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Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy [Kindle Edition]

Christopher Hayes
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (280 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A powerful and original argument that traces the roots of our present crisis of authority to an unlikely source: the meritocracy.
   Over the past decade, Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one institution after another –  from Wall Street to Congress, the Catholic Church to corporate America, even Major League Baseball – imploded under the weight of corruption and incompetence. In the wake of the Fail Decade, Americans have historically low levels of trust in their institutions; the social contract between ordinary citizens and elites lies in tatters.
   How did we get here? With Twilight of the Elites, Christopher Hayes offers a radically novel answer. Since the 1960s, as the meritocracy elevated a more diverse group of men and women into power, they learned to embrace the accelerating inequality that had placed them near the very top. Their ascension heightened social distance and spawned a new American elite--one more prone to failure and corruption than any that came before it.
   Mixing deft political analysis, timely social commentary, and deep historical understanding, Twilight of the Elites describes how the society we have come to inhabit – utterly forgiving at the top and relentlessly punitive at the bottom – produces leaders who are out of touch with the people they have been trusted to govern. Hayes argues that the public's failure to trust the federal government, corporate America, and the media has led to a crisis of authority that threatens to engulf not just our politics but our day-to-day lives.
   Upending well-worn ideological and partisan categories, Hayes entirely reorients our perspective on our times. Twilight of the Elites is the defining work of social criticism for the post-bailout age.

Editorial Reviews


A Foreign Policy Favorite Read of 2012
A Mother Jones Staff Pick for Best Nonfiction of 2012
An Top Five Business Book of 2012
A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2012

—Rolling Stone

“Hayes, an editor-at-large of The Nation and host of the MSNBC talk show Up With Chris Hayes, has written a perceptive and searching analysis of the problems of meritocracy.” —Foreign Affairs

“[A] stunning polemic….Hayes' book is the rare tome that originates from a political home (the left) and yet actually challenges assumptions that undergird the dominant logic in both political parties. This is not mealy-mouthed centrism. It is a substantive critique of the underlying logic of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – the logic of meritocracy.”
—Ta-Nehisi Coates, Baltimore Sun

“In a very good new book titled Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, Chris Hayes offers one of the most compelling assessments of how soaring inequality is changing American society.”

“Let's just say that if you like politics and big ideas, you want to buy this book.  It's a lot more intellectually ambitious than your typical pundit book and offers a really great blend of writing chops and social theory synthesis.”
—Matthew Yglesias,

“In his new book, The Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, Chris Hayes manages the impossible trifecta: the book is compellingly readable, impossibly erudite, and—most stunningly of all—correct.”
—Aaron Swartz,

“Engrossing….thoughtful critiques of what's gone wrong with America's ruling class.”

“I was myself very impressed by the level of execution in this book.”
—Tyler Cowen,

“Hayes’s book makes for a great read….Twilight uses a wide variety of academic and journalistic work, balancing a deep, systemic critique of society with detailed and empathetic reporting about those most affected by elite failure.”
—Mike Konczal, Dissent

Twilight of the Elites offers an elegant, original argument that will make both cynics and idealists reconsider their views of how, and whether, our society works. If Americans believe in anything, it’s our meritocracy. Hayes is brave to question it so forcefully.”

“A potent articulation of a society’s free-floating angst, Twilight of the Elites stakes its claim as the jeremiad by which these days will be remembered.”

“I read Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites last month and will suggest that you read it too – it's an engaging read that addresses the question of whether a meritocratic elite can really stay meritocratic over extended periods of time.”
—Daniel W. Drezner, Foreign

“This was a book I found so stimulating and immersive that I cannot wait to be able to discuss it with a larger audience….Even if you think you are aware of the depth of the rot plaguing the highest levels of our society, you will likely earn a new level of outrage by reading this book.”
—Alexis Goldstein,

“Make[s] you think in new ways about why we tolerate such vast and growing income inequality….an extended meditation on why the great hope and change revolution of 2008 has so far left the inequitable status quo a little bit too intact.”

Twilight of the Elites by Chris Hayes may change the way you look at the world….[It] almost single-handily undermines virtually every precept we’ve come to accept about life in the modern age.  It also may well turn out to be the seminal treatise for the so-called ‘FAIL’ generation, a term that loosely connotes everyone who graduated since the beginning of the 21st Century.”
—Good Men

Twilight of the Elites is a engaging, insightful book.  I finished it in less than 24 hours, and I encourage you to pick up a copy.”

“You should really get yourself a copy of Twilight of the Elites”
Daily Kos

“A powerful critique of the meritocratic elite that has overseen one of the most disastrous periods of recent history.”
—The American Conservative

“In his new book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy, Hayes raises demanding questions about a nation that is both enamored with and troubled by its elites.”

“[L]ively and well-informed….Offering feasible proposals for change, this cogent social commentary urges us to reconstruct our institutions so we can once again trust them.” – Publishers Weekly (starred)

“[A] forcefully written debut....A provocative discussion of the deeper causes of our current discontent, written with verve and meriting wide interest.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“This is the Next Big Thing that we have been waiting for.  Twilight of the Elites is the fully reported, detailed, true story of a 21st century America beyond the reach of authority.  It’s new, and true, and beautifully told -- Hayes is the young left’s most erudite and urgent interpreter.  Brilliant book.”
—Rachel Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show and author of Drift

“Here is the story of the ‘fail decade’ and how it made cynicism the inescapable flavor of our times. Along the way Chris Hayes delivers countless penetrating insights as well as passages of brilliant observation. If you want to understand the world you're living in, sooner or later you will have to read this book.”
—Thomas Frank, author of Pity the Billionaire

“Chris Hayes is a brilliant chronicler of the central crisis of our time – the failure of America's elites.  His humane, spirited reporting and analysis capture what millions of Americans already know in their gut – the emperor has no clothes. Yet this is not a book defined by despair or cynicism.  Hayes seizes this moment of crisis to offer important and unconventional ideas as to how to reconstruct and reinvent our politics and society.  Twilight of the Elites is a must read book for those, across the political spectrum, who believe there is still time to cure the structural ills of our body politic.”
—Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher, The Nation

“In Twilight of the Elites, Hayes shows us what links the bailout of investment bankers but not mortgage holders, the useless public conversation in the run-up to the Iraq war, and the Catholic Church's harboring of child rapists: our core institutions are no longer self-correcting, and have become committed to protection of insiders at all costs.  Read this and prepare to be enraged.”
—Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus

"A provocation; a challenge; and a major contribution to the great debate over how the American dream can be restored."
David Frum, contributing editor, DailyBeast/Newsweek

“Chris Hayes is a gift to this republic.  The brilliance he shows us each week on MSNBC has now been complemented by this extraordinary book.  Beautifully written, and powerfully argued, it will force you to rethink everything you take for granted about ‘merit.’  And it will show us a way to a more perfect nation.”
—Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership, Harvard Law School and author of Republic, Lost

“Chris Hayes has given us the kind of book people don't write any more: a sweeping work of social criticism like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Michael Harrington's The Other America that take the failings of an entire society as their subject.  Those books brought grand movements of reform in their wake.  Would that history repeats itself with Twilight of the Elites—America ignores this prophet at their gravest peril.”
Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland and Before the Storm

About the Author

CHRISTOPHER HAYES is editor at large of The Nation and host of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Kate and daughter, Ryan.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1508 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307720462
  • Publisher: Crown (June 12, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006OI2BMC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #197,125 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
365 of 379 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Limits of Merit April 27, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In 1956, C Wright Mills wrote The Power Elite and described how political, corporate and military leaders in the US made policy with little reference to the concerns of everyday citizens. Christopher Hayes updates Mills thesis in Twilight of the Elites. Hayes argues that political changes in the Sixties replaced the old WASP establishment by creating a meritocracy which opened its doors to women and minorities. Unfortunately, 3 decades of accelerating income and asset inequality have "produced a deformed social order and a set of elites that cannot help but be dysfunctional and corrupt."

The reason behind this "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss," dynamic, explains Hayes, is the Iron Law of Meritocracy (with a tip of the cap to Robert Michels). Meritocracy is designed to create inequality of outcome. Those who climb the ladder to levels based on their skills then rig the game by either pulling the ladder up after them or selectively lowering it to help their allies. Meritocracy, says Hayes, inevitably becomes oligarchy. In the United States, this has resulted since the mid-seventies in a growth in income inequality and a reduction in economic mobility. As meritocratic elites enjoy growing monetary rewards and political power, they are increasingly isolated from sanctions, competition and accountability.

This is the critical problem for Hayes. The natural inequality of outcome ordained by meritocracy widens the gap ("vertical social distance") between leaders and led. Increasingly out of touch with classes below them, elites lose knowledge and empathy. Hayes presents examples such as the reaction of Catholic bishops to reported abuses, the evacuation of New Orleans before Katrina and the length of existing American military engagements.
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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chris Hayes Debut Exceeds Expectations June 5, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Full disclosure: I was already a big fan of Chris Hayes and his work before reading this book, so I had a pretty good idea that I would enjoy "Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy." If you are also a fan, then you really have no excuse for not having/reading this book.

For those who are unfamiliar with Chris Hayes: His POV is liberal, thoughtful, and incredibly well-informed. The first things I noticed about him were his wonderful way with words and how precise he is with language. He's got the best vocabulary in all of cable news-dom. I believe he has a background in philosophy, and so his writing style is academic in nature, but super readable.

"Twilight of the Elites" examines America's relationship with our traditional institutions of authority, and how the events of the past decade (Chris reviews these significant events for most of the first chapter, which results in most of the first chapter being kind of a bummer, but necessary for the premise of the book and you just have to slog through it) have affected the social contract between ordinary people and 'the meritocracy.'

TOTE isn't an anti-authoritarian polemic; Hayes is exploring the historic role of elites in America (no demonization of job creators, don't worry), how that role has changed/is changing, and what that might portend for our society. It isn't an ideological text, it's a critical one. And it is a refreshingly non-partisan and insightful look at structural society in America.
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96 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Naked Emperors April 29, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In "Twilight of the Elites," author Christopher Hayes describes attending the Davos World Economic Forum and feeling privileged that he was greeted and directed to a special charter bus, after deplaning - until he noticed others getting into limos to reach the same destination. But, he tells us, those in the limos may well be envying the people who travel to the conference in private jets. Few attendees, he argues, actually enjoy the event because they're obsessed with what privileges they're not getting. It's human nature to compare ourselves to those on the next higher "rung", but as Hayes points out, the current economic crisis in the US is widening the gap between the one percent and the rest even more. It's also very American to view one's success as a result of hard work and effort, not things like privilege and nepotism, regardless of class. This mindset has merits, but also Hayes documents, enormous costs for our country.

Hayes looks at scandal-ridden institutions like Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church, Enron, Wall Street, and Hunter, an elite New York school which uses a single test score to admit its student body. "In fact, one of the lessons of the decade is that intensely high-competitive, high reward meritocratic environments are prone to produce all kinds of fraud. deception, conniving and game rigging." Those who reach the top may be insulated enough to be out of touch with those below; and rewarded for moral laxness, while those who don't cheat are penalized. Lack of empathy for the less-successful may be one of the end products of a system which believes that only the best and brightest should succeed.

The book is jam-packed with examples of callousness directed at those they are responsible for, yet segregated from.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yeah, but now what? July 28, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Chris Hayes's writing is beautiful. His prose is lyrically achingly accurate. His concepts are compelling, complete and superbly organized. I truly enjoyed reading this book .. .. But mostly for the appreciation of the art form. Perhaps others will find this to be enlightening new information. I found it a very well researched, detailed, articulate Description of the Problem that I am, unfortunately, already too well informed of.
I am almost embarrassed to even hint at any fault of anything that Chris does. I am an enthusiastic fan of his weekend roundtable, Up with Chris Hayes. His show is consistently the most interesting on TV. However, the lively discussions of future social developments and strategies for progressive forward movement that so interest me in the show were generally lacking in the book.
The exhaustive expose of the cult of kleptocracy that forms the bulk of the book gives way to a vague wistful glance forward in the book's final chapter. Chris, exactly how do we get from here to this better place we want to be? We want tactics, strategy, specific plans and suggestions. Where should we apply leverage? We're screwed, .. OK, we all see this .... Now What?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A must read for all!
Published 12 days ago by Antoinetta M.
4.0 out of 5 stars Clearly argued with wonderful supporting examples from our history
Meritocracy as it was conceived and understood as far back as our Founding Fathers but more importantly how we have come to appreciate merit -or not- in the 21st Century. Read more
Published 19 days ago by T. Greg Bell
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile
I'm catching up on my reviews; I read this more than a year ago. If you are choosing to read it, you are probably familiar with Chris Hayes and his style and point of you. Read more
Published 28 days ago by Middle-aged Professor
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Published 1 month ago by peggy
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
If you have followed the author's career in CNBC, you will find little new here.
Published 1 month ago by carlos alvarez
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read
A must read to understand what is going on. The prescription for stopping the continued onslaught of the nation's series of castrophes like 9/11, Katrina, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Read more
Published 2 months ago by JR
4.0 out of 5 stars Hayes is along with Fareed Zakaria the best TV analyst
Hayes is along with Fareed Zakaria the best TV analyst. His person point of view and his humanism are on every page.
Published 2 months ago by cinejevu
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfectly written and articulated message that we should already ...
A perfectly written and articulated message that we should already know. While everyone makes these issues about politics and Parties, there is a simple solution in this book that... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Megan M.
5.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed it.
Hayes had fascinating references and statistics. I enjoyed it.
Published 3 months ago by Elizabeth Janney
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Clear and clever views on life, policy and the way things are and should be.
Published 6 months ago by christopher
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