The New Class Controversy

The recent successes of the American right depend, in part, on its ability to deflect lower-middle-class resentment from the rich to a parasitic "new class" of professional problem-solvers and moral relativists. In 1975, William Rusher of the National Review referred to the emergence of a "verbalist" elite, "neither businessmen nor manufacturers, blue-collar workers or farmers," as the "great central fact" of recent American history. "The producers of America," Rusher said, "have a common economic interest in limiting the growth of this rapacious new non-producing class." The idea of a new class enabled the right to invoke social classifications steeped in populist tradition—producers and parasites—and to press them into the service of social and political programs directly opposed to everything populism had ever stood for.

If the new class is a "muddled concept," in the words of Daniel Bell, it is because we can never be sure just what social grouping it is supposed to refer to. But this imprecision, though it weakens the analytical value of the new class idea, adds to its polemical value as an all-purpose term of political abuse. Played off against the business class, it enables the right to attack "elites" without attacking the corporate elite. Businessmen, it appears, are responsible and public-spirited; they are accountable to...

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