A return to real pluralism?

Michael Lind, in The New Class War, would like to bring back something like the pluralistic system that prevailed from the Second World War into the 1970s. But how realistic is that approach?

(Image: dylan nolte | Unsplash.com)

We live in a society that has become increasingly divided. On one side we have technocrats. These include the rich, powerful, and well-positioned, as well as the ambitious and credentialed people who serve and want to join them. Their rule is supported by various people—members of ethnic or lifestyle minorities, unmarried people and others with loose social connections—who find that the traditional and local attachments common in America don’t work for them and look to formal public institutions for support.

Across a great divide we have the deplorable bitter clingers that President Obama and Secretary Clinton used to complain about. These are people who are less oriented toward career and abstract freedom than the everyday habits and connections that have normally been ordered by tradition, transcendent loyalties, and settled social relationships.

The first class has overwhelming political and economic power. That power is increased by policies that weaken customary attachments, like mass immigration and enforced “inclusiveness,” and by indoctrination and disruption of traditional culture carried on by the education, culture, and media industries.

Several conservative writers have recently written about aspects of this situation. Charles Murray notes that the position of low-status whites has been declining because the habits and connections they once lived by are losing their force. Rod Dreher and Patrick Deneen say people who don’t like the direction our rulers are taking us need to build local communities that enable them to live more in accordance with their aspirations. And R. R. Reno advises our governing classes that their campaign to get rid of traditional connections in the name of inclusion and tolerance has gone too far and should be given up.

This discussion has now been joined by Michael Lind, a one-time conservative who more recently has worked with liberal publications such as the New Republic. His recent book, The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite (Portfolio/Penguin, 2020), discusses the situation from his own democratic nationalist point of view.

Lind’s big concern is class, which he says is still with us. Now as always it passes down through the generations, and whatever class is dominant uses its position to its own benefit. He doubts that situation will ever change. He thus rejects the Marxist expectation that at some point the people will establish a classless society, as well as our rulers’ claim that meritocracy has given us one already.

The latter claim is obviously self-serving. It tells us that the people at the top deserve everything they have, and the deplorables have nobody to blame but themselves. Further, their preference for settled habits and local connections is the source of the racism, sexism, and general bigotry that (we are told) is the only real flaw in an otherwise just and meritocratic system.

So the deplorables are a problem, for themselves and everybody else. If we were all managers and professionals totally oriented toward career, money, consumption, and political correctness, there would be utopia. Such is the belief, and our rulers have decided to deal with the situation through education and indoctrination, programs that promote things like diversity in STEM, and the continual mass immigration that is making aging non-elite whites more and more irrelevant.

Lind, an heir to the tradition of New Deal liberalism, finds it outrageous for our smug and prosperous elites to divide a troubled and increasingly diverse working class on racial and sexual lines so their woes can be blamed on the white men among them. And he has nothing but contempt for claims that populist resistance to the neo-liberal program of free trade, free migration, and free love amounts to incipient Nazism promoted by Vladimir Putin.

But what to do? Not everyone is going to become a professional. Payoffs to the discontented don’t deal with basic problems. People talk of distributism, but modern industrial organization isn’t going away. State administration in the interests of the people won’t work as intended because it leaves the people powerless. And populism is reactive and unprincipled, so it’s not going to work either.

Instead, Lind would like to bring back something like the pluralistic system that prevailed from the Second World War into the 1970s. That system limited upper class power through strong popular institutions. In the economy, unions and farmers’ associations offset the power of wealth; in politics mass parties rooted in local politics and dominated by power brokers offset the inevitable advantages of the well-educated, well-connected, and well-funded; and in cultural matters religious and civic organizations pressured culture-forming institutions like Hollywood to limit their disruption of established connections and ways of life.

From the standpoint of today’s growing class divide that period looks like the good old days. But how would it all work? As Lind suggests, the system that arose during the Second World War and continued during the postwar years had a lot to do with worker solidarity—a.k.a. social cohesion—and Realpolitik. It existed because workers were aware of common interests, and the ruling classes felt the need for national unity in the face of foreign conflict.

But today the common interests among workers are less obvious. Modern information and communications technology disaggregates economic activity by making decentralized microarrangements possible. Instead of large masses of men working side by side at a single location we have myriads of contractors in widespread fluid networks of production and distribution. That situation would make for much less worker solidarity even if the process were less globalized.

Nor does the challenge of economic competition from e.g. China seem as strong a motivation for national unity as hot and cold war prosecuted by powerful and ruthless enemies—especially when influential people today are perfectly happy to ally themselves with our opponents if it seems personally advantageous to do so.

A final problem for Lind’s dream is that man does not live by bread alone. That’s especially true for non-elite people without all-consuming careers and without resources to devote to refinements of consumption, and who look upon a job as a way to provide for their and their families’ practical needs. So working class solidarity will have to involve aspects of life that have little to do with economics.

In other words, it will require common culture among the workers. Lind seems to understand this, with his comments on the necessity of immigration restrictions for the system that emerged in the 1940s, and his emphasis on organizations like the Legion of Decency in culture, and Catholic ethnics in unions and urban politics.

But where is that common culture today? Labor unions aren’t even run by workers any more, nor are the leaders of religious organizations culturally representative of their members. They’re all run by the sort of people who run things today, who have more in common with their fellow managers and technocrats than those they claim to lead.

A generally cooperative system also depends on a ruling class that has some sympathy with the outlook of ordinary people, or at least doesn’t hold them and their outlook in open contempt. As Lind notes, in the old days upper class people were often Knights of Columbus or supporters of the Boy Scouts. Their social values were rather like those of the people at large. As Lind also notes, that’s changed radically.

So what should public-spirited Catholics support in such unfavorable circumstances? All the writers I have mentioned help us understand the situation, but the practical problems their proposals raise dramatize the limitations of specifically political activity. And the Wuhan virus is multiplying uncertainties for all political strategies.

But the basics remain. To deal effectively with human reality we must understand humanity. So today as always, the most important thing the Church can do is change fundamental understandings of man and the world. What we need is not better strategies and policies so much as a better understanding of the world, one that recognizes man’s transcendental dignity as well as his natural, historical, and cultural dimensions. When we have that we can talk effectively about what to do. Without it we are lost.

An adequate understanding of the world is something that today only the Church can provide. Everyone else has forgotten too much. But she can provide it only if she acts as the Church rather than just another NGO. She helps redeem the time by referring us to what is beyond time. That is now more true than ever.


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About James Kalb 103 Articles
James Kalb is a lawyer, independent scholar, and Catholic convert who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of The Tyranny of Liberalism(ISI Books, 2008) and, most recently, Against Inclusiveness: How the Diversity Regime is Flattening America and the West and What to Do About It (Angelico Press, 2013).

13 Comments

  1. This is Kalb’s best contribution yet to Catholic World Report. He concludes that “She [the Church] helps redeem the time by referring us to what is beyond time.”

    The CONUNDRUM, however, is how to (a) REDEEM the time, by (b) advancing a legitimate “POLYGON” Church? With the vertically-transcendent, there are also a lot of useful and risky angles to consider.

    In addition to the risk of flattening into just another NGO, other more subtle geometrics might lurk under the four keystone “principles” of Evangelii Gaudium (2013). These principles leaven toward a better future (Kalb’s “return to real pluralism”?) but what, too, about the universal “law of unintended consequences”?

    Is “time is greater than space” ever at risk of flattening into Historicism?

    Is “unity prevails over conflict” ever at risk of flattening into Managerialism?

    Is “realities are more important than ideas” ever at risk of flattening into Nominalism?

    Is “the whole is greater than the part” ever at risk of flattening into Proportionalism and Consequentialism?

    • Mr. Beaulieu, the conundrum you speak about has its roots in the SPLITTING of our close relationship with God in Genesis, with the offer of the absolute-power-that-corrupts-absolutely (APTCA), “You will be like gods!” (Genesis 3:5). That APTCA is always lurking inside every criminal activity and every sinful act in one way or another, to one degree or another. APTCA blocks the synthesis that you speak about and that we so badly need today and always, in our personal lives and in our national and world societies. Submission and obedience to God is Holistic Freedom and Synthesis but we live in its ever-growing opposites.

      APTCA lives at the core of the Extreme Liberalism/Marxification/Islamification so rabidly promoted today. Fighting that three-headed serpent is essential for Holy Synthesis. By doing that we also are fighting the most extreme and grotesque versions of the fragmentation, compartmentalization and splitting of human thought and feeling that the Ancient Greeks initiated in all civilizations afterward, a great instrument back then but a poisonous crutch right now. The greatest irony is that Ancient Bible Hebrew thought and feeling was mostly holistic (God’s clear influence no doubt).

      Jesus Himself manifested as the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God all throughout His earthly life, both sides working in harmony at the very same time, every time, with no contradiction or opposition ever between them. That’s how and why He perfectly adapted His actions and responses to each individual situation and person. As the article states, it is that Catholic Church Holy Legacy (Tradition) connected directly to Jesus Christ, the Infinite Synthesizer, that will allow us to make societal synthesis where, as you say, none seems possible. God is not fractured, WE ARE. Unconverted/partially converted, fragmented humans only create more fragmentation and division.

      Sin is the problem, Jesus the Solution. We have lived way too long in analysis, the time for God’s Holy Synthesis in Christ has come!! “He is before all things, and in him all things hold TOGETHER”, (capitals added) (Colossians 1:17). For this, I suggest the reading of all of Saint Paul’s letters and the Gospel of John; holy synthesis is strong in them. Also, by centering in the Heavenly Father through these resources: “Consecration to St. Joseph” by Father Donald H Calloway and “33 Days to Greater Glory” by Father Michael E. Gaitley. In The Father is our Truest Identity and total synthesizing salvation from Fractured Hell, (2 Corinthians 1:3).

      • Thank you, Phil. Regarding the “partially converted” whom you mention and the four points I raise, and even prior to any revelation, there’s the self-evident and non-demonstrable “first principle of non-contradiction.”

        With this principle in mind, and thinking in terms of geometric analogies (polygons, ellipses, whatever), there are too many square circles bouncing around. Otherwise, see my focused response to Jan Dennis, below.

        • You’re welcome, Peter. I DO appreciate your analyses, very much indeed. Your analyses are very instructive and very illuminating. At the same time, we can lean dangerously toward paralysis through very intense analysis, forgetting the synthesis that God uses to make the impossible become possible. He is God, not us. As an example, I have heard many times from insiders in the Catholic Schools, given the high costs and all kinds of problems, regulations and barriers, that such Catholic schools should not exist. Yet, they do.

          By the same token and including a thorough analysis of the huge number and variety of crises, insider sin and grievous crimes, the very Catholic Church should not exist either. Even Jesus had His Judas Iscariot and His Usain Bolt-beating running Apostles. The First Christians had many inside and outside crises. The Catholic Church, under careful analysis of its History, should not exist. Yet, here we are, for God’s Glory. Today, with all the Pachamamarian Voodoo, Priestly crisis, corrupt and compromising prelates, the push for women in Clergy, etc., etc. etc., we should be half a rabbit hair away from total obliteration into another Protestant Supermarket Denomination or much worse.

          Looking back again, we should have never survived 8 bad Popes but, by the Grace of God, we did. Analysis shows that, as you describe them so well, with so many corrupt philosophies, bureaucratic and humanistic nonsense and deranged theologies consistently infecting the Church, we should have collapsed long ago. I am a revert, coming back to a Church that looks just like a huge hypocritical mess. Yet, I came back for JESUS, undiluted in the True Catholic Faith, and not for the mess or the messy people. Let’s keep the analyses going while we integrate them with the Synthesis of True Faith. During the storm, Peter started to sink by analyzing his situation, Jesus hand extended and rescued him by the Synthesis of Trust (Matthew 14:27-32). (A Return To Real Pluralism?)

  2. @ Peter D. Beaulieu: I agree that this is a very fine contribution by Kalb. I struggle, however, with a “POLYGON” Church characterized by the “four keystone ‘principles’ of Evangelii Gaudium.” Indeed, it seems to me that the Church has always already fallen into the pitfalls of Historicism, Managerialism, Nominalism, and Proportionalism/Consequentialism whenever She is constituted along such lines.

    • As a lay peasant (non-clericalist!) in such matters, I CANNOT DISAGREE with you. The polygon-thing is at best an enigma—conflated, I think, with the prescient move of elevating more cardinals from the periphery.

      Other than the “polygon” paradigm-shift, in Pope Benedict XVI’s less corruptible portrayal, the collegiality of bishops is more on an ELLIPSE having two focal points, the primacy and the episcopacy—rather than being a mimic of either a political monarchy or a democratic national assembly. (Ratzinger/ Benedict XVI, God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition and Office [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008], 15-22).

      Even the several national Catholic CONFERENCES of bishops do not qualify as presumptive church parliaments, e.g., the mongrel “synodal path” in pre/post-Catholic Germania. (One could even say rump parliaments, pun intended!)
      National conferences of bishops exist rather to support “the inalienable responsibility of EACH BISHOP in relation to the universal Church and to his particular Church” So said, St. John Paul II (Apostolos Suos, “On the Theological and Juridical Nature of Episcopal Conferences, May 21, 1998, n. 24, referencing the authentic Extraordinary Synod of Bishops convened on the twentieth anniversary year of the Second Vatican Council, 1985, caps added).
      Beyond a few narrowly defined exceptions: “the competence of individual diocesan Bishops remains INTACT; and neither the Conference nor its president may act in the name of all the Bishops unless each and every Bishop has given his own apostolically grounded consent” (Code of Canon Law, Canon 455:4, cited in Apostolos Suos).

      The “EXCEPTIONS” noted in the text are either (1) unanimity (e.g., in Germania, not a single dissenting bishop, yes?), or (2) a two-thirds vote of the bishops (any accreted lay groups are not part of the Apostolic Succession, yes?) combined with confirming action (not merely silence, yes?) by the whole Church (more than one polygon-face conference of bishops plus, hypothetically, say, the Secretariat of State, yes?).

      Again, I am not an expert in these matters, merely a captive-audience layman not yet flattened into real-time AMNESIA.

  3. Wow those last two paragraphs knocked me out! You think there is enough cohesion the the Church now to offer an understanding of the world and man place in it ? You can find priests or bishops or bible teachers or Catholic schools that will teach that?
    “ one that recognizes man’s transcendental dignity as well as his natural, historical, and cultural dimensions. “. Great intellectually, but where are the apostles and teachers to pull it off. They are elsewhere. We have a bare hope…

    • From a sociological standpoint the Church is in very bad shape. Even so, she has an unbreakable link with the most basic realities through her sacraments and doctrine, and they are what win ultimately.

  4. Thank you Mr. Kalb for the excellent article. A friend of mine who is a recent convert to Christianity, (Methodists), are actually using this time to have virtual daily prayer and bible study groups. He emailed me recently and he said this time of pandemic is actually strengthening his faith. To him it is a reminder to all 8 billion people on the planet that God can wipe out the entire human race with just one of his microscopic creations if the wickedness of humans persist. He talked about his mainly Chinese-American and Chinese from China prayer group and discussion they had regarding the fact that Communist China is home of the greatest genocide ever witnessed and never discussed through its one child policy and the possibility of this pandemic being a warning from God to never willfully accept state sponsored abortion or any number of evils passing as norm in our current world. Food for thought, oh well, the best my family can do is pray and trust in the Holy Spirit as we as a world stumble ever closer to repeating the days of Noah.

  5. The author’s concern about immigration seems to be narrowly focused on its effect on the people he describes as aging, white, non-elites. Does this mean that the author dates back to when immigrants, on the whole, became less white? I am not suggesting the author is being racist, I am just trying to understand what is behind the “threat” he ascribes to aging, white, non-elites. And isn’t the author pitting white, non-white and immigrant non-white workers against each other much like his accuses “elites” of dividing workers along “sexual” (does the author mean sexual orientation?) and “racial” lines? We are a country of immigrants and descendants of immigrants. Our “place” is alongside new immigrants who enter the country with the same hopes and aspirations as we and our own immigrant ancestors had and have. Likewise, that we are a freer, more tolerant, more open society allowing people to make choices that differ from traditional ones in no way prohibits anyone from continuing to make them. There is no reason that those who follow strict traditional structures can’t live side-by-side those who choose different ones. Corinthians tells us that we, the many, throughout the earth, are one bread, one body, no more gentile or jew, servant or free, woman or man. Embracing that reality brings us closer to Christ’s message and Christ. We have nothing to fear.

    • Man is a social animal. That means he does best living a common life with others in a settled society sharing a common culture. As a result, large-scale continuous immigration imposes costs, especially on less advantaged people.

      The main cost I mention in the piece (there are others) is that their relative social influence is reduced, because they become proportionally fewer in number, and because increasing diversity makes it harder for (e.g.) workers and other ordinary people to organize and defend their interests.

      In a time of general disaffection and steadily increasing inequality it seems sensible to talk about these issues.

  6. I would note that the reason most of Clinton’s deplorables were listed as such is because they wouldn’t fall in line with her ideas to control society and its people much the same as Marxism. She had no problem with her rich donors that were nothing more than wanna be sycophants for her ambitions. My wife’s family is Chinese who left the country one step ahead of Mao and his army of murderers. She is quite familiar with control freaks and today will buy nothing Chinese if given a choice.

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