David Brooks reconsiders Bobos in Paradise

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

David Brooks looks at the recent social phenomenon of the populist regatta and reconsiders Bobos in Paradise:

They are doing pretty well but see themselves as the common people, the regular Joes, the overlooked. They didn’t go to fancy colleges, and they detest the mainstream media.


You can see this phenomenon outside the United States too. In France, the anthropologist Nicolas Chemla calls this social type the “boubours,” the boorish bourgeoisie. If the elite bourgeois bohemians — the bobos — tend to have progressive values and metropolitan tastes, the boubours go out of their way to shock them with nativism, nationalism, and a willful lack of tact. Boubour leaders span the Western world: Trump in the U.S., Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom, Marine Le Pen in France, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy. How could people with high-end powerboats possibly think of themselves as the downtrodden? The truth is, they are not totally crazy. The class structure of Western society has gotten scrambled over the past few decades. It used to be straightforward: You had the rich, who joined country clubs and voted Republican; the working class, who toiled in the factories and voted Democratic; and, in between, the mass suburban middle class. We had a clear idea of what class conflict, when it came, would look like — members of the working classes would align with progressive intellectuals to take on the capitalist elite.

But somehow when the class conflict came, in 2015 and 2016, it didn’t look anything like that. Suddenly, conservative parties across the West — the former champions of the landed aristocracy — portrayed themselves as the warriors for the working class. And left-wing parties — once vehicles for proletarian revolt — were attacked as captives of the super-educated urban elite. These days, your education level and political values are as important in defining your class status as your income is. Because of this, the U.S. has polarized into two separate class hierarchies — one red and one blue. Classes struggle not only up and down, against the richer and poorer groups on their own ladder, but against their partisan opposite across the ideological divide.


  1. VXXC says:

    “They didn’t have much going for them in their great battle against the privileged elite, but they did have one thing — their yachts.”

  2. Hoyos says:

    OK. Call me crazy but I feel like he is just now picking up on what we all knew like five years ago at least.

  3. VXXC says:

    “The bobos didn’t set out to be an elite, dominating class. We just fit ourselves into a system that rewarded a certain type of achievement, and then gave our children the resources that would allow them to prosper in that system too. But, blind to our own power, we have created enormous inequalities—financial inequalities and more painful inequalities of respect. The task before us is to dismantle the system that raised us.”

    I agree with the blind part, can add tone deaf. Morally and ethically imbecilic.

    He makes the excellent point that adolescent academic achievement doth not make the ruling class, but here we are…

    They don’t have the sacrifice in them to dismantle themselves, nor even climb a bit off the many perches they are on…in their world all of them.

  4. Gavin Longmuir says:

    This reminds me of why I gave up years ago on the once-terrific Atlantic, and never had much time for preening fools like Brooks. Here the man-child displays his own idiocy:
    “If there is an economic solution to the class chasms that have opened up in America, the Biden legislative package is surely it. It would narrow the income gaps that breed much of today’s class animosity.”
    This after Brooks himself has been explaining how irrelevant income gaps are to the distaste so many of us feel for the likes of Brooks!

    Notice what does not appear in Brooks distortion of US society — the huge caste of people who depend directly or indirectly on the government, in the bureaucracies, the schools, and in the regulatory penumbra. Brooks is so wrapped up in his self-importance he does not recognize who “his” bobo people really are — the Mostly Unproductive Overhead.

    When economic realities hit, Brooks’ fellow Bobos will disappear — and few outside their clique will miss them.

  5. Altitude Zero says:

    David Brooks is a genuinely contemptible human being, as well as being a buffoon.

  6. Dirtnap Ninja says:

    There are four castes.

    The first are the elites who create the values. The second are the strivers who want to join the elites, so they adopt elite values. The third are the clients, new immigrants who want to rise in status, so they follow the strivers

    The final caste are the deplorables who reject or are rejected by the elites and their value system.

    Strivers have no real identity beyond their social status. They define themselves by this status and its markers. The worst thing for a striver is to be mistaken for a deplorable, who are lower status. So the striver defines himself against the deplorable.

    The strivers are in many ways the most pivotal and disruptive. They have the desire to join the elites, buy lack the ability to do so. So to keep them from causing trouble, the Elite gives them a simulated power, not to power to make real change, but the power to police, humiliate and abuse the deplorables.

    This fake power satisfies most of the striver caste, and allows to elites to keep the deplorables in line.

  7. Bob Sykes says:

    Peter Turchin notes that revolutions are essentially wars within the elite, a struggle for limited seats in the power circle. The cause is overproduction of wannabe elites.

    The struggle within the elite is also a war for wealth. And the war for wealth has victims outside the elite. The real income of working class Americans has declined steadily for almost 50 years. 1965 is probably the peak year for the working class. A single wage earner could still support a family.

    The cultural, economic and political collapse of the US now seems unstoppable. The elites did it.

  8. Paprika says:

    Dual totem poles explain each side’s understanding of business. Blues aim their life trajectories and regulations at large firms with 20th-century management style and reds talk about all capital as if it were a small local business because those are what they know.

  9. VXXC says:

    “Peter Turchin notes that revolutions are essentially wars within the elite, a struggle for limited seats in the power circle.”

    This is a nice unified field theory that is sometimes true and sometimes not true at all.

    Unfortunately it has the effect of implying non-elites have no stake in all this, which we most assuredly DO as we are marked for ERASURE.

    [The elites-only power struggle does hold for, say, Rome from Republic to Emperor, but falls apart at say...the USA, France, Ireland, Russia 1917.]

  10. Steve Johnson says:

    Good description Dirtnap Ninja.

    The elite pay the voluntary auxiliary thought police in sadistic thrills rather than in money.

Leave a Reply