The question of elites is one of the most important political issues of our time; perhaps the most important question of all. Whereas in the nineteenth century the main line of social conflict was between businessmen and their employees (the bourgeoisie versus the working class), today it is between the elite and the various lower classes.
Yet we know surprisingly little about the elites. We have plenty of statistical data on how much wealth is concentrated in the highest stratum, and how much is owned by the richest 1% or 3%, but we don’t have a very realistic picture of these people. That’s a very different situation than we have in, for example, a factory, which has a tangible owner. The workers would see him drive by in a limousine from time to time, they might come across a picture of him in a fancy suit, and perhaps sometimes he’d even speak to them.
Try asking the average working man of today about how the most powerful dress or what hairstyles they have. Try asking if they use vulgar language. We know almost nothing about them! In fact, we can’t even imagine them properly.
Where there is such uncertainty, the space is quickly filled with rumors and fantasies. This is understandable. The fantasy is being spun at full speed, and thousands of independent channels are spreading it. This prevents the growth of populist resistance and paradoxically reinforces the strength of the existing power structures.
Global Ivory Tower
We are not completely blind, however. Classical sociology has many insights — not only about the current state of the superelite, but also about how it has evolved over time into its current form. Charles W. Mills published his brilliant analysis, The Power Elite, in 1956, and other works have followed that chart the situation up to the present day.
Additionally, the powerful have given a number of newspaper interviews, many have published memoirs, and we know something of their private correspondence — whether through WikiLeaks or those e-mails that were published as part of the Microsoft antitrust trial. Their student years also provide an interesting source of information. We know which university each of them went to, we have some testimony from their classmates, and there were some sociological surveys at each of those universities. From this we can draw some conclusions.
First, the power elite is large in number. If we are talking about the richest half a percent, that means more than five million people in Europe and the US. That’s a group big enough to have its own culture, its own taste in music, its own way of dressing, its own diet, and its own lifestyle. This is a huge difference from the situation back in the 1980s, when the elites were national and local, and naturally much smaller. A smaller elite, even if it cultivates its separateness, nevertheless adopts values and basic ideas about life from the subordinate classes. This has disappeared. Today’s New York corporate board members are no closer to Montana construction workers than they are to Somali herders.
Second, the elite’s boundaries are blurry. Of course, someone born into a working-class family doesn’t climb into the highest class, but the narrowest elite is surrounded by a layer of upper managers who aspire to become members of the elite, and are sometimes successful, whether through marriage, stock purchases, or otherwise. How many times does one have to be invited to Davos, or how much does one have to have in the bank, to be counted among those at the top? There is no precise definition.
Third, members of the narrowest elite are subject to the same psychological and sociological laws as anyone else.
Not Even a Despot has It Easy
We must also understand that power is diffuse, always and in every regime. Every ruler depends on subordinates. Without them, he is unable to carry out his will. He can replace one of them, but only if the others remain loyal to him. He cannot go against the interests of the whole group. Even the greatest despot depends on his personal guard. It is the ability to balance the interests of different groups, motivating and corrupting them, that is the key to maintaining power.
What percentage of power is held by the despot and how much by his bodyguards? How much by the shareholder and how much by the top managers? This is subtle and hard to measure. There is one quantifiable measure, however: tracking the flow of money. According to Thomas Piketty, 70% of corporate profits are accounted for by executive bonuses. The remaining 30% goes to the owners, which of course are often banks and investment funds, where most of the money is again raked in by managers.
This still certainly doesn’t mean that this is an open society based on personal performance and hard work. The top managers usually come from the wealthiest families, have been to fancy schools, have received special training, and make use of a network of contacts that is mostly inherited. The question of whether owners or managers decide is largely redundant. They are the same people.
In our world, big money, power, and influence are linked to bureaucratic structures. No one ever makes tens of billions of dollars on their own. There is always a huge company, bank, big newsroom, and so on behind it, and this giant is connected to other giants, whether by ownership structure, supplier-customer relationships, or otherwise. There are millions of people working in these structures, and the management itself consists of tens of thousands of bureaucrats. What keeps them at the top is not the ability to build something, but the ability to play power games within the apparatus and maintain loyalty.
This brings us to the question of how to reconcile the image of an anonymous bureaucracy with the image of an elite wielding unlimited power. In fact, they are two aspects of the same thing. Power is unlimited, but it is never held by one particular person. The bureaucratic apparatus has many levels. Indeed, corporate bureaucrats themselves often refer to their positions with terms like “B-2” or “B-4” (that is, how many layers separate their position from the board). At every level of the bureaucratic apparatus, people cower before those above them. At the same time, they manipulate those below. All the while they need to maintain reasonable relationships with those at the same level; if they conspire against them and stop supporting them, they will quit.
Everyone is playing a huge game of chess, it’s just that the composition of the activity is changing. At the lower ranks, expertise and diligence play a role. Besides that, you have to play relational chess if you want to be promoted. The higher up you go, the less work there is and the more power games you have to play.
The distribution of power within such a system can again be observed according to the principle of “follow the money.” Power is where managerial bonuses are paid. If drivers were the real holders of power, it would not be managerial bonuses that would be paid, but driver bonuses. The most powerful ones are the board members — probably not surprising. Contrary to the claims of economic liberals, this is not a market-determined reward for contributing to a corporation‘s success, but a payment of a rentier nature: The ability to stay on top is rewarded.
To complete the picture, we must include activist groups and the media. If you make them angry and create negative press coverage, the community will disown you — as even global board members are discovering, to their surprise.
Where is the place for the Deep State in such a model? In effect, it is a group of people who support each other and share a common goal. You’ll find that the Deep State exists at the board level and in the highest offices, as well as several floors below. Such a structure is far more advantageous in terms of power than simply being among the most powerful, among other reasons because it is more stable. If a particular person falls out and is replaced by a subordinate, he can be an exponent of the same Deep State again. Those at the top feel supported by those at the bottom, and those at the bottom in turn benefit from contact with those above them.
We also have to take into account that there are several competing deep states promoting different interests, and that these groups may sometimes act in concert. For example, current anti-white racism seems to be supported by both the Jewish Deep State and the Muslim Deep State (although on other issues their interests are opposed).
The Court of Louis XVI, not King Arthur
So we know how power is distributed, but who gives the orders? Very few people have the ability to give a direct order that conflicts with many of the surrounding interests, and no one has the ability to give an order that is directly contrary to the surrounding interests. Emperors and sultans of the past who did this have been killed by their own palace guards.
It is much more likely that we can speak of the rule of an irrational mob — albeit a mob composed of the rich and intellectual — and we know enough about mob psychology. This also explains the totally irrational actions not only of Western governments, but also many corporations. Although observers are trying hard to find some purpose in this, they are failing. What did the Americans gain by going to Afghanistan? What did the auto corporations gain by supporting environmental madness?
In my book Breached Enclosure, I call these people the new aristocracy. I argue that with the growth of bureaucratic organizations and the formation of the elite, the old division between the royal court and the people has gradually been restored. The courtiers are different from the rest of the people. Of the many royal courts in history, perhaps those of the last French kings serve us most vividly: flamboyant luxury, perfumed wigs, statues of shepherdesses, refined manners, and endless intrigue. Maintaining a position in such a royal court was not easy. One mistake and one became the subject of gossip, fell into disfavor, and eventually had to leave the court. Thus, very special skills were needed to maintain one’s position.
It didn’t matter whether one was a good manager of one’s farm or how well one did in battle. What was valued was the ability to intrigue, plot, choose the right “friends” and quickly abandon them, flatter influential people, show unscrupulousness, and demonstrate loyalty and correct opinions at all times. All of this required a very powerful mind and also a character trait that we might very politely call “adaptability of opinion.” Conversely, people of combative and firm principles were disqualified in advance. The royal courts of the late Louis were no place for real soldiers.
Exactly such an environment is replicated today in the glass palaces of corporate headquarters, ministries, multinational Non-Governmental Organizations, or organizations such as the European Union, the World Bank, the United Nations, and so on. It is a world of men’s suits, pantsuits, and Power Point presentations. If such a claim seems far-fetched to you, take a look at any of the many thousands of books on how to be successful in a job (read: how to be successful in the upper echelons of a bureaucratic organization). You won’t find advice there on how to do your job well. They focus exclusively on where to sit in a meeting to get noticed by senior managers, how to choose your friends, which phrases to use during a presentation, how to dress most appropriately, or encouragement to spend a few hours scrolling through your LinkedIn posts.
You’ll quickly see that the entire craft of a senior manager is just two things: perfectly gauging the distribution of power, and ingratiating yourself with the right people. Is this any different from the decadent royal courts of old?
The Psychology of the New Aristocrats
What is typical for this group? Apart from the fact that it is one coherent group running across many organizations, as we have already mentioned, the following are particularly notable:
- The new aristocracy is absolutely international. Its language of communication is English, and its members are not loyal to any nation. They are not at home anywhere, and have no relations with any country.
- Its members have very powerful minds. When we see the results of the work of, say, the European bureaucracy, we tend to think that imbeciles work there. In fact they are very successful at the most important thing: raising budgets and strengthening their own position. Life in a bureaucratic system is a life of constant scheming and playing complex power games. This requires a mental capacity comparable to playing several complex chess games at the same time. After all, the results of IQ tests, American SAT tests, or PIAAC tests confirm the same.
- What they are better at in terms of brainpower, the elite lack in other areas: courage, the ability to say things openly, masculinity, a sense of responsibility . . . These are not qualities that lead to success in the environment of intrigue of the royal courts or at the top of modern bureaucracies. When you read a magazine interview with a successful corporate supermanager talking about perfect performance, know that he actually excels in very different areas: judging who to suck up to and who not to, throwing in the right flattery at the right time, taking credit for someone else’s work, and blaming failure on someone else. It is no coincidence that experience in the Communist secret police was a prerequisite for becoming a manager in American tech companies during the first years after the Czech Republic‘s Velvet Revolution. People of similar personality traits get to know each other quickly.
- They are distinguished from ordinary people not only by wealth and power, but above all by lifestyle. Fifty years ago, it was the case that members of the upper and lower classes shared the same ideas about life, family, raising children, sex, leisure, and so on. They basically differed only in that some could afford bigger cars and bigger houses, while the others had to settle for less. But today they are groups with a different culture, a different idea of life, different ideals, and different standards of right and wrong.
- Membership of the super-bureaucratic elite is largely hereditary. The primary issue is not any confirmation of princely descent, however, but the ability to rise within the bureaucratic system. Brainpower — let’s not forget that it’s still chess — plays a role, as do habits, taste in art, and more. What this means in practice is that when children born to members of the new aristocracy come into the world with better innate aptitudes, they receive a more suitable upbringing, a more stimulating environment, better education, and a more stable family. (This may come as a surprise, but members of the new aristocracy divorce less often than members of the lower classes.) Thus, when it comes to the entrance exams for elite schools, the children of the lower classes can’t compete with them. Neither can they compete with them in the tenders of global consulting firms, nor, for example, in the struggle for positions of power in non-profits and government.
Few members of the bureaucratic elite would openly admit what we are so openly and cynically describing here. In fact, they expend enormous energy to maintain the notion that their work is extremely important. They display enormous efficiency, they are extremely useful to all of humanity, and they make it seem like only stupid, nationalist rednecks don‘t understand what a corporate manager gets paid for. Despite spending billions on propaganda and of course suppressing any thought that challenges the relevance of bureuacratic systems, the hardest part is convincing oneself of this — the author of this article is a former corporate senior manager, himself so he knows exactly what he is talking about. Try talking to someone who has succeeded in such an environment, but who is perhaps now retired. You will learn incredible things from him.
We are not developing a conspiracy theory. We’re not talking about a conspiracy. We’re just stating how the social structure works. Many are able to benefit from such a situation and are therefore strongly motivated to continue supporting it. But that does not necessarily mean that it was built deliberately.
This makes the picture we present all the more bleak. There is no center whose removal would lead to a remedy. Nothing less than a change in the entire socioeconomic system will help. We, the former citizens of the Soviet bloc countries, know something about this.
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