The Clare Spark Blog

December 17, 2015

Whither the white working class?

gilded-age-populism“Independent” Megyn Kelly mentioned William A. Galston’s op ed in the WSJ (“The Bleak Reality Driving Trump’s Rise,” 12-16-15). This blog takes issue with Galston’s characterization of the flagging economy that is supposedly driving [racist] white labor to the open arms of Donald J. Trump.

Galston, had he been an honest journalist and a reader of Milton Friedman, for instance, might have blamed the slowing economy on the statist practices of the increasingly left-wing Democratic Party.

There used to be a major dispute among historians of the condition of the English working class in the early 19th century after the rise of industrialism, but such figures as Marx, Dickens, Carlyle, Toynbee, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, the Fabians, and more recently Eric Hobsbawm, fixed all that, declaring (against entirely contrary statistics) that life was hell for the new industrial working class. Their twentieth century “progressive” followers are now in charge of the public school system and the major universities, buttressed by cultural nationalists who hate “capitalism and imperialism,” so it is any wonder that a contempt for “white supremacy” is now characteristic of students in the “better” private and public schools, and whose spokespersons can now be heard on the “moderate” and “balanced” newspapers and cable news shows?

Are your college-age kids English majors? If they are not besieged by medieval literature and “ethnic” literatures, they might choose to drown in the anti-modern, proto-Green fulminations of the Romantics, deemed today to be the advocates of soothing Nature, certainly not the beguiling “Nature” identified by “Romantic” Herman Melville, who saw the White Whale as not only Leviathan but a representative of Nature with a false face, harboring “the charnel house within.” Moreover, Melville rejected either Whiggish “optimism” or Tory “pessimism,” plumping for “realism.” [For the UCLA English syllabus see Whether or not many of these entries are anticapitalist/antimodern, the reader can decide for herself. Thanks to Prof. Jon Morse of the U. of Hawaii for the  reference to the UCLA course list.]

Galston’s final paragraph gives his politics away: Warning “professional elites” against complacency, he writes “Cultural liberalism is not enough. Without a plan that offers a better life for Americans born to fewer advantages, populism, not progressivism, could capture the future.”


The WSJ  is apparently unaware that the populist movement was originally for “the people” (mostly small producers but not workers, who may inhabit the entire spectrum of socioeconomic opinion; see Even worse, Democrat William A. Galston doesn’t know that the progressive movement co-opted populist demands. (See, especially the footnotes.)





  1. If, as an experimental populist gesture, the government — all government — simply repealed income taxes for one year while keeping all the benefits intact, would the classes as a whole cheer for the extra money in their pockets and make good with it?

    They would not, I dare say. They would complain about how the “rich” benefit unfairly because they received a “larger tax break” than the entitled masses. A man who makes little money pays no taxes, and would receive no direct benefit from a tax holiday, and that is not “fair.”

    But you would also find the elites and other well-to-dos complaining about the rise of an entrepreneurial class arising among the poor and middle-class, people who actually make life better for themselves. This would disrupt the dependency upon the state that upholds progressivism. If people take responsibility for their own happiness, “working poor” will seem to be a preferable state to unemployed because in work, there is hope for a better future.

    The masses don’t reach out to Donald Trump because the economy is bad, but because he offers hope of a better path, a renewed belief in traditional American self-reliance and “can do.” And the other politicians, dumbed down by their own defeatism and lost innocence, are scattering, unsure of how to react. While the elites may sneer at Trump’s boasts and braggadocio, he is plowing fertile soil across all socioeconomic classes.

    Comment by stereorealist — December 18, 2015 @ 2:48 am | Reply

    • The blog was mostly about the debate among social theorists regarding a supposedly miserable English working class in the early 19th century. To my knowledge, Mr. Trump has not addressed tax issues. You didn’t address the limitations of populism, for the social base of populism had nothing to do with labor, on the farms or anywhere else.

      Comment by clarelspark — December 18, 2015 @ 2:38 pm | Reply

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