The other class war: technocrats vs plutocrats


Originally published at:


However, there is an ongoing, ferocious class war between America’s technocrats and conservative billionaires. The technocrats and the billionaires both possess real power, but it originates from different sources.

The technocrats are doctors or lawyers or computer programmers or scientists. The technocrats’ power comes from the fact that they understand how to do all the things that keep society physically functioning on a daily basis.

I don’t understand the use of the word “technocrat” here, which is most often used as an insult by very left-leaning types (like The Intercept) against what they perceive to be centrists. The true meaning of “technocrat” has been lost to history – thanks in part to its squishy use over the past hundred years or so – but doctors, lawyers, computer programmers, etc. are part of what might be called the “professional” class; i.e., people whose jobs require education and skill, but who still must work for their income, as opposed to the rentier class, which makes money simply by having money or property.

But then Williamson turned out to be a genuine, honest ideological extremist on abortion — and he had to go, because technocrats are generally allergic to true extremism in all forms. It’s hard to imagine what an analogous left-wing stance would be, but if there is one, any writer who advocated it would never get the chance even to be fired by The Atlantic.

Thanks, The Intercept, for ignoring the remainder of Williamson’s horrible opinions, which includes comparing a nine-year-old black boy to a “primate” and penning an article titled “Laverne Cox is not a woman,” which contains the excellent quotation, “Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman.” So this could be about technocrats being “allergic to extremism,” or it could be about The Atlantic not wanting to employ a racist transphobe who – and let’s be clear – not only stated in a tweet that women who received abortions should be put to death by hanging, but then doubled down on that opinion.

Of course, this is to be expected from The Intercept, where Glenn Greenwald has argued that mainstream Republicans teamed up with mainstream Democrats to oppose Donald Trump because Trump is a threat to the status quo – and not because Trump is objectively both an awful human and a terrible president.


Well, I dunno. My experience is that there’s no dearth of academics that will willingly let the plutocrats hire them.

In fact they’re all over the place, the Thomas Friedmans and Charles Krauthammers, etc. Even a Nazi like Richard Spencer seems to have some sort of intellectual ballast. I’d say the “no intelligent right-wingers” argument is a symptom of dangerous liberal complacency.


Not to mention all the nasty Bell Curve peddlers.


It seems like this is relabeling the academic class as technocrats and the merchant class as plutocrats? Which is kind of weird, because the Greek root word crat means “rule,” and the English suffix -cracy means “rule by.”


Since when do politicians consider whether someone is an awful human before deciding to support or oppose them?


The last time the right had anything close to an intellectual leader was William F. Buckley, and even he was a lightweight. Look no further than his debate with Noam Chomsky to see how his defense of the Vietnam War is easily thwarted. Buckley moves the goalposts so many times, you’d think he was part of the NFL ground crew.

I’d classify Krauthammer, George Will, etc. as pundits rather than intellectuals. Friedman, too, but he’s off on his own planet. And none of them is, strictly speaking, an “academic.”


Their power is derived from their ability to create power? I never would have guessed that.


Feh, throwing around “technocrat” is almost pre-moving the goalposts. “No, I didn’t mean that definition of ‘technocrat,’ I meant this definition of ‘technocrat’! Get with the program, unhipsters!”


One relatively new development tilting things the wrong way is that some technocrats have also become conservative plutocrats and have decided to play sugar daddy to the worst kind of reactionaries. Peter Thiel is the textbook example here.

In another way, this is an old story: plutocrats promoting right-wing populism (and the anti-intellectualism that goes along with it) in a misguided attempt to preserve their privilege.

To the article’s examples of Karl Rove (who made the “reality-based community” comment) and Limbaugh you can add the likes of pro-Brexiteer Michael Gove saying “I think that the people of this country have had enough of experts with organisations from acronyms” or Hanns Johst, the Nazi playright who came up with the often misattributed quote “When I hear the word culture, I release the safety on my Browning!”

If there’s one principle of Enlightenment liberalism we should be standing up for, it’s that some ideas are so thoroughly discredited (e.g. hanging women who have abortions, “scientific” racism) that their proponents do not deserve a platform in any reputable outlet or institution that claims the mantle of rationalism.

It’s not the best term in this context, but “trained professional experts versed in empiricism running the show” is too unwieldy. Despite his using it as a pejorative, I think Rove coined the best term the group that’s being discussed: “the reality-based community”, which was in charge in the West the postwar period. It might have easily been swapped out with “technocrats” except for the fact that many still find the notion that “reality has a well-know liberal bias” to be controversial.

No-one’s saying they’re all unintelligent. But as @fitzador notes, there’s a distinction to made between someone who’s intelligent and someone who’s an intellectual (a distinction that conservatives who appeal to the Know-Nothing base are only too happy to make themselves in public).

Politicians like Newt Gingrich, too: “a dumb person’s idea of a smart person.” There are lots of these chin-stroking types acting as the “respectable” face of movement conservatism churned out by the Wingnut Welfare machine of think tanks and endowed economics departments and leadership programmes. That doesn’t mean they aren’t smart or clever, but they’re not quite up to the standards of the intellectuals of the left, either.


Williamson isn’t a technocrat. What’s happening here is that there were two partners in the conservative coalition. The full mooners and the establishment.

The junior partner has taken over.

With the Atlantic- and other pubs - they’re just looking for an anti-Trump conservative thinking they’re get the conservative version of Coombs from Hannity & Coombs. But they don’t get that all the non full mooner conservatives have been forced out - and being anti-Trump alone doesn’t mean having any sort of reasonableness.

There’s no room in conservative land for any but full mooners right now.


I’ve often said that Buckley was “the best it ever got” for hard right conservatives, and even then he was still lacking.

You cite Noam Chomsky as an example, I cite James Baldwin.


In the end, the problem was that Goldberg didn’t want to do his due diligence on Williamson. While recognising that mainstream American conservative thought has been debased to the point where objective scientific reality and logic are dismissed, Goldberg still felt that The Atlantic “needed” a conservative voice and saw that anyone else remotely respectable and civil (e.g. Frum or – this is how bad it’s gotten – Douthat) had already been grabbed up by the competition.*

I don’t believe for a second that Goldberg was surprised when the podcast came out affirming Williamson’s crazy and hateful views; he just was hoping no-one would discover it, which should disqualify him from any management position in the media in 2018.

[* Cannibal Witch was also looking for a gig, but at the time she was in talks with Jezebel.]

Or Gore Vidal. Old Gore knew exactly how to bring out Buckley’s inner sneering right-wing thug, amusingly enough by calling him that in so many words:


But then Williamson turned out to be a genuine, honest ideological extremist on abortion — and he had to go, because technocrats are generally allergic to true extremism in all forms

Yeah, I take issue with the way “technocrat” is used because technocrat is already a useful word that can be used to describe real people today, I don’t mind grouping doctors and lawyers together but doctors and lawyers are not necessarily technocrats nor generally allergic to extremism in all forms, at least not in my experience.


Also I really get tired of how often the Intercept gets cited as if it’s the be-all-and-end-all of leftist/progressive publications. Their spotlight writer is a regular guest on Tucker Carlson, for Graud’s sake. He outed a whistleblower, either through clumsy stupidity or anger that she didn’t whistleblow the way he wanted her to. He gets angry every time someone points out that Putin meddled in the election.


Back when Obama was busy strengthening the surveillance state and dropping drones all over the place, establishing precedents which Trump is busy weaponizing, Greenwald was one of the very few leftists doing anything but determinedly looking the other way.


This is the part that drives me up the wall about the Freeze Peach/“The cure for speech is more speech” set on the left and right. Nazism doesn’t need to be heard or debated. We finished that discussion on 1945. That some people haven’t yet gotten the message is no reason to engage them.


And now there he is on Tucker Carlson, telling Fox viewers they should look the other way.

Contrarianism’s a hell of a drug.


Americans in that set tend to be or present as white, male, affluent, cisgender. They’re also afflicted by privilege-blindness. A false sense of security makes them feel comfortable inviting wolves into the house and insisting others do the same as a matter of principle.


You may be right about that. I find it hard, though, to disqualify people like Rove or Cheney as competent technocrats. We can always discuss their priorities (plundering Iraq and the American taxpayers through companies like Blackwater etc. in which they themselves owned stakes, torturing innocents at Gitmo), but honestly - incompetent, I don’t think so. Technocrats, very much.