Plain People

The Century of the Common Man. That was the phrase Henry Wallace used to describe the world emerging out of the Second World War. Wars do have a way of leveling society into the great democracy of the dead and dying, and it is certainly the case that, in the two great wars of the 20th century, the light of aristocracy went out. If commonness is what you're after, this is decidedly the right century. 

If the foolish Vice President meant anything by his phrase, he had in mind something like "the progress of democracy," in which the laboring classes would gradually assert control over their own destinies. Even by 1942, when Wallace made his famous speech on "The Price of Free World Victory," it should have been apparent that the plutocracy, which had replaced aristocracy, was itself being replaced by another ruling class. (James Burnham had published The Managerial Revolution in the previous year.)

For all the economic advances and what Merle Haggard calls "so-called social security," ordinary men and women have, by and large, not exerted any great influence either in Europe or the United States. In fact, the past hundred years has seen a nation of farmers, craftsmen, and shopkeepers gradually transform itself into a nation of hirelings who work for other men. The family farm has turned to agribusiness, the local hardware and restaurant are now franchise operations, and—more...

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