Caleb’s Corner: Elizabeth Warren and the Orwellian reset
Editor in Chief
For the libertarians baited in by that headline, hoping for a comparison between Elizabeth Warren’s “socialism” and 1984-esque state-sponsored totalitarianism, look elsewhere. As George Orwell would surely agree, at a time when the narcissistic lunacy of a singular orange demagogue — fueled by corporate money and military obsessions — is waging war on truth and civil liberties, a right-wing totalitarianism is the far greater fear.
That, and the 5’8” stature of a 69-year-old woman and former law professor in the Oval Office hardly portends Stalin.
Rather than focus on the darker and fictitious sides of Orwell’s thought, I’d like to focus on the more positive visions for society he advanced, and how they relate to Warren’s platform. In particular, the “socialist” vision that Orwell, himself a committed liberal (the traditional, capitalist kind) and critic of the Left, put forth as a solution to Britain’s then-bleak situation.
As his numerous essays reflect, when Orwell assessed the state of Europe before and during World War II — as the Fuhrer climbed mostly unobstructed to power and as the specter of Nazism loomed over the continent — he saw Britain at partial fault.
It was the British capitalists, after all, who had invested in Nazi Germany, seeing only economic opportunities as Germany began to prepare itself for world conquest. These were the same British capitalists who had stumbled around the imperial globe for centuries with diminishing competence, blinded by profit to the eventual consequences of conquering indigenous peoples.
Meanwhile, as British investment strengthened the Fuhrer and his ambitions, Britain found itself preparing for a largely defensive war against the Fuhrer himself.
To Orwell, the condition of the wealthy boiled down to something simple — stupidity. The British elites and ruling class, buttressed by inherited wealth and default entry into empowered educational, corporate and political institutions, had managed to assume positions of total control in British society. As he put it, “the whole position of the moneyed class had long-ceased to be justifiable.” And now they were leading Britain into war.
Orwell was a firm meritocrat, and what he proposed as a remedy was a reset of sorts. A socialism that would rein in the mediocre ruling class, redistributing wealth, and hence opportunity, so as to enable qualified people to assume positions of influence and displace the stupid elites.
Conscious of systematic class disadvantage, and aware that the upper class would otherwise enjoy perpetual economic advantage and political power, Orwell saw socialism as a means of reviving the virtues of capitalism — the individual liberties and opportunities associated, if tenuously, with private property — and restoring the meritocratic ideals touted by 19th-century liberals.
The Semi-United Plutocracy of America finds itself in a similar predicament, and in need of a similar solution. Our ultra-wealthy — the real wielders of global control — neglect with little difficulty the threats to world order emanating via Twitter from the White House, so long as their taxes remain low. They’re even willing to overlook scary blips in the stock market, and are naively optimistic about a coming solution to the trade war with China, prospering all the while.
What terrifies them most, as the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page has indicated, is not a semi-literate, impulse-driven political neophyte with autocrat-envy in the White House, but Elizabeth Warren and her “unconstitutional” wealth tax. What keeps them up at night are not separated children at the border but the prospects of regulation and the enforcement of antitrust law.
And their stupidity — the crucial Orwellian factor — has been on display of recent at the plutocrat party (also known as the World Economic Forum) in Davos, Switzerland. Concerned about what global populism and political instability mean for their profit margins, they talk about it with fear, yet their eyes light up at the sound of further automation, the thing that left the vacuum of jobless frustration that precipitated the very global populism and political instability they’re afraid of.
But the stupidity and mediocrity permeate our public institutions as well. (I’ll ignore the White House here in the interest of a stronger argument.) One prominent example is in the only professional branch of our government — the judiciary — and, shamefully, found at its highest level on the Supreme Court.
We live in a world of such woefully low standards that the jurisprudential mediocrity of Brett Kavanaugh has had him christened a genius. One where the thousands of Kavanaughs occupying our ruling class can drink their way through the prep school apparatus and into the Ivies and atop the world order. So long as the money stays at the top, this won’t change.
Cue Elizabeth Warren. What Warren promises is some guidance for the unfettered stupidity of American capitalism.
She understands that class antagonisms and economic forces underpin all of our other problems — hence why she’s spending more time on an economic “populist” message than on the day-to-day theatrics of Washington — and, after her years in bankruptcy law, she knows better than anybody how stupid the corporate class is.
Through redistributing and controlling the wealth, Warren promises the necessary first steps toward equality of opportunity and the revival of those old Jeffersonian values of plural, fair and meritocratic capitalist competition. (Warren, I’ll add, has consistently vouched in favor of capitalism, and is far from the socialist dream of the far left.)
In other words, she’s advocating an Orwellian reset designed to save the country from the aimless stupidity of its rulers. And unlike the many new and inexperienced legislators on the progressive left, Warren knows how to do it.
This is something that anybody attending a middle-ranked (but potentially very good) state university should have an interest in. Especially as, saddled with debt, they enter an uncertain and disadvantaged job market with a recession on the horizon, likely to leave the equally educated Penn and Princeton grads down the road unscathed.
Also, while the the wealth is not trickling down to young people, the stupidity is. The ongoing corporatization of higher ed is resulting in the gradual decline of standards — from admissions to the classroom — in the interest of maintaining and attracting the $40,000 commodities that are college students.
Some are warning that, if Warren becomes president, the plutocrats will take flight and take their capital with them. That might happen. But I say let it. If making this country inhospitable to dumb, near-sighted elites gets them out of the country, and in turn gives opportunity to smart people with empathy and principles, then I see nothing but positives.
But if something doesn’t happen soon and we continue on our current trajectory, cozying up to autocrats and allowing unchecked capitalism give us new technologies and new means of control (corporate or governmental), then 1984 might finally be upon us.
And sooner than we’ll be ready for.