“The creative class was supposed to foster progressive values and economic growth. Instead we got resentment, alienation, and endless political dysfunction.”
David Brooks, “How the Bobos Broke America, The Atlantic (August 2, 2021)
“Where there is no creation, there is no mimesis. The piper who has lost his cunning can no longer conjure the feet of the multitude into a dance; and if, in a rage and panic, he now attempts to convert himself into a drill-sergeant or a slave-driver, and to coerce by physical force a people that he can no longer lead by his old magnetic charm, then all the more surely and swiftly he defeats his own intention; for the followers who had merely flagged and fallen out of step as the heavenly music died away will be stung by a touch of the whip into active rebellion.”
Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History: The Breakdown of Civilizations (1939)
Arnold Toynbee said that, when a civilization is young, its creative minority leads the masses by “charm.” Toynbee’s “charm” is the same magnetic attraction that Max Weber called “charisma,” and so long as it lasts, charm overcomes the sullen intractability of the masses and makes them fall into step behind their ruling class. Toynbee calls this falling in step mimesis. But then, sooner or later, the charm wears off, the magic ends, and the masses revert to their natural state of sullen intractability.
And this is when the no-longer-creative minority reaches for the whip and attempts to lead by force. And that is when the masses are stung to active rebellion.
David Brooks is a member of our increasingly charmless and uncreative elite, and his recent article in The Atlantic asks, with his usual quasi-academic earnestness, why so many Americans are nowadays disenchanted with our increasingly charmless and uncreative elite. Brooks concludes that it is because the “creative class” that he long ago taught us to call bobos (bourgeois-bohemians) has been hogging the profits of the information economy they created, and that the national potlach of the Big Biden Spending Bill will therefore revive the old magic by alleviating inequality and resentment.
In other words, he proposes that the elite will hold onto power by bribing the plebians with baubles and beads.
Brooks does not understand that the unruly plebian masses do not envy his bobo lifestyle. They are not yearning to mimic, even in a vulgar and provincial way, the manners of David Brooks and his friends. He does not understand that the unruly plebian masses, whose allegiance the bobo elite has lost, are repelled by the bobos’ pencil-necked unmanliness, their officious scolding, their sexual weirdness, and their everlasting, apple-polishing striving to attract the teacher’s eye and move to the head of the class. They are embarrassed by the bobos’ juvenile spirituality, revolted by their parvenu gourmandizing, and sick to death of their half-wit moral lectures and their infantile ideals.
That we are repelled is evident when we look at the bobo’s charmless stepbrother, which Brooks invites us to call a “boubour.” The neologism means a boorish bourgeoise, should have been spelled boobour, and naturally finds its archetype in Donald J. Trump. Brooks tells us that the mark of a boubour is that he goes out of his way to shock the bobos “with nativism, nationalism, and a willful lack of tact.”
I will agree that the MAGA aesthetic of the boubours is vulgar, provincial, and crude, but will also insist that this is mainly because it emerged in reaction to the SWPL aesthetic of the bobobs. As everyone knows, that SWPL aesthetic is genteel, metropolitan, and prissy.
I use this word prissy advisedly, since I think it takes us very near to the charmless heart of the bobo elite. The word is a coinage of the nineteenth century and is likely compounded of the word prim, which means excessively proper, and the word sissy, which means unmanly, limp-wristed, and soft. These are qualities one might admire in a social secretary or maître d’, but they are not what Weber meant by charisma, or what Toynbee meant by charm.
No one every heard “heavenly music” in the voice of a prissy man.
The MAGA vulgarities of the boubours are just overcorrection in the other direction, and they would no doubt abate if our elite was more creative, more honorable, and less feminized. But that will not happen, and the MAGA vulgarities of the boubours will not abate, until those prissy men throw a hissy fit, whereupon those boubours may be “stung by a touch of the whip into active rebellion.”*
*) The hissy fit of the prissy men has already begun, as has the boubours’ rebellion.