Niceness is paradoxically more selfish than undisguised selfishness to Lawler, because an openly selfish person at least signals to others what his intentions are. Niceness, however, means, “I let you do—and even affirm—whatever you do, because I don’t care what you do . . . Niceness, as Allan Bloom noticed, is the quality connected with flatness of soul.” Lawler goes on to remark that in an increasingly nice world, in which faking niceness becomes an important job skill, soldiers and police officers become part of the counterculture. Men, especially white men, especially working-class white men, are the ones who do the not-nice jobs in our country, are comfortable with brutishness, and see the global economy as a fierce struggle between “them” (the Chinese who are stealing our jobs, the Mexicans who are undercutting us on wages) and us.

The nice people, cocooned in wealthy coastal zip codes and doing service work that doesn’t require getting your hands dirty, don’t see any of this, but they’re happy to leave the struggling classes to their fates. For the upper echelons of society, this wasn’t always so; not long ago, in Britain for instance, the well-heeled felt a duty to lead, to provide cultural guidance. These were the aristocrats, and they ran the institutions—the church, the BBC—that were beacons for the aspirational. The bourgeoisie worked as one strongly to discourage socially destructive behavior such as raising children outside wedlock, drug or alcohol abuse, or idleness. Those who couldn’t speak proper English were encouraged to do so.

Today, in Britain as in America, the nice-ocracy simply shrugs as the struggling classes make terrible decisions… Today’s elites, as Charles Murray has noted in his book, Coming Apart, a prescient study of the white working class from 2012, refuse to preach what they practice. They are well aware of the pro-social behavior that leads to success, but are too nice to encourage others to follow their lead. Indeed, they recoil in horror from the prospect of being thought “judgmental” toward others.

Monty Python had it wrong – for civilization to remain standing*, it’s far more important that elites have confidence in what they’re building (and the civilization they’ve inherited) than the tenants.

* Sometimes, literally so.