Recommended Reading: “The Delusions of the Radical Centrist”

I highly recommend this article from last week by Eric Levitz, which is mostly about Michael Lind’s 2020 book The New Class War, but which touches on all kinds of important questions about American party politics today. The pathologies that Levitz ascribes to Lind are present in many others (Patrick Deneen comes foremost to my mind).

Here’s one of the best parts:

Lind’s insistence that America’s dominant class is a (vaguely defined) professional elite — rather than a smaller cohort of ultrarich capitalists — is tendentious at best. And this is far from the only defect in his political analysis. Its fundamental flaw is a kind of Manichean materialism that casts the aspirations of working-class Trump voters as presumptively righteous, and those of self-styled “progressive” professionals as uniformly exploitative.

In what follows, Levitz does a very good job disproving many of Lind’s claims, especially as concern his allegations against Democratic elites and professionals. I especially appreciated the section on the relationship between materialism and conspiracism. Here’s another longer excerpt:

At times, the line between Lind’s brand of materialism and crackpot conspiracies grows thin. In a 2020 column on the George Floyd protests for the “post-left” publication The Bellows, Lind wrote, “The slogan ‘Defund the police’ is interpreted by the bourgeois professional left to mean transferring tax revenues from police officers, who are mostly unionized but not college-educated, to social service and nonprofit professionals, who are mostly college-educated but not unionized,” meaning the seemingly heartfelt protests against police brutality were really a way to create more jobs “for members of the professional bourgeoisie in their twenties and thirties.”

As Levitz proceeds to explain, the claim is simply absurd (“Like other “post-left” iconoclasts, Lind uses such strained arguments, and the crass political sociology they rest on, to rationalize his antipathy to the left — if not, de facto alliance with the American right”). These and similar arguments are basically like catnip for centrist and conservative Americans, who sometimes, it seems, love nothing more than to gripe about educated liberal elites and their alleged self-interest and hypocritical virtue signalling. As with Levitz, I understand some of these frustrations, but ultimately it’s hard to see the focus on liberal elite hypocrisy amounts to much more than a misplaced way of deflecting attention away from other, much bigger and more obvious problems.

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