Twilight of the Elites : America After Meritocracyby: Christopher Hayes
CHRISTOPHER HAYES BEGAN his career as a journalist at The Nation, where he covered labor issues. As the host of an MSNBC news program, “Up” with Chris Hayes, he has situated himself within the mainstream media as a new voice from the left, his earnest outrage providing a respectful moderate counterweight to the histrionics of the right-wing pundits and journalists on Fox and CNN. His new book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, written for a broad public, offers a general theory about a “Crisis of Authority” that, from Hayes’s point of view, plagues the American body politic. For Hayes, a pervasive and popular sense of suspicion and outrage characterizes attitudes on all sides of the political spectrum, but he finds our capacity for outrage, in and of itself, to be sufficient grounds for hope.
Hayes opens Twilight of the Elites with a portentous description of a society teetering on the brink of disaster:
The foundation of our shared life as Americans — where we worship, where we deposit our paycheck, the teams we root for, the people who do our business in Washington — seems to be cracking before our very eyes. In our idled panicked moments, we count down the seconds until it gives out.
Lest Hayes’s description of our contemporary situation appear hyperbolic, he’s careful to mitigate his own position, with hedges like the observation that, “America feels broken.” Let us accept the premise that it feels as if we are on a precipice, or at least on the cusp of a catastrophe. Hayes comes up with an unfelicitous formulation to describe the root cause of our foundering social life: “elite failure.” In fact, for Hayes, “[e]lite failure and the distrust it has spawned is [sic] the most powerful and least understood aspect of current politics and society.” Twilight of the Elites goes on to give us a panoramic view of the United States in order to help us get our brains around the enormity of our collective distrust: from the Federal Government’s handling of the damage done by Hurricane Katrina, to the Supreme Court decision during the 2000 Presidential election, to the Iraq quagmire, to the Catholic Church’s handling of sexual abuse, to the abuse of performance enhancing drugs by professional athletes.
Few will deny that the chasm between upper class elites — the now-proverbial one percent — and the rest of us has been growing at an alarming rate. According to Hayes,
extreme inequality of the kind we have produces its own particular kind of elite pathology: it makes elites less accountable, more prone to corruption and self-dealing, more status-obsessed and less empathic, more blinkered and removed from informational feedback crucial to effective decision-making. For this reason, extreme inequality produces elites who are less competent and more corrupt than a more egalitarian social order would.
This implies that we should support the building of a socially egalitarian society because it would “produce” more moral and more competent leaders in a more efficient manner. Hayes believes that meritocracy is a good idea that has failed: it has produced ineffective institutions and a corrupt and self-dealing elite, and our task is to correct these flaws. The outraged and upstanding citizens on ...read more