Chris Hayes The Twilight of the Elites

This is probably the best book on politics I’ve read in a long time. I’d love to see an edition updated to include what Hayes has to say about the effect of the 2012 elections on his thinking.

Basically, Hayes has a new framework for American politics where people are divided not so much by left and right as they are by whether they are pro- or anti-institution. His case is brilliant showing that the massive failures of government (Iraq, Katrina), business (Enron, mortgage bubble), and cultural institutions (baseball steroids, catholic sex abuse) has made so many people distrustful of institutions and of consensus, both on the left and right.

I think this is brilliant and I think it expresses something I’ve been trying to put into a shorter capsule about why I’m mostly OK with things like drones, FISA, and so on and people just a few years younger than me are not having it, both right and left. Those people have no memory of a time when institutions were mostly trustworthy.

But I think that the answer is to fix the institutions and apply extreme force in doing so rather than simply erasing them. The latter path breeds chaos, and chaos breeds an knee-jerk craving for order. And then you have the coup/revolution cycle of so much of the rest of the world.

I think Hayes’s work is a great piece of writing and I think that even while it’s totally liberal it may be accessible to a broader audience since he “feels” the Tea Party impulse in the failure of institutions. I agree with all of his diagnoses.

Part of the difficulty of seeing this is that it’s easy to think that the right is the reactionary element in this country. That’s not entirely correct. They don’t want things “back the way they were”—some of them may think that, but there is no historical precedent in reality. They are a radical, revolutionary element that wants to subvert and destroy most of our institutions, especially in government.

Liberals, on the other hand, while “reactionary” sounds a bit odd, are, in fact, trying to repair a status quo ante. The radical left, which is a very small element in this country, does want to destroy our existing institutions and replace them, but the difference is that they have close to zero real power in the political world.

In this topsy turvy world, it’s somewhat hard to reconcile one’s activist liberal youth with the reality of needing to preserve institutions for the greater good and that actually being the activist thing to do.

 

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