Only the Right Believes in Class Conflict Anymore
If Trump’s nationalism is too narrow, then so is that of the Republican elites. The elites’ lack of interest in the priorities and struggles of wage-earners created the conditions for Trump’s insurgency. We are going to have some kind of nationalism in our politics. It is up to the rising generation of conservative statesmen to craft a nationalism that upholds limited government and addresses the concerns of American wage-earners of all ethnicities.
What was particularly interesting to me about the above passage – and about the rest of the article, even apart from author Pete Spiliakos’ thoughtful re-consideration of the notorious Romney 47% video – is the by now apparently non-controversial assumption that embodying the interest of “wage-earners” generally (a.k.a., “the working class” or, symptomatically, “the white working class”) is or should be now primarily a task for the Right. Spiliakos does not even pause to consider that the Left might retain a principal claim to this group, which once defined “the Left” – its concept, its aims, its prospects, its organizational emphasis – in America and worldwide.
The Left or nominal Left addresses interest groups defined by ethnicity and issue and anathematizes “populism,” while right politicians and intellectuals today, from “alternative” to “movement conservative” to “reform,” aim to address the working class as such. Perhaps for the same reason, self-consciously conservative writers have for years been importing classically left-revolutionary terminology into their writings, now that the Left has largely abandoned it.
In a brief Twitter exchange with OG Dan Scotto – who had linked Spiliakos – I referred for example to the use of the term “ruling class,” and asked who else uses the term outside of the “populist” right. It is invoked at self-consciously conservative web sites, and the still popular Rush Limbaugh employs it on his radio show. 1 Using the term in or around the Left will, by contrast, tend to identify the speaker as some combination of quaintly old-fashioned and ridiculous.
For some preliminary evidence, I will offer here a Google search for “ruling class.” Of the first five uses not either related to the film or play The Ruling Class and not definitional, only one was by a writer generally associated with the Left: Economist and Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich: The piece highlights a “revolt against the ruling class” that, in Reich’s view, unites supporters of Bernie Sanders with those of Donald Trump. The other four entries are an “alt-right” post at Radixjournal from August of this year on “Why the American Ruling Class Betrays Its Race and Civilization“; an I believe influential 2010 essay, written by historian Angelo Codevilla in the (conservative) American Spectator on “America’s Ruling Class – and the Perils of Revolution“; a 1994 essay by Libertarian Roderick T Long seeking to re-claim class concepts from Marxism, on behalf of (classical) liberalism; and a USA Today column from this year, by Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, “Trump indicts America’s ruling class.” 2
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren may still keep alive the embers of Old Left workerism, and the latter is still detectable in traditional Democratic Party rhetoric and residual connections to organized labor, but class conflict as the engine of history seems now to be a concept mainly of the Right (and not just in America).
Image by Cornell University Library
- Limbaugh’s orientation towards mainstream or establishment discourse evokes Karl Marx’s: “The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.”
- Reynolds’ thesis resembles Reich’s, though it is written from a self-consciously American conservative perspective and happens to quote Codevilla’s essay generously.