Post-Modern Creative Destruction

My last post ended with a glancing reference to Joseph Schumpeter, and a teaser for “further thoughts” regarding how a free people, living in the greatest country in human history, came to relinquish their sovereignty to unelected, black-robed solons.  Schumpeter  (1883-1950) was an Austrian school economist, not a sociologist, legal scholar, or political theorist.  However, back in the “old days,” economics was more than graphs and equations; economics aspired to be a comprehensive explanation for human behavior.  Good economists, such as Schumpeter and Friedrich Hayek, necessarily ventured—sometimes with great prescience—into history, philosophy, and even psychology as a guide to social interaction.

To Schumpeter, “creative destruction” meant more than the disruptive effects of economic change and technological innovation.  Schumpeter believed that capitalism was doomed by its own success because, as a society becomes more prosperous, educated, and comfortable, it inevitably falls under the influence of an intellectual class hostile to the values that enable capitalism to flourish—individual liberty and responsibility, private property, competition, and bourgeois institutions such as religion and the traditional family.  As he wrote in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, “The bourgeois fortress thus becomes politically defenseless” in the face of “almost universal hostility to its own social order.”

The motivation for this hostility—then and now—is two-fold: (1) resentment of the superior economic rewards earned by entrepreneurs, and (2) the desire for greater power.  No matter how affluent a society becomes, inequalities of distribution will always lead to resentment by those earning less—a perception of “relative deprivation.”  The intellectual class is uniquely suited to give voice to “real or imagined grievances” because, in Schumpeter’s words, hostility to a social order depends for its success on “groups to whose interest it is to work up and organize resentment, to nurse it, to voice it and to lead it.”  He was uncannily predicting identity politics and the rise of the liberal elites that would come to dominate academia and the media.  Schumpeter was primarily anticipating the rise of socialism, but the trends he identified explain much about our current predicament.  And despite his gloomy forecast, Schumpeter did not anticipate the full extent—or the ultimate target—of the intellectuals’ hostility.

The post –industrial “intellectual class” (a concept Irving Kristol developed into the “New Class”) does not promote socialism, but economic redistribution and something more corrosive than socialism— nihilism.  The New Class—which defines modern liberalism—dominates the most influential spheres of modern society.  They utterly control higher education and thrive in the burgeoning public sector, wielding as their tools the now-familiar goals of affirmative action, environmentalism, diversity, feminism, social justice, multi-culturalism, gay rights, “reproductive freedom,” and other euphemistic causes du jour.  All of these movements share a common objective: undermining the bourgeois social order created by capitalism and replacing it with a secular welfare state (and libertine culture). Organized religion, and traditional morality in general, are impediments to this new secular order, because they represent an alternative source of authority and also discourage the nihilists’ primal urge—immediate gratification (especially sexual gratification).

In the 21st century, the left’s hostility is not aimed primarily at capitalism, but at organized religion and traditional morality.  This explains, for me, liberals’ jubilation over the decision in Obergefell, and the lack of any concern over the blatant judicial activism that produced it.   It also explains the left’s hostility toward any legislative attempts to protect religious freedom, and the unseemly zeal of LGBT activists’ vow that the campaign for “marriage equality” is not over, but just beginning.  Stripping objecting churches of their tax exemptions is high on their Robespierre-like agenda.  Liberals celebrated the redefinition of marriage by five unelected judges, who unilaterally imposed their will on the American public, precisely because it was anti-democratic.   To the New Class, Justice Kennedy and his liberal colleagues represent the Platonic Guardians who deliver the policies they desire without the need for elections.

Mark Pulliam

Mark Pulliam is a contributing editor of Law and Liberty.

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  1. Thomas Allen says

    Reminds me of a book by John Kenneth Galbraith, titled, “The Post Industrial State,” which was required reading in a class at Texas A & M. I wasn’t a member of the class, but I very clearly recall a speech made by Jimmy Carter’s trade representative at a graduation in 1976. He very clearly stated that we were becoming a global society and that A & M students had to learn to think globally. In the last 30 years, we’ve seen that globalization take place. It does appear that governments yield to the demands of the multinational corporations and they join forces in what are known as business/government joint ventures. It is as if the values and interests of individuals and their respective countries don’t matter anymore. There is an elite class that is deciding the course of events. National boundaries mean so little that legislation crafted in secret is merely rubber stamped by the so called representatives of the people.

  2. Mark Pulliam says

    Ironically, as corporations consolidate and become global enterprises, the business community itself no longer defends free markets and competition, instead seeking government favors in the form of crony capitalism, tax breaks (think Elon Musk), and regulatory barriers to entry. Big Business is as PC as any university faculty.

  3. R Richard Schweitzer says

    Holy Cats! How gratifying to see Chapter XIII get a day in the sun, which it deserves for the links it provides.

    Let me suggest a furthering fillip to be found in Robert Nozick’s 1998 “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?”

    Not to quibble, but to expand these viewpoints:

    Schumpeter regards “Capitalism” as an economic system. It may be better understood as a “resulting condition;” a condition of varying types (feudal, mercantile, commercial, industrial, financial and now managerial) and of varying “purities” (effected by degrees of social and political interventions and ideologies, inter alia) resulting from a host of factors and human interactions.

    In the essay above, there is assumed to be “[a] bourgeois social order created by capitalism” that is being undermined. That may not be a correct understanding of that relationship. It would be more likely that the commonalities in factors of individual motivations (McCloskey’s Virtues) that formed “bourgeois” social orders, were the same as those necessary to create the conditions of forms of capitalism. In short, they evolved from the same forces.

    “In the 21st century, the left’s hostility is not aimed primarily at capitalism, but at organized religion and traditional morality.”

    Perhaps it is not (or not just) the “left’s” hostility we are observing, but the tendencies for man’s discontents with conditions, to which, as Schumpeter and Nozick both note of, and ascribe to, the motives of a particular class to “stir up” resentments from those discontents. So, they focus hostility, but not exclusively, on those elements necessary or contributory to the condition (here identified as Capitalism). Amongst those necessary elements is individuality (to be drowned in collectivity). It is that use of collectivity that carries inescapable aspects of Socialism.

    Much of the subject “intellectualism” (reflected even in the judiciary) probably arises from the motivation to be significant, to “wage influence,” to “be somebody” or to be a particular type of somebody, and, occasionally “to *do* something. None of them, would surrender *their* individuality.

    Much effort is expended by those hostile to Capitalism, to assemble and maintain a collective nature to the discontents; if individuality retains its strength, that hostility will fail.

    • gabe says


      Once again, you have nailed it. So much of what the “intellectuloids” and their dependent student accolytes do / say/ profess is motivated by a desire to “stand-out,” to be somebody, to be a person of distinction, marked, of course, by a cynical (and phony (sometimes, effete?)) disdain for that system (or collection of civic mechanisms) which not only sustains (nowadays encourages) but provides then great economic and psychological benefits (esteem in the eyes of other *cranks, as we used to call them).

      I would much prefer the local wannabe gangsta, who with his pants falling around his kneecaps, is far less apt to diminish my liberty than the exalted THIRD RATE INTELLECT posturing as an INTELLECTUAL. After all, it is quite easy to run from someone whose pants are falling down than from the insidious / invidious actions of a member of the new elite who garners the support of all the local “town-CRIERS” (media members for those of you from the Leftist enclaves.

      To Mark Pulliam:

      Keep ’em coming – you are spot-on. I await your discourse on the abuse / bastardization of language in furtherance of the “new” agenda as promised.

      Happy Independence Day – but only to those who actually value it in others.
      To the rest of you, and in keeping with the new zeitgeist, Happy Fourth-O July-O!!!!

  4. gabe says

    “To the New Class, Justice Kennedy and his liberal colleagues represent the Platonic Guardians who deliver the policies they desire without the need for elections.”

    Ahh! but there is more! Now it shall be illegal (contempt of Court) to be critical of the venerated Guardians of Liberty as evidenced by the link below:


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