Post-World War 2 politics seems bewildering. The old political divisions such as left and right don’t really seem to explain any of it satisfactorily. Perhaps the answer is that we need to think sociologically rather than politically.
Of course sociology is a dirty word to most self-styled conservatives but it can offer us some useful insights.
Post-WW2 politics is quite different from the politics of the preceding century. It’s just as class-based but what has changed is the nature of the classes. For Marxists there was the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Class membership was based on power and wealth and was strongly hereditary. Most people were born into their class and remained there.
A new class took power after the Second World War. They were the spiritual descendants of the intellectuals who who worked so hard to destroy civilisation in the 18th and 19th century but with some crucial differences – they were now much more numerous and they were no longer obscure professors, penniless students or failed writers. They had gained access to power. They were now senior bureaucrats, influential journalists, lawyers and career politicians. Some sociologists refer to them as the new managerial class. They saw society as something that needed management, and if necessary micro-management. And not just economic management, but social management.
They were not like the old bourgeoisie. They were not necessarily rich. They did not necessarily own factories.
Importantly, they were not born into this new class. Membership was gained by going to the right universities and doing the right sorts of degrees and by subscribing to the right kind of thinking.
These are people who, whether they were born in a mansion or a hovel, now see themselves as belonging to a superior class. The class markers now are not wealth or birth but membership of a class that sees itself as an intellectual elite. They believe they are set apart from the masses by superior intelligence, education and virtue. In fact they see themselves as an Elect, predestined to rule.
What is important in political terms is that for the past half century or so virtually every politician regardless of supposed party allegiance has come from this new managerial/intellectual class. We no longer have different parties representing different class interests We now have different parties that all represent the same class interest. Which explains why the policies of the major parties are more or less interchangeable. It explains why there is no discernible difference between Tony Blair and Theresa May, or between Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison. It explains why Americans keep electing different presidents but end up getting the same misgovernment.
The nature of this managerial/intellectual class has other consequences. These are people who believe they have a duty to manage other people’s lives. They also believe they have a duty to police public opinion. They are the superior people and they know what’s best for the rest of us. If we don’t agree then we must be made to agree. It’s for our own good.