…And you think you’re so clever and classless and free. But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.
– John Lennon – Working Class Hero (1970)
Part V of Joel Kotkin’s The Coming of Neo Feudalism (2020) is “The New Serfs”. Chapter 13 (Beyond the Ring Road) points out that serfdom emerged in the Middle Ages, was ended by a new, strong working class and is now returning as the way society is organized, with a weak working class. Chapter 14 (The Future of the Working Class) introduces us to the “precariat”, a new growing global underclass with limited control over their work, living on subsistence wages. Chapter 15 (Peasant Rebellions) explores an ongoing peasant revolt against the Oligarchy and Clerisy, which could lead to dangerous upheavals.
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) foresaw a dramatically widening disparity in property distribution as capitalism expanded. “The great field of battle will be property”, he predicted. And it has now come to pass, which is why you must keep a well-stocked cognitive and financial War Chest. The U.S. Constitution guarantees power will always be vested in responsible property owners; “propertied worthies”, as the Founders envisioned; or, at least propertyless people who are hard-working and smart enough to become propertied worthies. The problem now is that Elites are blocking upward mobility
The casualties of the culture War are millions of American families who once were secure but are now losing ground, “coming apart”, as Charles Murray puts it. They are being left behind in a proletarianization of the middle class. Those who remain secure, we the embattled Yeomanry, are survivors in a brutal class war. We are now threatened by an increasingly angry, discontent precariat, who are being held down by Elites intentionally causing cultural erosion in the working class. The Elite’s response to populist uprisings is revulsion. “It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses”, a 2016 article announced. They see the political schism of our time as not between left and right, but between sane elites vs. the mindlessly angry masses. Leftist intellectuals suppress unacceptable ideas not by brute force but by characterizing them as deplorable, risible, racist, absurd.
There has consequently been a shift toward hard-left politics, particularly among the young and dumb. The murderous, failed concept of Marxism is making a comeback. That is certainly a threat but it is a distant, defendable menace because “oligarchic socialism”, with wealth redistribution subsidies (paid for by us) to the peasants will fail. As we’ll see at the end of Kotkin’s book, an emphasis on social justice through redistribution does not increase opportunities for upward mobility, but instead fosters dependency while consolidating power in the hands of a self-anointed elite few.
Kotkin ends this section by boiling it down to a simple question: Do people – not just those with elite credentials and skills – actually matter in this technological age? I and the writers I cite are here to tell you that people do indeed matter! The current push back against technological determinism is remarkable. Let’s take a tangent into that in the coming days.
Next Tuesday, we tour the soul of the gentrified, gated cities of the new feudalism.