Category Archive 'American Elite'

13 May 2011

Growing Uneasy at Versailles

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Walter Russell Mead, writing in the American Interest, though a classic representative of the liberal elite, is increasingly uneasy about his own class’s characterstic contempt for their fellow citizens, attitudes of self-entitlement, anti-patriotism, and aversion of self-doubt.

To listen to many bien pensant American intellectuals and above-the-salt journalists, America faces a shocking problem today: the cluelessness, greed, arrogance and bigotry of the American public. American elites are genuinely and sincerely convinced that the American masses don’t understand the world, don’t realize that American exceptionalism is a mental disease, want infinite government benefits while paying zero tax, and cling to their Bibles and their guns despite all the peer reviewed social science literature that demonstrates the danger and the worthlessness of both. …

But by historical standards, the average American is actually ahead of his or her ancestors. Today’s average Americans are smarter, more sophisticated, better educated, less racist and more tolerant than ever before. Immigrants face less prejudice in the United States than ever before in our history. Religious, ethnic and sexual minorities are more free to live their own lives more openly with less fear than ever before. There is more respect for science and learning, more openness to the arts and more interest in the viewpoints of other countries and cultures among Americans at large than in any past generation.

The American people aren’t perfect yet and never will be — but by the standards that matter to the Establishment, this is the best prepared, most open minded and most socially liberal generation in history. …

By contrast, we have never had an Establishment that was so ill-equipped to lead. It is the Establishment, not the people, that is falling down on the job.

Here in the early years of the twenty-first century, the American elite is a walking disaster and is in every way less capable than its predecessors. It is less in touch with American history and culture, less personally honest, less productive, less forward looking, less effective at and less committed to child rearing, less freedom loving, less sacrificially patriotic and less entrepreneurial than predecessor generations. Its sense of entitlement and snobbery is greater than at any time since the American Revolution; its addiction to privilege is greater than during the Gilded Age and its ability to raise its young to be productive and courageous leaders of society has largely collapsed. …

Many problems troubling America today are rooted in the poor performance of our elite educational institutions, the moral and social collapse of our ‘best’ families and the culture of narcissism and entitlement that has transformed the American elite into a flabby minded, strategically inept and morally confused parody of itself. Probably the best depiction of our elite in popular culture is the petulantly narcissistic Prince Charming in Shrek 2; our educational institutions are like the Fairy Godmother, weaving shoddy, cheap, feel-good illusions into a gossamer tissue of flattering lies. …

Some of the problem is intellectual. For almost a century now, American intellectual culture has been dominated by the values and legacy of the progressive movement. Science and technology would guide impartial experts and civil servants to create a better and better society. For most of the American elite today, progress means ‘progressive’; the way to make the world better is through more nanny state government programs administered by more, and more highly qualified, lifetime civil servants. Anybody who doubts this is a reactionary and an ignoramus. This isn’t just a rational conviction with much of our elite; it is a bone deep instinct. Unfortunately, the progressive tradition no longer has the answers we need, but our leadership class by and large cannot think in any other terms.

The old ideas don’t work anymore, but the elite hates the thought of change.

Past generations of the American elite were always a little bit nervous about their situation; it is morally difficult for an elite based on birth, ethnicity or wealth to justify itself in a country with the universalist, democratic values of the United States. The tendency of American life is always to erode the power and prestige of elites; populism is the direction in which America likes to travel. Past generations of elites were conflicted about their status and struggled against a sense that it was somehow un-American to set yourself up as better than other people.

The increasingly meritocratic elite of today has no such qualms. The average Harvard Business School and Yale Law School graduate today feels that privilege has been earned. Didn’t he or she score higher on the LSATs than anyone else? Didn’t he or she previously pass the rigorous scrutiny of the undergraduate admissions process in a free and fair process to get into a top college? Haven’t they been certified as the best of the best by impartial experts?

A guilty elite may be healthier for society than a self-righteous one.

Read the whole thing.

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