The Revolt Against the Masses, Early Edition

Last month we featured our five-part interview series with Fred Siegel, author most recently of The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class.

Aaron Wildavsky

Aaron Wildavsky

Lo and behold, buried in my library is a old collection of Aaron Wildavsky essays by nearly the same title published way back in 1971: The Revolt Against the Masses, and Other Essays on Politics and Public Policy. Wildavsky (d. 1993) was one of the most eminent political scientists of his age, and, like Siegel, made the journey from being a moderate liberal to a conservative, and for much the same reason. He wrote terrific books that still hold up more than 20 years after his death on risk regulation, federal budgeting, political parties, defense policy and arms control, the presidency, and other subjects—including a pretty good book about Moses.

Aaron was the model of what a political scientist should be. And he had a knack for rendering with great clarity the essence of a problem that leftists aim to obscure with jargon. The first sentence of the title essay “Revolt Against the Masses” (written in the aftermath of the People’s Park protests—Wildavsky was a Berkeley professor), nails it:

The revolutionaries of contemporary America do not seek to redistribute privilege from those who have it to those who do not. These radicals wish to arrange a transfer of power from those elites who now exercise it to another elite, namely, themselves, who do not. This aspiring elite is of the same race (white), the same class (upper-middle and upper), and the same educational background (the best colleges and universities) as those they wish to displace.

Did I say that Wildavsky’s writing still holds up today? He could be writing about events on campus and elsewhere right now. In fact, in this essay there appears a fascinating footnote that could have been written in the immediate aftermath of Ferguson and Baltimore:

The fantasies of white liberal students are not far from the fear of black people that genocide will be visited upon them. The fact is that no one really wishes to commit genocide on black people and no one really believes that it is about to happen. Why, then, is the fear so oft repeated? The answer is not that blacks expect white extremists to murder them. These blacks are concerned in a more fundamental way with conditions of modern industrial society. They fear that their low skill makes them dispensable in the most frightening way; they could disappear from the earth and society would go on much as before. That is why they want a politics of distribution, rather than a politics of production. To be men, they must be part of society so that their lives are part of the lives of others.