My most recent post on Daniel Bell, and how his form of thinking about the so-called “new class,” brought comments, especially from Tim, asking for clarification. Here goes (briefly):
Out of their political repositioning in the late 1960s and 1970s, neoconservatives developed a critical theory (co-opted from anti-Stalinist thinking) about a so-called “new class” of intellectuals, broadly defined to include all professionals tasked with manipulating language—although more narrowly applied to humanists and social scientists. Members of this “new class,” so the theory went, had turned their backs on the society to which they owed their high-ranking status. A private memorandum written by Daniel Patrick Moynihan for his boss President Nixon in 1970 exemplified this withering mode of criticism: “No doubt there is a struggle going on in this country of the kind the Germans used to call a Kulturkampf. The adversary culture which dominates almost all channels of information transfer and opinion formation has never been stronger, and as best I can tell it has come near silencing the representatives of traditional America.”
The central reason the neoconservative “new class” theory was so plausible is because the university credential system had become the principal gateway to the professional world, a sorting mechanism for white-collar hierarchy. The numbers tell the story: in 1960, there were about 3.5 million Americans enrolled in universities; by 1970, this number had more than doubled to around 7.5 million, as the size of faculties grew proportionally. Historian James Livingston nicely relates this demographic explosion on the nation’s college campuses to the culture wars, or to what he generally describes as the “debates about the promise of American life.” “By the 1970s,” Livingston contends, “the principal residence of that promise was widely assumed to be the new ‘meritocracy’ enabled by universal access to higher education.” To this extent, class resentment aimed at intellectuals made sense, in a misplaced sort of way, since intellectuals indeed held the levers to any given individual’s future economic stability.*
* See James Livingston, The World Turned Inside Out: American Thought and Culture at the End of the 20th Century (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009). (Or my review of that book, and his response.) Eric Hobsbawm also relates the growing importance of a university education to the redirection of class resentment against “toffs of one kind or another—intellectuals, liberal elites, people who are putting it over on us.” Eric Hobsbawm, “Interview: World Distempers,” New Left Review 61 (Jan/Feb 2010), 135.