The class war in the title is one found between neo-liberalism, governed by the elites and the native working class populists. The so-called elites work in in the corporate, financial, government, media and educational sectors.
The implicit theory of technocratic neo-liberalism is that Western societies are essentially classless societies in which the only significant barriers involve race and gender. Class is replaced by meritocracy; a meritocratic knowledge economy has replaced class-stratified bureaucratic managerial capitalism.
He makes the argument that technocratic neo-liberalism – is a disease – a path to “the hell of autocracy.” It sees itself as an elite of experts insulated from mass prejudice and ignorance. His view on this is that the greatest threat to Western democracy is the gradual decay of North America and Europe under well-educated, well-mannered and well-funded centerist neo-liberal politicians.He uses the example of Trump winning the US presidency as evidence of a metropolitan class that is profoundly out of touch with traditional working-class voters.
With the other side of the class war Michael Lind is not convinced by the populist proposition. He asks the question of whether populists in Europe and North America will succeed in overthrowing and replacing technocratic neo-liberalism. He answers it by saying ‘almost certainly nowt.’
Nonetheless, Michael Lind is sympathetic to populists – he argues that populist voters are only one constituency in pluralist societies. On their own he dismisses them as reactionary rather than being constructive. He breaks it down as counter –cultural – opposed to the establishment – a “heckler in the audience”; always an outsider.
Lind finds populism’s roots neither in direct economic hardship nor in white nationalism but rather in resentment of the cultural, political and economic hierarchy that oppresses middle- and working-class people today. He claims that over the past half-century, a new ruling class — of “managers” in global cities and other urban hubs, for whom “degrees are the new titles of nobility and diplomas the new coats of arms” — has “deprived much of the working class of effective voice or agency in government, the economy, and culture.”
This argument is undermined, certainly in the UK, by the wider take up of university education creating two tiers – those that my become what he describes as the ruling class, and those saddled with debt and a a non-graduate job. His answer to the class war is what he calls democratic pluralism. He argues that native and immigrant workers should unite and restore decision-making powers to the non-university-educated majority.
The difficulty with his argument is how narrow it is. Anyone in the highly university educated upper managerial class is by default part of the problem not the solution, irrespective whether they want to be part of a democratic pluralist movement. This objectively places an intellectual limitation on such a movement to thrive.
What Michael Lind has foresight to witness is the beginning of the breakdown of the traditional right and left; it is becoming about what he calls the insiders and outsiders – what I would call the enfranchised and disenfranchised. Michael Lind talks about working class as disenfranchised by a lack of bargaining power – leading to low wages. Our political systems are becoming increasingly fragmented with populism one part of a growing landscape.
An important part of his argument is what power is and how it is used. He defines power in society as being the economy, politics and culture. His problem with the managerial class is their abuse of power – they always find loopholes in regulation – which leads to a populist backlash. Whilst he quite rightly argues that only power can check power, regulation is only as good as the competent structures that manage it. It also requires integrity of those voted into power.
The power in the working classes has diminished. Institutions that used to magnify the power of working-class people – trades unions, local political parties and religious congregations – have all dissolved for different reasons. Power has siphoned upwards in the culture, politics and the economy,” he says.
He argues that the alternative to both technocratic neo-liberalism and demagogic populism is democratic populism. In his model pluralism is magnified by a tripartite representative set up: political, business and labour. Or even religious and cultural stakeholders. It is through mass membership organisations that working class gain representation.
Lind sees the future beyond the class war as either a cross-class democratic pluralist order or the triumph of one class over the other, which he regards as calamitous. Neoliberalism or populism would see a accumulation of power in a high caste society or a corrupt society. The reality is likely to be somewhere in between.
In reality, who joins a democratic pluralist movement will not be foretold by this book; the actual challenge is for these movements to spring up themselves with a power base in stakeholder organisations. In this sense the book feels more like a proposal for a class war problem rather than trend spotting. But a worthy –if divisive – one all the same.