Last week, with the Republican campaign robo-calls coming one after another over the phone in suburban Kansas City — at least a dozen of them every day, the right-wing super PACs’ version of a World War I artillery barrage — I picked out one phrase from the hailstorm of words: “Washington’s liberal class.”
That phrase, delivered with sneering emphasis on the second word, may have been a key to the whole confusing affair. Tom Frank
Contempt for the 'Liberal Class' comes from both the Left and the Right. If the near Republican sweep last week demonstrates contempt from the Right, it masks what is also a contempt from the Left. Chris Hedges' keelhauling of Liberals in his book The Death of the Liberal Class explains why the Left finds the Liberal Class so odious:
The media, the church, the university, the Democratic Party, the arts, and labor unions — the pillars of the liberal class — have been bought off with corporate money and promises of scraps tossed to them by the narrow circles of power. Journalists, who prize access to the powerful more than they prize truth, report lies and propaganda to propel us into a war in Iraq. Many of these same journalists assured us it was prudent to entrust our life savings to a financial system run by speculators and thieves. Those life savings were gutted. The media, catering to corporate advertisers and sponsors, at the same time renders invisible whole sections of the population whose misery, poverty, and grievances should be the principle focus of journalism.
In the name of tolerance — a word the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., never used — the liberal church and the synagogue refuse to denounce Christian heretics who acculturate the Christian religion with the worst aspects of consumerism, nationalism, greed, imperial hubris, violence, and bigotry. These institutions accept globalization and unfettered capitalism as natural law. Liberal religious institutions, which should concern themselves with justice, embrace a cloying personal piety expressed in a how-is-it-with-me kind of spirituality and small, self-righteous acts of publicly conspicuous charity. Years spent in seminary or rabbinical schools, years devoted to the study of ethics, justice, and morality, prove useless when it comes time to stand up to corporate forces that usurp religious and moral language for financial and political gain. (Source)
The Liberal Class is the 'establishment' in Washington, but it's also as much the establishment in liberal Seattle as it is in conservative Omaha. Those who compose the Liberal Class may disagree about gay marriage and abortion in those two cities, but they agree when it comes to neoliberal principles that organize the economy. They agree when it comes to globalization; they agree when it comes to hatred of unions; they agree when it comes to top-down education reform; they agree when it comes to regulating Wall Street or running oil pipelines from the Tar Sands of Alberta.
Daniel Bell wrote an article that I want to write more about in the future about five kinds of conservative. Libertarians (Ayn Rand, the Pauls), Populists (Tea Party,) Evangelical Christians (Huckabee, Palin, Goehmert, etc.), Neconservatives (Cheney, Kristol, Krauthammer), and Corporatists (Catholic conservatives like Wm F. Buckley and Antonin Scalia). The names in parens are my examples, not Bell's, but I think that taxonomy stands up as well today as it did in '87. The one end of the spectrum is Liberal and anti-statist; the other end is anit-Liberal and Statist--an extreme example would be Franco's Spain, which Buckley sometimes defended. I don't think the paleo-conservatism of The American Conservative magazine fits well in any of these categories. It is anti-statist, and a defender of traditional values--but it is is also anti Libertarian and in that sense anti-populist, if by populist we mean these days the populism of the Tea Party. I am very sympathetic to its POV, but its POV has close to zero influence in shaping policy.
None of these groups votes Democratic, and yet the Libertarians, who dominate Republican policy thnking at this time, are quite sympathetic to Neoliberal economic and social policy as described above. Because Neoliberalism, whether in Republican or Democratic attire, dominates the Washington consensus and is the ideology of the ruling class in Washington--and wherever else elites hold sway. And yet, for now at least, Libertarians, dominate Republican thinking and are of all the five conservative groups most comfortable with Neoliberal policy thinking. This is the point that Frank is making in the rest of the article--the Tea Partiers and Evangelicals are electing Republicans who, whether they believe this about themselves or not, will fit right in when they get to Washington. They think they are sending people there who are anti-Liberal establishment, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Neoliberal policy eventually leads to social chaos, and the the Neocons and Corporatists are waiting in the wings to clean up the mess. And they will be the only option unless something emerges on the progressive Left to present a robust alternative. This is what I meant when I wrote the other day that Leo Strauss will likely supplant Ayn Rand in shaping the Republican mindset. It's far more intellectually sophisticated than Libertarianism, and it is very seductive. I could see the Washington consensus become dominated by it very easily.
The Neocons have more in common with managerial Liberalism that the Corporatists, but both Neocons and Corporatists are about as anti-populists as you can get, and the Corporatists are about as anti-Liberal as you can get. That's precisely why it will appeal to Washington elites when the Libertarian-driven crash inevitably comes. If you're not familiar with the magazine, read First Things. It's an interesting attempt to join theologically conservative Catholics with evangelicals in shaping discourse in the public sphere. It supported the invasion of Iraq, a Neocon project, and aligns for the most part with a thoughtlful Wm. F. Buckley Catholic corporatism--probably moreso now than does Buckley's National Review, which has become an unreadable partisan rag.
I am not at all sympathetic with its POV, but First Things is not unreadable in that way, and if we are moving into a post-Liberal, post-Secular era, as I think wet are, here is a good possibility that it will be dominated by conservative thinking until a post-secular progressive alternative can form. So we might as well understand what we're in for. More on Leo Strauss as I have time. I'm reading Gottfried's Leo Strauss and the Coervative Movement in America.