post industrial society will look like, they are filled with pity for the incompetent losers, the untalented, those who will only be able to get jobs as pool boys and cocktail waitresses in the post-manufacturing world. Industrial society saw the workers as a rising irresistible force whose interests could not be ignored; post-industrial liberals seem to see the common folk as a collection of sad and weak losers whom the strong must protect.

Mead's thought-provoking piece is worth reading in full, and you can do so here. For my own recent observations on liberal elite views, you might want to check out this.

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