Twilight of the Elites

  • by Chris Hayes
  • Narrated by Chris Hayes
  • 7 hrs and 10 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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.

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What the Critics Say

"[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)
"[A] forcefully written debut.... A provocative discussion of the deeper causes of our current discontent, written with verve and meriting wide interest." (Kirkus Reviews)
"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)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

It's me

Any additional comments?

When the author writes about how everyone, even the most privileged, now has a story about how they "pulled themselves up by their bootstraps", I realized he was talking about me. I had bought into this whole sick culture, and I realized that I was the one born on third base who bragged like I had hit a triple. Yeah, I worked like hell to get where I am today, but a lot of people worked just as hard or harder, and the reason I succeeded was mostly luck. I think this book taught me a little humility, and that is a really good thing.

If you are listening to audiobooks on your smartphone while tapping away on your ultrabook drinking a mochafrappuccino at Starbucks, then he's talking to you. If you think you're a brilliant entrepreneur because you wrote an iphone app that lets you share fart sounds with your 1,000 closest friends, then he's talking to you as well. What was it that Tyler said? Oh yeah, "you are not a beautiful or unique snowflake". That is what this book said to me.

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- Roy D. Welch

Troubling truths

I've always been a firm believer in the concept of meritocracy; in a fair world, it is right and just that true merit, as embodied in hard work, intelligence intelligently applied, and excellence in execution, be rewarded.

The problem is, as Hayes so clearly points out, that the world is not fair. And in any civilization, even meritocracies deployed with the best of intentions wind up becoming oligarchies. Those who rise to the top eventually seek to protect their position, and generally will "pull up the ladder" behind them.

This, Hayes explains, is the root of America's current crisis. We are in an era when those who have supposedly "earned" their way into the upper echelons of our most sacred institutions are now so far removed from the rest of us, and so intent upon protecting their positions, that they are no longer capable of behaving ethically. Corruption runs rampant, and the majority of Americans now suffer a complete crisis of confidence in just about every one of these institutions.

I really struggle with this. I see Hayes' point; there is much truth to what he says. And yet.... As the daughter of a true Greatest Generation-er, I just cannot throw off my old-fashioned American idealism about fairness, hard work, and merit earning rewards. I can't reconcile myself to any artificial attempts at creating "equality of outcomes" rather than "equality of opportunity". But.... Hayes (and many other authors examining our current catastrophic state of affairs) illustrate that the very concept of "equality of opportunity" is very much in jeopardy in today's America. The game, as I think most of us in the middle class today are well aware, truly is rigged.

"Equality of opportunity" is an article of faith for me, a core belief. There should be no outright "gifts", but those who work hard, apply themselves, and make good use of the opportunities available to them should prosper. This is very much how things were in America between WWII and roughly 1980. But we now find ourselves in a time when gross abuses of power, coupled with destructive economic imbalances, truly call into question just how "equal" the opportunities are in America today.

As a political centrist, I find this beyond troubling. I see examples in today's middle and lower classes of individuals making poor life choices and suffering for them, but I also see individuals working hard, playing by all the rules, making sound life choices.... and still suffering. Likewise, in our elite classes, one can see individuals rightfully succeeding through their own hard work and merit, but one can also see people who are ignorant, lazy, unprincipled, and undeserving succeeding and enjoying outsized benefits way beyond their deserts.

How can any of this be institutionally balanced?

Given my own distrust of institutions (just as Hayes describes it!), I have little faith in any institution's ability to right the ship. But we are SO out of balance that I do believe something catastrophic will be needed to restore something approaching "normalcy" to our current economic and social state.

Those from the Right side of the political spectrum will undoubtedly despise Hayes' book. Those on the Left will praise it. Those of us in the middle will be sorely troubled by it--- I certainly am.

Aside from the content (and my own personal discomfort with its hard leftist bent), I found Hayes to be rather an annoying narrator. His delivery is cilpped and fast, and just a tad on the arrogant and self-satisfied side. It wasn't bad at first, but eventually came to grate on me. I frequently found myself rewinding passages in order to listen to them more carefully a second time, as he so often raced through some complex narratives.

Still, it's a worthy read or listen, if for nothing else than to make one think. It's no secret that America today is way out of whack on the equality scale and suffering some massive problems on the economic and social fronts. Hayes' particular analysis adds an interesting perspective to the debate on what ails us. Definitely troubling, but when grappling with complex issues, it is better to allow oneself to be troubled by difficult ideas than to remain comfortably unchallenged in one's beliefs.
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- Tricia "Generation X-er"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-12-2012
  • Publisher: Random House Audio