61 Brahmin Left 1: Matt Karp on class dealignment (AU, JP)

This new series on the Brahmin Left was inspired by our bracing but terrifying interview with Thomas Piketty. So what even is the Brahmin Left? There seems to be little disagreement that a major realignment (or, rather, a “dealignment”) from the class-based politics of the mid-20th century is underway all over Europe and North America–and perhaps worldwide. Some scholars point to “post-materialist” politics; others to populist revival or ethno-nationalism resurgent; others to the collapse of the trade unions which linked the working-class to the parties of the Left. Some even see in the Right’s recent successes simply the latest twist in a neoliberalism controlled by corporate elites.

Piketty’s explanation, though, centers on the rise of the Brahmin Left. He maintains that Left parties have abandoned the working-class for an increasingly highly educated voter-base. This has turned Left parties from champions of egalitarianism into defenders of the privileges and interests of the educated.

In this set of three conversations we set out to ask a set of related questions around that claim. First, is Piketty right? (For example, some authors have argued that Piketty lumps new parties like the Greens into ‘the Left’, which biases his calculations.) Second, to the extent that he is, how do we understand class dealignment? Why has the educated upper middle class moved towards traditional left parties like the Democrats? And why have white working-class voters moved towards the Right and the Republican party? Which is chicken and which is egg?

We are delighted to begin the Brahmin Left series with Matt Karp, historian at Princeton, author of This Vast Southern Empire and a perennially thought-provoking essayist about the complex 19th and 20th century genealogies of contemporary American politics: “The Politics of a Second Gilded Age” is the essay that links most closely to this conversation.

Mentioned in the Discussion

Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology

Lily Geismer, Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party

Dylan Riley, “Faultlines” (New Left Review, 2020)

Listen and Read

Next up In Brahmin Left: Jan-Werner Muller (What is Populism?) and Arlie Hochschild (Strangers in Their Own Land) add their own prognostications. Which are, as always, some mix of dire and hopeful.

In other news, Recall this Book is a founding member of a new organization designed to bring together scholars, teachers and students who think that the future of the humanities is oral and aural. If you have always dreamed of starting your own podcast, or if you are an educator who has thought about using podcasting in a classroom–either by teaching episodes or by encouraging students to make their own!–please consider attending our inaugural Humanities Podcasting Symposium this October 15-16 (Zoom/virtual).

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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