« Why Cheney Can't Leave | Main | Another administration official found incompetent »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I didn't get through the whole thing yet...but she's filling in for Friedman not Kristof...

Chris in Boston

"The notion of social class itself...originated among early 20th-century anarchists and Trotskyites." Really? I would expect that Ehrenreich finds the idea of social class useful -- why would she want to relegate it to the margins of discarded Bolshevisms?

I think you're misreading her sentence (aided by her sloppy syntax). The original reads,

Like the notion of social class itself, the idea of a liberal elite originated on the left, among early 20th-century anarchists and Trotskyites who noted, correctly, that the Soviet Union was spawning a "new class" of power-mad bureaucrats.

She's saying: a) both notion of class and of the liberal elite emerged from the left; then b) in the case of the liberal elite, that left comprised early 20th c. anarchists and Trotskyites. It's a confusing sentence mind you, but your leaving off the "like" changes the meaning, turning the simile into an expository statement.

I agree with your broader point, though, that Ehrenreich seems flatly unconcerned with any changes in class structure since the industrial age, or even in class elites based in prestige rather than money.


Nicely laid out. Any thoughts on Thomas Franks' "backlash" theory?


I'm with Chris from Boston on the misreading. Also, Ehrenreich has written fairly extensively on the question of a 'new class'. (For one thing, she and her ex(?)-husband John edited a book called "Between Labor and Capital" for South End Press about 25 years ago. Their thesis was that there was indeed a professional-managerial class in advanced capitalist society, with interests distinct from both the capitalists and the workers. What part of that thinking has stayed with her, I couldn't say.)

I guess I don't blame her for keeping things simple in an op-ed. But I agree that the 'liberal elite' accusation needs a better answer than, "We are not rich!" Educated people can be condescending, and there are moral/cultural differences that do track education to some extent. I'd wager opposition to gay marriage and tolerance for creationism decline with increasing education. (Not to mention taste in coffee drinks, cars, and entertainment.) The accusation hurts because there are many on the left who look down their noses at religious and cultural conservatives, who might be class allies if they weren't cultural enemies (to embrace another too-simple dichotomy). But they really are cultural enemies, aren't they? So what do we do about that? I might be prepared to hide my disdain for Folgers coffee, but I'm not going to warm up to homophobia or to teaching creationism in my kids' school in the interest of a united front. Thomas Franks' idea seems to be: tell people their cultural values aren't going to be served no matter who they vote for, and then maybe they'll vote their class interests. I'm not sure that's going to work.


Decembrist: I also think you may have read too much into the link Ehrenrich seems to have made between social class (per se), the dabblers in Trotsky, and the notion of a liberal elite. Perhaps her point, albeit too subtly made, was to link Bell and "End of Ideology" talk of the post war period to more recent turnarounds--the so-called liberal hawks, in other words? Anyway, the classic theories of class, especially Marx's, I am sure she takes quite seriously. Much of her work, including that on the PMC noted by commentor "Tom," can be read as ethnographic elaborations on what class--since Marx's time--has come to mean when actually lived. Nickel and Dimed, I'd say, is a marvelous piece of Marxist sociology, although it certainly doesn't need the label to justify itself. The stories are powerful enough on their own. This brings me to another point. You seem to be demanding more historical and theoretical rigor from Ehrenrich. I for one would love it if she had a few thousand words to explain to Times readers the ongoing relevance of class, of Marx, or perhaps better, Gramsci or Bourdieu, and then deal with the different historical realities with which such thinkers dealt with directly, and then how the whole array might apply to the here and now. But the limits--practical, and dare I say, ideological--of the form itself are severe. Friedman's pieces are marvelously adapted to those limits: not just simply written--that is always appreciated--but simplistic in conception and argumentation. That said, I am glad that Ehrenrich has the chance to make the best of it. A more interesting question, perhaps: why did the Times invite (I presume that's what happened) such a notorious lefty to spell for Friedman??? Still trying to make up for all that bogus Iraq coverage???

On a broader side, I don't quite get where you're qoing with your critique of the critique of the right wing critique of the liberal elite. You seem to be calling for an end to ideology, a la Bell (an a la JFK in 1962) ??? As long as deep structural inequalities exist--which are always expressed in actual life in several dimensions, the ideological being one of them--talk of the end of ideology, or demands that it end, are premature. Perhaps we need to make a set of distinctions, for one between ideologies big and small, between the campaign pronouncements that often pass for the whole of politics in this country and actual visions of what society is, what it should be, and how change can be made to happen. But also in terms of ideological production in the context of regional political economies, historically understood--this is where much of the heralded resonance of "culture" in US politics is constituted. Other commentors mentioned Thomas Frank's work on this. We may quibble with Frank's polemic re his home state of Kansas, with his perhaps too loose talk of class "interests" beneath a superstructure of religion, race, and individualism, but I think he is on the right track in looking at how difficult it is in this country for men and women to find common ground on their relative economic and political powerlessness. That reality is a ideological success story, as much as changing it would be.

Matt McIrvin

The modern left-right axis in Western democracies, which cuts across class divisions one way in the economic sphere and the opposite way in the cultural sphere, is often described by partisans at both ends as evidence of the other guys' scheme to trick poor people.

I think it is, rather, a more or less inevitable consequence of (1) the modern correlation between wealth and higher education, and (2) the increasing importance of democratic processes in government since the beginning of the 20th century. Combine these things and you're going to end up with a situation in which the party representing the economic interests of the rich has to champion the cultural values of the less-educated and vice versa, not necessarily out of a conscious decision to deceive anybody, but simply because neither party can survive otherwise, since they both need votes and they both need money. It would be more logically consistent to have a more or less populist party and a more or less libertarian party, divided along class lines; but the situation would not be stable.


I think Michael Lind puts in more aptly in "Made In Texas" where he points out that it's bourgeois-ness that determines elite-ness--even if the masses, who buy into GOP anti-elitism, enjoy many bourgeois tastes themselves. Buying a $16 candle and faux antiques at the Cracker Barrel or $3 cups of coffee anywhere are bourgeois indulgences--even if it's of the country kitch or non-Starbuck's variety. Very few people are considering whether the old money families or the educated technocratic class is more truly "elite." Neither Michael Moore nor George Bush is considered "elite" by the masses. That's why the Republicans have not really been able to effectively defame Moore outside of their base. It's why Budweiser-endorsed Dale Jr. took his NASCAR crew to see Fahrenheit 9/11. Ehrenreich is debating the philosophy of elitism, not (as she thinks) the practical political implications of the label and how to refute it. Lind has her far outclassed in understanding of the Great Flyover where I live.

Kay Stone

Ehrenreich never stops amazing me with her wit, brilliance, and her humility.

Those who simply read her writing, which is so astute and funny, don't know the person she really is -- a seriously concerned citizen of the world who is so unassuming and yet so brilliant and entitled to immense respect.

I am a high school teacher in a small town who has been very fortunate to have had Barbara come to my school on various occasions for free to speak on her writings. She is very understated and low-key, yet she moves and inspires with her passion and intellect.

She is truly an American treasure.

The comments to this entry are closed.