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Brooks as Marxist

with 13 comments

So, David Brooks has an, um, interesting column today in the Times in which he encounters / poses as Karl Marx – in order to deliver to the even-minded readership of the sunday paper a quasi-Marxist sermon. Here’s the middle parts:

The educated class reaps the benefits of the modern economy –
seizing for itself most of the income gains of the past decades – and
then ruthlessly exploits its position to ensure the continued dominance
of its class.

The educated class has torn away from the family its sentimental
veil and reduced it to a mere factory for the production of little
meritocrats. Members of the educated elites are more and more likely to
marry each other, which the experts call assortative mating, but which
is really a ceaseless effort to refortify class solidarity and magnify
social isolation. Children are turned into workaholic knowledge workers
– trained, tutored, tested and prepped to strengthen class dominance.

The educated elites are the first elites in all of history to work
longer hours per year than the exploited masses, so voracious is their
greed for second homes. They congregate in exclusive communities walled
in by the invisible fence of real estate prices, then congratulate
themselves for sending their children to public schools. They parade
their enlightened racial attitudes by supporting immigration policies
that guarantee inexpensive lawn care. They send their children off to
Penn, Wisconsin and Berkeley, bastions of privilege for the children of
the professional class, where they are given the social and other
skills to extend class hegemony.

The information society is the only society in which false
consciousness is at the top. For it is an iron rule of any university
that the higher the tuition and more exclusive the admissions, the more
loudly the denizens profess their solidarity with the oppressed. The
more they objectively serve the right, the more they articulate the
views of the left.

OK, even-minded reader (like the Dad in those obnoxious tv ads the Times puts on – know what I mean?), this is a bit confusing isn’t it? What’s Brooks – who, after all, is the official mouthpiece of enlightened neo-conservativism at the paper of record – up to? You’re especially thrown by the strange, italicized conclusion of the piece:

I don’t agree with everything in Karl’s manifesto, because I don’t
believe in incessant class struggle, but you have to admit, he makes
some good points.

Bizarre. So, the "thinking man’s conservative" has turned Marxist – or almost. (Weird line that, about the "incessant class struggle" from a guy whose bread and butter is the "red/blue" divide in the US…)

Anyway. One of Atrios’s apprentices has put on her/his decoder ring so that you don’t have to:

There really is a class war (though Brooks doesn’t believe in it)!
But it’s not between the moneyed classes and everybody else; it’s
between those latte-sipping liberals in their ivory towers and
everybody else.

This seems just about right. Oldest play in Brooks’s book, right. He makes his living writing pieces that seem reasonible – even seem to contradict the party line that he’s purported to represent. But between the lines, when you look very closely, it’s always the case that somehow he’s pinned it all the more tightly on the left – or at least upon the coastal elites, the bobos, the hihis, the nynys… Whatever…

That’s absolutely what’s going on here. But still – begs the question doesn’t it – there’s a serious grain of truth in what Brooks is saying here… In the end, this is how the class system works in America, isn’t it?

When are the universities here going to wake up to the system that they’re entangled in, perpetuating.

It’s funny. When you’re on your way out of an "elite" institution, bound for a position at a state university, everyone slaps you on your back, tells you what a meaningful thing you’re doing. Teachers at "elite" insitutions complain all the time about the nature of the students – the "less than diverse" population.

Isn’t there anything more we can do about it than complain? Something more than applauding gratefully when we hear of a single-digit increase in minority enrollement (better all the time!). Brooks nails the financial aid alibi in the piece:

The median family income of a Harvard student is $150,000. According to
the Educational Testing Service, only 3 percent of freshmen at the top
146 colleges come from the poorest quarter of the population. The
educated class ostentatiously offers financial aid to poor students who
attend these colleges and then rigs the admission criteria to ensure
that only a small, co-optable portion of them can get in.

Why can’t we do something about this?  Why can’t the Harvard faculty start doing something about this? Like stop what we’re doing, along with all of the hallway nervous joking, and not come back until, I don’t know, everything’s changed…

Idle fantasy, I know… Here…

From a photo series a few days ago in the Times:

Specialist Jason W.
Huff, 28, joined the Guard after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. He
never much liked school, Specialist Huff said, recalling how his
father, a marine, disparaged a college education. "Dad would always
talk about the people who were from college, and he didn’t like them,"
he said. "He said they knew more about books than about the job." His
wife, Amy, carried their daughter, Karly, in seeing him off.

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 30, 2005 at 12:49 am

Posted in Current Affairs

13 Responses

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  1. For it is an iron rule of any university that the higher the tuition and more exclusive the admissions, the more loudly the denizens profess their solidarity with the oppressed.
    That is the truth in Cali, or at the very least, the beginning of it: the chi chi marxist and hypersensitive, auto-didactic phreak is in her birkies with her mac-kie and some galpals and tofu pasta and climbing gear and bob marley posters at UC Sapphic Cruz or Boikley, not in f-n CSU Fresno or Sac, where the bitches work at Wendy’s in the PM (or sell dope..or turn tricks) ..The proletariat is awarded value points by UC brahmins: a good blue collar white student from Sac is not equal to a good blue collar mexican student from say van nuys or oakland…Anyhoo it’s an old cliche, perhaps one well illustrated by Pynchon, that the UC che guevara of whatever race is albert gonzalez by his 40s . … .yet I do not think that entails attacking meritocracy as Brooks does, but affirming it on non-racial grounds, and also ramping up the UCs, getting more humans involved (including losers and older students–open admission should be the default position), getting rid of the ivy league gloss and priviledge……(delete please if this is too colloquial for ya)


    May 30, 2005 at 1:52 am

  2. Patrone – which would you take first, open admissions (which, yes, is something along the lines of what I’m talking about…) or the end of affirmative action? I’d argue that solving the class problem, the economic imbalance that skews or even renders impossible any sort of true “meritocracy,” would render the entire affirmative action debate a moot point.
    By the way – we could do with a lot less of the “sapphic” stuff – starting to sound like you have a hang up or something. Definitely fire away at marxism and marxists, ideologies, systems of thought, but steer clear of this sort of thing.
    Do you go to school in cal? which one?


    May 30, 2005 at 2:15 am

  3. Attended school, if I recall correctly, at CU Boulder and even managed to rate a 3.0 in their Beer and Cannabis marketing program…heh heh…I have taught in central valley and LA area as adjunct and substitute, and I have had enough run-ins with UC people–faculty and students–to say, well, the UC system is a tyranny verging on stalinism, and if you will excuse the cliche, a mockery of Jeffersonian and meritocratic ideals. Ending AA is a start: going to some admission based purely on standardized tests might result in the UCs –from El Lay to Boikley–full of asian students who mastered multivariate calculus by their junior year in high shcool, but so be it ( I don’t think a GPA, as long as it’s above say 3.0 or so, should be such a factor).
    If a tatted-up dude in his 30s from Burbank can pass the math or science entrance requirements, he should be just as f-n welcome in UCLA math classes as the nerds. The profiling is done at each stage of the “processing”-with letters of recommendation, writing samples, etc.–that is how the UCs discriminate. The matriculation-admission process is itself out of some nazi or stalinist nightmare. Apply by like December 15 (and pay a hundred o so shekels for each school applied) for the next fall? Deadlines, all these little bitch hoops that keep normal men out of the system but allow all the schoolmarmies-to-be in. Really I think class action lawsuits could be brought against the UCs (and other high ranking schools) for the admission process and associated bias.


    May 30, 2005 at 1:14 pm

  4. It’s not really a surprise that Brooks talks this way, is it, CR? The guys’s a neocon, a rightwing trotskyist, no? You’ve got him pegged exactly, and, I think you’re right: even with his faux populism, his success is a reminder that everyone’s aware in some fashion of the inescapable reality of class.
    Nicholas Lemann’s Big Test, btw, is great on the affinity between “meritocracy” and affirmative action– and the inadequacy of each.

    Sean McCann

    May 30, 2005 at 9:27 pm

  5. Sean,
    Yeah – the U of Chicago Civ course stuff is just dripping off of a column like this. Brooks did go to Chicago, right? (Did indeed – just checked – class of 1983…)
    I’ve been meaning to get a copy of Lemann’s book for awhile…


    May 30, 2005 at 10:36 pm

  6. Patrone –
    Yeah, the admissions process is an underlooked and hugely important part of skewing the “meritocracy,” isn’t it? I think you’re absolutely right about that. How can anyone with the slightest bit of contingency (family issues, money, housing, job, whatever) apply Dec 15 for something that starts September 1…


    May 30, 2005 at 10:39 pm

  7. Now wait a minute, Patrone. Seems to be that you come in guns blazing with the “ideological ad hominem” every once in a while too… “all too common to leftists and marxists”?


    May 30, 2005 at 11:48 pm

  8. Yes, of course, Patrone, Trotsky was not on the right to anyone except Stalinists. But Brooks and the neocons are on the right. There’s no argument about that. (If you don’t know Brooks’s politics, you haven’t been reading him. He makes no mystery of them.) There’s also no argument that a significant feature of the history of neoconservatism is the way its founding intellects moved from the antistalinist left to the right. Although there is argument about how to evaluate the transition, I think it’s not controversial to point out that the neocons preserved features of Trotskyist criticism (an interest in class, social processes, market dynamics, and cultural politics) even as they moved from left to right. That’s not ad hominem. It’s just intellectual history.
    I do have a hard time taking Brooks seriously myself, less because of his politics than because of simplistic and shallow arguments (a good number of which run: there are two kinds of people . . .). His ostensible populism is of a piece. He loves doing the red state/blue state thing. I think it’s faux for a number of reasons–one of which is that while he loves to mock cultural elites (and tends to assume that they’re Democrats), he doesn’t actually share values with the exurbans and patio men he celebrates as alternatives.

    Sean McCann

    May 31, 2005 at 3:30 pm

  9. Yes, of course, Patrone, Trotsky was not on the right to anyone except Stalinists.
    Well that’s just it: the terminology is misleading and takes over or dominates the discussion. Putting stalinists into the “leftist” category seems quite debatable. I would agree, I think, with what Putin said recently, that Stalin’s crimes are not equivalent to those of Hitler and the nazis. (Or at least many liberals hope that is the case). Yet he still seems rightist-militarist. If the right–or fascism–is in great part defined as militaristic, nationalistic, anti-libertarian, deniers of due process,etc.–then a Stalin is a fascist and rightwing, regardless if he tried to put into effect some marxist policies or was anti-clerical.
    Hitchens argues that he is the real leftist. I am not so sure. But if leftism implies in large part anti-clericalism (and being opposed to the tyrannies of Islam) then there is some basis for this claim. He also has argued for rather democratic if not socialistic economic strategies. SO I would not term Hitchens a neo-con.
    Obviously the American usage of many political terms is puzzling and non-traditional: an American republican is obviously far different from an Irish republican (or spanish). Not that the usual yankee moron knows this–he praises Jee-sus and finance capitalism and the military daily, really in opposition to traditional republicanism.
    So pardon my pretentiousness and the cheap semantics, but I am just skeptical of the ideological poker game that now is in session: in many ways Nixon, however heinous, was more liberal than say a Clinton; Harry Truman, in cotnrast to what Frau Coulter might claim was quite a rightist himself and possible even more the militarist than say Eisenhower. I try to assess the assholes by their actions, not by their assumed labels or categories.


    May 31, 2005 at 4:30 pm

  10. Sure terminology can be misleading or prejudicial, Patrone. But it’s also unavoidable. Brooks is on the right, and is glad to say he is. Much of his writing emphasizes the political conflict between right and left. It does him no injury to acknowledge this, or to assume that his editorial writing will seek to advance his political preferences.

    Sean McCann

    May 31, 2005 at 7:58 pm

  11. I like war, at least conventional type, when the sides are fairly evenly matched. The Baathists killed thousands, if not more. They invaded Kuwait; the Baathists and Iran have been involved in monumental bloodshed for years. The shiites would wipe America and Western Europe off the f-ing map if they could. Look at Soviet or Chinese troops movements and their “material”, their weapons, fight planes. Even North Korean has nearly as much military power as we do. The shit is on man, methinks. I say negotiate but if the communists and muslims dont want to negotiate then RAMP UP, and grow some spine, defend Thomas Jefferson if not Plato himself. Fuck Ralph Nader.
    The GOP I do not care for, but maoists and bloodthirsty muslims are far far worse.


    May 31, 2005 at 10:05 pm

  12. Whoa, Patrone, what happened? You were doing so well – and then this.
    You’re gonna have to calm down a bit…
    Where, exactly, are there any Maoists to fight? Like Nepal?


    May 31, 2005 at 10:30 pm

  13. A tidbit concerning Stalin and his rightwing orientation The Nature of Stalin’s Purges:


    June 1, 2005 at 11:33 am

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