At the Liberty Law site, my friend John McGinnis has a very interesting post on what he calls America’s “scribal class.” These are people—professors, journalists, opinion writers, lawyers, even entertainment industry types—who set America’s cultural and political agendas. John writes that they have enormous power, and all skew one way: Left.
John extrapolates from a recent study on the liberalism of American lawyers:
Academics in the humanities and social sciences set a long-term agenda for the country by educating the young and by shaping the categories of thought. The news media shapes the shorter-term political agenda by deciding what to emphasize in its coverage and how to spin it. Lawyers, whom Tocqueville almost two centuries ago understood as the aristocrats of the United States, are experts at using the courts and the burgeoning administrative state to shift social policy. And the study leaves out the entertainment industry and government bureaucrats, groups that are also on the left. Entertainers help set social agendas, and bureaucrats often help advance the programs of liberal politicians and obstruct those of conservatives.
Thus, the left owns the commanding heights of our democracy. Given this power, it is a surprise that the right wins as many elections as it does. To be sure, modern information technology has created a more dispersed media world and permitted conservatives a somewhat greater voice. But the imbalances remain dramatic.
John goes on to contrast the scribal class with “producers,” those people who “produce material goods and non-information services for a living.” Producers, he suggests, do not skew Left, or at least not as much as the scribal class. They serve as a kind of cultural counterweight, to the great annoyance of the scribes.
John is right in his assessment of the cultural and political leanings of the scribal class, and the outsize influence members of that class have over the direction of the country. He’s not as persuasive when it comes to the producers. Corporate America and the cultural Left often find themselves on the same side of public debates, as last spring’s controversy over the Indiana RFRA law, and last summer’s reaction to Obergefell decision, demonstrate. Corporate America really doesn’t stand in opposition to the Left, unless one defines the Left purely in economic terms.
John minimizes one factor, though, and that is the scribal class’s almost total disregard of religion, at least traditional religion. True, the media sometimes presents religious minorities in a flattering light, usually as examples of a benign multiculturalism. But there is little respect for the legitimacy of religious convictions as such, especially the convictions of traditional believers. There is little knowledge even of basic facts.
Witness, for example, yesterday’s reaction to Pope Francis’s statement on forgiving women who show contrition for having had abortions. The media has trumpeted the pope’s statement as a major, surprising departure from Catholic teaching, rather than a temporary relaxing of formal rules on who may grant absolution—as though the concept of forgiving sins was somehow alien to Christian doctrine. Pope John Paul II had relaxed the rules in the last Holy Year, in 2000, a fact most media failed to report.
To me, all this suggests two things, neither of which, I guess, is particularly new. First, religious conservatives must do a better job making inroads in the scribal class, or develop alternative vehicles for expression (like First Things), if they are not to be steamrolled entirely out of the public conversation. Second, conservatives should focus less on politics itself and more on the culture that drives politics—on hearts and minds, not election returns.
You can read John’s whole piece here.
Mark Movsesian is the Frederick A. Whitney Professor of Contract Law and the Director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University School of Law. His previous blog posts can be found here.