cover image Twilight of the Elites: 
America After Meritocracy

Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy

Christopher Hayes. Crown, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-72045-0

Calling the decade of the 2000s the “fail decade,” Hayes, editor at large of the Nation and host of MSNBC’s Up w/ Chris Hayes, highlights the implosion of trusted American institutions—Enron, Wall Street, Congress, the Catholic Church, and Major League Baseball—tracing the origins of the present crisis of authority to our elite meritocracy. While the WASP establishment emphasized “humility, prudence and lineage,” the current meritocracy celebrates raw ambition, achievement, and brains, and it’s learned to embrace the alarming inequality that keeps its members near the top. The result, Hayes notes, is a society with extremely high and rising inequality, without social mobility, presided over by overachievers who enjoy tremendous financial and political clout, yet face no actual punishment for failing at their duties. The lively and well-informed Hayes warns that if we ignore our extreme inequality, those at the top become more prone to corruption, social isolation, and failure. As examples, he pinpoints the devastating effects of social distance that led to recent scandals and catastrophes: the fundamental gap between priests and the parishioners whose children were victimized; the disproportionate distance between the civilian elite and our soldiers; and during the financial crisis, the distance between those who were bailed out and those were not. Offering feasible proposals for change, this cogent social commentary urges us to reconstruct our institutions so we can once again trust them. Agent: Will Lippincott, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (June)