The managerial class: Top companies are usually our enemies
Most people who fully accept the teachings of the Catholic Church tend to be conservative politically. Insofar as there is a strong strain of conservative thought in favor of the natural law, this is generally a good thing. Insofar as there is also a strong strain of conservative thought which dismisses the common good, it is generally a bad thing. Contemporary conservatism is an uneasy alliance between those who value tradition, including philosophical tradition and the natural law, and those who value untrammeled pursuit of individual self-interest, which is a mirror in the economic sphere of the social dysfunction advocated by liberals.
We have long needed a socio-economic and political movement rooted in Catholic principles such as the universal destination of goods, solidarity, subsidiarity and the common good. The left-right divide so characteristic of modern Western politics mostly represents two sides of the same coin, with the higher echelons of left and right generally ending up very close to the same place morally and spiritually. Especially at the highest levels, the left and right typically share a managerial vision of society designed to maximize their elite status.
Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the truth of this statement than the role big business has played in the transgender revolution. In recent years what have we seen? Each time a more local form of government, such as a state or a city, takes a stand against implementing Federal guidelines which favor sexual deviance—things like gay marriage and open bathrooms—big business jumps in with a far heavier hand than even big government itself. To crush resistance, a high percentage of the Fortune 500 vows to boycott the offending political region in terms of meetings, conventions, business relocation and new initiatives. The economic losses sustained lead quickly to a reversal of policy.
And nowadays it is always the LGBT agenda that wins.
In the very nature of things, it is impossible to avoid the stratification of complex societies into some sort of class system. I am indebted to two brilliant articles in the August-September issue of First Things for making it crystal clear how such class stratification works in the United States (and more generally in the West) today.
In a major piece entitled “Culture War as Class War”, Darel E. Paul argues persuasively that the culture war is deeply rooted in class distinctions. Paul, who is a professor of political science at Williams College, traces the development of anti-life, anti-family, and pro-sexual liberty values from the academic and WASP establishments that led in the acceptance of artificial contraception in the first half of the twentieth-century to the deadly combination of university, business, and political interests that lead the gay and transgender campaigns today.
Above all, the upper classes in almost any culture desire unfettered liberty and unfettered wealth to enjoy that liberty. It is not rocket science to combine this essential selfishness—this essential refusal to recognize the demands of the common good—with support for whatever maximizes success in political control, business and personal wealth. And nobody spends on luxuries and identifies more easily with putative cultural leaders than progeny-selfish married couples or, better yet, homosexuals who don’t waste time and money “breeding like rabbits”. Once that notorious drag on fun and profit—I mean the natural law—is denigrated beyond recognition, the road to class power is ever more smoothly paved.
Today’s elites typically welcome and groom all who approve the fundamental human profligacy which fuels wealth and power in pagan societies. The primary requirement is to embrace the upper class moral consensus which maximizes purchasing power, autonomy, and a life of ease. Whether the desire is to identify with fashionable causes that enable elites to appear benevolent without sacrifice or to run companies that maximize personal wealth and social status, the motivations all come together in what we might call the managerial class. For their part, academics, celebrities, and journalists are always fully aware of how to acquire buttered bread.
Here comes the parade
All of this is short-sighted, but it is not always self-conscious. All other things being equal, most people with a chance to do so will ape those who are so clearly in the position of being their “betters”—from students aping university professors to thirty-somethings seeking to rise in the corporations or political parties they have joined. The more self-aware may deliberately adopt a persona to ensure advancement, but one must be totally clueless in any culture not to recognize almost instinctively which “views” are encouraged and which discouraged, which views bring patronage and advancement and which lead to job loss and blackballing.
Given the Western and especially American myth of the classless society, it is good to be reminded once again that there is no such thing. In this world, both the right ideas and the acceptable behavior are almost always the ideas and behavior approved by the dominant class.
This is chillingly obvious in New York City’s Gay Pride Parade, as Matthew Schmitz points out in The Back Page column in the same issue of First Things (“Cultural Realpolitik”). Schmitz’ thesis is simple: “The New York Pride Parade is an overwhelming display of establishment power.”
As background he writes:
Liquor brands led the way [targeting] gay consumers…. Travel, financial, and fashion companies followed suit, making the rainbow flag the banner of carefree cosmopolitanism and unbounded consumption…. When the Supreme Court took up Obergefell v. Hodges, 379 businesses, including McKinsey, Bain, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Morgan Stanley, submitted an amicus brief. They argued: “Allowing same-sex couples to marry improves employee morale and productivity,” which contributes to “significant returns for our shareholders and owners.” There is money to be made in gay rights.
Schmitz argues that the “main beneficiary of the economic policies championed by conservatives has been a managerial class that prefers sexual liberation to the [century-old] austerities of the Protestant ethic. This class is more secular, more progressive, and more privileged than the rest of America.” All of this, he explains, is on display, larger than life, by the participants, advertisements, and floats in the Pride Parade.
In many ways it is the serious deficiencies of previous strains of cultural thought, including political thought, which have brought us to such a pass—deteriorating Western assumptions that simply must change. Prominent among these deficiencies today are the false contrasts between left and right, including the conservative business myths to which many of our own readers continue to cling. It is essential to think instead in terms of Catholic social teaching, and to form coalitions in which each participant is committed at least to some significant component of that teaching. The left-right dialectic, even taken together, represents only a narrow band of reality.
Catholic social teaching, by contrast, encompasses a comprehensive vision of the human person rooted in the natural law. Consider these dichotomies: Not regulatory tinkering but the universal destination of goods; not social engineering but the common good; not big business and big government but subsidiarity; not maximized self-interest but solidarity; not judicial positivism and ersatz philosophies but natural law. No blind ideology of free markets which ignores thick social institutions and local controls; no blind ideology of open borders which eliminates the very “thisness” required for human flourishing. The wrong sides of all of these juxtapositions sweep away the families, local structures and vibrant communities that protect isolated individuals from constant tinkering and exploitation.
Without cohesive cultures, institutionally rooted in particular communities, formed by stable families whose members know they are made in the image of God, nothing good can be developed, nothing good can last. Human flourishing depends on direct contact with reality, including a grasp of the limitations of what it means to be human. Attempts at political, social and economic vastness serve only the interests of those who “generously offer” to manage the incomprehensible. And so we live by charts, graphs, budgets and statistics, pretending that these represent happiness. And no account whatsoever is taken of a personal destiny which transcends the graph as surely as it transcends the grave.
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