A kick up the meritocrats

THE REVOLT OF THE ELITES and the Betrayal of Democracy by Christopher Lasch, Norton £16.95

THE soul sinks at the sight of yet another American book proclaiming the virtues of that most slippery of concepts, "the community". Don't the publishers realise that Britain is not America? That Britain's difficulties, class structure, myths and culture are not and cannot be the same as America's? But once inside Christopher Lasch's angry and untidy attack on the separation of the new rich from society, written while the best-selling polemicist was in the last stages of leukaemia, the sense of being patronised fades.

Most "communitarian" works, whatever the political affiliations of their authors, slip with suspicious ease from talking about the problems of society as a whole to lamenting the awfulness of the poor. In Britain, the middle-class feminist left condemns poor, young men for causing crime and failing to mature into useful citizens (the unmarriageable brutes), while the middle-class right condemns poor, young women for having babies and living on benefit (the promiscuous scroungers).

Lasch targets this symmetry between lite attitudes of left and right. Managerial and professional lites are not so much a new ruling class, he writes, because that would imply that they led society, however badly, and participated in its institutions. Rather their aim is to separate themselves from the community: "They have more in common with their counterparts in Brussels or Hong Kong than with the masses of Americans not yet plugged into the network of global communications."

In the process, they have dev-eloped a contempt for any obligations to the rest of society, and an idealistic belief that their wealth will continue to grow regardless of what happens to the rest of their country.

The unreality of high bourgeois life is summed up for Lasch by the cult of working out, which he hates with a passion. "While young professionals subject themselves to an arduous schedule of physical exercise and dietary controls designed to keep death at bay - to maintain themselves in a state of permanent youthfulness, eternally attractive and remarriageable - ordinary people accept the body's decay."

Rich liberals are just as cut off from the society around them. Frightened of talking about class, they concentrate on policies of "positive discrimination" for women and blacks and censoring their opponents rather than arguing with them.

We are so used to giving unthinking support to meritocracyx and careers open to talents, that his attack is shocking and original. He does not merely repeat the old socialist line that the vast majority of people born poor can never become millionaires (and vice versa), but adds that the very notion of meritocracy has devalued respect for physical labour and craftsmanship. No one who wants to get on becomes a good carpenter. There's no money or status in it. The economic consequences of this misplaced contempt can be all too clearly seen in America and, indeed, Britain.

Often, however, his analysis is all over the place and there's precious little in the way of facts and figures to back his arguments up. There is a long and ponderous chapter on American state schools which criticises them for not teaching politics and religion and for cutting children off from the adult world. He suggests they should be abolished. But to be replaced by what? He doesn't say.

He condemns secular liberals for despising religion as the source of intolerance, when, he argues, faith challenges complacency and promotes responsibility. This misses the point. Most atheists are atheists not because they hate religious dogmatists, but because ever since Darwin it has been impossible to believe in the truth of any holy book you care to mention.

The Revolt of the Elites falls away the further into the book you get - perhaps the author's illness is to blame. It is worth reading nevertheless. Lasch will leave no disciples; there will be no school of Laschian thinkers. But the next time I hear a Conservative frontbencher explaining how the free market will promote prosperity or a Labour frontbencher explaining how imposing well-heeled women candidates from London on provincial constituency parties will promote equality, I will also hear Christopher Lasch's snorts of derision in the background and think fondly of him.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash