The Imperial Middle, by Benjamin DeMott
Metaphors of empire have turned pale since the Persian Gulf became a scene of struggle over the real thing. But Benjamin DeMott, professor and cultural commentator, argues that the “imperial middle,” which he has taken on in his book of the same name, is a force for real ill in American life, producing “a nation in shackles, its thought, character, and public policy locked in distortion and lies.”
The “middle” is the middle class, and it is “imperial” because its norms and prejudices control the way Americans talk and think about their lives, and the way upper- and especially lower-class Americans are compelled, often against their own inclinations, to live them. Even worse than the middle’s success in running America is its success in concealing the fact that it does so. The very notion of class, except as a label for consumer preferences, or as an adjunct to discussions of race, has been rendered unusable, so strong is the middle’s grip on our minds and our vocabularies. The Imperial Middle is an attempt to awaken its readers’ class senses. The truth is, DeMott argues, we are all different from each other; and this is the only truth that will set us free.
About the Author