There is a liberal coastal aristocrat, but he is really not very liberal, at least in the sense of his regressive life not matching his progressive rhetoric. His views are mostly conditioned on his education, salary, and material circumstances. Put the coastal aristocrat in charge of a 7-Eleven in Stockton, and his therapeutic view would turn tragic quite quickly. And that fear is why he rarely goes to either a 7-Eleven or Stockton.
Let me give a few examples.
Fracking is seen as mostly bad, not because of any firsthand knowledge, any in-depth reading of the literature, any quid pro quo, or any cost/benefit analysis of the effect of more oil and gas production on the lives of the poor, but largely because the coastal aristocrat senses that he 1) has quite enough money and job security to ignore the price of gas, 2) does not drive all that much in comparison to the red-state interior Neanderthal, and 3) receives enormous psychological comfort and social acceptance from the fact that he is opposed to carbon emissions. Why, he wonders, do the poor on the way to work drive those gas-guzzling used Yukons, when a second-hand Prius would work just as well?
Illegal immigration? The Palo Alto aristocrat’s position is predicated on two realities: his hardworking nanny, yardman, and cook are often rather recent arrivals from Mexico, and he most certainly does not wish his children to attend school anywhere near Redwood City. Thus he is for “comprehensive immigration reform,” with the understanding that the benefits are his, and for others the downside.
Taxes? They are the cost of a utopian worldview, a mordida necessary to live in Cambridge or Santa Monica. For the aristocrat making over $500,000 a year, a few extra thousand dollars a year is a price worth paying, at least for the psychological guarantee that the distant food-stamp recipients, who mostly go to Safeway rather than Ralphs or Whole Foods, are content to live their happy lives as they do. Pay up the penance and be done with the guilt is the creed.
Guns? For the coastal elite, who do not hunt, who do not live in a dangerous neighborhood, and who believe the Bill of Rights are sacrosanct to the degree they support progressive change and fluid when they do not, guns more or less should just go away. Of course, the celebrity, the CEO, and the politician may need “security,” but no one much asks what hides inside the coats of the husky men at their sides.
Education? Public unions are saintly. Charter schools and vouchers are satanic. But the aristocrat, who knows best what is good for the masses, prefers and can afford the private school, and feels no guilt in his choice because his version is liberal while the more low-brow alternative is often crappy and not that much better than the public offering. (E.g., if you wish to duck out of the public school system, at least have the class to do it with style rather than on the cheap: a Castilleja or Andover rather than First Christian Academy.)
In lieu of the traditional aristocrat estate, peerage, or title, the outward manifestation of aristocracy is an Ivy League brand or a West Coast Stanford version. The proper campus is one’s lifelong entrée. The right quad is where your kids meet the right mate and receive a bumper sticker that opens the right doors. Such university snobbery is inconsistent with classical liberalism, but not with liberal aristocratic values, which are based on exclusionary criteria. For the NBC anchor, or the Massachusetts senator, or the Google executive, the key is to get your kid into the right prep school, as requisite for the even more correct Ivy League, where the perfect spouse and Facebook founders-like coterie are found. It is not just that junior will emerge with correct ideas about gay marriage, abortion, green power, the U.S. role abroad, and the poor, but that he will be seen, by virtue of his degree, as having the right ideas.
Apartheid is the unifying theme of coastal aristocracy. Without it, reality would disabuse the grandee of his worldview. Take any tenured Berkeley professor of environmental studies and make his existence hinge on squeezing a daily profit out of a Selma Stop-N-Go, and this gentle brontosaurus would turn into a Tyrannosaurus rex in a nanosecond. Therefore exclusion of all sorts from the underbelly of America is an essential.
One associates with mostly fellow one percenters. One picks and chooses friends on the basis of where they work and where they were educated and the views they hold. A Chevron field job, a University of Idaho degree in sports journalism, a strong aversion to abortion — all this is impermissible. In some Frankenstein-like laboratory, an evil genius cooked up Sarah Palin, whose looks, accent, background, views, and style were designed to enrage the coastal aristocracy.
The people Hanson is talking about would deny that they are aristocrats. They would tell you (and themselves) that they are the elite members of a meritocracy. Maybe not in those actual words, but that is essentially what they believe.
In support of this belief they would point out that membership in their club is not exclusive – anyone can potentially join. All you need is enough money or the right diploma (preferably both). They ignore the fact that the vast majority of them were born into their elite status. In the words of Ann Richards, they were born on third and think they hit a triple.
The world is what it is but it’s not fair. In a true meritocracy our station in life would be determined solely by a combination of our talent and effort. But if that were the case our children would have to compete on equal terms with all the other kids – identical school and career opportunities. We wouldn’t be allowed to give them an extra boost via better schools or job connections.
The redeeming characteristic in our nation is liberty. We are free to seek our dreams, we’re just not guaranteed we will ever realize them. Our aristocrats can lose their status due to things like laziness or dissolution. Our proletarians can aspire to higher station and reach it through talent, effort and/or luck.
It’s not a perfect system. It’s just better than any other system ever devised.