Considering two essay by Janan Ganesh. Old Socialist comments

The reader can look to Mr. Ganesh’s essay of November 27, 2020 for his latest rhetorical strategy:


Headline: What the dream hoarders get wrong about parenting


Sub-headline: The rich screen their children from the hardships that form genius


https://www.ft.com/content/b3b92ba4-f6e7-4fd1-bc61-6a73272e8b49


It’s Matthew Parris’, Fracture , assisted by Richard Reeves’ “dream-hoarders” that provides the rhetorical frame for this essay. In Ganesh’s essay, it’s acts as a kind of maladroit apologetic riff on The Hillbilly Elegy, and the author who evolved, out of his experience of deprivation, into a ‘Conservative Without Conscious, to borrow from John Dean.

In a 19th Century American context, Mr. Ganesh could have looked at ‘The Jameses: A Family Narrative’ By R. W. B. Lewis, for the story of privilidge, and the fact that two of America’s greatest writers/thinkers, alcoholics, and a neurasthenic all come from privilidge.

If the outcome were a super-caste of dazzling people, honed generation to generation, the inequity of it all might be pardoned. Society would profit from their governmental skill and artistic flair, as per the Bloomsbury dream. But with exceptions, the outcome is more often an innocuous sort of rich kid. Learned but unoriginal, diligent but not consumed with ambition, successful without ever troubling the historians: having known none growing up, I have not been able to move for them in 15 years. The British ones have the manners to feign guilt but they are much of a muchness everywhere.

Mr. Ganesh rambles on in his idiosyncratic way, that ends in two paragraphs of the pseudo-prescriptive, that is if I’m reading it correctly?

But if a seething work ethic can make the most out of one’s talent, it does not account for the talent itself. A subtler theory is that distress makes an outsider of its victim. And it is there, in the wound-licking margins, where the world is perceived from a slight angle, that originality stirs. Parris is good on gay greats, though he might have made more of the young Keynes.

Such is the self-reinforcing nature of privilege, the next batch of dream-hoarders will be all but untouchable. Averting the ossification of this sect would entail state action of unpopular and perhaps even unethical invasiveness. Their appeals to nature (“I’d go to the wall for my boy!”) will always win out. The one case for an over-class is that its brilliance helps us all as a benign externality. Growing up, I assumed that was the deal. But I got to know them.

In his essay of December 1, 2020 Mr. Ganesh appropriates a rhetorical framing provided by Peter Turchin and his ‘elite overproduction’ . Note that the faming is couched in economic terms. Would ‘overcrowded specializations’ been a more appropriate concept? Or is his framing about propping up the faltering Neo-Liberalism?

Headline: The real class war is within the rich

Sub-headline: An academic blames ‘elite overproduction’ for political turmoil in the west

https://www.ft.com/content/0bf03db8-c61b-4222-8c76-4fb23988ec13

The reader experiences deja vous! Its as if Mr. Ganesh is in thrall to The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. Who preach against a tenth percentile of upper-class college students, who are politically/morally toxic. Occupy Wall Street began in 2011 into early 2012. Should the reader look to this moment, as the ‘trigger’ , that led to these two creatures of the political establishment, in sum ‘political centrists‘, Neo-Liberals/New Democrats to write the latest expression of anti-student hysteria.

It is appropriate that Mr. Ganesh should refer to the Éminence grise of Anti-Student Hysteria Allan Bloom, adding rhetorical distance in his attribution to the ‘populist right’. And ‘woke culture’ as the province of the malign ‘underemployed humanities graduates’ Look to Saul Bellow’s ‘Ravelstein’ for a portrait of ‘the prof’ spending hours on the phone advising, counseling his acolytes.

Nor does the theory exhaust its usefulness with the populist right. What is woke culture if not the howl of a generation of underemployed humanities graduates? Since Allan Bloom wrote The Closing of the American Mind in 1987, the right has deplored the substance of what the young are taught. “Critical theory” and the politicisation of the west’s literary canon cause particular anguish.

Mr. Ganesh’s question brings into focus another enemy of the virtuous centrist political moment ‘postmodern theories’ Yet he misses that other enemy, the toxic Neo-Marxism of The Critical Theory of Adorno/Horkheimer!

 If postmodern theories vanished from campus, would this surplus of frustrated graduates really just go about their lives as room-temperature liberals?

The next paragraph explains the exalted status status of Super-Technocrat Prof. Turchin, and his “Cliodynamics,”, and a revelatory comment of the real actors of the French Revolution: not the most impoverished, but those ‘those several tiers above’.

Prof Turchin is a member of no fewer than three departments at the University of Connecticut. “Cliodynamics,” his polymathic effort to give the study of history some of science’s quantitative rigour, is prone to over-reach. But one need not ride with him all the way to see that his core insight, the narcissism of small differences, recurs over time and space. It was not the most impoverished people in France who overturned the ancien régime. It was those several tiers above, held back by class rigidities from the pursuit of their happiness.

Mr. Ganesh equivocates on Prof. Turchin’s “Cliodynamics,”: ‘But one need not ride with him all the way to see that his core insight,…’ It has fulfilled it rhetorical purpose as a highfaluting frame. Or should it be more carefully considered as mere political décor?

And Hillbilly Elegy does garner a mention:

If their movement unites the not-quite-elite and the Hillbilly Elegy classes, no governing programme can serve them both. 

Mr. Ganesh polemic ends, with his specialty, an extemporizing on a politically clotted Sunday Supplement Kitsch:

The past four years have underscored the quandary. Had Mr. Trump governed as an economic populist, taxing the rich to build infrastructure, he might have won a second term. But he would also have forfeited the Fox News anchors, the lavish donors, the high-income voters: people who liked him because he scandalized those slightly above them in the US prestige league. They are not the same as those who voted for him as deliverance from real hardship. Formal government exposes the incoherence of the populists. Their recourse, says Prof Turchin, lest we relax, might be the politics of the street.

Could that ‘politics of the street’ be a rebirth and reimagination of Occupy Wall Street?

Old Socialist

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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