2013 Reading: Twilight of the Elites by Christopher Hayes

TwilightTwilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes is the selection for February for our Reading Liberally Book Club. (We meet monthly to discuss books on topics of interest to liberals and we’ve been doing this for a couple of years no, a not-particularly-sober complement to another group in town, Drinking Liberally.)

While I liked this book, I don’t think it does enough to prescribe a fix for our broken meritocracy. And it doesn’t do much to clarify what the term “Elites” really means, although part of the point is that it doesn’t really matter–the right-wing smear of liberal elitism misses the point, even if it rings a bell among disaffected conservatives. The fact is that Elites run both parties and are making it increasingly difficult for people to break into their ranks. People with money can get the best educations for their children and access to the best schools, and so testing has become a joke.

But where is this “twilight” Hayes refers to? I see no end to this domination by the wealthy. Unless we try to apply the term “elite” to those who have merit–but these days merit isn’t enough. On the other hand, Hayes also tries to make the case that the Elites are incompetent–citing some high profile failures–but that overlooks the successes.

How, then, do we really create opportunity for the rest of us? The book doesn’t offer much in the way of answers, unfortunately. Overall, I think it’s a muddled argument, dancing around some important issues.

2 thoughts on “2013 Reading: Twilight of the Elites by Christopher Hayes”

  1. Hi Cliff – you know, it’s funny: I haven’t read this book, but I’ve heard Chris discuss it a lot, and my impression of his description is pretty much the same as your impression of the actual read. I had no idea if the “elite” were the now-famous 1%, which shows no signs of twilighting, or the more cultural “prominente” which used to be people like William F. Buckley before the Rush Limbaugh-ization (and, let’s be honest, the Seth MacFarlane-ization) of recent decades; that is, the quality of the elite itself is in twilight. Frankly, that seems like a far more interesting idea. But I gather from your comments that the book doesn’t actually define what it’s talking about, either.

    That’s too bad. I adore Chris (especially since he had writers like George Saunders and Victor Lavalle on his show to discuss The Obama Narrative) but seems like this is a miss.

  2. I’ve maybe understated the relevance of the book, which begins strongly. It starts with an excellent expose about how being smart isn’t good enough to succeed any more, because we measure being smart by standardized tests for which parents who can afford it buy test prep classes for their kids. So the “elite” becomes self-perpetuating and we have developed a society with little or no socio-economic mobility. That’s a serious problem to identify; I only wish Hayes had offered a prescription to fix that problem.

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