Power in America: The Politics of the New Class
David T. Bazelon’s first book, The Paper Economy, was an analysis of the corporation, in which he showed that corporations, although ostensibly private institutions, are in effect governments themselves; they tax and plan, although these functions are given other names. The failure to recognize power when it takes the form of “private” property seemed to Bazelon a characteristically American evasion of reality, alternately amusing and appalling. Not content with criticizing this absurdity and the other absurdities that follow from it, he tried to show how so radical a misconception had come about—how the sense of the corporation as a public body chartered to carry out some specific communal purpose gradually gave way to the fiction, finally enshrined by the Supreme Court as a hallowed principle of constitutional interpretation, that corporations are “persons” with all the rights of other persons under the law. In elucidating this and kindred mysteries enveloping the economic order, Bazelon showed great shrewdness, imagination, and wit, as well as an enviable ability to set out difficult subjects clearly, without oversimplification.
Power in America contains none of the virtues of the earlier book, while the characteristic vices of Bazelon’s style and thought have been allowed to run unchecked. Bazelon here pontificates, engages in elaborate and tasteless witticisms, and indulges himself in long-winded pseudo-sociological speculations, some of which are not even remotely relevant to his argument. Nevertheless the main thesis of his new book, stripped of interjections, digressions, excursions and alarms, can be simply stated: Marx was wrong. The working class has not proved to be the agency of revolutionary change, as Marx expected. Instead, “the amoeba that was Marx’s proletariat has divided into the Under Class [the minority of unorganized workers who still live in poverty], the Unionized Worker, and the New Class.”
The “new class,” which is Bazelon’s special concern, consists of managers and intellectuals. (He does not explain where the rest of the white-collar class—clerks, salesmen, foreman, low-grade technicians, public-school teachers—fit into this picture; indeed he ignores this large group of people.) Having no property, the managers and intellectuals clearly do not belong to the bourgeoisie; but neither are they proletarians. They make up an administrative elite, both governmental and “private,” in whose hands the machinery of the technological society, according to Bazelon, is increasingly concentrated. Whereas the feudal nobility ruled through “aristocratic status and tenure” and the bourgeoisie through “entrepreneurial use of property,” the new class relies on its all-important educational advantage, which in turn secures the organizational leverage—the tenured positions at critical points in bureaucracies—without which the new class would be merely another propertyless proletariat. Education is to the new class what capital was to the capitalist; and because the technological society needs experts more than it needs capitalists—the modern corporation having effectively divorced ownership from control—the new class, with the help of its allies (the “under class” on the one hand, mugwumpish rentiers on the other) will displace the capitalists as the new ruling class. Bazelon speaks of its “inevitable ascendancy.”
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