The other class war: technocrats vs plutocrats

After World War Two, the balance of wealth shifted dramatically: the super-rich lost so much capital during the two wars and the interwar period that their grip on power slipped, creating the space for a welfare state and other reforms.

One major part of this shift was the creation of a monied class of technocrats -- engineers, doctors, scientists, and, eventually computer programmers and other people whose power came from the acceptance of an existence of an objective reality that could be exploited and developed to create wealth and power.

The traditional rich -- the people who got rich by owning things and charging rent on them, rather than making things -- have always been suspicious of the "reality-based community" (as GW Bush's coterie called them), treating technical people as a specialized kind of servant, to be hired when needed and fired when they started running their mouths about the uselessness of cutting taxes to stimulate growth, or the certainty that the Earth was more than 5,000 years old, or the absurdity of the claim that one had "good blood" and "breeding" and that was the source of your wealth and power.

But as Thomas Piketty's data shows, everything started to change in the mid-70s, as the wealth owned by the rentier class reached a tipping point that let them start controlling policy, arrogating more power and money to themselves. Much of the power and money that the 1% seized since then came from poor people, but technocrats had more money and power to steal, and so they have been particular losers in this fight.

This, Jon Schwarz argues in the Intercept, is the other class war we're seeing now, often pitched as "the middle class vs the 1%." The reality-based community has been steadily squeezed out of conservative circles, leaving the right with less and less claim to intellectual legitimacy, fewer and fewer glib persons who can couch the Divine Right of Kings in terminology that seems at home in this century.

Schwarz blames this shortage of intellectual firepower in conservative circles for the hiring and firing of the violent misogynist Kevin Williamson at The Atlantic.

Movement conservatives spend most of their lives complaining that they’re underrepresented in the mainstream corporate media and academia. And if you just count these institutions’ minions — as opposed to their owners and trustees — they’re right.

But it could never be any different. The media and academia are in theory based on Enlightenment principles. It’s true they often do a bad job of acting on them in practice, and the principles themselves have many weaknesses. Nevertheless, both institutions see their jobs as using basic tools of rationality to study and then describe reality. That’s the core of their self-image, so it’s always going to be hard to wedge people into them who reject everything about the Enlightenment.

This clearly feels unfair to today’s movement conservatives. But it’s no more so than the fact that an outspoken atheist who constantly slams Catholicism will have a hard time becoming Pope.

Williamson could be hired by The Atlantic precisely because he is not a movement conservative: He’s one of America’s few remaining right-wing writers who appears to accept Enlightenment methods as legitimate. For instance, he is willing, kind of, to acknowledge that global warming and evolution are real. When he attacked Barack Obama, he did so by making claims that were within shouting distance of reality (and then wildly hyping them) rather than proclaiming Obama was a secret Sharia Muslim.

What’s Really at Stake in the Battle for “Ideological Diversity” at Elite Media Outlets [Jon Schwarz/The Intercept]