Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Cruel Fate of the Ruling Class's "Little Darlings"

Back in the 1840s, in the white-hot frenzy when the industrial revolution spread from Britain to continental Europe, the young son of a well-to-do lawyer had a brilliant idea. The industrial revolution was just like the feudal era, he realized! Back in the feudal era the rich feudal lords exploited and oppressed their feudal serfs; now the rich capitalists were oppressing their proletarian factory workers. Plus ├ža change!

Karl Marx didn't just propose a political explanation of the social turmoil of the 1840s; he put the classical economists to work to show that the economic exploitation and immiseration of the workers had the inevitability of a law of political economy. Revolution was the only solution.

Back in the 16th century, Marx opined, there was nobody to help the peasants when they were "hurled" onto the labor market by their uncaring lords. But this time would be different. This time a vanguard of the proletariat, a cadre of educated youth, would lead the workers to revolution and smash the neo-feudal oppression of the bourgeois capitalists.

Everyone glommed onto this brilliant idea, and bid for the support of the suffering workers, and so, despite the idea that the new industrial era would be dominated by the bourgeoisie, it turned out that it was the educated sons of the bourgeoisie that fought for and won the crown of political power in the new age. The leaders of the new educated ruling class enlisted the working class in their political army and marched all across Europe and the United States to political victory. They loooved the working class and lavished it with political presents, from social insurance legislation that taxed labor to yield pensions and health care, to the licensing of monopoly rights for labor unions. Life was good for the little darlings of the educated elite.

Despite the idea that the world was born anew, this was merely politics as usual. Every ruling class occupies territory by armed force and taxes the inhabitants thereof for the right to go about their business of working and living, and the rulers pay their supporters out of the taxes they extort from the ruled. This is true for every government from a small guerrilla band in the mountains, to a criminal gang in the city, to the feudal king and his barons, to the feudal baron and his retainers.

But in the end, the world changes, and either the rulers or the supporters get tired of their crooked deal, and cast off their former buddies. In the United States, the ruling liberal elite got tired of their little darlings, the blue-collar workers, and started to bid for the support of African Americans, high-born feminist women, immigrants, gays, and, eventually, Muslims. Television producer Norman Lear did his part with a TV show, All in the Family, that wanted us to believe that its hero, warehouseman Archie Bunker, was the living embodiment of all the sins of the world: racism, sexism, and homophobia. You might wonder how an ordinary working class schmuck could be so guilty of the sins of the racist, sexist, homophobic patriarchy; I could not possibly comment.

Of course, this is nothing remarkable. The political elite always betrays its followers, just as the generals eventually leave their soldiers to die by the side of the road. Napoleon left his army to starve on the retreat from Moscow. The Brits sent a whole generation to die on Flanders fields. The New Dealers set their blue-collar supporters up for a fall by encouraging the auto-workers and steelworkers to price themselves out of a job with unaffordable wages and pensions.

The moral is clear. Don't believe the recruiting sergeant! Don't go for a soldier; don't believe the blandishments of the politician. Don't believe the flatteries of the sugar daddy. Once you become the little darling of some rich patron you are setting yourself up for disappointment, or death, or a fate worse than death.

And so it is that the white working class, once the little darling of our liberal ruling class, is now mired in drug dependency and suicide, and in 2016 is rallying to the banner of a crony capitalist that promises to Make America Great Again.

And what about the next candidates for abandonment?

What about African Americans, who liberals loooved so much they gave them the nation´s First Black President. Except that now African Americans are enraged because nothing has changed. What happened to the liberals' little darlings?

What about women, taught to divorce and to have sex like men, and to empty their wombs, and to value career over family? How did that work out? What happened to the liberals' little darlings?

Don't become a little darling. Don't sell your birthright for a mess of pottage. Don't attach your life to a militant movement. Don't think that a powerful patron will solve your problems. Because no powerful person cares about you; he only cares about what you can do for him.

Here's the cautionary tale that I like to tell. It's the story of the end of the feudal era. Marx, writing about the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th century in Britain:
A mass of free proletarians was hurled on the labour market by the breaking-up of the bands of feudal retainers, who, as Sir James Steuart well says, “everywhere uselessly filled house and castle.”
Yes, but why were the feudal retainers so useless? I will tell you. It was because the Tudors were disarming the nobles and destroying their castles. They were concentrating power in the monarchy by forcing the nobles to disband their feudal armies and they were replacing it a national army with taxes and credit. The result was that the nobles didn't need their useless feudal retainers to fight in their private armies, so they dumped them, and started to make their estates into agricultural money-makers with "improvements" and less labor. Now they would compete with riches and houses in London, instead of on the battlefields of the Wars of the Roses. So if you were a feudal retainer, snuggling up to some great lord, you were suddenly out of luck and out in the cold.  And the Elizabethan Poor Law didn't really help much. In fact, the proletarians were in for a couple of pretty cold centuries, until the jobs, jobs, jobs, of the industrial revolution showed up.

The moral is clear. Don't become a little darling of the ruling class. Go out in the world. Learn a skill; serve your fellow humans with products and services. Be responsible, be prudent. Don't disappear into some big corporate or government sinecure, for you never know when the bosses will kick you out and "hurl" you on the labor market.

The market is, of course, a stern task master. That's why we have families and churches and associations and charities to soften its hard edges. Life is hard, and in the end we all die, survived by our children.

But the fate of the "little darling" is worse. It is oblivion.

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