The main idea of this book is that contemporary Western societies are in the middle of increasingly bitter Class War between Technological and Managerial elite and variety of populist movements representing working and lower middle classes that are hit hard by globalization, unrestricted immigration, free trade, have difficult time maintaining their place in society, and are continuously insulted by attacks against their culture, values, and religious believes. The outcome of this war could be either rule of oligarchy or demagoguery, either one highly detrimental to prosperity of population. However, author believes that there is an alternative: Democratic Pluralism, that would provide much better solution to all difficult problems.
It starts with characterization of events of 2016: British exit and Trump election as revolution. Author then proceeds to define revolution as change in three realms: government, the economy, and the culture. He then characterizes the 1st Class War in the West as result of industrialization some 150 years ago and pretty much ended with WWII when new relations in all three realms became established in form that author defines as democratic pluralism. Now globalization, outsourcing, and cultural changes destroyed this existing arrangement, alienated lower middle and working classes, so the new populist and its mainly demagogic leaders initiated new class war to change this. Author thus characterizes the current situation:” Demagogic populism is a symptom. Technocratic neoliberalism is the disease. Democratic pluralism is the cure.”
Chapter One: The New Class War
In this chapter author presents his understanding of the New Class War. First of all, it is not Marxists – because it has not cosmopolitan “Proletariat of the World”, but rather national: Americans, Brits, and others. Author then reviews intellectual history of class analysis: James Burnham, George Orwell, and John Galbraith. Author also refers to his own work to define what he calls overclass: managers and professionals, which started as meritocracy, but now increasingly turn into hereditary aristocracy. Author discusses the global character of this new class and contrasts it with national character of working and low middle classes.
Chapter Two: Hubs and Heartlands: The Battleground of The New Class War
In this chapter author looks at geographic battleground in USA. It is mainly division between coasts habituated by elite and parasitic classes living off the government either very well from huge handouts to elite “education”,” science”, and other form of political redistribution, or very poorly living miserably in inner cities on welfare and charity handouts. Author then analyses comparative level of productivity of coasts and heartland and concludes that much promoted high productivity of coasts is mainly illusion. He then discusses one interesting point – environmental regulations that provide coast elite with costless satisfaction from “saving the earth”, but cost a lot to people who actually use this earth to produce material staff that everybody needs from food to energy to everything else. Another point of contention – low skill immigration that provides cheap services and feeling of being noble humanitarians for elite, but represents price damping competitors for working class. Finally, author looks at numbers that demonstrate significant majority of non-elite comparing with elite and at rhetoric that demonstrate that drivers of conflict are not racism and/or bigotry, but rather material class interests.
Chapter Three: World Wars and New Deals
Here author turns to history of XX century with its national and class conflicts and discusses various class ideologies of this period: producerism, socialism in its various forms, corporatism, and general conflict between free market and statist ideas. Author discusses political methods of class wars expression such as mass parties, bureaucratic capture of government, and resulting from all this temporary settlement between classes achieved after WWII.
Chapter Four: The Neoliberal Revolution from Above
Here author looks at one of the most important causes of contemporary class war – Neoliberalism, which he defines this way:” Neoliberalism is a synthesis of the free market economic liberalism of the libertarian right and the cultural liberalism of the bohemian/academic left. Its economic model, based on global tax, regulatory, and labor arbitrage, weakens both democratic nation-states and national working-class majorities. Its preferred model of government is apolitical, anti-majoritarian, elitist, and technocratic.” He then reviews works of several writers that promoted this ideology beginning in 1970s, consequences of adaption of this ideology by ruling class, and concludes that it all amounted to the revolution from above resulting in “The triumph of technocratic neoliberalism over democratic pluralism”
Chapter Five: The Populist Counterrevolution from Below
Here author reviews attempt of counterrevolution from below to which he assigns anti-immigration movement in Germany, Ross Perot and Trump movements in America, Brexit movement in UK, and other similar movements. Author also provides here multiple polling results that shows change in demographics of working class, political parties realignment, for example free trade used to be republican issue and now is democratic one. Immigration used to be rejected by unions and now is supported by them. Author then discusses nature of populism as political movement and notes that it is inherently reactionary and therefore weak. Similarly, in culture populism became counterculture fighting against establishment, while old antiestablishment types became establishment themselves. The final part of the chapter is about history that demonstrated that in wars between oligarchy and populism oligarchy usually wins. Author’s conclusion is this chapter is that:” Populism is a symptom of a sick body politic, not a cure. In a formally democratic oligarchy, a nepotistic elite runs things for the benefit of its members most of the time. On the rare occasions when a demagogue is elected to office, he or she will be less likely to reform the system than to join the establishment or build a corrupt personal political machine, steering government patronage to supporters.”
Chapter Six: Russian Puppets and Nazis: How the Managerial Elite Demonizes Populist Voters
In this chapter author looks at demonization of populism by elite and reviews specific themes such as Russian collusion and other propagandist efforts by oligarchy. He reviews in some details tendency to see fascism everywhere and bring in pop-psychology of authoritarian personalities and such to explain populism. Author also refers, albeit briefly, to harmful populist demagogy, but concludes that fears of both sides exaggerated even if consequences of either side’s propaganda harmful. He makes the point that:” Only a new democratic pluralism that compels managerial elites to share power with the multiracial, religiously pluralistic working class in the economy, politics, and the culture can end the cycle of oscillation between oppressive technocracy and destructive populism.
Chapter Seven: The Workerless Paradise: The Inadequacy of Neoliberal Reform
Here author discusses various attempts to resolve this problem. Specifically, he looks at the theory of Skill-Based Technological Change (SBTC) and promoted by this theory expansion of STEM education, hopes to use relocation to high labor demand areas, even democratic socialism and such, but finds all of them lacking.
Chapter Eight: Countervailing Power: Toward a New Democratic Pluralism
In this chapter author moves to positive approach discussing real alternative – democratic pluralism:” The essential insight of democratic pluralism is that electoral democracy is a necessary but not sufficient condition for democracy. Because the wealthy and educated inevitably tend to dominate all parties, if only through their personnel, “territorial” representation must be supplemented (not replaced) by occupational or communal “social federalism” (to use the language of the English pluralists of a century ago). To this end, substantial areas of policy should be delegated to rule-making institutions, which must represent particular portions of the community, like organized labor and business in wage-setting sectoral bodies, or representatives of religious and secular creeds in bodies charged with oversight of education and the media. The territorial state, as the only entity with coercive authority, should exercise oversight of all institutions and intervene if necessary, to protect individual rights or other state interests. But in the democratic pluralist vision of democracy, the government in many areas should reign, not rule.”
After defining Democratic Pluralism author looks at various power centers of contemporary society that cold initiate movement away from Neoliberalism / Populism fight to the better solution.
Chapter Nine: Making the World Safe for Democratic Pluralism
Here author defines the New World order that he believes would be appropriate solution: “The democratic pluralist vision of a democratic world order is quite different from the technocratic neoliberal vision, with its powerful transnational rules combined with weak nation-states and legislatures.
For democratic pluralists, free and fair elections are a necessary but not sufficient condition for genuine democracy. A country run by an aristocracy or oligarchy is a democracy in name only, even if citizens are free to vote for competing aristocratic or oligarchic factions. According to democratic pluralism, electoral democracy in the political realm, narrowly defined, must be accompanied by power-sharing arrangements among classes and subcultures in the realms of the economy and the culture. These power-sharing institutions, like tripartite labor-business-government wage-setting institutions, need not resemble one-person, one-vote political democracy. But there must be social checks and balances in addition to political checks and balances. And decisions should be based as much as possible on hard-won and lasting consensus among negotiating parties, classes and creeds, not on fluctuating numerical majorities.
The democratic pluralist version of democracy necessarily puts great emphasis on national sovereignty—external sovereignty, not internal sovereignty. All of the various schools of thought that inform the democratic pluralist tradition—English pluralists, French solidarists, Catholic corporatists, and New Deal defenders of countervailing power in the broker state—reject the eighteenth-century idea of unlimited popular sovereignty shared by the American and French revolutions. For democratic pluralists, the state—usually a nation-state, but sometimes a multinational state or independent city-state—is not a mass of individuals to whom a general will can be attributed, but a community made up of smaller communities.
But while democratic pluralism rejects the idea of the unlimited internal sovereignty of any group, including “the People” as a whole, external sovereignty is indispensable. The reason is that the negotiations and compromises among communities that are the essence of democratic pluralism can only occur within the fixed boundaries of a political community with fixed membership. Cross-class compromises among labor and business, for example, are pointless if businesses can unilaterally annul the contracts at any time by transferring operations to foreign workers or bringing foreign workers into the country to weaken or replace organized labor. The various cross-class settlements in the US and Europe from the 1940s to the 1970s would not have been possible if employers had been able to use large-scale tax and regulatory arbitrage and offshoring and access to high amounts of low-wage, non-union immigrant labor to escape the constraints imposed on them by “new deals” with organized labor and democratic national governments.
For this reason, a world order that can support many countries organized along democratic pluralist lines will be quite different from a neoliberal world order in which most decision-making has been transferred from nation-states to supranational institutions or from national legislatures to national executive bureaucracies and judiciaries. Rejecting neoliberalism at the national level requires the rejection of neoliberalism at the global level as well. A world safe for democratic pluralism will not be a neoliberal world order.”
At the end author summarizes it this way:” MANAGERIAL ELITES ARE destined to dominate the economy and society of every modern nation. But if they are not checked, they will overreach and produce a destructive populist backlash in proportion to their excess. If there is not to be perpetual conflict among the two permanent classes of technological society, the new class war must come to an end in one of two ways. One possibility is that there will be a new cross-class compromise embodied in a new democratic pluralist order, providing the working-class majorities in Western nations with far greater countervailing power in politics, the economy, and the culture than they possess today. The alternative—the triumph of one class over the other, be it the overclass led by neoliberal technocrats or the working class led by populist demagogues—would be calamitous. A West dominated by technocratic neoliberalism would be a high-tech caste society. A West dominated by demagogic populism would be stagnant and corrupt.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I generally agree with author’s definition of the problem as government capture by technocratic elite that followed by regulations of all other institutions of society in the interest of elite at the expense of outsiders who are not only poor or lower middle-class members, but also upper middle-class and even rich such as Trump whose wealth was obtained by working in non-elite activities often over several generations of a family. I also agree that it could lead to serious backlash in form of populist movement led by demagogs. I even think that it could lead to violent revolution if government suppression in all its form, especially anti-white racism and elimination of the 1st and 2nd Amendments prove to be materially detrimental to wellbeing of non-elite majority. However, I do not find what author calls “Democratic Pluralism” to be effective remedy for the problem mainly because breakdown of society into functional communities that negotiate cross-class compromises would lead to situations when these compromises will be obtained at the expense of others not included into these communities. I do not think it would be possible, for example, return to big business/union negotiated settlement expanded across multiple countries just because countries are very different. Besides the automation is rapidly becoming much more important factor in pushing people out of jobs than cheap foreign labor. In my opinion the real solution could be found in pushing all interactions and cooperation down from the level of groups to individual level via use of government power to assure that resources material and intellectual accumulated over generations were available for individual control on equal basis for all, while resources created by individuals of current generation would be controlled by individual who created them. I guess author’s democratic pluralism means promotion of freedom on the level of groups smaller than government, while my solution would be promotion of freedom at individual level, when freedom includes availability of resources that would make this freedom applicable in real life.