Ever wonder where the left picked up the sneering contempt for average Americans that is its hallmark?
In a piece (“Condescensional Wisdom”) on the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who died last week, George Will shows where it started:
Galbraith was an adviser to presidents (John Kennedy, a former student, and Lyndon Johnson) and presidential aspirants (Adlai Stevenson and Eugene McCarthy). His book ‘The Affluent Society,’ published in 1958, was a milestone in liberalism’s transformation into a doctrine of condescension. And into a minority persuasion.
In the 1950s liberals were disconsolate. Voters twice rejected the intelligentsia’s pinup, Stevenson, in favor of Dwight Eisenhower, who elicited a new strain in liberalism — disdain for average Americans. Liberals dismissed the Eisenhower administration as ’the bland leading the bland.’ They said New Dealers had been supplanted by car dealers. How to explain the electorate’s dereliction of taste? Easy. The masses, in their bovine simplicity, had been manipulated, mostly by advertising, particularly on television, which by 1958 had become the masses’ entertainment.
Intellectuals, that herd of independent minds, were, as usual, in lock step as they deplored ‘conformity.’ Fear of that had begun when the decade did, with David Riesman’s ‘The Lonely Crowd’ (1950), which was followed by C. Wright Mills’s ‘White Collar’ (1951), Sloan Wilson’s novel ‘The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit’ (1955), William Whyte’s ‘The Organization Man’ (1956) and Vance Packard’s ‘The Hidden Persuaders? (1957).’
One of the reasons liberals despise average people as vulgar is that they prefer big cars to big government:
In the 1960s that liberalism became a stance of disdain, describing Americans not only as Galbraith had, as vulgar, but also as sick, racist, sexist, imperialist, etc. Again, and not amazingly, voters were not amused when told that their desires — for big cars, neighborhood schools and other things — did not deserve respect.