No one likes having their family skeletons dragged out of the closet to be hung up for closer inspection by all the neighbors. This is nowhere so true as it is among modern liberals; being finger pointers, they prefer to analyze the other guys. But Fred Siegel, skeleton-rattler extraordinaire, has written a fine
take-down genealogical examination of 20th century leftist liberalism. You know, those sterling folks who truly believe government is your friend.
Some books are transformative. Dr. Siegel’s The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class is one of them [a further discussion of some of the others will be included in Part 2 of this essay].
Here is a brief snip from The Introduction (you know, the part you can see on Amazon where you’re allowed to “Look Inside”) [the emphases are mine – D]:
This book is not a comprehensive history of American liberalism. A number of important figures and episodes are merely glossed over. Instead, it rewrites the history of modern American liberalism. It shows that what we think of liberalism today – the top-and-bottom coalition we associate with President Obama – began not with Progressivism or the New Deal but rather in the wake of the post-World War One disillusionment with American society. In the Twenties, the first writers and thinkers to call themselves liberals adopted the hostility to bourgeois life that had long characterized European intellectuals of the left and the right. The aim of liberalism’s founding writers and thinkers – such as Herbert Croly, Randolph Bourne, H.G. Wells, Sinclair Lewis, and H. L. Mencken – was to create an American aristocracy of sorts, to provide the same sense of hierarchy and order long associated with European statism.
[…] Critical of mass democracy and middle class capitalism, liberals despised the individual businessman’s pursuit of profit as well as the conventional individual’s self-interested pursuit of success, both of which were made possible by the lineaments of the limited 19th- century state.
Snobbery is not new to liberalism. But the actual history of liberalism will be new to most readers, which is my reason for writing this book.
It’s important to have an author speak plainly about his motives. As he says later in this introduction, the story of liberalism as told by liberals “isn’t quite true at beginning middle or end”…
…But that’s what we’ve come to expect of the Left, isn’t it? “Fake but accurate” is their defense for otherwise indefensible prevarications in those typical the-ends-justify-the-means attacks they employ to reach their goal of fabricating a one-size-fits-all reality. Not that they ever plan to wear these higher truths in place of their bespoke couture. Such costumes are meant for us, whom they perceive as the bitter-clinger lower forms of Boobus americanus (that’s H.L. Mencken’s term for the middle class. Mencken is one of the
villains liberals Dr. Siegel drags out of the closet in this book. And Mencken is everything you’ve come to expect in someone of his persuasion: misanthropic to the max, filled with loathing for anyone who made his living on Main Street).
The short message in Dr. Siegel’s book? Liberals are snobs.
His slightly longer message? Liberals are also reverse snobs: they love the lowest classes – not as individuals, of course (they don’t actually know any) but as an entitled class. Liberals are certain that their cherished tenets of liberalism have a cure for poverty, despite the repeated failures of their applied unguents. A large part of that cure is eliminating the horrific middle class – especially the conservative parts of it, those sections which dare to name themselves and haven’t the decency to shut up and go away.
Ah, if only…
Here is a brief review from the earlier, hardcover edition published last year:
“The roots of American liberalism are not compassion but snobbery. So argues historian Fred Siegel in The Revolt Against the Masses. Siegel traces the development of liberalism from the cultural critics of the post WWI years to the gentry liberals today, and he shows how the common thread is scorn for middle-class Americans and for America itself. This is a stunningly original —and convincing— book.”
— Michael Barone, senior political analyst at The Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics 2014
Below is the fourth part of an on-going interview series with Steven Hayward of Power Line. Here, Dr Siegel says that this work is indeed his summa. In a brief preface to his posting of this fourth part of the interview, Mr. Hayward says this:
In his latest book Revolt Against the Masses, Fred Siegel offers a novel explanation for the roots and character of modern liberalism—one that differs substantially from my own in many ways. On page 28 of the book he says, “Modern liberalism was born of a discontinuity, a rejection of Progressivism.” In this installment of our conversation, Fred explains some key parts of his argument here, and he makes a good case that we’ve overlooked liberal intellectual developments of the 1920s, which he thinks set the stage for the “New Left” of the 1960s—in other words, the so-called “New Left” was really a Very Old Left. (Nota bene: The paperback edition of Revolt Against the Masses, which includes some new material,
comescame out on Tuesday.)
This section of the interview did not flow as smoothly as others I’ve seen…
…Maybe it’s the venue: Dr. Siegel seems distracted. There is a fifth part, which I’ll include in my next post about The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class
In writing about his work – or the work of any author whose ideas transform one’s own thinking – it is difficult to stay on task and all too easy to end up with a review that is all about the effect such ideas have on me, me, me. (I tend to do that with Wretchard’s essays.)
In John’s gospel, Jesus says “you will know the truth and that Truth will set you free”. What he doesn’t say is that at first learning, the Truth may make you miserable. For many of us the effect will be to change how we perceive reality and that is freeing. But concomitantly, as we realize how much we didn’t know before this, there may follow a sense of having been cheated by those who taught us history, economics, and philosophy. But in all charity, from their Leftist, liberal point of view, many of them didn’t lie, they really believed what they said.
It is up to us to cut the chain of lies…Dr. Siegel’s book is a hacksaw by which you can break free from the rattle of those skeletons. You won’t belong to them anymore.