I think that's true, and it's one of the tensions of modern progress. They are two impulses that happen simultaneously, and they're opposed to one another. There were the democratizing trends that resulted in us getting rid of slavery and adopting the 19th Amendment [guaranteeing women the right to vote]. But as systems get more democratic, they also get more complex, and we put in place a small group of elites and experts to manage them.

That's one of the lessons of the book: We go through periods of increased power and consolidation, and then a democratic backlash of accountability. Maybe we're about due for the latter.

You implicitly endorse "leaderless" movements and hold the Occupy Wall Street movement up as an example. But is there any such thing? Don't all ships end up with captains, whether they want them or not?

Yeah, my ambiguity on this question is something that most reviews have zeroed in on. There is a natural consolidation of power. Attempts to produce non-hierarchical organizations very often produce entrenched hierarchies.

But I have been radicalized by this decade, and I don't think we should automatically throw all radical solutions out of the conversation. There's also something to be said for having the goal of genuine egalitarian progress even if it can never be achieved.

Human government is never fixed. It's a constant Sisyphean process. You roll the rock up the hill, and the hydraulics of power drag it back down. One of the flaws in Marx's philosophy is that he thought you really did get to this final static equilibrium in which the problem is solved.

But, there is no final state. There is no equilibrium. There's just a process of critique and mobilization and activism that dynamically inches you toward something better.


If you go

Author Chris Hayes will read from his new book at 7 p.m. Jan. 16 at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral St. Free. Call 410-396-5430 or go to prattlibrary.org.

About the book

"Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy," Crown Publishing Group, June 12, 2012. $26, 304 pages.

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