I appreciate Michael Lind's model of the contemporary American class structure. He asks us to visualize two horseshoe structures:
a lower horseshoe whose two prongs point up, and an upper horseshoe whose two prongs point down. The lower horseshoe has the underclass at the bottom/midpoint and the hub city working class and the heartland working class as the points of its two opposing prongs. The upper horseshoe has the managerial elite proper as its midpoint/apex and the professional bourgeoisie and the small business bourgeoisie as the points of its two opposing prongs.
This model is pretty nifty, and it parsimoniously captures some ideological variation as well. Roughly, Lind suggests, the “center,” “left” and “right” map onto the managerial elite, the professional bourgeoisie, and the small business bourgeoisie. True elites just want stability, institutionalized bourgeois professionals want more government funding, and the self-employed want freedom from regulation and taxation. So far, so good.
But his sense of the near future is quite limited. It was only a parting remark, but
Lind suggests that any new cross-class alliance will have to create “powerful mass-membership, working-class organizations..."
I do not think this needs to happen, and I do not think it will happen. This is a powerful meme from pre-digital labor history, but I don’t think it bears much scrutiny. It’s the kind of thing Gen X socialists say when they don’t know what else to say.
I see a very different trajectory.
Consider Lind’s ”small business bourgeoisie,” which currently includes a lot of obsolete business models, like many local brick-and-mortar stores. There is a new player in this class, and it's the bootstrapped internet business—which doesn’t even require computer programming or much startup capital anymore. This includes a whole new breed of "DTC" or direct-to-consumer brands, but also the "creator economy" and even some of the crypto economy.
A non-trivial portion of Lind's "professional bourgeoisie" is defecting from legacy bureaucratic institutions (technologically indefensible prestige cartels), into this new tech-savvy faction of the small-business bourgeoisie. The clearest and most recent example is the massive wave of journalists quitting their jobs in favor of writing independently on Substack. But the 2 million people working full-time as internet “creators” already would have been enough to substantiate my claim.
Then within Lind's "managerial elite" (the major titans of industry and government), there is an increasingly salient cleavage between tech-centric libertarian types and paper-centric bureaucratic types. Think “west coast” figures like Marc Andreesen or Peter Thiel versus “east coast” figures like the Sulzbergers.
The "professional bourgeois" defecting from institutions into the small-business bourgeoisie are doing so because their institutional wage premia are being eroded by technology, so their shift is almost intrinsically tech-centric and libertarian.
We’re beginning to see an ideological realignment where the professional bourgeoisie increasingly defects from the old state-centric, pro-bureaucracy socialism into a new, more tech-centric communitarianism with socialistic longings but libertarian characteristics.
It’s not as contradictory as it sounds. For most left-wing intellectuals since Marx, their ideological alignment with state power was only ever a marriage of convenience. Their ultimate preference is always to abolish the state, but until that’s possible, they love the state as a necessary vehicle moving in the direction of liberation. In the digital age, left-leaning bourgeois intellectuals will retain their radical egalitarianism but their marriage of convenience will now be with technology and private wealth, which they will correctly see as the only viable bulwarks for egalitarian political structures moving forward.
If you doubt that ideologies and alliances can shift so quickly due to external changes in the economic landscape, read this classic political science paper. Is “free trade” a left-wing or right-wing position? There’s no clear answer to this questions, because the content of “left” and “right” party programs fluctuates depending on opportunistic factors. If you look at left-wing parties across time and space, their position on the Free Trade issue is a function of how much land, labor, and capital there is in the country under consideration.
The newfound allies of our defecting professionals will be the tech-libertarian elites and, most confusingly, the working-class heartland—the true believers in the American freedom ethos. This is the only way to understand the new cleavage that puts on one side right-leaning media figures like Tucker Carlson, with defected left-leaning professional-bourgeois figures like Angela Nagle and Ariel Pink, with right-leaning tech figures such as Curtis Yarvin and Peter Thiel, with an army of anti-institutional solo-business creators as big as Joe Rogan and as small as the Patreon podcaster who is barely scraping by but nonetheless paying all of their bills with complete intellectual freedom.
A major catalyst of this realignment will be crypto. Crypto is fundamentally a redistribution of wealth and power away from the managerial elite (whose income is based on legacy cartels and fiat currency) toward anti-institutional outsiders (whose income is based on being correct before being accepted). This is another independent vector of change, which is also intrinsically tech-centric libertarian.
The American class structure is approaching a great schism that might very well make the Civil War of 1861 seem like a sibling rivalry.
On the one side, we will have a tech-centric libertarian camp connecting all of the most forward-thinking and freedom-focused people up and down the class hierarchy, boasting a fundamentally new and censorship-proof monetary system and wealth base.
On the other side, we will have everyone whose income is based on having paid dues to a legacy institution, plus the black urban underclass that the institutional bourgeois is essentially holding hostage (exploiting this faction's historical investment in the Democratic party, leaving them nowhere else to go, like abusive husbands do to their battered wives).
The big question is whether the captains of the sinking ship accelerate their bellicosity or ask for a lifeboat. In many ways, crypto provides the best thermometer for this growing cleavage: If the institutions gradually buy into crypto, then I would expect the USA to gradually morph into a tech-libertarian patchwork where all national and state bureaucracies gradually recede into nothingness and all power passes through blockchains.
If the US government tries to institute an outright ban on crypto—like Nigeria is doing right now—then all the crypto millionaires, the small-business intellectuals, and the freedom-loving rednecks would galvanize into a proto-secessionary unit. They would have most of the guns in America, and most of America’s greatest minds.
In the face of serious aggression from US institutions, this camp could either double-down on one of the untraceable cryptocurrencies and alternative networking models like Urbit, to sustain the true American nation in the shadow of the usurper government, or it would simply purchase a small country somewhere else.
Either way, we win.