A powerful and original argument that traces the roots of our present crisis of authority to an unlikely source: the meritocracy.
Over the past decade, Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one institution after another - from Wall Street to Congress, the Catholic Church to corporate America, even Major League Baseball - imploded under the weight of corruption and incompetence. In the wake of the Fail Decade, Americans have historically low levels of trust in their institutions; the social contract between ordinary citizens and elites lies in tatters.
How did we get here? With Twilight of the Elites, Christopher Hayes offers a radically novel answer. Since the 1960s, as the meritocracy elevated a more diverse group of men and women into power, they learned to embrace the accelerating inequality that had placed them near the very top. Their ascension heightened social distance and spawned a new American elite - one more prone to failure and corruption than any that came before it.
Mixing deft political analysis, timely social commentary, and deep historical understanding, Twilight of the Elites describes how the society we have come to inhabit - utterly forgiving at the top and relentlessly punitive at the bottom - produces leaders who are out of touch with the people they have been trusted to govern. Hayes argues that the public's failure to trust the federal government, corporate America, and the media has led to a crisis of authority that threatens to engulf not just our politics but our day-to-day lives.
Upending well-worn ideological and partisan categories, Hayes entirely reorients our perspective on our times. Twilight of the Elites is the defining work of social criticism for the post-bailout age.
©2012 Christopher Hayes (P)2012 Random House Audio
"[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)
"[A] forcefully written debut.... A provocative discussion of the deeper causes of our current discontent, written with verve and meriting wide interest." (Kirkus Reviews)
"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)
The author picks the worst developments of the last decade or so to make the point that everything is worse than ever. It is the availability heuristic in a book. I wasted a credit.
Facinating. Thought provoking. Truely a book that intelligent people interested in the current state of the political sphere should read. He interweaves the history that lead us to this point with the psycology of the masses in the waves of the failings of authority.
Good recognition of problems and gets close to the most logical solution before retreating into orthodoxy. Devolution of authority to the lowest competent level would help.
I read a lot of political books and this one really stood out from the pack. A novel thesis backed by compelling arguments. Any thinking person owes it to themselves to give it a listen.
Twilight of the Elites was informative and opens yours eyes to just how much power has been concentrated in a small group of the last few decades. However, the author's obsession with global warming is annoying; if you don't agree you're obviously an idiot for not reading and agreeing with all the "elite" scientists. His left leaning views permeate the book and are demeaning by choice; i.e. John McCain came from naval royalty, owns lots houses, and is married to a wealthy heiress. No mention of his service or sacrifice for the country as a POW. Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'reilly were singled out as media pundits who used their status to write NYT best selling books; "another example of the rich getting richer." Perhaps, but why single them out when plenty of lefty's do the same. However, I will give him credit, the discussion of revolving door of wealthy business execs given lucrative govt jobs where they supervise the industry they just came from was pretty entertaining. The discussion of fractal inequality was pretty interesting too.
The subject of the concentration of power is something that should be of interest to everyone, not just the left, so I'm not sure why he went out of his way to harp on the right so much. IMO it detracts from the book.
Despite having read other similar books I trusted the reviews and listened to this book as well. It explains well, why we are stuck in a society run by the top and why the elite have difficulty emphasizing with the rest of us.
good; limited scope.
I rather think he missed the mark wildly in a few places.
I think he managed to lay out quite a few of the problems in our current brand of "meritocracy" for instance, but attacking meritocracy in all its forms doesn't seem to be the answer. For after all, why shouldn't we want merit to have some influence on who is involved in government? It hardly seems like randomly choosing citizens to fill roles they aren't interested in or trained for, as the Greeks did, is more effective or less prone to corruption. Perhaps what we need to reconsider, though, is how we define merit. Being rich would seem to be a poor standard of merit, and yet the reason it's possible to conflate meritocracy and plutocracy as he does is precisely because that is how capitalists are expected to judge merit. Perhaps we would do just as well to maintain what he admits is a widespread belief in meritocracy, but work to change our perception of what makes someone meritorious.
I also found it interesting that one of the major "elite" groups that he ignored almost entirely was academia. Oh, he mentioned them in so far as he name-dropped Noam Chomsky, and in passing, the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, but otherwise, he had nothing especially positive or negative to say about it. Indeed, even the graduates of elite universities he mentioned only those that ended up on Wall Street, and not those who eschewed money in favor of less destructive pursuits like teaching (which are also considerably less well-paying). Academia would have been an interesting example in his litany of elites. While it certainly hasn't been entirely immune from scandal (look at all the papers that have been retracted from journals recently), academics have been attacked as elites, but as an institution have generally weathered the criticism far better than other types of elites in fact, if not in public opinion on the right. And the decentralized nature of science compares relatively favorably with the decentralized movements of both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street which he sought to highlight. (Though whether the Tea Party is as decentralized as it claims to be should probably have gotten more attention.) And the value of getting more academics like Elizabeth Warren involved in politics was also completely overlooked: the very types of people who had presciently warned about the immanent collapse of the market before it happened.
I also took strong exception to his attacks on intelligence. It's certainly true that we tend to see intelligence in the way he described financial elites, as an ever escalating hierarchy that has no upper limit. The analogy fails, however, on a couple of regards. For one thing, it's a ladder that is almost impossible to climb. One might improve one's performance on an exam from not quite making it to making it past some threshold, but one is not ever going to magically climb from an IQ of 100 to an IQ of 160 not matter how much studying you do. Financially, that kind of movement is possible,even if unlikely (and rather less likely than most people seem to think). So striving to climb that hierarchy is futile to a certain extent. And intellect is hardly the same as achievement. One can use or not use native intellect, work hard or not, but not really ever become a genius if you weren't born one. Nor does this particularly matter how one measures IQ or which kind of intelligence one measures. His analogy with height also falls short. Height is a useful comparison with intelligence in that it falls along a bell curve (again, however one measures it), and that it is determined both with some genetic components, and some environmental components, but no one disputes the existence of beauty just because it can't be measured precisely, or because more than one factor goes into calculating it (symmetry, general health, etc.) Beauty is real, and so is intelligence. But just as being beautiful doesn't make us more competent or a better human being (even though our brains sometimes act like it does), neither does intelligence necessarily. Intelligence coupled with a Randian worldview is certainly destructive, but then, Isaac Newton and Thomas Jefferson aren't famous for being of average intellect. Do people do anything to deserve high intelligence? No, of course not, but then neither did LeBron James do anything to deserve being born with preternatural sports abilities either. Somehow we manage not to begrudge him encouragement and support, but we do the intellectually gifted? The gifted are a double-edged sword of course. In the wrong hands they can do a great amount of damage, but applied to science and technology, they can also take us to the Moon. Intelligence and fostering it is not the problem, at least in principle. Furthermore, smarter doesn't necessarily mean better even in intellectual pursuits. It has been noted by researchers looking at affirmative action on college admissions and graduation rates, that as long as students meet some minimum threshold of intellect, outcomes do not necessarily improve with better test scores and similar things can be said of a number of fields that have rather high thresholds for intelligence, even physics and math. Do you think someone with an IQ of 170 will necessarily do better than someone with an IQ of 160? If you do, you'd be wrong. Because above the minimum threshold, other factors become paramount. So the attacks on Sotomayor's intelligence were probably misguided at best, but also probably rooted in other factors which he noticeably doesn't mention.
He also seems to rather circle around this notion of equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome. Part of the issue here is what is considered opportunity and what is considered outcome. The right would have you believe that as long as they put no legal barriers in the way, all the rest is outcome, and here I certainly disagree. Getting into a good school would certainly seem to me to be part of the opportunity, not the outcome, so applying egalitarian principles at this level seems reasonable to me. The grades one gets once admitted would seem to be more the outcome here. Similarly for hiring practices would be opportunity, while job performance would be outcome. Opportunity doesn't merely stop at the court room door or the voting booth. The author's attacks on intelligence are sometimes rooted in his egalitarian principles, but how does it help us as a society to squander such intellectual assets by insisting our gifted kids should only get the same education as our most average ones? Having lived through that experience myself, the six years I thought about killing myself directly related to the boredom I experienced in school served no greater purpose than to waste my ability and damage my mental health. We should be helping every person reach their maximum potential in whatever they are good at. The author's experience of going to an elite school, indeed, puts him in a position to suffer a bit from some of his own criticisms of the financial elite in this regard: he simply doesn't understand what the alternative he's proposing really means. And what's worse, it seems to me that the radical egalitarianism he advocates is at its core anti-intellectual, and doesn't really address the specific problems that need to be addressed.
This is, of course, the flip-side to democracy. The part of democracy that our elite founders so worried about. That's why we aren't a pure democracy. There are lessons to be learned here, but radical and pure ideologies are too simplistic to work in the real world. Mixed strategies are more complicated, but as our founders realized in the mixed strategy they employed for our government, they are far more durable, flexible and stable than unmixed ones. If money is the problem (and I certain agree that it is both politically and in the financial markets), then address that problem directly. If the incentive structure is screwed up (as the emphasis on publishing created the retraction scandal in the sciences), then correct that. But casting the net so wide that it takes out good institutions along with the bad will ultimately do more harm than good.
The main thing I took away from this book was that problems the Founding Fathers were trying to prevent when they created our system of government have managed to return and we are essentially back at a similar point. The current people who occupy positions of power are unable to self-correct and want to continue with the status quo just like the British of the 18th century trying to run the distant colonies in North America. This book does a good job making the case that our government is no longer beholden to the people as it was intended but is instead run by a handful of elite lobbyists and political families that come from privileged backgrounds that do not represent the average American. Unfortunately, though there are a lot of great examples making this point, the book comes short of offering any real solutions. Only the last chapter gets into solutions, and they are pretty broad and vague.
Nonetheless, this book made me realize that we are at (or nearly at) a critical time in our country's history not unlike the revolutionary times of the 18th century. Massive changes must occur, so if we don't intentionally decide to self-correct, we are in for a massive collapse of our culture
Finally, I'm not a big fan of the author's performance. He seems to have trouble enunciate words and I found it quite annoying at times. It would probably be better having a professional "reader" read the book instead of the author himself.
My husband and I have seen Chris since he first started appearing on MSNBC. We have watched him grow as a TV personality. We lovingly call him 'junior."
As a talking head, Chris is OK, but we quickly saw where his talents lie. He is a wonderful moderator and has the most interesting discussions with his guests on his morning show, UP with Chris.
And the art of discussions is at the heart of what this book is about. The one thing that will make America a stronger country is open dialogue that gets to that heart of the issue and opens it up to many differet facets and points of view.
Chris does a great job of explaining why our current system is in the process of change and why this is inevable.
Sometimes I had listen to him on the slow speed to really digest what he was saying becasue he thinks as fast as he talks and it is a lot to take in at one time.
But he blew me away; I was so impressed with his book! I wish I could get more young people to read it because he has the antidote to apathy.
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