The coming revolt against woke capitalism

The coming revolt against woke capitalism

The ‘progressive’ super-rich have no idea how much the public loathes them.

Joel Kotkin

Joel Kotkin

Topics Politics USA World

Want to read spiked ad-free? Become a spiked supporter.

The greatest threat to Western civilisation comes not from China, Russia or Islamists, but from the very people who rank among its greatest beneficiaries. In virtually every field, the midwives of our demise are not working-class radicals or far-right agitators, but, as the late Fred Siegel called it, the ‘new aristocratic class’, made up of the well-credentialed and the technologically and scientifically adept.

Virtually every ideology that’s undermining the West has its patrons in these ruling cognitive elites. This includes everything from the purveyors of critical race theory and Black Lives Matter to transgender activists and, perhaps most egregiously, campaigners for the climate jihad. In each case, these elite activists reject the market traditions of liberal capitalism and instead promote a form of social control, often with themselves in charge. The fact that these ideologies are destructive, and could ultimately undermine the status of these very elites, seems to matter little to them. That they also infuriate the middle and working classes doesn’t seem to register, either.

A huge shift has taken place among the elites in recent years. In the past, wealthy people overwhelmingly favoured the political right or the centre. Some billionaires still do, including oil and chemicals magnate Charles Koch, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and real-estate billionaire Donald Bren, all of whom are well into their seventies or eighties or beyond. Today, these folks are being supplanted by more youthful and supposedly more ‘enlightened’ oligarchs, who have consistently outraised and outspent their right-wing rivals by a margin of nearly two to one.

In the US, nonprofits’ assets have grown 16-fold since 1980. In 2020, nonprofits brought in $2.62 trillion in revenues, constituting more than five per cent of the US economy. Ironically, foundations that are funded with the great fortunes of Henry Ford, John D Rockefeller and John D MacArthur, all right-wing figures, have become some of the key financiers of ‘progressive’ causes.

In the coming decades, we can expect more of this pattern. Not only do we have to deal with the beliefs of the oligarchs, but also those of their forsaken wives and their offspring. Jeff Bezos’ former spouse, MacKenzie Scott, worth an estimated $60 billion, has already given $133million to a group pushing for a ‘progressive’ takeover of education. Melinda Gates, the former wife of the Microsoft founder Bill Gates, worth at least $13 billion, is also backing woke causes.

The current cadre of elites seem uniquely hostile to meritocracy and individual rights – values that once stood at the heart of liberal, capitalist societies. Rather than promote upward mobility for the plebs, they want to divide them into ‘identity’ groups based on race, sexuality and gender. Black Lives Matter, the enforcers of critical race theory, for years enjoyed lavish support from top tech companies, including Microsoft, Cisco and TikTok. It also became a poster child for a host of nonprofits, like the Tides Foundation, which in turn gets much of its money from oligarchs and their descendants, including George Soros and the MacArthur, Hewlett, Ford, Packard and Rockefeller foundations.

Nowhere is the gap between the elites’ political activism and the interests of the public more evident today than when it comes to the overhyped climate crisis. To a remarkable extent, the current ruling oligarchy in tech and on Wall Street have embraced the ideology of Net Zero, even though this threatens to undermine Western industrial power and raise the cost of living for the masses. Elite opinion, in general, is far more engaged on climate issues than the general population. In one recent poll, those living with graduate degrees in big dense cities and making over $150,000 a year are far more likely to favour such things as rationing meat and gas than the vast majority of Americans.

The ultra-rich have been particularly drawn to draconian climate positions. Leading billionaires like Tom Steyer have collectively sent hundreds of millions to leading environmental groups. The Rockefellers, heirs to the Standard Oil fortune, have become some of the fiercest advocates of radical climate policies. They even favour punishing corporations that make money from fossil fuels like their own forebears once did.

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, have received huge donations, often as high as $100million, from wealthy moguls like Ted Turner and Michael Bloomberg. Jeff Bezos announced $10 billion in gifts, mostly to green nonprofits, in 2020 alone. The oligarchs’ philanthropic efforts are also now paying the salaries of ‘climate reporters’ at Associated Press and National Public Radio (NPR) to encourage the media to toe the party line.

This all constitutes what analyst Robert Bryce has labelled the ‘anti-industry industry’. Indeed, green lobbyists outspend so-called Big Oil by more than four to one. The recent drives to ban new natural gas stoves and liquefied natural gas (LNG) come directly from these billionaire-funded campaign groups.

The clear hypocrisy of the greens does not go unnoticed by the masses. Those same elites who demand climate austerity for the many are widely known to enjoy the use of private jets, build $500 million yachts and own numerous, often enormous mansions. The fact that the most recent climate confab, COP28, had a session on ‘responsible yachting’ tells people all they need to know about the hypocrisy of the super-rich.

The damage being done by the oligarchs’ green agenda is now fuelling a rebellion from the beleaguered European, British and American middle and working classes. Many are becoming increasingly sceptical of elite environmentalism, just as they have been consistently hostile to woke ideas on law enforcement, transgender issues and racial quotas.

Public hostility towards what Adrian Wooldridge has labelled ‘the progressive aristocracy’ is now all too clear. In the US, there are declining levels of confidence in large corporations, tech oligarchs, big banks as well as the media. Similar patterns can be seen in the EU and the UK. This disquiet has led to such things as the 2016 election of Trump, the Brexit vote and the rise of populist parties and farmers’ protests across Europe.

So far, the elites seem barely aware of this discontent. This may stem from the fact that the oligarchs and their minions live in a very different reality from most people. They are shielded from the consequences of the policies they promote, whether from the job losses brought about by eco-austerity, or the rising crime and disorder resulting from efforts to ‘defund the police’ and the refusal to penalise street crime. They live in closeted, gentrified urban neighbourhoods, elite leafy suburbs or country retreats.

The elites’ arrogance could turn out to be their greatest liability. Those outside the charmed circle may often seem ill-mannered, but they are not stupid. They know they are being assaulted by people with greater resources, who favour ever more controls on everyday behaviour, on small businesses and on speech. The oligarchs may see themselves as what David Callahan describes as a kind of ‘benign plutocracy’, but ordinary people do not regard these ultra-rich poseurs in such flattering terms.

Like French aristocrats before the revolution, the oligarchs talk largely among themselves. They seem unaware that they may be financing fashionable causes that may threaten ‘their own rights and even their existence’, as Alexis de Tocqueville said of the Ancien Régime. In pre-revolutionary times, French aristocrats and top clerics preached Christian charity and celebrated the rights of man while indulging in gluttony, sexual adventurism and lavish spending, as well as exercising their historic privileges. Just like the revolutionaries of 1789, many in today’s third estate are disgusted by the hauteur and hypocrisy of the upper classes.

Already among Democrats, the party with most oligarchic support, more of its registered supporters favour socialism over capitalism. At the same time, the echo of 1789 was evident in the so-called gilets-jaunes (yellow-vest) protests against higher fuel taxes in the winter of 2018-2019. Recent protests by farmers in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Italy all reflect concerns about the impact of elite policies on ordinary people’s livelihoods.

Ultimately, this rebellion, launched from the left or right, or both simultaneously, represents a direct threat to our insane ruling class. Even those elites who are worried about the financial distress facing the masses have only the most patronising solutions to offer. Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, former head of Uber Travis Kalanick and AI guru Sam Altman have all spoken in favour of an expanded welfare state and direct cash payments for the proles, under the guise of a ‘universal basic income’.

For all their faults, the elites of industrial-era Britain and America at least provided opportunities for the middle and especially the working class. They helped create powerful economies that, ultimately, and with some political cajoling, produced unprecedented mass affluence. In contrast, today’s oligarchs and their ‘expert class’ allies offer nothing more than subsidies and handouts – or what Karl Marx referred to as ‘the proletarian alms-bag’.

In the coming decade, we need a politics that rejects the assumption of superiority and right to rule from our oligarchic rulers. There is still time, despite the power of the elites, to champion democracy, liberal values and the dream of upward mobility. ‘A man may be led by fate’, wrote the great Soviet-era Russian novelist Vasily Grossman, ‘but he can refuse to follow’. The future course of history is never inevitable, if we retain the will to shape it.

Joel Kotkin is a spiked columnist, the RC Hobbs presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author, most recently, of The Coming of Neo Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class, published by Encounter.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics USA World


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today