by Ed West
Tuesday, 16
February 2021
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07:00

America’s radical young rich are out of control

by Ed West
British BLM protesters Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

There are few laughs to be had these days, and all the things that are funny are impermissible to laugh about anyway.

However, this should bring light to the saddest of hearts: an article about the expensive holidays organised by The New York Times for its insufferably privileged young readers:

The trips brought in some money, but were expensive to run and complicated to manage — particularly in the summer of 2019, after The Times began hosting teenagers. In Seoul, two were detained by the police at an arcade after they were accused of stealing, a Times spokeswoman said.

And then there was the trip to Peru that summer. The parents of adventurous young meritocrats paid $5,490 (plus airfare) for two weeks studying “Public Health and Development in the Andes.” On that trip, the reporter, Donald G. McNeil Jr., got into a series of heated arguments with students, none of them Black, on the charged question of race. Their complaints would ultimately end his career as a high-profile public health reporter for The Times.

- Ben Smith, New York Times

There is a danger of sounding like someone’s Dad when they first saw The Beatles, but there is something genuinely disturbing about the behaviour of America’s young radical rich. As a group they seem to be lacking any of the informal or formal restraints past elites have been saddled with, combining privilege and self-righteousness.

The protests of 2020 were sometimes compared to 1968, but it’s worth remembering that the Paris students who protested that year lived in utter squalor, which was the initial cause of the eruption; in the US they were getting drafted to fight in Vietnam. The Great Awokening college protests began in 2015 because staff at Yale, America’s second most prestigious university, had not taken seriously the danger that Halloween fancy dress costumes might offend people.

What was most shocking about that protest was the sight of Professor Nicholas Christakis being berated by a student who shouted at him: “Who the fuck hired you? You should step down…. You are disgusting!’

There was never any question that the student in question would be punished for her behaviour. Countless people in far less privileged positions regularly lose their jobs for posting unpopular opinions on social media, but for members of the elite it is almost as if a different law applies. They never get punished for acting out.

This is what is so characteristic of the radical rich, the belief – correct, it turns out – that the rules don’t really apply to them. Their politics give them righteous protection to behave more arrogantly than previous elites, doubly so if they’re from a minority background – even if it’s a minority heavily overrepresented among the wealthy.

You don’t have to be a dippy nostalgic to believe that Anglo-American elites of the late 19th century and 20th centuries at least pretended to behave better than this. They were aware that elites who’d acted too arrogantly in the past had ended with their heads on spikes, and it was drummed into them that they didn’t deserve to be where they are. Teaching your society’s richest and most powerful members a sense of Christian guilt certainly has its upsides.

But thanks in part to identity politics, the radical young rich really believe they deserve it. Indeed one of the less pleasant trends of recent years, and it’s really noticeable on Twitter, is how boasting is so normalised – under the cover of progressivism and beating the patriarchy or system of white privilege, *I* did it. “I deserve this,” as the saying goes.

Without restraints, and with self-righteousness as a replacement for religion (as the Prophet Christopher Lasch observed) young members of the elite have begun to act more like Regency thugs, or Renaissance princelings, beating up the lesser orders or entering public life as a means to ruin their enemies for politics for fun.

Join the discussion


  • Yes, it’s essentially a ‘purity’ religious movement. And, as you say, focused on the damnation side of religion, rather than the redemption. A dualistic view of the cosmos: WE are good, pure, from above, children of light; YOU are evil, filthy, backward, children of darkness. Forever.

  • I suspect we are also witnessing at least two generations of parenting failure exacerbated by the corrosiveness of social media.

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