A Class By Itself
By Bill Boisvert
Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper
Class and How They Got There
By David Brooks
Simon & Schuster
284 pages, $25
centuries the bourgeoisie has fought a running battle with bohemia, pitting
bourgeois sobriety against bohemian intoxication, continence against sexual
abandon, calculation against emotion, science against nature, materialism
against art, hierarchy against equality. Things came to a head in the
'60s, when long hair and tie-dye squared off against brush cut and pin
stripes; the bohemians routed the bourgeoisie, only to be driven back
by the Reaganite reaction of the '80s. But the culture wars are finally
over, David Brooks writes, for bourgeois and bohemian have finally realized
that, working together, they can conquer the world.
Brooks' new book, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Classes and How
They Got There, is about the vanguard of this new cultural synergy.
"Bobos" means "bourgeois bohemians," the highly educated information and
technology workers at the forefront of the New Economy. The hallmark of
Bobos, Brooks writes, is their ability to reconcile opposites. They are
the tatooed dot-com executives who put in 100-hour weeks overthrowing
the corporate status quo. They are the well-heeled exurbanites who showcase
their solidarity with the downtrodden by decorating their million-dollar
homes with peasant handicrafts. They are the genteel denizens of S/M clubs
whose Web sites primly advertise their antiseptically safe debauchery
and extol mutual respect through bondage. Bobo consumerism is ecologically
sensitive and morally uplifting, built around natural fibers, crusading
long-distance carriers and conscientious recycling. Hailing from the nation's
exclusive zip codes, Bobos pride themselves on their informality and dishevelledness.
They are an anti-elitist elite.
While not exactly new, Brooks' observations about this much-observed group
are often fresh and engaging. Yet the beguiling inconsistencies that Brooks
riffs upon raise troubling issues that his book never really confronts.
Are the self-contradictory mores of this demographic an eclectic third
way between doctrinaire extremes, or just so much hypocrisy? Are all social
conflicts really a matter of clashing cultural sensibilities? Do anti-elitist
manners signify the demise of the ruling elite, or the success of a kinder,
gentler ruling elite that has co-opted and neutralized all opposition?
Can a ruling elite ever be kind and gentle?
is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and quotes extensively
from older neoconservative publications like Commentary. By positing
the Bobos as the synthesis of the world-historical dialectic between the
'60s and the '80s, his book is really a reappraisal of the Baby Boomers
from a neocon perspective. Born in reaction to the excesses of the New
Left, but rooted in a tradition of Jewish intellectualism, neoconservatism
has never been entirely at ease with the libertarians, militiamen and
fundamentalists who make up its allies on the right. Brooks implies that
the time is ripe for a neocon rapprochement with the Age of Aquarius.
According to Brooks, the Bobos emerged after World War II, when new SAT-based
admissions policies at elite universities-the gateway into the ranks of
the powerful-opened the Ivy League to bright students from modest backgrounds.
At the same time, the postwar shift to an "information economy" put a
premium on the skills of the new university-educated technocrats. These
developments spelled doom for the old East Coast Wasp elite, whose privilege
derived from family connections and money; they were first mocked and
then overthrown by the Bobos.
Thus, unlike past elites of "blood and wealth," the Bobos are a meritocracy.
Membership in their ranks is based on an impartial test, while their many
advanced degrees make them natural leaders in an economy where "ideas
and knowledge are at least as vital ... as natural resources and finance
capital." The talented, hard-working Bobocracy has done away with the
galling mismatch between ability and social rank that so incensed the
Third Estate in its salad days, and quieted all the Veblenesque wisecracks
about the leisure class.
In These Times ©
Vol. 24, No. 14