Here we reach the heart of the matter. Galbraith’s thinking about social and economic matters was always de haut en bas; his solutions emerged from the Olympian heights of his own ratiocination, to be applied to the clueless multitudes below. (No doubt his own great height, over 6 foot 8, accustomed him to looking down on people.) His literary style is symptomatic of his attitude, a true case of the style being the man himself. Hundreds of times, he uses question-begging locutions that intimidate with their orotund grandeur. I open a book of his at random and find the following: “The controlling fact is”; “This trade-off is present in all accepted thought”; “Nor should one wish otherwise”; “It has now been adequately urged”; “This is not a matter of choice; it is the modern imperative”; “It would, of course, be a serious error”; “This has long been recognized”; “All of this is to be welcomed”; “The lesson is clear”; “The solution is not difficult; it has the advantage of inevitability.”
The cumulative effect is to intimidate those who believe themselves not well enough informed to contradict so high an authority. We are far from the realm of Jane Austen’s light and ironic “It is a truth universally acknowledged.” When J. K. Galbraith enunciates a truth universally acknowledged, he does not want us to smile inwardly; he wants us to fear not being included in le tout Paris of correct, generous, and humane thought. What fool does not wish to be on the side of the inevitable? Who does not want to recognize what has so long been recognized? Who dares to deny that what the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics says three times is true?
It’s hard to convince most Americans that a) those who are raised at the top hold a high opinion of themselves and a low one of the rest of humanity and b) they’re so convinced of their own rectitude that they’re oblivious to the real nature of their idea. It’s been that way for a long time. As I said in a post about growing up in Palm Beach:
Attitudes from the “coasts” about “flyover country” in the U.S. have been deep seated for a long time; stage productions like this only reinforced that. It’s fair to say that, if the “Religious Right” had fully grasped the contempt they were held in when the movement first got going in the late 1970’s they would not have started the Moral Majority: they would have started a revolution.
Dalrymple also notes this:
There remains, however, an astonishingly gaping absence in Galbraith’s worldview. While he is perfectly able to see the defects of businessmen—their inclination to megalomania, greed, hypocrisy, and special pleading—he is quite unable to see the same traits in government bureaucrats. It is as if he has read, and taken to heart, the work of Sinclair Lewis, but never even skimmed the work of Kafka.
Had he done this, his view of the world would have been much more cynical and less roseate. Besides, he should have read Kafka long before Sinclair Lewis.
Why? Because Kafka is European! Any real elitist snob knows that!