OVER the last year or two, I've given myself a crash course on social criticism -- wonderfully grim and eloquent books by Bell, Ehrenreich, both Packers (Vance and George) and various "mass culture" theorists of the '50s. I hope to get into some of them over the next few months.
One of the best of them is Christopher Hayes' Twilight of the Elites: American After the Meritocracy. I'm often stirred or intrigued by a book, but it's not often that one really changes the way I think. Hayes's book, which looks at the meritocracy that followed the WASP establishment, is one of a very short list. He considers how a system that supposedly rewarded talent and intelligence helped lead us into the Enron debacle, the mishandled Middle Eastern Wars, the Great Recession, baseball's steroid scandal and the mess that is the Catholic church.
I should say that the premise of this book very much goes against my grain: I've thought over the years that belief in a meritocracy was what my family had instead of religion or a sense of ethnicity. But reading Hayes argument and reflecting on how nasty the 21st century has been made things look different. (The book has recently been released in paperback.)
If you still have bitter memories of Judith Miller, Dick Cheney, Bernie Madoff, the cardinals who looked the other way during the pedophile scandal, and so on, Twilight of the Elites will help you make some sense of it all. They're the new "best and brightest," and just as fatuous and dangerous as Halberstam's gang that got us into the Vietnam War.
HERE is a Salon Q+A with the author by my friend David Daley.