Eric Hoffer is arguing that the defining spirit of Western societies since the Industrial Revolution has been an emphasis on administering things rather than people. The rule of society has been handed to the middle class, which is an implicit promise of self governance. The middle class has been extraordinarily productive when left to its own devices. At the same time, though, with the explosion of education you get a new social problem:
"Finally, the education explosion is enormously increasing the number of people who want to live meaningful, relevant, and important lives but lack the ability to attain relevance and significance by individual achievements."
"To cope with these difficulties the middle class must learn how to contain anarchy, how to regulate and manipulate everyday life, and, above all, how to concoct a faith, a philosophy, and a style of life to suit the needs of a noncreative horde hungering for meaningful, weighty lives. In short, in order to win, the middle class must lose itself. It must shape itself in the image of the elitists who hope and work for its destruction."
Perhaps we made a mistake when we decided that higher education should tie itself to the project of the middle class. Note that Hoffer is not a wealthy elitist but a self-educated writer who earned his living by manual labor. When these words come from such a man they cannot be dismissed as the words of an elitist seeking to protect his privileges.