»  National Review

November 6, 2000

   Head of the New Class

A Gore victory in November would, of course, have many consequences for the nation and the world. It would also, however, have a larger historical meaning — in the sense that people looking back on it a hundred years hence might say: "Ah, that represented …"

What? What larger trend would be embodied in a Gore victory? We have all internalized the consequences of past elections. Andy Jackson — the dethroning of the old coastal gentry elites; Teddy Roosevelt — victory of Progressivism; FDR — dawn of the welfare state; and so on. We know roughly what a Gore victory would mean in particulars; what would it be part of?

I suggest that its larger significance would lie in its being a decisive triumph for the New Class — the intellectualized, tertiary-educated, meritocratic elites of the law, academia, the media, the great foundations and government bureaucracies.

The term "new class" was first used in this precise context by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1972, and got capital letters from Michael Novak later that same year. Some key essays on the phenomenon were gathered together in a 1979 book, The New Class? edited by the historian B. Bruce-Briggs. Anyone who seeks clarification of who the New Class are and where they come from could not do better than to track down a copy of that book (now, alas, long out of print).

The New Class has been engaged in its "long march through the institutions" for thirty years, but Bill Clinton was the first of them to attain the presidency. Al Gore himself is only a sort of honorary New Class-nik, having been born to privilege rather than having acquired it through the educational system. The programs and values of the party Gore leads, however, are solidly New Class, and he has made the necessary adjustments to his personal profile.

A Gore victory would consolidate the New Class domination of the Clinton years, make it unassailable. By his powers of appointment, Gore would make New Class values paramount in the judiciary and executive, as they already are in academia and the media.

But what are those values? What are New Class people like, in the generality? What do they stand for? And why should we oppose their hegemony? Permit me to enumerate.

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They are liars.  Bill Clinton and his wife are famously mendacious. At this point, after eight years' exposure to them, no sensible person believes anything they say. Most people suppose that this mendacity is personal and particular — that it is a failing of the Clintons, and does not represent anything larger. Even Al Gore's carelessness with the truth has been attributed to hanging out with the Clintons too much, as if it were a sort of infection.

In fact a disdain for the truth is fundamental to New Class values, and key to their obtaining high political office in a democracy. To the extent that ordinary Americans are aware of the existence of the New Class, they dislike it. As David Gelernter has pointed out, the old elite (of privilege via family property) had one advantage over the new one (of privilege via formal education):

[T]he old elite used to get on fairly well with the country it was set over … [They] approached life on basically the same terms. The public went to church and so did they. The public went into the army and so did they … Today's elite loathes the nation it rules.

The New Class has deep differences of opinion with the common people and therefore cannot get elected without a certain amount of deceit. The American public is, for example, religious; the New Class is atheist. (As Peter Berger expressed it very elegantly: the people of the U.S.A. are as religious as those of India, but they are ruled over by an elite as irreligious as Swedes.) Thus New Class candidates for power must make a show of piety. At critical points in his various personal dramas, President Clinton has taken care to be seen coming out of church clutching a bible.

Bill Clinton and Al Gore actually represent two different strategies of deception. The Clinton technique is simply to lie and intimidate one's way across the gap — as Clinton did in the matter of his draft-dodging and philandering. The Gore candidacy represents another approach: the conscripting of a member of the old elite, with sufficient old elite attributes (fidelity, military service) to bridge the gap, and to use him as a front man for further New Class advance. This strategy is having its first trial with the Gore campaign, and may not work. The strains it imposes on the candidate's personality are extreme, and cause peculiar deformations, of which Gore's fibs are, I think, symptomatic. The lesson of the Clinton-Gore candidacies may ultimately be the one taught by another national leader in another time: If you're going to lie, lie big.

They are self-righteous.  One of the first sightings of the New Class in politics was Michael Harrington's mention of the "conscience constituency" that rallied to the presidential candidacy of Eugene McCarthy in 1968. A firm certainty of its own superior virtue, and a corresponding contempt for other, especially older, moralities, has been a New Class trait from the beginning. As P.J. O'Rourke noted more pithily, watching the Clinton crowd sweep into Washington in 1992-3, they were "stuffed up to the nose-holes with a conviction of their own righteousness". Norman Podhoretz pinned this quality down in his discussion of a quintessentially New Class novelist:

[T]he authorial point of view in the work of Philip Roth claims for itself a singular sensitivity to things of the spirit … whereas others are represented as altogether blind to things of the spirit and as caring only for lesser things of the flesh like food and money and material possessions.

Hence the endless sappy litany of New Class politicians and media types:  We CARE, we're for the people, for the kiddies and the old folk, for the environment — the birds and little fishes. And you?  Why, you just want to strip the country bare and trample on the faces of the poor, to enrich yourselves and your friends and gratify your base appetities for worldly goods.

In spite of which …

They are hedonists.  "Fay ce que voudras" — "Do what thou wilt" — was the motto of the 18th-century Hell Fire Club, in which rakes and libertines came together to practice debauchery. (Benjamin Franklin seems to have been a member.) It is now the slogan of New Class morality. The question: "Why should I not do as I please within the law, so long as I harm no-one else?" would, at all earlier times, have drawn one or both of the answers: "Because it offends God" or "Because you will become a social outcast".

The first of these has no force for our new elites, who do not believe in God; the second is not only without force for them, it is without meaning. To exclude a person from one's drawing-room because their personal pleasures are aberrant would be "discrimination". Larry Flynt is an honored and effective member of the Clinton team, and nobody — nobody in elite circles — thinks any the worse of the Clintons for it. Why should they? To the New Class, "high society", if it means anything, means Hollywood, the world capital of hedonism. I recently discovered by chance that the plot of La traviata is now incomprehensible to intelligent, well-educated 18-year-olds.

They hate the past.  Malcolm Muggeridge remarked of his friend George Orwell that: "He loved the past, hated the present, and dreaded the future." New Class types are counter-Orwells: they hate the past, love the present, and look with joyful anticipation to a future that only they can see clearly, and therefore that only they can be trusted to bring about. The past is a vile, horrible place; a place in which blacks were enslaved and Indians massacred, in which women were passive, unenfranchised baby dispensers, in which corrupt priests manipulated the ignorant masses by filling their heads with absurd fears about sin and its wages in an imaginary afterlife. The present is certainly an improvement, but there is still much to be done. In the future we shall dwell in an earthly paradise, all prejudice, all conflict, all differences, all fear and sorrow purged from our condition. We shall live in a state of undistracted Reason, like Swift's Houyhnhnms, whose aim — to come back round to Orwell, in his essay on Gulliver's Travels — was "to be as like a corpse as is possible while retaining physical life".

They hate masculinity.  The great masculine enthusiasms — hunting, sexual conquest, mathematics, adventure, history, poetry, war — are not popular with the New Class. This may seem an odd thing to say when the current exemplar of New Class values is an exceptionally busy fornicator. However, I think most people understand that Bill Clinton is not a manly man, and that his liaisons have much less to do with conquest than with New Class droit de seigneur. I have an acquaintance who works for the Port Authority police here in New York. He has done duty at the PA's helicopter landing pad for three presidents. He remarked to me once: "When Reagan walked past, the bristles stood up on the back of my neck. That man was every inch a president. He radiated leadership. But this one? All the guys laugh at him behind his back, and mimic his sloppy salute."

There is a strong tendency in our culture, encouraged by New Class educators and psychologists, to regard masculine traits as undesirable. The London Spectator recently ran an article about children with "special educational needs". When the writer asked an educator what particular characteristics her SEN pupils exhibited, the answer was: "They often shouted out in class, pushed to the front of the classroom and were very physical in the playground." In short, they were boys — as indeed, on further inquiry, all the SEN kids in that co-educational school turned out to be!

They hate commerce.  Hillary Clinton's remark, during the promotion of her health-care plan, that "I can't be expected to save every under-capitalized business in the country," revealed the true mindset of New Class types towards entrepreneurship. Commerce can be tolerated, especially if those who practice it are willing to accommodate themselves, via bribes or rigged transactions in the securities markets, to New Class appetites. Ultimately, however, as the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter pointed out, a powerful bureaucratic class is in the same relation to commerce as was the scorpion in Aesop to the dog on whose back he crossed the river. They will destroy commerce and establish socialism, even if it kills them, because that is their nature. Listen to Al Gore rail against the drug companies and Big Oil. The "taming" of these industries — that is, their reduction to licensees of the state — will not, of course, be the end of his industrial program, only the beginning.

They are …  Wait a minute. What's that? I'm out of space? But I've only just been clearing my throat!  They are bullies!  They are cowards!  They are snobs!  They are narcissists!  They are shallow!  They are obscurantist!  They are racist!  They are sentimental!  They are fiscally irresponsible!  They hate the nation-state!  They hate religion!  They hate democracy!  They hate science!

Well, any reader who has had much to do with the New Class can supply text for these headings, and for many others that will come to mind. The point is made: our nation and our liberties are under assault by an arrogant, self-satisfied elite of over-educated libertines. Al Gore, though not exactly of them, carries their standard into battle, and will finalize their capture of our institutions.

It is not just for particular matters of policy that we should oppose the Gore candidacy, nor for any personal failings we may have detected in the man, but for the final, decisive triumph of the New Class that will follow a Gore victory. Class-warfare politics? Oh yes, please!