This week, Matt Goodwin, a well-known British political scientist, published Values, Voice and Virtue, a book arguing that a ‘new elite’ of university-educated progressives dominate British society, to the detriment of lower classes. I have yet to read it – it was published a few days ago – but have read Matt’s recent pieces in the
I reviewed Matt's last book on National Populism for Quillette, and found it scholarly & rigorous. I suppose a copy of this one will no doubt land on the reviewer's doormat in due course.
I cannot hope to review all the books I receive, though - there'd be no time for socialising, exercising, eating, sleeping...
You're doing God's work here, Thomas. Human nature appears to preclude insight derived from good faith enquiry in our Western liberal culture. Which is why these debates are positioned and understood as 'culture war'.
Thank you for the interesting post.
1) To take your first question, might it not be possible to accept that in a knowledge-based services economy, there is quite a large number of workers outside the dominant 100,000 (as Britain’s ruling elite was characterised until the 1960s or 1970s).
In other words, there is a large number of such workers who have little direct influence upon the actual levers of power.
Think of the difference between Martin Wolf at the FT and a subeditor at the newspaper - or a consultant cardiologist and a junior doctor.
It might suit Matt Godwin’s rhetorical purposes to lump them in together - the lumpen-commentariat, if you will - but their values will differ widely.
2) The distribution of power in a liberal democracy is a political economy question! Viewed from the other end of the telescope (i.e. from the perspective of a Whitehall Mandarin or a City CEO), I doubt anyone would worry too much about the attitudes of subs or junior doctors.
Matt’s frustration at his inability to move the Overton Window is understandable. But the ‘Sociocultural Class’ is vulnerable to the same question that Stalin asked about the Vatican. (How many divisions does the Pope command?)
It is interesting that the slightly unappealing tone of victimhood that underlies Goodwin’s writing unconsciously parallels left-progressives’ complaints about big business or the Supreme Court (or whatever the latest focus is).
Neither look like speaking a language of power to me.
Perhaps what used to be called “the battle for hearts and minds” is now being seen in clearer focus? Is that all that is going on here? There isn’t anything new about battles for ideological hegemony within the British establishment, is there? In such battles the causes represented have always had their divisions and battalions. If Matt Goodwin is claiming that there is now some kind of permanent block on the battle of ideas, he is claiming too much, with a kind of ‘End of History’ perspective... but I would be surprised if he is being that absolutist.
Call me cynical but the existence and influence of this class is so obvious that at this point the only explanation for denying it exists is disingenuousness. As liberal democracies advance the state becomes ever less powerful relative to the power of business and cultural output. (This is what, for all their prophetic power, neither Orwell nor Huxley foresaw.) Ever since David Brooks' Bobos in Paradise from 2000 (and probably before) commentators have been describing it. Ross Douthat wrote a very good OpEd a couple of years ago on the differences between the new and old elite that sparked a lot of controversy among liberals for its defence of the old. "The prettiest trick of the devil is to make us believe he doesn't exist."
When asked whether he agreed with Margaret Thatcher that there was "no such thing as society", David Cameron answered, "of course there is - but it's not the same thing as the state."
While he subsequently used this as intellectual cover for his pernicious and ultimately doomed "big society" idea, an attempt to offload the duties of the state onto individual citizens, his core observation wasn't wrong. But I think the average progressive believes that essentially 100% of the power in liberal democracies is held by either the government or big businesses (who are very often in cahoots with each other anyway) - in other words, for them, the state really is society. Thus the infamous "metropolitan elite" really does exist, but the people least likely to realise this are the metropolitan elitists themselves. (Though at the same time they have less power than Matt Goodwin ascribes to them; they aren't as influential on society as the actual government, obviously.)
I think 'sociocultural' is a bit flabby as a concept; for example, a bit in wikipedia, quite without an implied smirk of irony denoting the bleedin' obvious, tells us, “Sociocultural theory maintains that social interaction and cultural institutions, such as schools, classrooms, etc., have important roles to play in an individual’s cognitive growth and development.” (No shit, Sherlock.) It goes on to talk about "the critical role of the social context in cognitive and social development"
So what it is saying is that if you go to Haberdashers' Aske's your perception of the world and your heuristic journey and indeed your wellbeing, will be different to that of Scumbag Comprehensive. Elsewhere we learn that 'According to Vygotsky, human development relies on social interaction and, therefore, can differ among cultures.' I am shocked. (How much are these people paid?)
Could I just mention Frederick's experiment here? I mean, that one is a pretty slam dunk.
No, one has to come up with something else to define that group of lovelies who think they are right and everyone else is wrong, particularly since they are a bunch of shapeshifters and need bloody well pinning down.
I shall call them Glass Beaders. I leave it to your enlightened readership to work that one out.
I have not read Goodwin’s book yet but have read a number of articles and reviews and read a Q&A with him on the subject. I have a lot of time for his views and assessments. But the subject of this book brings to mind an article written almost 14 years ago by Angelo Codevilla in The American Spectator, ‘America’s Ruling Class And the perils of revolution’. The piece by Codvilla presaged the times we live in and as is now described in US as the ‘deep state’ and here in UK as the ‘blob’ … https://spectator.org/americas-ruling-class/