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Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy Paperback – June 11, 2013
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“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, Slate.com
“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, Crookedtimber.org
“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, Marginalrevolution.com
“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 Policy.com
“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, Livetotry.com
“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 Project.com
“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”
“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 w/ Chris Hayes on MSNBC. From 2010 to 2011, he was a fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J Safra Foundation Center for Ethics. His essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Time, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, and The Guardian. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Kate and daughter Ryan.
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Top Customer Reviews
Christopher Hayes' book, Twilight of the Elites, documents the end of elites in America, from religious to sporting to political to news organizations as well as others. They are often considered the pillars upon which society has rested. But in many cases, they have squandered the mandates by which they lead, the credibility they assumed they could not loose. In several cases, such as that of the Catholic Church, they have been sexual transgressions compounded by an emphasis on maintenance of their own power. In the case of sports, a win-at-any-cost mentality exemplified by the use of and tolerance of drugs. Winning above all else has lead to a collapse of the credibility of institutions, therefore, the lose of their leadership. Politics is certainly not exempt.
Regulators and legislators are guilty of the same sins. On page 173, Hays writes:
And yet during our era of fractal inequality, the noncommercial sphere has shrunk, leaving noncommercial institutions increasingly dependent on commercial interests. What we're left with is a blurring of the boundaries between what Jane Jacobs described as the Guardian Syndrome on the one hand and Commercial Syndrome on the other. According to Jacobs, the Guardian Syndrome ('shun trading," "be loyal," "treasure honor") regulates the behavior of the soldier, the politician, and the policeman among others, while the Commercial Syndrome ("compete," "respect contracts," "promote comfort and convenience") guides the behavior of the banker, the baker, and the businessman. This basic division captures something essential about our expectations of many "authority" figures, particularly elite authority figures in positions of great social and financial esteem. We want them to be Guardians first; we don't thin they should be for sale.
Yet our current system of fractal inequality creates the conditions in which everything is inexorably drawn into the realm of commerce.
The enormous differential in reward and power of the Commercial verses the Guardian role means that the former inevitably corrupts the latter. And it destroys the civil society we have created as a revolving door rewards today's regulators and government officials who move to the commercial side. "We can never be sure just which other business cards are in the pocket of pundit, politician, or professor."
The book is important to document and verify what many of us may believe about Trump: he is corrupt and corrupting. And dangerous to our republic. We need to heed a writer who observed that influence on outcomes, and fight for right rather than power alone.
Plutarch: An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.
Compare that to these words in “Twilight of the Elites. “It’s clear that we are in the midst of something far grander and more perilous than just a crisis of government or a crisis of capitalism. We are in the midst of a broad and devastating crisis of authority.” The difference, Hayes points out again and again throughout the book, is that the old hierarchies have been invaded by the successful “graduates” of the American meritocracy.
Thanks to that shift, Wall Street and its multi-million-and-billionaires dominate the economy and political scene of our nation. We cringe at the way governmental decisions are bought today. Then we sift through the corporate scandals of the past few years, the machinations of the banking community and see how the elites escape liability for their actions. The task of overhauling the system seems unattainable. Add to that the Supreme Court’s destruction of campaign financing regulations and the fact that, as Hayes points out, dollars now dominate candidate selection. Who is left to control the mess?
The consequence is that the elites have even more jurisdiction over the policies and direction of our nation. The excessive wealth of the elites does far more than just put lavish repasts on their dining room tables. It is now used to rule the nation. In a sense, this aspect of Hayes’ excellent book can be summarized in a simple formula: Dollars…lobbyists…huge congressional campaign costs…bought decisions…power. This is not an exclusive indictment of either political party. Hayes is not afraid to confront ideas and issues on either side of the aisle.
But so much for the Kochs, the Adelsons and their controlling moneybag associates who have emerged. While this theme particularly intrigued me, there is so much more to digest in this remarkable book.
According to Hayes, the ever-increasing lack of trust and confidence in our government, the business community, the High Court and other key institutions can be traced back to the societal upheaval of the Vietnam War period and the shock of Watergate. The Pew survey of 2010 reported the lowest level of trust in Washington since it began recording results in 1978.
As Hayes indicates, one can construct a variety of theories to explain this. One of the most common, usually offered by the targets of the distrust, is the 24-hour news cycle and the way the media “sensationalize mistakes and insinuate nefarious motives.” Pew reported in the same survey that trust in the news media was an upsettingly low 31 percent. That’s not surprising, as Hayes says, since the press missed several of the most significant stories of the period, for example the untruths that led to the Iraq invasion and the burgeoning housing bubble.
Surrounded by the security failures leading to 9/11, as well as the Enron crash, the Madoff scandal, the abuse of children by Catholic clergy, the failure of the dams in New Orleans, the prying of the NSA, the hideous condition of our infra-structure and so much more, how can we expect the citizenry to have confidence even in institutions or people who were once considered impeccable?
Even the Presidency has come under fire. Nixon, of course, shocked the nation with his misdeeds. George Bush and Dick Cheney paid little heed to the truth. Our current Chief Executive arrived at the White House as a fresh wind replete with dramatic promises for a turn-around. Unfortunately, disillusionment has set in as that slate of promises remains untackled. On many issues, Obama didn’t even try. Hayes says it succinctly, “Despite his campaign promises to take on the ‘system,’ the President has operated safely within it.”
What I find most disturbing about the book is the fact that nowhere near enough members of the electorate, indeed of the citizenry altogether, will ever take the opportunity to read it. Only a small handful may know of Chris Hayes through his impressive broadcasts on MSNBC or because they read The Nation. In effect, the book has been “preaching to the choir,” to those of us who already share much of his outlook. So many more should be brought into the choir, even if it means the book should be mandatory reading for high school graduation. Frankly, it is so concisely and clearly written it would make a fine fit for senior classes.