What’s the Matter With Connecticut?

The most recent issue of The American Conservative carries an essay by this title that I’ve written, and which is available today in shortened form on the site Philanthropy Daily. In the piece I riff on Thomas Frank’s thesis in What’s the Matter With Kansas?, asking why wealthy voters in Blue States like Connecticut have been apparently voting against their economic interests in electing higher-taxing Democrats. My provisional thesis, based on some relatively recent social science findings: today’s meritocrats prefer to farm out their charity to the government, rather than be distracted from their lifestyles and “creative class” work by engaging in the work of civil society. In this, they have abdicated the activities of “noblesse oblige” that once marked the older aristocracy. Government fills in the vacuum, providing therapeutic treatment for the losers in the meritocratic sweepstakes. Personal responsibility is traded for a set of abstract relationships, mediated by our tax dollars. Bureaucracy replaces community, bad conscience stands in for love.

5 comments on this post.
  1. Empedocles:

    I read your article and very much enjoyed it. I especially liked linking up the conclusions of Bowling Alone, What’s The Matter With Kansas, and The Big Sort. In your writings you consistently inveigh against what you tern “meritocratic elite,” or “deracinated cosmopolitans.” The pretensions of this group (that I’ve been calling “The Personas”), that they are fully self-created individuals with no obligations to the past or to others, needs to be popped. Personas do not see themselves as members of a kind even though there is more homogeny among Personas than among just about any other group in America today. Walk through Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or some similar place in another city, and you will get the sense that you have stumbled into a distinct ethnic enclave. However, they do not see the ways in which their views are inherited, how they form into a kind by their shared and inherited styles of attire, political, social, moral, and artistic views. Personas possess all the traits and bonds of an ethnicity. But they do not identify themselves as members of any kind, insisting that they are purely self-created individuals. They think that to identify with, take pride in, or accept inherited traits is to be “inauthentic.” Part of my motivation in putting a name on this group is to break the illusion of individuality among its members. By naming a kind you invite observation of the commonalities among members and the traditions they share.

  2. Bruce Smith:

    I tend to think of “Personas” as “Avoidants”. They will seek to maximize choice in their own lives but generally avoid helping others, usually less fortunate, to do the same. It has to be said though that outside of consumerism the the amount of meaningful choice offered by the elite controllers of state and market for individuals to control their lives is poor. Also in a consumer society driven by the quarterly return competition and heavily skewed towards private and legal contracts rather than social contracts it is hardly surprising that society is full of individuals with little empathy for others and where there is seeing it a hopeless task to help others gain more control or choice in their lives. The Semi-Servile State is here although even that is collapsing in the United States under the madness of the elite sociopaths.

  3. Adam K. Webb:

    Another issue is the nature of the cultural resentments that still fester among many of what Djilas and Gouldner called “the new class.” Many like flattering themselves that they are still fighting an old battle to oust a WASPish elite that is, by and large, already long displaced. The geography may be the same as the old New England Republicans, but the demographic decidedly is not.

  4. D.W. Sabin:

    “What’s the Matter with Connecticut”? It is sandwiched between New York City and Boston and so its flummoxed by the suspended animation of suburbia. It was once known as the “Provisions State” , called thus by General Washington after Governor Trumbull collected a large herd of cattle and other provisions and marched them across hazardous countryside himself to relieve suffering soldiers during the Revolution. A grateful Washington said at the time that no other state could have done such a thing. Connecticut, though the doughty old “Land of Steady Habits”, it’s also a former bell-weather state.

    Supplying the troops during our Revolution, then acting in the forefront of our industrial revolution (to look at the “Made in Connecticut” exhibit at Bridgeport’s Barnum Museum is to be simultaneously impressed and depressed), Connecticut went on to be an early pioneer in commuting and the rise of the Corporate Culture.

    Unfortunately, there seems to be no new bell-weather move of any significance to provide any kind of cheer that something new and wonderful and productive might evolve out of the dominance of suburbia. The suburbanite, unlike his forbears, has no concept of cause and effect. Things seem to happen as if by magic and one can “make a living” shuffling papers and hating every minute of it. I suppose we can thank the current paradigm for resulting in better water in our rivers than during the Brass Age of Waterbury but Connecticut, like the rest of the Country is still charmed by the technocratic mosh pit of Global Commercialism and its counterfeiting affiliate known as the Government of the United States. Hopeful new developments in local agriculture are principally supported by the technocratic wealth class that makes its living in this new form of isolationism called Globalism. Cities larger than 30,000 people are excessively dominated by generally encrusted ghetto or mouldering sinks of unemployment.

    We will not have to ask what is wrong with Connecticut, or Kansas or any other state when once again, there is a continuum from city to country and regions are vibrant because the residents are engaged in productive, multifarious activities. In no way do I want to chase away the Manhattan or Boston urban refugee weekender, I would simply like to see the development of a healthier full time population for them to join while enjoying what is still a hidden gem of loveliness and historic drama. Some of our crumbling industrial buildings could be marvelously re-fitted. Built like crap, the suburbs will not make lengthy ruins.

  5. Daniel McCarthy:

    The TAC version is now online here, by the way, http://amconmag.com/article/2010/aug/01/00033/ . Keep sending ideas our way, Patrick!

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