Ours is an Age of Fracture (the 2011 book by Daniel Rodgers) in which “earlier notions of history and society that stressed solidity, collective institutions, and social circumstances gave way to a more individualized human nature that emphasized choice, agency, performance, and desire.”
A society that is fragmenting into cultural groups that are themselves fracturing into smaller units of temporary and highly contingent solidarity is ideal for Elites bent on maintaining political and financial control.
A society that has fragmented into a media-fed cultural war of hot-button identity-gender-religious politics is a society that is incapable of resisting concentrations of power and wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many.
If we set aside the authentic desire of individuals for equal rights and cultural liberation and examine the political and financial ramifications of social fragmentation, we come face to face with Christopher Lasch’s insightful analysis on The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (1996 book).
“The new elites, the professional classes in particular, regard the masses with mingled scorn and apprehension…. Middle Americans, as they appear to the makers of educated opinion, are hopelessly shabby, unfashionable, and provincial, ill informed about changes in taste or intellectual trends, addicted to trashy novels of romance and adventure, and stupefied by prolonged exposure to television. They are at once absurd and vaguely menacing.”
Though better known for his book on the disastrous consequences of consumerism in an era of economic stagnation, The Culture of Narcissism:American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations, Lasch’s The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy is the more politically profound analysis, as it links Elite dominance of the media, higher education and cultural narratives to the erosion of democracy as a functioning institution.
Extreme concentrations of wealth and power are incompatible with democracy, as Elites buy political influence and promote cultural narratives that distract the citizenry with emotionally charged issues. A focus on individual liberation from all constraints precludes an awareness of common economic-political interests beyond the narrow boundaries of fragmenting culturally defined identities.
In a society stripped of broad-based social contracts and narratives that focus on the structural forces dismantling democracy and social mobility, the Elites have a free hand to consolidate their own personal wealth and power and use those tools to further fragment any potential political resistance to their dominance.
The Elites have successfully revolted against the political and economic constraints on their wealth and power, and now the unprivileged, unprotected non-Elites are rebelling in the only way left open to them: voting for anyone who claims to be outside the privileged Elites that dominate our society and economy.
As long as the American public chooses to focus on individual liberation and consumerist expressions of “freedom,” the Elites will have a free hand politically and financially.
The Powers That Be excel at claiming they are busy reforming a broken system,even as they co-opt, water down or outlaw any real reform that threatens their concentrations of wealth and power: Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform.
Precisely what does individual “liberation” mean in a neofeudal society of indebted financial serfs?
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