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The outlook for the bobo ascendency

One issue raised by Brooks’s “bobos” (bourgeois bohemians, his new hip yuppie ruling class) is how long they’ll last in power. They do have some advantages:

  • They control the commanding institutions, and since the most influential of those institutions depend on skill at manipulating symbols, it seems likely that will last.
  • Mass education, mass communications, and the cult of expertise means that they always control the discussion of public issues.
  • They’ve got pretty much all the really bright, energetic, effective and ambitious people, and a system of rewards and punishments that usually keeps them pretty well in the groove.
  • They’ve been very effective at weakening non-bureaucratic and non-market forms of social organization, like nationality, religion, family, and particular culture. To give such things much credence today is to betray oneself as an ignorant and bigoted provincial. In much of the West it’s increasingly illegal.

Still, there are some issues:

  • Bobo education is designed to inculcate an artificial way of thinking that leaves out fundamental human concerns, understandings and connections. So there are aspects of life—religious and ethnic connections, for example—that institutions run by bobos can’t understand or deal with except by trying to eliminate them or anyway reduce them to optional lifestyle accessories.
  • The dependence on artificial ways of thinking means that some truths can’t be thought, as Larry Summers and James Watson have recently discovered. At some point insistence on false mythologies combined with government that presumes its own omnicompetence causes major problems. Unremitting mass third-world immigration combined with PC, multiculturalism, and affirmative action will no doubt provide us with more and more examples as the years roll by. The abolition of the family as a specific authoritative institution is providing others.
  • The type of education that creates the bobo makes people less able to run their own lives. They can’t do anything for themselves, because they’re not experts. As a result, all social functions have to channelled through formal institutions like bureaucracies and industries that can be supervised and regulated from above. The fate of the Soviet Union shows what the results can be.
  • Also, the conflict between the bobo outlook and reality means that most people won’t get much from bobo education apart from a general impression that traditional norms have been debunked and each should pursue his own goals within the limits of whatever the system needs to operate. So education won’t develop substantive competence and knowledge.
  • As Brooks points out, bobo status is not hereditary. That leads to a lot of parental agonizing. Normally, the members of a non-hereditary ruling class eventually find a way to make it hereditary and then it declines. Examples include the Mamluks in Egypt, the Janissaries in the Ottoman Empire, and the Carolingian comites and duces, who quickly turned into hereditary counts and dukes. Maybe the nomenklatura of communist countries provides another example. Our public life seems to be growing increasingly nepotistic. Who knows how far that may go?
  • Other forms of corruption are also possible and even likely. Careerism and a feeling of class superiority don’t seem enough to get people to sacrifice their own interests in the long run. Once started corruption pyramids. The EU is apparently quite corrupt, and intellectual and academic life have taken on some of the features of a racket, as Brooks’s book and other reports suggest.

All in all: the bobos claim the right to govern because they know more and they’re cosmopolitan and comparatively disinterested. In order to make that claim good they have to shrink the world and popular understandings to the limits of their kind of knowledge and moral understanding. That falsifies human life. Falsification of human life eventually causes problems for governing classes.

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Comments

“Our public life seems to be growing increasingly nepotistic. Who knows how far that may go?”

In The Bell Curve Herrnstein and Murray’s main argument was that in a fully meritocratic society a natural caste system would evolve at least to the extant that intelligence is heritable. It is not surprising that egalitarians are big fans of affirmative action as it is fundamentally non-meritocratic. We are left with the current ironical situation where the elites argue for merit in order to defend their prerogatives while the less affluent advocate a system of preference and privilege.

That is a fantastic observation.