I have been meaning to comment on this recent David Brooks column in which he expresses discomfort with the fact that professional and economic success has come to essentially crowd out all competing hierarchies in the culture, be they traditional notions of piety or the working class pride that once signaled a distinct proletarian culture in the United States. One cannot be helped but be a bit astonunded at the intellectual bad faith (although it is a Brooks specialty) at the heart of this argument -- Brooks is a University of Chicago graduate and a lifelong conservative Republican, who as a youth threw his lot in with the "Reagan Revolution." What other outcome did he expect from the faith he adopted as a young man?
The rise of conservatism from the 1980s through the present has been fueled throughout by the worship of the market as the ultimate arbiter of things, the cult of efficiency, of (allegedly) heroic entrepeneurialism, and the need for an unfettered capitalism have been at the very heart of this endeavor from the start. And although lip service was paid to piety and to the virtues of "real" i.e. working class, Americans, the conservative movement has fought an unrelenting war against anything like genuine working class consciousness, while exiling as well religious notions of social justice, opting instead for a kind of traditionalist religious authoritarianism as a useful political tool for organizing the rubes. Right wing evangelical churches stood not in opposition to money, but in alliance with it, a phenomenon most grotesquely illustrated via the "prosperity gospel" preachers and churches.
The destruction of unions -- a goal of the right forever and one that has come close to fruition -- has left the nation's working class -- particularly of the white male variety -- with little in the way of positive cultural identity at this point. Hard but skilled physical work, once a source of pride, is a continuously devalued commodity, one the market presses day after day to be cheaper and more effiicient. It is the province of suckers, endlessly replaceable and lucky to have what the job creators deign to throw their way.
But how could it be otherwise, when the accumulation of wealth and the veneration of those who have it is the centerpiece of our politics? And how can anyone on the right express surprise or dismay that it has come to this? Things have gone exactly as they hoped -- why doesn't Brooks see that and look upon his creation with satisfaction?
The inherent destructiveness of naked capitalism, its disregard for security, dignity, traditon, and morality, really should not be shocking to anyone, particularly those who proclaim themselves "conservative." And yet all manner of right wing political observers -- Brooks, Douthat, Dreher among others -- seem puzzled and uncomfortable that what their political allies have wrought is ugly and unstable, destructive of family life, inimical to human dignity, and conducive to a vapid and trivial culture.
I recently had the pleasure of attending the apprenticeship graduation of one of my clients. Union members and their employers got together to celebrate the age old advancement of these young people into journeymen status at their craft, the kind of work that has been a source of pride and succor for generation upon generation. The message to these young men was that they had mastered something that will give them a career, skills that no one can take away from them. But, of course I thought grimly, that doesn't mean these skills can't be deeply devalued or rendered obsolete -- because that's the dream isn't it? To get everything more cheaply and more profitably. Mammon has kicked God's ass. Brooks should be happy.