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The Adams brothers embody best that snobbish disdain for the ordinary people and immigrants who were finding in an economically expanding America the freedom and opportunity denied to their ancestors. Brooks and Henry Adams were the scions of two presidents and an ambassador, members of a New England aristocracy long accustomed to taking for granted both the privileges of wealth and their own entitlement to rule. Their opposition to industrialization and materialism was in part based on class prejudice and refined taste, both of which fostered a disdain for the nouveau riche and other upstarts increasingly dominating what Mark Twain dubbed the “gilded age.” The growing power of America could not be entrusted to these degenerate ordinary citizens who wanted only to grab as much as they could. Only by having their betters take over––the technocratic elite that possessed “powerful administrative minds,” as Brooks Adams called them––could America contain the destructive excesses of such parvenus.
Running through this gloomy economic diagnosis of America’s decline was a nasty racialist snobbery. Brooks Adams fretted over the “barbarian blood” polluting the “old native American blood,” which at the time was fancifully believed to be Teutonic and Nordic. Henry too worried that “the dark races are gaining on us.” Jews in particular were linked to money-grubbing and materialism. “England is as much governed by the Jews of Berlin, Paris, and New York, as her own native growth,” Brooks Adams complained. “It is in the nature of a vast syndicate, and by control of London, they control the world.” Henry despised as well what he called “the rotten, unsexed, swindling, lying Jews.” Such anti-Semitism was part of a large anti-immigrant prejudice based on fears of what Progressive spokesman E.A. Ross called “race suicide.”
Not much has changed in the last hundred years. Of course, this liberal dynamic of resentment against the “vulgar” rich and obsession over high social status has acquired new camouflage. Decrying racial degeneration has been discredited, to be replaced with the soft racism of low expectations enshrined in affirmative action policies and politically correct patronizing of “people of color.” Anti-immigrant sentiment has been reversed, now that the liberal elites have discovered that illegal immigration in particular provides a whole new stockpile of political clients beholden to government transfers and the political party that delivers them. Class snobbery is usually hidden behind a veneer of populism, though it slips out regularly––just revisit the vicious attacks on Sarah Palin, or the President’s talk of “bitter clingers.” And anti-Semitism, though blatant at Occupy Wall Street rallies and anarchist protests against globalization, has been repackaged as “anti-Zionism,” while keeping the same fantasies of a “vast syndicate” that controls finance and the media.
Yet the essence of the liberal agenda remains the same as it was 100 years ago: Money-grubbing capitalists, the people who actually create wealth and jobs, are still being attacked for their selfish greed; snooty rich Ivy League grads still believe they should be running things, given that the oafish masses are too ignorant or befuddled by God, gays, and guns to know their own best interests; and government must be centralized and its power increased so that these enlightened elites can acquire the funds needed to redistribute the wealth and create a more just and fair social order, which turns out to be one in which they call all the shots.
In other words, a hundred years of painful experience and the failure of these notions should demonstrate their danger. That liberals continue to ignore those historical lessons and recycle those discredited ideas makes them the stupid party.
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