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A powerful and original argument that traces the roots of our present crisis of authority to an unlikely source: the meritocracy.
Over the past decade, Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one institution after another – from Wall Street to Congress, the Catholic Church to corporate America, even Major League Baseball – imploded under the weight of corruption and incompetence. In the wake of the Fail ...
A powerful and original argument that traces the roots of our present crisis of authority to an unlikely source: the meritocracy.
Over the past decade, Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one institution after another – from Wall Street to Congress, the Catholic Church to corporate America, even Major League Baseball – imploded under the weight of corruption and incompetence. In the wake of the Fail Decade, Americans have historically low levels of trust in their institutions; the social contract between ordinary citizens and elites lies in tatters.
How did we get here? With Twilight of the Elites, Christopher Hayes offers a radically novel answer. Since the 1960s, as the meritocracy elevated a more diverse group of men and women into power, they learned to embrace the accelerating inequality that had placed them near the very top. Their ascension heightened social distance and spawned a new American elite—one more prone to failure and corruption than any that came before it.
Mixing deft political analysis, timely social commentary, and deep historical understanding, Twilight of the Elites describes how the society we have come to inhabit – utterly forgiving at the top and relentlessly punitive at the bottom – produces leaders who are out of touch with the people they have been trusted to govern. Hayes argues that the public's failure to trust the federal government, corporate America, and the media has led to a crisis of authority that threatens to engulf not just our politics but our day-to-day lives.
Upending well-worn ideological and partisan categories, Hayes entirely reorients our perspective on our times. Twilight of the Elites is the defining work of social criticism for the post-bailout age.
“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.” – The Economist.com
“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.” – The Atlantic.com
“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.” – Commonweal
“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.”
– Washington Monthly.com
“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.” – Salon.com
“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.” – Forbes.com
“You should really get yourself a copy of Twilight of the Elites” – Daily Kos
“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.” – Reason
“[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
The Naked Emperors
Now see the sad fruits your faults produced, Feel the blows you have yourselves induced.
America feels broken.
Over the last decade, a nation accustomed to greatness and progress has had to reconcile itself to an economy that seems to be lurching backward. From 1999 to 2010, median household income in real dollars fell by 7 percent. More Americans are downwardly mobile than at any time in recent memory. In poll after poll, overwhelming majorities of Americans say the country is "on the wrong track." And optimism that today's young people will have a better life than their parents is at the lowest level since pollsters started asking that question in the early 1980s.
It is possible that by the time this book is in your hands, these trends will have reversed themselves. But given the arc of the past decade and the institutional dysfunction that underlies our current extended crisis, even a welcome bout of economic growth won't undo the deep unease that now grips the nation.
The effects of our great disillusionment are typically measured within the cramped confines of the news cycle: how they impact the President's approval rating, which political party they benefit and which they hurt. Most of us come to see the nation's problems either as the result of the policies favored by those who occupy the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, or as an outgrowth of political dysfunction: of gridlock, "bickering," and the increasing polarization among both the electorate and the representatives it elects.
But the core experience of the last decade isn't just political dysfunction. It's something much deeper and more existentially disruptive: the near total failure of each pillar institution of our society. The financial crisis and the grinding, prolonged economic immiseration it has precipitated are just the most recent instances of elite failure, the latest in an uninterrupted cascade of corruption and incompetence.
If that sounds excessively bleak, take a moment to consider America's trajectory over the first decade of the twenty-first century.
The Supreme Court--an institution that embodies an ideal of pure, dispassionate, elite cogitation--handed the presidency to the favored choice of a slim, five-person majority in a ruling whose legal logic was so tortured the court itself announced it could not be used as precedent. Then the American security apparatus, the largest in the world, failed to prevent nineteen men with knives and box cutters from pulling off the greatest mass murder in U.S. history. That single act inaugurated the longest period of war in the nation's history.
Just a few months later Enron and Arthur Andersen imploded, done in by a termitic infestation of deceit that gnawed through their very foundations. At the time, Enron was the largest corporate bankruptcy in the history of the nation, since eclipsed, of course, by the carnage of the financial crisis. What was once the hottest company in America was revealed to be an elaborate fraud, aided and abetted by one of the most trusted accounting firms in the entire world.
And just as Enron was beginning to be sold off for scraps in bankruptcy court, and President Bush's close personal connection to the company's CEO, Ken Lay, was making headlines, the Iraq disaster began.
Iraq would cost the lives of almost 4,500 Americans and 100,000-plus Iraqis, and $800 billion, burned like oil fires in the desert. The steady stream of grisly...
Chapter 1 The Naked Emperors 1
Chapter 2 Meritocracy and Its Discontents 31
Chapter 3 Moral Hazards 65
Chapter 4 Who Knows? 103
Chapter 5 Winners 137
Chapter 6 Out of Touch 177
Chapter 7 Reformation 217
Selected Bibliography 277
Posted June 20, 2012
Posted July 23, 2012
Hayes has written a brilliant book. He articulates our class concept of meritocracy better than any author I've read. In short, we THINK we are living under a social contract where no matter what our ethnicity, race or gender, if we work hard and do the right things, we'll advance. Right? Hayes points out how this is not true to nearly the extent it was, say, a couple of decades ago. It seems those at the top have pulled many of the ladders up after them. If you wonder why you're working so hard, and nothing ever seems to materialize from it, then this book might answer a few questions. Many authors who deconstruct what is wrong with our society in various ways are not so great at telling us how the problems they advance can be solved, or at least mitigated. Not so Hayes. His last chapter is a pretty sensible call to action from the very middle class that has been increasingly disinfranchised by a meritocracy gone awry.
7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 30, 2012
Chris Hayes is very smart and also does a great job of analysis. If you think you know what is going on around you, you might be mistaken. Things are not as they seem. Little people are losing and will continue to lose unless something changes radically. Very upsetting for those of us who like to seem some fairness in our institutions.
5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 22, 2012
how the "do-right" Christians, extreme right, and moneyed elitist members of out society have rigged most everything economical and political.
For his age I think Christopher Hayes has insight beyond his years. Especially evident as his research and personal experiences are spilled on his telling and educating pages. I seriously doubt he left any or very few stones unturned. I really enjoyed reading the book.
5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 3, 2012
If what you want is a deeper understanding of the political dynamics that are shaping American political experience that goes far beyond the usual superficial treatment given by the mainstream media, then look no further.
5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 30, 2012
Chris Hayes does a wonderful job articulating the ails of our now meritocratic society and what that means for each and every American. I feel that is book was honest, straightforward, and very informative. Anyone with a serious interest in understanding why the elites and decision makers in America behaved the way that they have in the past decade should read this book.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 11, 2012
I really enjoyed Chris's book and it was very interesting although maybe a bit above me in manyof the words being used as he is sp much more highly educated than am I. Having said that some of it was a bit rough to wade through but was very good and had may good points in it.. Way to go Chris
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 31, 2012
A stunningly frank look at America and how "we the people" have accepted the fact that the elite somehow DESERVE to be above the law, have more political influence, and more control over our lives than we do our selves.
A book that transcends partisanship and should be read by everyone.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 21, 2012
Posted August 3, 2012
Chris Hayes has done an excellent job of explaining his premise. His book is educational and informative while still managing to be interesting and entertaining.
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 30, 2012
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Posted January 18, 2013
I read this book this summer. Lots of great detail about our society and what a mess we are in. Chris has thoroughly researched this topic and knows the subject well. If you watch Chris on MSNBC you already know what a thoughtful thinker he is with a sense of humor. This book is a must read!!
Posted January 4, 2013
A brilliant book by Chris Hayes. The only thing better might be hearing him read chapters on UP to the viewing audience then having his panel discuss afterwards.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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