When the American nation was struggling to be born, Tom Paine articulated the sense of the American people and gave them a voice. Now when much of America senses things have gone terribly wrong, another voice has articulated the unease so many of us feel.
The special summer issue of The American Spectator featured a cover essay by Angelo Codevilla, ‘America’s Ruling Class – and The Perils of Revolution.’ After the article was posted online Rush Limbaugh devoted an entire show to discussing it and reading large parts on the air. Traffic was so heavy it briefly shut down the Spectator’s web site.
Codevilla is Professor of International Relations at Boston University, and a former Naval Officer and Foreign Service Officer. He served as a Senior Staff Member for the Senate Intelligence Committee from 1978-1985, and in 1980 on the Reagan Administration State Department and Intelligence Transition Teams.
Codevilla is also an immigrant who came to America as a young man, who understands there is something unique and valuable about America – and that we could lose it.
Jack McHugh, of the Michigan think tank The Mackinac Center, called Codevilla “our era’s Tom Paine,” a comparison that’s occurred to many of us.
Codevilla says nothing new or unproven. Rather like Paine (also an immigrant) he pulls together what we already suspected, presents it to us, and calls it what it is.
What he shows us is a ruling class has emerged among us whose interests are not ours. They think themselves fit to run our lives down to the smallest detail, waving aside any objections we have. Membership is open to those willing to fit in. They have no appreciation for the exceptional nature of America. And they despise us.
The Democratic Party is the representative of the ruling class, its courtiers and clients; including well-connected businesses, favored minorities, unions, academics in the social sciences and humanities, entertainers, and civil servants. And it represents their interests very well.
The Republicans represent what Codevilla calls the Country Party very badly, and only by default, and only because we have nowhere else to turn. When they gain power, their immediate impulse is to betray us.
“Differences between Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas are of degree, not kind,” Codevilla writes. “The Republican Party did not disparage the ruling class, because most of its officials are, or would like to be part of it.”
The existence of a ruling class is not news. Ruling classes emerge in every society, due to what German sociologist Robert Michaels in 1911 called, The Iron Law of Oligarchy, and the innate drive to make acquired power and wealth hereditary.
The Democratic Party’s role as the political arm of the ruling class has been known for some time. In 1972 leftist academic G. William Domhoff published, ‘Fat Cats and Democrats, the role of the big rich in the party of the common man.’
More recently distinguished professor of classics and military history ( and third generation grape farmer) Victor Davis Hanson wrote,
“It’s surreal to see President Obama play the class-warfare card against the Republicans while on his way to vacation on the tony Maine coast, and even more interesting to note that now gone are the days when the media used to caricature Bush I (“Poppy”) for boating in the summer off the preppie-sounding Kennebunkport. The truth is that the real big money and the lifestyles that go with it are now firmly liberal Democratic.”
If oligarchy is inevitable, even in a free and democratic society, it is at least tolerable if the governing class is competent and its interests lie in keeping the country prosperous and stable.
What Codevilla touches on that resonates with the American people, is the growing feeling in the country that the ruling class is unworthy and unfit to rule.
In America since the original uneasy alliance of southern plantation owners, New England merchants, and rough western frontiersman first made a revolution we’ve had a leadership class appropriate for a free people, drawn from diverse backgrounds, advancing through real achievements in business, scholarship, and war. Though not always the nicest people, they were as tough and smart as those they led.
Now, while chanting the mantra of “diversity, diversity, diversity” the ruling class has congealed into a monolithic block defined by a rigid orthodoxy.
“Never has there been so little diversity within America’s upper crust,” Codevilla writes. “Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment) and saints.”
Once we had a leadership class who made their fortunes in a freewheeling relatively unfettered marketplace, who sent their own into the military in wartime, and educated their offspring in tough schools with high standards. They favored their offspring, but raised them with the knowledge they’d have to earn their privilege.
Now our rulers’ fortunes come from government favor. They despise the profession of arms. They have reduced what were once among the finest universities in the world to indoctrination centers and social clubs for social climbers.
Codevilla describes the academic world of the elite universities, “Since the 1970s, it has been virtually impossible to flunk out of American colleges. And it is an open secret that “the best” colleges require the least work and give out the highest grade point averages. No, our ruling class recruits and renews itself not through meritocracy but rather by taking into itself people whose most prominent feature is their commitment to fit in. The most successful neither write books and papers that stand up to criticism nor release their academic records. Thus does our ruling class stunt itself through negative selection. But the more it has dumbed itself down, the more it has defined itself by the presumption of intellectual superiority.”
What this adds up to is a ruling class of clueless wimps with aristocratic pretentions, a class whose arrogance grows in direct proportion to their inability to lead free men.
Hanson characterizes the ruling class, “The good life of the elite is defined by both the absence of worry about necessities, and a certain status that accrues from properly recognized advanced education and sensitivity.”
1) “Untruth. One requisite to being a cultural elite, unfortunately, is a certain allegiance to untruth, to saying one thing and doing another.”
2) “Nature. The cultural elite class tends to romanticize nature, since it has little contact with it.”
3) “Muscularity. An elite is often characterized as staying fit entirely by the workout, the gym, the jog — never by chain sawing, digging, climbing, or hammering… The elite, being largely progressive, champion the muscular classes to the degree they can stay distant from them.”
4) “Gender. …the marked differences in the way our cultural elite express themselves… Today’s male’s voice is often far more feminine than that of 50 years ago. Sort of whiney, sort of nasally, sort of fussy. Being overexact, sighing, artificially pausing, all that seems part of the new elite parlance. In terms of vocabulary, the absolute (“he’s no damn good,” “she’s a coward,” “he ran the business to hell”) is avoided. Pejoratives and swearing resemble adolescent temper tantrums rather than threats that might well presage violence.”
5) “Logic. There is little logic among the cultural elite, maybe because there is little omnipresent fear of job losses or the absence of money, and so arises a rather comfortable margin to indulge in nonsense… take a deep breath and imagine the opposite of everything you know by experience to be true, and you have mostly the worldview of the sheltered cultural elite, who navigate in rather protected channels and not in the open seas of the real world.”
At any other time in history, this would mean a ruling class that is losing its grip and in the process of yielding to new up-and-comers. And on some level they seem to know this.
On some level they seem to know that to keep their grip on America, they must change the American character to create a people base enough to be ruled by the likes of them.
• “Hence our ruling class’s standard approach to any and all matters, its solution to any and all problems, is to increase the power of the government -- meaning of those who run it, meaning themselves, to profit those who pay with political support for privileged jobs, contracts, etc. Hence more power for the ruling class has been our ruling class’s solution not just for economic downturns and social ills but also for hurricanes and tornadoes, global cooling and global warming.”
• “Thus if you are not among the favored guests at the table where officials make detailed lists of who is to receive what at whose expense, you are on the menu.”
• “Nowadays, the members of our ruling class admit that they do not read the laws. They don’t have to. Because modern laws are primarily grants of discretion, all anybody has to know about them is whom they empower.”
• “By 2010 some in the ruling class felt confident enough to dispense with the charade. Asked what in the Constitution allows Congress and the president to force every American to purchase health insurance, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi replied: “Are you kidding? Are you kidding?””
• “Demographically, the country class is the other side of the ruling class’s coin: its most distinguishing characteristics are marriage, children, and religious practice. While the country class, like the ruling class, includes the professionally accomplished and the mediocre, geniuses and dolts, it is different because of its non-orientation to government and its members’ yearning to rule themselves rather than be ruled by others.”
• “Unlike the ruling class, the country class does not share a single intellectual orthodoxy, set of tastes, or ideal lifestyle. Its different sectors draw their notions of human equality from different sources: Christians and Jews believe it is God’s law. Libertarians assert it from Hobbesian and Darwinist bases. Many consider equality the foundation of Americanism. Others just hate snobs.”