[These somewhat rambling observations were originally posted as a Facebook note.]
In recent weeks, we have witnessed ever-more cartoonish examples of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Even those of us who have been sharply critical of Trump (such as www.thelibertyzone.us) are staring on with a kind of revulsed fascination as our chattering class descends ever deeper into the pits of insanity. So do those who merely voted against Hillary rather than for Trump, such as the razor-sharp “Dystopic” or the underrated historical novelist Roy M. Griffis.
I move professionally in circles where lib-left “virtue signaling” is taken for granted, especially inside the US. (Academia outside the US, while no less in the grip of a collective moral superiority complex, at least tolerates dissenters to some degree.)
As I was perusing Trump’s cabinet list in the Times of London the other day, I was struck not so much by the names — some ‘feck yeah!’, some ‘well, OK’, some ‘meh’ — as by what wasn’t there. The ‘Brahmandarins™’ had been left behind, as it were. Allow me to expand.
Traditional society in India has myriad little jatis (“births”, freely: castes), but they ultimately derive from four (plus one) major varnas (“colors”, freely: classes). While caste membership and profession are more fluid than generally assumed by Westerners, these five major groupings do exist to the present day, and are mostly endogamous. From top to bottom, the varnas are:
- Brahmins (scholars)
- Kshatryas (warriors, rulers, administrators)
- Vaishyas (merchants, artisans, and farmers)
- Shudras (laborers)
- Finally, the Dalit (downtrodden, outcasts — the term “pariah” is considered so offensive it has become “the p-word”) are traditionally considered beneath the varna system altogether, as are other “Scheduled Castes” (a legal term in present-day India, referring to eligibility for affirmative action).
The upper three varnas bear some resemblance to the three Estates of the French ancien régime: clergy, nobility, and the bourgeoisie (le tiers état, the Third Estate). American society used to be a byword for social mobility (“the American dream”) — but a stratification has set in, and it takes little imagination to identify strata of Dalit, Shudras, and Vaishyas in modern American society. The numerically small subculture of military families could be identified as America’s Kshatryas. So where are the Brahmins? (No, I’m not referring to the old money Boston elite.) And why am I using the portmanteau “Brahmandarins” for our New Class?
In India one was, of course, born into the Brahmin varna, and they actually delegated the messy business of governance to the varna below them. In China’s Middle Kingdom, on the other hand, not only was the scholarly Mandarin caste actually the backbone of governance, but in principle anyone who passed the civil service exams could become a Mandarin.
Originally, these exams were meant to foster a meritocracy. Predictably, over time, they evolved to select for conformity over ability, being more concerned with literary style and knowledge of the classics than with any relevant technical expertise.
Hmm, sounds familiar? Consider America’s “New Class”: academia, journalism, “helping” professions, nonprofits, community organizers, trustafarian artists,… Talent for something immediately verifiable (be it playing the piano, designing an airplane, or buying-and-selling,… ) or a track record of tangible achievements are much less important than credentials — degrees from the right places, praise from the right press organs,…
The New Class should be more like the Mandarins rather than the Brahmins, as in theory (and to some degree in practice) 1st-generation membership is open to people of all backgrounds. Heck, that includes even this electrician’s son here 😉
In practice, however, this class is highly endogamous, and its children have an inside track on similar career paths. (Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” made this case to a fare-thee-well.) Thus one finds 2nd and 3rd generation New Class members, whose outlooks on life tend to be much more insular and collectively self-centered than that of their 1st-generation peers. (It is important not to over-generalize about one’s fellow human beings: some of the fiercest fellow ‘renegades’ I know were to the manor born.) In that respect then, the New Class does resemble the Brahmins. Hence my portmanteau “Brahmandarins”.
Engineers (whose academic training at even second-tier colleges is much more rigorous than that of the journalism major at a big-name school) are arguably closer to artisan Vaishya than to Brahmandarins. They need to build things that actually work, you know.
Now how does this tie in with Trump and his cabinet? In the last several Presidential elections, Brahmandarin D candidates (Obama, Hillary) were pitted against Kshatriyas (McCain) or Vaishyas (Romney, Trump). While the D party used to be one with which particularly Shudras (laborers) could identify, over time it has increasingly become a patron-client coalition of Brahmandarins and Dalits. Kshatriyas overwhelmingly lean R, while Shudras and Vaishyas (other than high finance) became increasingly disaffected from D and either moved to the R column or tuned out of politics.
Sometime in 2008, I had an eye-opening encounter at a fundraiser for a scientific cause. A lawyer for a major donor, after various patronizing remarks after our scholarly pursuits, told some of us in intimate conversation that of course we should support Obama. (Interestingly, the usual appeal to ethnicity was not made.) One of us asked the lawyer what would be his ‘performance benchmark’ for a successful presidency. Tellingly, the otherwise so voluble lawyer was left at a loss for words. Eventually, his argument boiled down to ‘Obama is one of us’. Which “us”? Not scientists, obviously. Nor Jews, obviously (the lawyer, my colleague, and myself are all Jewish). No — Brahmandarins, members of the New Class.
Peggy Noonan recently coined the phrase “patronized by our inferiors”. At the time I couldn’t come up with anything as concise and withering, but the whole framing of the argument struck me as a hybrid between the Cosa Nostra and “mean girls” cliques at the middle school my daughter was then attending. Around the same time, I discovered Thomas Sowell’s priceless “Vision of the Anointed” whose subtitle “Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy” could be emblematic of the entire phenomenon. A critique that had built itself up in my head, in inchoate fashion, was laid out here in concise, crystal-clear prose.
Fast-forward to the present. In the last several Presidential elections, Brahmandarin D candidates (Obama, Hillary) were pitted against Kshatriyas (McCain) or Vaishyas (Romney, Trump). Unsurprisingly, Brahmandarin presidents tend to appoint cabinet and senior aides from among the Brahmandarin caste, while Trump’s appointments came almost exclusively from the Vaishyas (Exxon CEO Tillerson for State, various other execs), and Kshatriyas (Mattis, Flynn, Kelly). It doesn’t matter that most of these people have real-world achievements to their names than a Robbie Mook type can only dream of: they are “ignorant” (read: insufficiently subservient to New Class shibboleths), “hate-filled”, etc. — All short-hand for “not one of us”.
For those same people who keep on prating about how open they are to foreign cultures (the more foreign, the better to “virtue-signal”) are completely unable to fathom the mindset of their compatriots of a different caste: they might as well come from a different planet as from a different country.
There’s only water/In a stranger’s tear
Looks are deceptive/But distinctions are clear
A foreign body/And a foreign mind
Never welcome/In the land of the blindYou may look like we do
Talk like we do
But you know how it isYou’re not one of us!
[In response to the FB note, “Dystopic” honored me with his own observations.]
UPDATE: “Tamara W.” comments on Facebook:
Charles Murray’s book “Coming Apart” talks about the combination of geographic isolation (segregation by income/politics), elite schools (public and private) where their children all socialize, ideological conforming by the “elite” institutions all creating an elite population that has prime access to top corporate jobs, NGOs, government positions under Democrats. They base morality as adherence to the ideology and thus see all who disagree as evil/stupid and look down on those beneath them as at best unenlightened/uneducated and at worst people the world is better off without.
Then they actively discriminate against conservatives and the middle and working class, seeing them as “not a culture fit” or actively deprecating them.
UPDATE 2: I’d be remiss not linking Angelo Codevilla’s classic “The ruling class“. Yes, the Brahmandarins are a gentry, not an elite — and “credentialed” is not the same as “educated”.
UPDATE 3: welcome, Instapundit readers!
UPDATE 4: Two more good reads in response:
(a) Fran Porretto at Bastion of Liberty weighs in and links his early 2014 blog post about Class And Caste In Twenty-First Century America. Read the whole thing.
(b) “Remodern” artist Richard Bledsoe looks at the Brahmandarins and their effect on the art scene
“not only the ideological, virtue signalling style of art, but also the self-absorbed, alienating products of the Ivory Tower approach, status symbol art made to cater to the expectations of elitist curators, trophy hunting collectors, and other art snobs.”
He then recounts how the neo-figurative “remodernism” and “Stuckism” movements arose as a grassroots reaction.