"You've got this eternal idiotic idea that if anarchy came it would come from the poor," G. K. Chesterton once wrote. “But,” he went on to ask, “why should it?”
“The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists: they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists.”
2020’s Black Lives Matter and Antifa rioters bear out Chesterton’s observation: the rich are revolting. In the US they’re looting (often over heartfelt pleas) black-owned businesses. In the UK, they’re destroying public monuments of people they’ve barely heard of (slave trader and philanthropist Edward Colston) or setting out to annoy their parents (defacing the Cenotaph and Winston Churchill).
Before the industrial age established a political divide in which a middle-class conservative/liberal alliance opposed working-class socialists, radicalism was an elite or at least bourgeois concern. French revolutionaries, the soixante-huitards and the likes of Antifa were/are drawn overwhelmingly from the upper-middle-class. Historically, the haute bourgeoise were the driving force behind revolt and disorder, especially — as with today — when they feel they have no future.
Some of this is due to housing shortages caused by planning restrictions and NIMBYism. This makes it harder for young urban elites to settle down and have families — something with a civilising effect — and also pushes them to the Left.
"Many graduates, under the impression they were joining society’s top tier, will never reach management and be left disappointed and hugely indebted."
However, the real culprit is the universities, and — just to ensure I shovel the right shit at the right people for this monumental cockup — those who have developed tertiary education policy since 1987. The expansion of the university sector since then has created what Russian-American statistician Peter Turchin calls “elite overproduction”, a socially dangerous situation where too many people are chasing too few elite places in society, creating “a large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes”.
Across the developed world, roughly half of 18-year-olds go to university, but a far smaller number of jobs require a degree. Many graduates, under the impression they were joining society’s top tier, will never reach management and be left disappointed and hugely indebted.
Some have studied various activist-based subjects — referred to as “grievance studies” — which make unfalsifiable and a priori assumptions about power and oppression. These graduates now seek to create a new aristocracy of the spirit.
An aristocracy in the proper sense is based on the idea that people should have power because they have virtue — it is “rule by the best”. Historically, it was tied to landowning and “a stake in the country”. But for people with no money and plenty of entitlement, the idea that moral virtue equals status — even an expectation that one’s views will be given weight in public policy — is seductive.
This has been bubbling up for years — and then along came coronavirus, throwing millions out of work, many from exactly the demographic most likely to cause trouble. Relatedly, not only are the opportunity costs of shoving a growing share of each generation of school leavers onto the degree treadmill substantial, but elite overproduction is a key factor skewing the “culture war” against the right.
Conservative governments everywhere are now scrabbling to fix a mess in part their own making. HMGov has hastily imposed caps on the number of students UK universities can admit, while Australia is trying to make “grievance studies” nonviable by pricing them out of the market. In my view, both policies should be implemented at once in both countries.
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