Washington & Wall Street: Fred Siegel on Elitist 'Roots' of American Liberalism

Washington & Wall Street: Fred Siegel on Elitist 'Roots' of American Liberalism

The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism has Undermined the Middle Class is one of the most important books written about American politics in the past fifty years. 

The author, Fred Siegel, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a think tank that focuses on urban policy and politics. He also serves as a professor of history and the humanities at Cooper Union and is a contributor to numerous publications, including the New York Post (where he has a weekly column), The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, Commonwealth, Tikkun, and TELOS.

The Revolt Against the Masses tells the story of how what some think of as liberalism is, in fact, a form of arrogant elitism modeled on an American form of aristocracy long associated with European statism. 

“Today’s brand of liberalism, led by Barack Obama, has displaced the old Main Street private-sector middle class with a new middle class composed of public-sector workers allied with crony capitalists and the country’s arbiters of elite style and taste,” the book reveals.

Siegel describes how the American left turned away from its progressive roots between WWI and WWII, espousing a cynical and anti-American attitude that embraced experts and despised democracy and the average man. Siegel writes that the liberalism that emerged from 1919, taking its cue from H.L. Mencken, who sided with Germany in WWI and labeled Americans who supported “Wilson’s War” as “boobs” and “peasants” was “contemptuous of American culture and politics.” He added:

For the liberals, the war years had revealed that American society and democracy were themselves agents of repression. These sentiments deepened during the 1920s and have been an ongoing undercurrent in liberalism ever since. … For liberals, the great revelation of 1919 that they carried into the 1920s was that middle-class society at large, and not just the Bible Belters with their restrictive mores, was to blame for their subjugation. Their disdain for Main Street was matched by their contempt for the detritus of urban popular culture.

The Revolt Against the Masses tells the story of the leaders of modern American liberalism–Herbert Croly, Randolph Bourne, H.G. Wells, Sinclair Lewis, and Mencken–who sought to discard America’s most sacred principles of democracy and the rule of law for a bastardized version of European elitism, with decisions made by experts and social scientists. 

“Siegel traces the development of liberalism from the cultural critics of the post-WWI years to the gentry liberals of today, and he shows how the common thread is scorn for the middle-class and for America itself,” notes author Michael Barone in his cover note. “This is a stunningly original–and convincing–book.”

The Revolt Against the Masses also identifies modern exponents of the new liberal elitism, influential figures such as John Kenneth Galbraith, who, “more than any other liberal, was able to meld the two central strands of 1920s liberalism: a Menkenesque contempt for the burghers and an undue regard for technocrats who cloaked their prejudices in the language of social science.” 

Last week, I wrote a column for Zero Hedge entitled “A Political History of ‘Too Big to Fail‘” that connected Siegel’s excellent analysis and the modern tendency to bail out large banks. Ultimately, TBTF is about bailing out institutions that support the agenda of key liberal elites in partnership with Washington:

The notion of free-market capitalism driving the growth of the US economy and the American dream after WWII was a convenient fiction. Behind this facade, generations of liberal political operatives worked to realize the dreams of a society led by an enlightened elite with heroic overtones that bear close resemblance to the fascist era of 1920s Europe. Men like Herbert Crowley, editor and co-founder of The New Republic, advanced the ideal of a secular priesthood that would Europeanize America. He envisioned an elite vanguard of intellectuals, writers and scientists who would not be swayed by outmoded ideas of popular democracy and individual freedom. And the mechanism for advancing the new liberal agenda was government. 

Both liberals and conservatives alike need to read The Revolt Against the Masses. For conservatives, this book provides ample ammunition to use it, characterizing and countering the attacks of the liberal elite against people of faith, small business, and civil libertarians–the three pillars of a future conservative majority. Every conservative in Congress and across America needs to read The Revolt Against the Masses.

For liberals and those who call themselves “progressives,” however, The Revolt Against the Masses is an equally important resource. Siegel describes how the ideals of 19th Century Progressivism were hijacked a century ago by an arrogant elite who despise working people and enrich themselves at public expense. Barack Obama is the ultimate example of this elitist tendency in American politics. 

The majority of Americans who call themselves conservatives–and liberals–will be shocked and outraged by many of the revelations in this concise and well-written book.