The New Class War, by Michael Lind, the author of numerous books of nonfiction, fiction and poetry, anchors itself firmly in the why-is-this-happening genre. Unfortunately, because its theory seems to have predated, and been awaiting, this moment, it takes a great amount of jamming to fit Lind’s peg into the hole of the present situation. And the explanation that results is marked by an appalling minimization of the most dangerous administration in our lifetimes and a highly distorted portrait of Trump supporters as victims ... Lind’s heart genuinely hurts for those shafted by oligarchy. But he is limited by conceptual blinders. And he seems to have an outdated (if widely shared) idea of who is a working-class person. When he thinks about what the oligarchy has done to America, he tends to think of white men as the principal victims. And when he begins to detail how these supporters of populism have been oppressed by the schoolteachers-to-billionaires overclass, things get really weird ... Look, writing a book about Trump-era populism without a lens of racial awareness must be hard ... what is missing from the book, and might have saved it, is actual human beings ... what is missing from the book, and might have saved it, is actual human beings ... This is a book written from the brain more than from the collision with the complexities of experience. It is a book that would have benefited from getting out there, interviewing people, testing theories against reality, heading down to the border, unearthing documents showing how companies think about the issues in question ... The New Class War lacks the texture and earth and seduction of real portraiture.
The New Class War is a breath of fresh air. Many on the left have been incapable of coming to terms with Hillary Clinton’s defeat. The result has been the stifling climate of a neo-McCarthyism, in which the only explanation for Trump’s success was an unholy alliance of 'Putin stooges' and unrepentant 'white supremacists.' To Lind, the case is much more straightforward ... Lind rightly complains all throughout the book that the old mass-membership based organizations of the 20th century have collapsed. He’s coy, however, about who would reconstitute them and how. At best, Lind argues for a return to the old system where party bosses and ward captains served their local constituencies through patronage, but once more this leaves the agency with entities like the Republicans and Democrats who have a combined zero members.
In The New Class War, inspired in part by James Burnham’s now classic The Managerial Revolution...Mr. Lind takes up the current unrest sweeping the world — he calls it 'native working-class populism'— whether here, England, France, Germany, in each case with immediately identifiable 'issues' of concern — immigration, sovereignty fuel prices. But these issues are symptoms, he writes, and the real issue is power.
Readers who agree with Lind’s perspective will find much ammunition here. Indeed, some of his claims are immediately compelling ... Other claims, however, fall flat ... A tendency toward bare assertion infects much of the book and some of its main themes. For instance, Lind’s treatment of immigration badly lacks evidentiary support ... The book’s biggest problem cuts even deeper. The New Class War lacks a theory of its own. Lind lays out facts but scarcely interprets their social meanings or identifies the causes that connect them. He does not explain why the mid-century power-sharing regime broke down just when it did or why managers in particular have taken over. He never explains why the managerial elite assumed economic, cultural and political power all at the same time, or how power in each sphere shores up power in the others. And he does not explain why the political reaction against these hierarchies takes on the peculiarly populist character that it has almost everywhere ... Lind’s book will surely resonate with those who are already persuaded, but it will do little to enlighten those who are not. This is a shame. Books like Lind’s are being written and read because populism is as disorienting as it is disruptive. The political whirlwind makes it difficult to know what is happening, even as it only increases the desire to understand.