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What Happened To The Cultural Elites: Conclusion

Posts in this series

What Happened To The Cultural Elites: Changes In The Conditions of Production

What Happened To The Cultural Elites: The Capitalist Celebration

What Happened To The Cultural Elites: Entertainment Workers

What Happened To The Cultural Elites: I Just Work Here

Related Post

Symbolic Violence in Neoliberalism This post describes symbolic structures and cultural producers, sometimes called symbolic workers.


In this series I tried to figure out why the cultural elites didn’t react more strongly to the rise of neoliberalism. When I asked that question in this post I assumed that the cultural elites would see neoliberalism as a threat to their power, especially their ability to reproduce their class without interference because that is the source of their dominance. I got this idea from David Swartz’ book Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu. Writing this series has made me question the assumption, and now I think something else happened.

Early in the book, Swartz shows a graph combining economic and cultural capital. The graph indicates that some people hove lots of both, some have lots of one and little of the other, and others have varying amounts of both. The cultural elites might be taken to be the people with the most cultural capital and among them the people with the most economic capital. The justification for this is that as Bourdieu sees it, cultural capital can be exchanged for economic capital, and the people at the top of many cultural fields have done so and become wealthy. The entertainment industry is a good example. University top executives are another good example. It’s less true in some academic fields, but certainly there are many economists who have done so, and people from other fields have too.

In this description, cultural producers are the rest of the people who make a living by employing their cultural capital to create the symbolic structures that people internalize as part of their understanding of society. They are the lower-status academics, lower-ranking employees of the companies that make movies and TV shows, the content producers for newspapers and websites, copy editors and junior ad agency employees, comedy writers for late-night TV shows and sit-coms, most scientists, K-12 teachers and most musicians.

The cultural elites include the top TV and film company executives, top advertising executives, university executives and top editors and publishers of newspapers, and those of similar status in the businesses that produce cultural products. They also include the top individuals who work outside corporations, like top writers, directors, cinematographers, some artists, novelists, scientists and others at the top of their fields. Among this group are the top economists, people like Larry Summers and Gregory Mankiw.

From this perspective, we get to a good explanation for the failure of the cultural elites to oppose neoliberalism. They wound up being winners under the new discourse. They identified their interests with those of the economic elites, not those of the fields that provided them with cultural capital. They used their cultural power to select from the young people in their fields those who supported their views most slavishly, which had the extra benefit of securing and even increasing their wealth. Bluntly, they don’t oppose neoliberalism because they benefit from it.

If cultural producers know what’s good for them, they’ll do the same thing: support the neoliberal project in an attempt to convert their cultural capital into economic capital. That’s particularly true of the younger cultural producers, for the reasons laid out earlier in this series.

There are some groups of cultural producers who can and do safely resist neoliberalism. One group is the people in fields with little potential to convert cultural capital into economic capital, philosophers, musicians and writers, sociologists, anthropologists, and so on. Oh, and content producers who aren’t trying to get rich writing on these subjects.

Another group is those actively trying to replace the current group of cultural elites from the outside, by generating new ideas and theories. One example of this group is the MMT theorists; another is the Open Markets Institute. There are a few film makers, a few TV shows, and even an occasional cable news person who does a bit of resistance.

Finally, there are the young. They are in a good position to see the results of neoliberalism, and may provide the energy needed to move away from the dominant neoliberal discourse. There are new voices in the movies, such as Ava Duvernay, Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), and Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), among others, who work with good screenwriters and other film artists. There are others in areas of culture I don’t follow. There are even some new aspiring politicians, many inspired by Bernie Sanders. I guess we can hope.


That concludes my reading of David Swartz’ book. I’m still reading Bourdieu’s Distinctions, but it’s tough going and maybe not of general interest. I’m also reading How Will Capitalism End? By Wolfgang Streeck, a German Economic Sociologist. I’m thinking about making that the next book, but it’s so depressing I could barely find a bit of hope for the last paragraph of this series. We’ll see.

Beneficiaries of Trumpian Motion

Posts in this series; some of the terms I use are described more fully in these posts.
Trumpian Motion
Negative Responses to Trumpian Motion
Economic Elites Drive Trumpian Motion
Beneficiaries of Trumpian Motion
Notes on Trumpian Motion Series


The primary beneficiaries of Trumpian Motion are the economic elites, but there are others. In this post, I use Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of capital as described in David Swartz’ book Culture and Power:
The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu
to examine these winners.

In the 1950s, the economic elites and the cultural elites reached a truce. The cultural elites bowed to capitalism and accepted its domination. The economic elites left matters of social justice and science to the cultural elites. The dominant culture changed in the direction of greater social equity. Science upended the common sense ideas held by most people. As Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Mainstream churches for the most part accommodated themselves to the scientific revolution and to enlarging the groups entitled to Equal Protection in reality as well as in law, and more or less accepted the view of the dominant culture elites that certain matters were best left to the moral and ethical sense of the individual.

But as physical and social sciences undermined all of the traditional teachings in their ancient texts fundamentalists of all faiths rebelled. They used whatever religious capital they had ranting in the corners and back alleys of society, assuring their faithful that hurricanes, earthquakes and fires, disease, and other natural events were punishments for sin, and that social changes were the teachings of devils. In the broader world, they sounded like Savonarola or a Jesuit of the Inquisition. They were largely ignored, and occasionally mocked, because people knew from science that the actual causes of such events were natural, not divine. And people saw that the fundamentalist hostility towards people who didn’t meet their iron age morality was ugly and hypocritical.

But it wasn’t just the religious fundamentalists who refused to recognize change. There are Tenthers, gun absolutists, sovereign citizens, constitutional sheriffs, groups who refuse to pay taxes on constitutional grounds, John Birchers, truthers, fascists, Nazis, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and other so-called Patriot groups, and many more. There are the individual haters, including anti-Semites, racists, white supremacists, homophobes, anti-immigrants, men’s rights boys and other misogynists. These are not necessarily associated with formal groups, though many are. There are also groups to the right of religious fundamentalists, like Christian Dominionists and polygamous Mormon sects and even stranger groups. Let’s call these groups the Rejectionists.

The Rejectionists were marginalized by the cultural elites during the truce. They survived, and some even grew. But only a few of the religious fundamentalists had any religious or economic capital, a word Bourdieu uses as a synonym for power. Economic and cultural elites for the most part denied Rejectionists access to cultural and social capital, and they lacked the ability to raise economic capital. Therefore Rejectionists are part of the dominated class, those with no power. Bourdieu says most members of the dominated class accept their domination as logical and natural, arising from merit or some other perfectly reasonable cause. Rejectionists know they are in the dominated class and they are angry about it because they hold the truth.

The Rejectionists hate the cultural elites who mock them and their ideas. It’s the one thing that unites them. On the other hand, they almost all accept their domination by the economic elites, either on Calvinist grounds or other ideological grounds.

Over the last 60 years the economic elites eroded and then ended the truce with the cultural elites, and began to treat them as the enemy. The Rejectionists were suddenly reinforced by operatives of the economic elites in attacking the cultural elites. One of the political parties cannot win elections based solely on policies. They need the votes of the Rejectionists. To get those votes, they have to recognize the Rejectionists outright as in the case of the Religious Right, or obliquely, as with the rest of them.

Rejectionists suddenly found themselves with more capital. The first group of Rejectionists to grab political power was the Religious Right. However they are now joined by the rest of the rat’s nest. These groups reinforce each other. And while there must be some of the Religious Right who openly reject these allies, they are rare and feckless.

The economic elites didn’t share Rejectionist views, but they were happy to tolerate them, because their economic power insured that they would not be affected. They didn’t practice those ancient hatreds or preach those weird conspiracies, so they were insulated from attacks. It wasn’t necessary to support these groups. Repressing them is a constant struggle, because as we learn from Horkheimer and Adorno, the Enlightenment did not stamp out superstition and myth. Rejectionists feed on those ancient hatreds. All they need is toleration, and the occasional wink. This process is similar to the way the Nazis used festering anti-semitism as part of their to rise to power, as Hannah Arendt shows in The Origins of Totalitarianism.

The economic elites do not manage the dirty work themselves. Others do that. And it wouldn’t happen if the economic elites didn’t tolerate it and support it financially. The alliance with operatives of the economic elites and the lack of push-back from the cultural elites allowed those with Rejectionist capital to demand the rejection of the parts of Enlightenment thinking that offended them, and to impose their fundamentalist ideas on those who offended them.

The schools and universities that house the cultural elites, the media, the movies and other are also under attack for not teaching their theories, debunking their fake histories, and teaching their children to think for themselves. Rejectionists despise the culture that rejects their primal hatreds. They think the cultural elites and their institutions are the cause of everything that has gone wrong with their lives, ignoring the actual causes. They take great delight in Trumpian Motion because anything that distresses their tormentors is brilliant. They happily join in the noise-making, and make stupid threats and wave their fetish guns and chant about walls and jail for their political opponents with the vigor of every mob since forever.

The holders of Religious Capital are thrilled with their new power, and are willing to sacrifice anything to keep it. That includes blessing every Republican regardless of their violation of religious principle. They are the equivalent of the apostate Catholic priests and bishops who happily blessed Henry VIII when he created a new church.

Other rejectionist groups are using their moments of freedom to grow their numbers and their influence as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

One final group of beneficiaries is not-crazed Republicans. They are happy to accept the alliance with the Rejectionists and even to enact some of their policies because they get their tax cuts and cuts to social programs. They see that Trumpian motion benefits them by arousing their allies, and they don’t even have to take the blame. In earlier times, some of them, perhaps a large number of them, could have been reached on the grounds that Trump rejects dominant cultural values. But the cultural elites have lost their status, and the great mass of Republicans do not care about their approval any more than the Rejectionists do.

So what happened to the cultural elites?