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What Are The Origins Of The Term 'Class Warfare'?

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What Are The Origins Of The Term 'Class Warfare'?

Economy

What Are The Origins Of The Term 'Class Warfare'?

What Are The Origins Of The Term 'Class Warfare'?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/140644523/140644613" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Lynn Neary speaks with Julian Zelizer, Princeton professor of history and public affairs, about the origins of the term "class warfare" — and how it has evolved over the years.

LYNN NEARY, Host:

Even before President Obama officially unveiled his plan yesterday to reduce the deficit, Republicans lambasted both the president and his proposal. In the chorus of criticism that followed, two words stood out.

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PAUL RYAN: Class warfare, Chris, may make for really good politics, but it makes for rotten economics.

JOHN FLEMING: Again, class warfare has never created a job.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, that's class warfare.

JOHN BOEHNER: I don't think I would describe class warfare as leadership.

BARACK OBAMA: This is not class warfare. It's math.

NEARY: Welcome to the program. Good to have you with us.

JULIAN ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.

NEARY: So where did this idea of class warfare begin?

ZELIZER: But the term starts to be used less frequently during the Cold War through today. Many liberals feel defensive and they are worried that if they start to use the term class and they talk about class warfare they will be tagged in the Cold War as communists and, more recently, as far left wing extremists.

NEARY: Well, was there ever a time in the beginning of 20th century and in the 21st century where anyone politically was comfortable with the whole idea of using the word just class itself, dealing with the idea of class?

ZELIZER: And since then, you've often heard this charge that we now hear against President Obama that secretly any effort to enact a liberal program is really an effort to divide the classes.

NEARY: Well, did liberals start backing away from it in the 1950s because of the intense anticommunism at that time?

ZELIZER: That's exactly what happened. Many on the right would attack liberalism, even if it was, you know, mainstream liberalism that respected capitalism as being a form of socialism. Many liberals backed off. They didn't want to talk about economic classes. They talked about other issues and they talked about it in different ways.

NEARY: You know, this aversion that Americans have to the idea of class warfare, is that, in a sense, part of the reason why almost everybody seems to define themselves as middle class?

ZELIZER: There is a belief in this country that someone who doesn't have a lot of money, one day, has the opportunity to have a lot of money. And because of this, it's often been very hard for those on the left to use the notion of class conflict as a rallying cry as a way to organize social protest.

NEARY: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. Thanks so much. It was good talking to you.

ZELIZER: Thanks for having me.

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