“I think right-wing populists hate the ‘liberal elite’ more than economic elites because they’ve grabbed all the jobs where you get paid to do something that isn’t just for the money – the pursuit of art, or truth, or charity”, notes David Graeber, an anthropologist whose ideas helped shape the Occupy movement. “All they can do if they want to do something bigger than themselves and still get paid is join the army.”― Sarah Kendzior, The View From Flyover Country: Essays by Sarah Kendzior
Something about this quote doesn’t sit right with me. I highlighted it when I read The View From Flyover Country a few years ago and I can’t remember why. Maybe I thought it made sense at the time, but from a 2021 perspective, it comes across as insulting. Maybe I just don’t know enough about politics.
I don’t think “right-wing populists” hate liberal elites because they supposedly have a monopoly on certain jobs. There are conservatives that are financially successful who don’t like liberal elites. There are conservatives who are artists, or work in some art adjacent position, and that contribute to charity. I’m not even sure what job is being referred to when Graeber mentions the pursuit of truth. What is that? Journalists? Most journalists aren’t even journalists anymore. They’re entertainers.
What’s being overlooked here is that conservatives aren’t being excluded from these fields due to a lack of ability but rather because of the good old boy system. Getting jobs at higher levels is more about who you know than what you know and once a certain number of people in a position to welcome you into that circle of good old boys are adherents to specific ideology, then of course most of the people that they add to their ranks are going to follow that same ideology.
People want to be comfortable. They don’t want to surround themselves with people who challenge their point of view or outlook on the world. So, it makes sense that certain professions and institutions would be dominated by people with the same outlook.
Graeber’s comment about right-wing populists only being able to join the military makes it seem as if all conservatives are poor and have no options in life, and it implies that the military is full of low achievers, which isn’t the case. Clearly. America may fall behind in a lot of metrics, but we’re really good at blowing up other countries because we have the best military in the world.
It’s more likely that right-wing populists dislike liberal elites because liberal elites say things like this quote by Graeber. Liberal elites infantilize and talk down to conservatives. They constantly insult conservatives and try to sideline or minimize their existence.