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“The Levelling” Review: Masters versus the Masses

20 June 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Resentment of elites is the theme of the hour. In “The Levelling,” Michael O’Sullivan mentions a historical analogy to make all the more vivid our current moment. In England in the late 1640s, he notes, a faction called the Levellers complained about the grandees in Oliver Cromwell’s army, which had just defeated Charles I in a civil war. The grandees wanted to impose a postwar settlement without consulting the rank and file in the army. As one Leveller put it, calling for more equality: “Have you shook this nation like an earthquake to produce no more than this for us?”

More than three centuries later, the 2008 financial crisis devastated Middle America, but the grandees who fueled the crisis with excessive risk taking faced no consequences. According to Mr. O’Sullivan, the government response to the 2008 global crisis saved “those who have the means to be saved (and who may not deserve to be saved), leaving others floundering.” This generation’s Levellers in the U.S. and the U.K. and on the European continent protest the undemocratic power of government technocrats, central banks and the European Commission, and they vote for Donald Trump, Brexit and Europe’s populist parties.

It is a powerful statement of the problem of the elites vs. the masses, the insiders vs. the outsiders. Ironically, “The Levelling” itself and the genre to which it belongs highlight the problem rather than solve it. Often condescending, supposedly expert solutions are offered to a crisis that is so broadly defined that it includes obesity, videogame addiction, acute attention deficit disorder and the “hunched form of the ‘texter.’ ” In such diverse signals the author claims to hear the masses saying that they “are experiencing more change than they are comfortable with.”

It is part of the charm of “The Levelling” that the author confesses the sins of this genre even while he gleefully sins further.

. . . .

To be fair, Mr. O’Sullivan, a finance executive and author, sometimes shows more convincing expertise.

. . . .

So should the grandees listen to the “incoherent” grievances of the Levellers? Should the grandees reflect on their own incoherence—repeated domestic and foreign-policy failures unsuccessfully hidden by their favorite buzzwords? Surely such incoherence is part of what has led voters to reject them. The grandee philosophy remains that of the famous Ring Lardner line: “Shut up, he explained.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Non-Fiction, Reviews

One Comments to ““The Levelling” Review: Masters versus the Masses”

  1. I’m always curious how foreign citizens view US politics/economy, etc. I assume they get their ‘news’ from CNN International or a similar mouthpiece.

    Chalking up the 2008 financial crisis to excessive greed from elites (aka Wall St) is overly simplistic and misleading as expected. Wall Street was saddled with junk mortgages dealt to them by poor lending standards set by politicians so poor people could become saddled with home loans (the American Dream) they had no prayer ever repaying. Elite ‘greed’ was simply dumping these trash investments on other investors.

    Politicians caused the problem by threatening banks to lower lending standards or be sued as ‘racists’, blamed others for the inevitable collapse, then positioned themselves as the problem solvers. I’d guess the UK operates similarly – with a media willing to cover up the real cause of catastrophes such as this.

    Fake News knows no boundaries.

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