Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy Paperback – 27 Aug 2013
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"Excellent" - "Rolling Stone
""Hayes, an editor-at-large of "The Nation" and host of the MSNBC talk show "Up With Chris Hayes," has written a perceptive and searching analysis of the problems of meritocracy." - "Foreign Affairs
""[A] stunning polemic....Hayes' book is the rare tome that originates from a political home (the left) and yet actually challenges assumptions that undergird the dominant logic in both political parties. This is not mealy-mouthed centrism. It is a substantive critique of the underlying logic of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney - the logic of meritocracy." - Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Baltimore Sun
"In a very good new book titled "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy," Chris Hayes offers one of the most compelling assessments of how soaring inequality is changing American society." - The Economist.com
"Let's just say that if you like politics and big ideas, you want to buy this book. It's a lot more intellectually ambitious than your typical pundit book and offers a really great blend of writing chops and social theory synthesis."
- Matthew Yglesias, Slate.com
"In his new book, "The Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy," Chris Hayes manages the impossible trifecta: the book is compellingly readable, impossibly erudite, and--most stunningly of all--correct." - Aaron Swartz, Crookedtimber.org
"Engrossing....thoughtful critiques of what's gone wrong with America's ruling class." - The Atlantic.com
"I was myself very impressed by the level of execution in this book."
- Tyler Cowen, Marginalrevolution.com
"Hayes's book makes for a great read...."Twilight" uses a wide variety of academic and journalistic work, balancing a deep, systemic critique of society with detailed and empathetic reporting about those most affected by elite failure."
- Mike Konczal, "Dissent
"""Twilight of the Elites" offers an elegant, original argument that will make both cynics and i
A "Foreign Policy" Favorite Read of 2012
A "Mother Jones" Staff Pick for Best Nonfiction of 2012
An Inc.com Top Five Business Book of 2012
A "Kirkus Reviews" Best Nonfiction Bookof 2012
" Rolling Stone
" Hayes, an editor-at-large of "The Nation" and host of the MSNBC talk show "Up With Chris Hayes," has written a perceptive and searching analysis of the problems of meritocracy. "Foreign Affairs
" [A] stunning polemic .Hayes' book is the rare tome that originates from a political home (the left) and yet actually challenges assumptions that undergird the dominant logic in both political parties. This is not mealy-mouthed centrism. It is a substantive critique of the underlying logic of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney the logic of meritocracy.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Baltimore Sun
In a very good new book titled "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy," Chris Hayes offers one of the most compelling assessments of how soaring inequality is changing American society.
Let's just say that if you like politics and big ideas, you want to buy this book. It's a lot more intellectually ambitious than your typical pundit book and offers a really great blend of writing chops and social theory synthesis.
Matthew Yglesias, Slate.com
In his new book, "The Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy," Chris Hayes manages the impossible trifecta: the book is compellingly readable, impossibly erudite, and most stunningly of all correct.
Aaron Swartz, Crookedtimber.org
Engrossing .thoughtful critiques of what's gone wrong with America's ruling class.
I was myself very impressed by the level of execution in this book.
Tyler Cowen, Marginalrevolution.com
Hayes s book makes for a great read ."Twilight" uses a wide variety of academic and journalistic work, balancing a deep, systemic critique of society with detailed and empathetic reporting about those most affected by elite failure.
Mike Konczal, "Dissent
" "Twilight of the Elites" offers an elegant, original argument that will make both cynics and idealists reconsider their views of how, and whether, our society works. If Americans believe in anything, it s our meritocracy. Hayes is brave to question it so forcefully.
A potent articulation of a society s free-floating angst, "Twilight of the Elites" stakes its claim as the jeremiad by which these days will be remembered.
I read Chris Hayes' "Twilight of the Elites" last month and will suggest that you read it too it's an engaging read that addresses the question of whether a meritocratic elite can really stay meritocratic over extended periods of time.
Daniel W. Drezner, Foreign Policy.com
This was a book I found so stimulating and immersive that I cannot wait to be able to discuss it with a larger audience .Even if you think you are aware of the depth of the rot plaguing the highest levels of our society, you will likely earn a new level of outrage by reading this book.
Alexis Goldstein, Livetotry.com
Make[s] you think in new ways about why we tolerate such vast and growing income inequality .an extended meditation on why the great hope and change revolution of 2008 has so far left the inequitable status quo a little bit too intact.
"Twilight of the Elites"by Chris Hayes may change the way you look at the world .[It] almost single-handily undermines virtually every precept we ve come to accept about life in the modern age. It also may well turn out to be the seminal treatise for the so-called FAIL generation, a term that loosely connotes everyone who graduated since the beginning of the 21st Century.
Good Men Project.com
"Twilight of the Elites" is a engaging, insightful book. I finished it in less than 24 hours, and I encourage you to pick up a copy.
You should really get yourself a copy of "Twilight of the Elites
A powerful critique of the meritocratic elite that has overseen one of the most disastrous periods of recent history.
" The American Conservative"
In his new book, "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy," Hayes raises demanding questions about a nation that is both enamored with and troubled by its elites.
[L]ively and well-informed .Offering feasible proposals for change, this cogent social commentary urges us to reconstruct our institutions so we can once again trust them. "Publishers Weekly" (starred)
[A] forcefully written debut....A provocative discussion of the deeper causes of our current discontent, written with verve and meriting wide interest.
" Kirkus Reviews" (starred)
This is the Next Big Thing that we have been waiting for. "Twilight of the Elites" is the fully reported, detailed, true story of a 21st century America beyond the reach of authority. It s new, and true, and beautifully told -- Hayes is the young left s most erudite and urgent interpreter. Brilliant book.
Rachel Maddow, host of "The Rachel Maddow Show" and author of "Drift"" "
Here is the story of the fail decade and how it made cynicism the inescapable flavor of our times. Along the way Chris Hayes delivers countless penetrating insights as well as passages of brilliant observation. If you want to understand the world you're living in, sooner or later you will have to read this book.
Thomas Frank, author of "Pity the Billionaire"
Chris Hayes is a brilliant chronicler of the central crisis of our time the failure of America's elites. His humane, spirited reporting and analysis capture what millions of Americans already know in their gut the emperor has no clothes. Yet this is not a book defined by despair or cynicism. Hayes seizes this moment of crisis to offer important and unconventional ideas as to how to reconstruct and reinvent our politics and society. "Twilight of the Elites" is a must read book for those, across the political spectrum, who believe there is still time to cure the structural ills of our body politic.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher, "The Nation"
In "Twilight of the Elites," Hayes shows us what links the bailout of investment bankers but not mortgage holders, the useless public conversation in the run-up to the Iraq war, and the Catholic Church's harboring of child rapists: our core institutions are no longer self-correcting, and have become committed to protection of insiders at all costs. Read this and prepare to be enraged.
Clay Shirky, author of "Here Comes Everybody" and "Cognitive Surplus"
"A provocation; a challenge; and a major contribution to the great debate over how the American dream can be restored."
David Frum, contributing editor, "DailyBeast/Newsweek"
Chris Hayes is a gift to this republic. The brilliance he shows us each week on MSNBC has now been complemented by this extraordinary book. Beautifully written, and powerfully argued, it will force you to rethink everything you take for granted about merit. And it will show us a way to a more perfect nation.
Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership, Harvard Law School and author of "Republic, Lost"
Chris Hayes has given us the kind of book people don't write any more: a sweeping work of social criticism like Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" and Michael Harrington's "The Other America" that take the failings of an entire society as their subject. Those books brought grand movements of reform in their wake. Would that history repeats itself with "Twilight of the Elites" America ignores this prophet at their gravest peril.
Rick Perlstein, author of "Nixonland "and "Before the Storm"
About the Author
CHRISTOPHER HAYES is editor at large of"The Nation"and host of"All In with Chris Hayes"onMSNBC. Helives in Brooklyn with his wife, Kate and daughter, Ryan."
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The reason behind this "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss," dynamic, explains Hayes, is the Iron Law of Meritocracy (with a tip of the cap to Robert Michels). Meritocracy is designed to create inequality of outcome. Those who climb the ladder to levels based on their skills then rig the game by either pulling the ladder up after them or selectively lowering it to help their allies. Meritocracy, says Hayes, inevitably becomes oligarchy. In the United States, this has resulted since the mid-seventies in a growth in income inequality and a reduction in economic mobility. As meritocratic elites enjoy growing monetary rewards and political power, they are increasingly isolated from sanctions, competition and accountability.
This is the critical problem for Hayes. The natural inequality of outcome ordained by meritocracy widens the gap ("vertical social distance") between leaders and led. Increasingly out of touch with classes below them, elites lose knowledge and empathy. Hayes presents examples such as the reaction of Catholic bishops to reported abuses, the evacuation of New Orleans before Katrina and the length of existing American military engagements. He describes how the financial crisis developed beneath the notice of financial elites: "The increasing inequality, compartmentalization, and stratification of America in the post-meritocratic age served to seduce those at the top into an extremely dangerous, even pathological kind of complacency. The ship sprung a leak down in the lower decks (in the form of loose and predatory home loans), flooding the servant's quarters, and no one up top realized that it would bring down the whole thing."
Hayes argues that non leaders on both left and right share a "deep sense of alienation, anger and betrayal directed at elites who run the country." He points to a "national mood of exhaustion, frustration and betrayal" at the "near total failure of each pillar institution of our society." The solution, says Hayes, is to reduce inequality and, as a result, social distance of elites through higher and redistributive taxes. Over time, greater similarity in social conditions between leaders and non leaders will make the former both more responsive and more competent.
The majority of Americans, says Hayes, now feel they are ruled by a remote, elite class. However, while people on the right (Tea Party) and Left (Occupy Wall Street) are angry at these leaders, the two groups are deeply divided along partisan and ideological lines. The author suggests that another major crisis could shift coalitions to more of a class basis and that an increasingly dispossessed and newly radicalized upper middle class could lead this trans-ideological coalition.
This is a short book that makes a strong argument regarding the problems caused by the growing estrangement of elites in the United States. Hayes uniquely points out that meritocracy (previously thought to be unassailable) contains within it the seeds of oligarchy. His description of how growing inequality leads inevitably to remoteness in the ruling class seems to resonate with seemingly unresolvable existing public policy problems. He even takes a stab at showing how anger on the right and left devolves from the same conditions but is segmented into different and warring camps by elite ideology.
I give 4 stars to the book for its value in starting an important discussion. It is understandably light in proposing a solution. The author takes a stab at this but it is probably both ultimately unpredictable and above Hayes pay grade. I hesitate to penalize Hayes unduly for not knowing how to fix the world. Providing a new and unique look at the source of an important problem is in itself a lot to achieve in a few hundred pages. Maybe Tea Party activists and Occupy participants can put down their signs for a while and discuss their mutual angers and ideas using Hayes' paradigm. Any mutual solutions at which they may arrive would have the virtues of originating at the source and of possessing some political strength to press for resolution.
For those who are unfamiliar with Chris Hayes: His POV is liberal, thoughtful, and incredibly well-informed. The first things I noticed about him were his wonderful way with words and how precise he is with language. He's got the best vocabulary in all of cable news-dom. I believe he has a background in philosophy, and so his writing style is academic in nature, but super readable.
"Twilight of the Elites" examines America's relationship with our traditional institutions of authority, and how the events of the past decade (Chris reviews these significant events for most of the first chapter, which results in most of the first chapter being kind of a bummer, but necessary for the premise of the book and you just have to slog through it) have affected the social contract between ordinary people and 'the meritocracy.'
TOTE isn't an anti-authoritarian polemic; Hayes is exploring the historic role of elites in America (no demonization of job creators, don't worry), how that role has changed/is changing, and what that might portend for our society. It isn't an ideological text, it's a critical one. And it is a refreshingly non-partisan and insightful look at structural society in America.
Hayes looks at scandal-ridden institutions like Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church, Enron, Wall Street, and Hunter, an elite New York school which uses a single test score to admit its student body. "In fact, one of the lessons of the decade is that intensely high-competitive, high reward meritocratic environments are prone to produce all kinds of fraud. deception, conniving and game rigging." Those who reach the top may be insulated enough to be out of touch with those below; and rewarded for moral laxness, while those who don't cheat are penalized. Lack of empathy for the less-successful may be one of the end products of a system which believes that only the best and brightest should succeed.
The book is jam-packed with examples of callousness directed at those they are responsible for, yet segregated from. Responded FEMA Head Michael Brown when told that many New Orleans residents had neither the income nor transportation to evacuate pre-Hurricane Katrina: "It is not the role of the federal government to supply five gallons of gas for every individual to put in a car and go somewhere." Even more horrifying are the cases of Catholic bishops who simply transferred priests accused of sexual abuse, to another parish, rather than remove them from their current position altogether. Victims were urged not to go public, lest they destroy their abusers' reputations.
If a third "Era of Equality" is to occur, radicalization must come from the mainstream, not just the margins, Hayes argues. Americans must start thinking more about equality of outcomes, not only opportunity. While "Twilight of the Elites" is far more concerned with dissecting problems, not providing concrete solutions, there's not a lot of models to follow. The solutions will be found on a more specific case by case basis.
I am almost embarrassed to even hint at any fault of anything that Chris does. I am an enthusiastic fan of his weekend roundtable, Up with Chris Hayes. His show is consistently the most interesting on TV. However, the lively discussions of future social developments and strategies for progressive forward movement that so interest me in the show were generally lacking in the book.
The exhaustive expose of the cult of kleptocracy that forms the bulk of the book gives way to a vague wistful glance forward in the book's final chapter. Chris, exactly how do we get from here to this better place we want to be? We want tactics, strategy, specific plans and suggestions. Where should we apply leverage? We're screwed, .. OK, we all see this .... Now What?
The author argues the new elite is not governing any better than the old elite and that this is clearly shown by the U.S. economic downturn and other societal problems. The author appears to believe that the new elite may be worse at running the country than the old elite. The author illustrates these points by citing spectacular failures: Enron, the collapse of Lehmann Brothers investment firm, the pedophilia scandals of the Catholic church, and numerous other scandals.
The book is very well-written, almost like a series of short stories, but I didn't give the book five stars for two reasons.
First, the author doesn't really look into the histories of past elites that governed America in any depth. America was mostly governed during its first few decades by Founding Fathers who were slave-holding aristocrats, for example, and then by "robber baron" capitalists after the Civil War.
Second, the author shows that the new elite may be mismanaging its power and not as easy to join as it likes to think. If we agree with the author, the next question is: so what are the solutions? Well, the author has not come up with many solutions.
The well-written book ends in a weak manner. The author believes that the meritocratic elite will govern better if they are brought closer to the rest of us by increasing their taxes. That is one strategy, but it would take a lot of taxes to make them as economically troubled as the rest of us.
The author also advocates -- if I understand him correctly -- that "leaderless" groups -- he also calls them "insurrectionist" groups -- like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street -- form alliances to challenge the built-in legal and social barriers that protect the meritocratic elite from the consequences of blunders.
I believe such cross-ideological alliances will happen only when hell freezes over.
The author has asked good questions and now needs to think up some good answers.