Stop the presses! Josh Barro (NYC; B.A., psychology, Harvard) has an opinion.
Josh Barro (son of Robert Barro, Ph.D., economics, Harvard) has some more opinions.
Josh Barro gets paid to put his opinions in print. Jay Yarow (NYC; M.A., journalism, NYU) likes Josh Barro’s opinions.
So does Matty Glesias (DC; B.A., philosophy, Harvard).
Josh, Jay, and Matty, of course, are some of the most ‘privileged’ people in America. They’re very highly educated, you see. Josh has a little piece of paper that says “Harvard” on it, and that little piece of paper assures him that he will never be cast out among the poors, the middle Americans, the 2 Broke Girls viewers. But, you see, he earned it, by being the son of a Harvard man. A legacy. An aristocrat.
Have you ever met a minor aristocrat?
A minor aristocrat, that is, not someone like Donald Trump. Donald Trump is not a minor aristocrat. Donald Trump has serious money, and his father had serious money before him. No one with that much money needs to be insecure—and Donald Trump is not. His aesthetic is kitschy. His hair is kitschy. And he owns Mar-a-Lago, which was built by the richest woman in the United States. Donald Trump is an aristocrat—he’s good at making people forget it, but he is an aristocrat—but he’s secure in his position.
Josh Barro, on the other hand, is a snot-nosed kid who went to Harvard. What does he have? A piece of paper and a journalism gig. Is Josh Barro, who couldn’t tell Montana from Mongolia, a particularly talented journalist? Could he, in a double-blind test, outcompete the poors, the yokels, the disgusting average people of gross, inferior white America? If Josh Barro were hit by a truck, his bizarrely large ears and bilious guts splattered into a million giblets across the pavement of his coastal gated community, his blood separated from his veins and dripped into the sewers to ever so slightly increase the concentration of cocaine in the local water supply, would anyone care? No. Josh Barro, the minor aristocrat, is replaceable. He is privileged, but he is still insecure.
If you ever meet a minor aristocrat, insecurity will be the most obvious thing about him. It’s stamped on their round, Charlie Brown-like skulls in bright flashing letters. But they have their excuses. The minor aristocrat doesn’t shop at Walmart—not because it’s ‘low-class’; he opposes their labor practices, so he buys from Amazon instead. The minor aristocrat despises the white working class—not because he knows he might someday lose his privilege; he knows their hate is holding America back, so he says they’re all inferior, maybe even subhuman. The minor aristocrat invents an ever-expanding set of shibboleths and calls anyone who doesn’t master them Satanic (sorry, “fascist”)—not because he wants to distinguish himself from the yokels, but because justice demands it. And his shibboleths are bundled up as progressivism, socialism, Marxism, whatever sort of egalitarianism, and taught in private schools and prestigious colleges, so that only the privileged can learn them. As for Donald Trump—he’s not secure; he’s just a prole. The minor aristocrats are on top of the world.
If you ever meet a minor aristocrat, get him drunk, or at least angry. Wait for him to start fantasizing about rounding up the Republicans and slaughtering them, burning down the South with everyone in it, herding Christians into gas chambers. I’ve met my share of that lot, and they usually do. Sometimes they don’t bother trying to hide it. Brian Leiter, a disgraced law professor who once tried to insult me by calling me a “DMCA violator”, has repeatedly compared conservatives to the Taliban, labeled them “brain-dead”, “disgusting”, and “bits of slime”, and called—twice!—for their mass imprisonment. And then there’s Josh Barro. This isn’t your garden-variety performative internet bile; I’ve heard some minor aristocrats take even worse lines in real life. The worst ones are the most assured and the least secure—the second-generation Harvard graduates so sure that they’re part of the ‘elite’ and the first-generation Brahmin converts from flyover states, who fantasize about things like—and I am not making this up—holding banjo burnings to ‘protest racism’ or refusing to eat fried chicken because it’s associated with the South, and what would The Left think?
Leiter recently quoted the postmodernist professor Richard Rorty’s 1997 prediction that the “old industrialized democracies” would have a new Weimar period:
Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. …
At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …
All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.
“Badly educated” is an interesting phrase, especially in this context: it contrasts with “college graduates”. To Rorty, these are the two opposing sides of a binary. The “badly educated”, i.e. the bad, are people who aren’t college graduates. Graduating from college is a spiritual transformation: the student is born again in the Spirit of Education, and transformed into a graduate—who is increasingly the only sort of person deemed worthy of even a job. And “education” is something one is socialized into: the student’s spiritual transformation is brought about by spending four years in a separate environment controlled by the Highly Enlightened, the most Spiritually Transformed of them all; and going to lots of lectures (sermons) and studying lots of books—especially the favored canon (holy texts, although the word “canon” itself originally meant “Church law”)—often while sleep-deprived (suggestible), and often getting drunk (becoming more suggestible) or using drugs (becoming more suggestible) in the off-hours; and, in exchange for access to these separate environments controlled by the Highly Enlightened, giving them lots and lots of money.
If we apply the usual tools of materialist analysis, we find that, since the Highly Enlightened exert influence over their students, and since the students pay the Highly Enlightened lots and lots of money to attend their cult compounds universities, the Highly Enlightened have a strong incentive to justify their position ideologically (by, for example, setting up a binary opposition between the virtuous “college graduates” and the unvirtuous “badly educated”) and materially (by turning their certificates of Spiritual Transformation into certificates of ideological ability to hold a job), and that this incentive is shared by the elite, who have the money and the connections to get themselves and their children into the most Spiritually Transforming cult compounds universities of all, and especially by the bankers, who provide loans (which are undischargeable and which minors can legally sign for) to seekers of Spiritual Transformation.
Strangely, this point seems to go unmade in academia. Even Freddie deBoer thinks ‘free’ college is a reasonable economic-leftist position. Presumably, one is to question everything except the institutions telling you to question everything…
But we could always question the idea that an education is something you get by sitting in a room in college, that a degree is a mark of Spiritual Transformation that ought to be required of everyone who wants a job, and that minor aristocrats like Josh and Jay and Matty are #important #thinkfluencers, not nervous snot-nosed manchildren pushing the interests of their class as hard as they can in the desperate hope that they can hold onto their position.