Category Archive 'The Elite'
19 Mar 2019

Meritocracy and its Deficiencies

,

Yuval Levin, in NR, explains why the old WASP elite was really more meritorious than the modern Meritocracy.

For much of American history .. [t]he apex of American political, cultural, and economic power was largely the preserve of a fairly narrow white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant near-aristocracy, centered in the Northeast and exercising power across generations. This was never an absolute barrier to others’ rising, of course, but it was a major obstacle.

The claim to power of this WASP elite, like that of most modern aristocracies, was a mix of heritage and rearing. They possessed their privileges by virtue of their birth, but they were raised and educated in ways intended to prepare them for responsibility and authority. And they were—at least in principle though in many cases also in practice—expected to subject themselves to a code of behavior, a commitment to public service, a degree of personal reticence, a regard for the rules of fair play, and a sense of responsibility that was rooted in the implicit recognition that their power was an inherited privilege, not an earned achievement. …

This new aristocracy is in some important respects less reticent about its own legitimacy than the old. Because each of its members must work to prove his merit—to pass the key tests, and clear the key hurdles—today’s elite is more likely to believe it has earned its power, and possesses it by right more than privilege. Because our elite as a whole has inclined to this view, it tends to impose fewer restraints on its own uses of power, and generally doesn’t subscribe to the kind of code of conduct that sometimes characterized past aristocracies. Even when today’s elites devote themselves to public service, as many do, they tend not to see it as fulfilling an obligation to give back for an unearned privilege but as further demonstrating their own high-mindedness and merit.

A meritocracy naturally assumes its authority is merited. But rather than prove its worth by its service to the larger society, the idea of merit at the core of our meritocracy is radically individualistic and dismally technocratic. The sort of elite that results implicitly substitutes a cold and sterile notion of intellect for a warm and spirited understanding of character as its measure of worth, and our society (including some elites themselves) increasingly cannot escape the intuition that this is an unjustifiable substitution. But rather than impose tests of character on itself, our elite inclines to respond to these concerns with increasingly intense displays of its ideal of social justice. It doubles down on the logic of meritocracy, adopts the language of privilege in its critiques of the larger society, and pushes for even more inclusive criteria of admission to elite institutions—all in an effort to make its claims to legitimate authority more persuasive.”

RTWT

I was at Yale during two different eras.

In the short-haired, jacketed-and-tied all-male Yale of 1966, we hung our overcoats and left books and other personal property in the coatroom without a thought. No one would steal. There were silver water pitchers and sugar bowls engraved with the respective residential college arms in the dining halls.

In the long-haired, informal, coeducated and triumphantly meritocratic Yale of 1971, everyone left their coats and books on chairs in the Common Room within sight of the Dining Hall. If you left them unobserved, someone might walk off with them. The silver water pitchers and sugar bowls were all gone, stolen by the meritorious. I myself saw, on separate occasions, groups of undergraduates walking out of both the Skull & Bones tomb and the Berkeley College Common Room, carrying away expensive oriental rugs. The common rooms gradually emptied down to the very large leather couches, which were too big to fit in undergraduate rooms. Students had appropriated for personal use the common room lamps, chairs, and side tables.

And, personally, I don’t think the Meritocracy of that time has changed a lot over the years.

06 Feb 2019

Angry Bourbons at the SOTU Address

, , , , ,

Watching the State of the Union, Kevin D. Williamson saw America’s dispossessed Ruling Class, conscious of its ownership of the Permanent Mandate of Heaven, looking on, and seething in frustration, as an interloper, representing all the people and classes of society they detest, stood there in the place they know properly belongs to them.

President Donald Trump represents a genuine crisis in the American political order, but it is not the crisis we hear about from rage-addled Democratic hyper-partisans and their media cheerleaders. The fundamental cause of our current convulsion — studiously ignored by almost all concerned — is this: In the United States, the ruling class does not rule. At least, it does not rule right now.

Consider the context.

The ladies and gentlemen of Goldman Sachs liked Mrs. Clinton a great deal in 2016, and their generous donations to her presidential campaign outnumbered their donations to Donald Trump’s campaign by an incredible 70-to-1 margin. Mrs. Clinton was in fact the largest single recipient of Goldman Sachs–affiliated donations that year, whereas Trump’s presidential campaign was way down the list behind not only Mrs. Clinton’s campaign but also the legislative campaigns of such Democrat powers as Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Tim Kaine of Virginia, and newcomer Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The results were similar for many other financial firms: 19-to-1 at JPMorgan, 7-to-1 at Wells Fargo, 27-to-1 at Citigroup, 10-to-1 at Bank of New York, etc. Across the commercial banking industry nationwide, Mrs. Clinton out-raised Trump by a nearly 7-to-1 margin. She beat him 17-to-1 among venture capitalists, 8-to-1 among hedge funds, and 7-to-1 among private-equity firms.

Among people associated with Harvard, Mrs. Clinton’s donations outperformed Trump’s by an an even more incredible 200 to 1. In fact, no Republican even cracked the top 15 at Harvard, and Marco Rubio, at No. 17, didn’t even crack the six-digit mark — and the first of his five digits is a 1. At Princeton, it was Clinton 209-to-1. It was 128-to-1 at Yale.

Mrs. Clinton enjoyed a 100-to-1 margin of support among people associated with Facebook; 76-to-1 among Google employees; 135-to-1 at Apple. Mrs. Clinton beat Trump by only a 4-to-1 margin at Exxon Mobil and 3-to-1 at Walmart.

Presumably, the votes of these donors were distributed in roughly the same way, along with their general sympathies and allegiances.

But money is not the only currency in politics.

Mrs. Clinton also enjoyed the endorsements of the former chairman and CEO of General Motors, the executive chairman of Delta, the former president of Boeing, the chairman and CEO of Salesforce, the founder and chairman of Costco, the CEO of Airbnb, the CEO of Netflix, the founder of DISH, the CEO emeritus of Qualcomm, the former CEO of Avon, the CEO of Tumblr, the former chairman and CEO of Time Warner, the chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, and many others. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich had planned to hold a Trump fund-raiser in his home and was bullied by his peers into canceling the event.

Among the nation’s 100 largest newspapers in 2016, only two — the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Florida Times-Union — endorsed Donald Trump. Most endorsed Mrs. Clinton, and those included the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. USA Today, which does not typically endorse candidates, did not endorse Mrs. Clinton but ran a “not-Trump” anti-endorsement, and other newspapers did so, too — more of them, in fact, than endorsed Trump.

Mrs. Clinton won the majority of the vote in almost every state capital — 47 of them. Trump won Carson City, Bismarck, and Pierre, the micro-capitals, respectively, in Nevada, North Dakota, and South Dakota, with fewer residents combined among them than Chattanooga, Tenn. Mrs. Clinton won an average of 76 percent of the vote in the ten largest U.S. cities. Trump won a majority in none of them, nor was he close to a majority in any of them.

All Donald Trump won was a majority of the voters in a substantial majority of the states — 30 states plus the second congressional district in Maine.

To Democrats, this is an obvious injustice and an outrage. Theirs is the politics of manifest destiny, with their endless Hegelian insistence that capital-H History is on their side. And not only History but Harvard and Goldman Sachs and Facebook, too. Their sense of entitlement to political power is just a smidgen short of Divine Right, but not much. The obstacle to fulfilling their entitlement is the structure and the constitutional order of the United States, which is neither a direct democracy such as Switzerland’s nor a unitary state such as China’s but a union of states. Hence the aspects of the American system that most reflect this arrangement — the Electoral College, the Senate, and the Bill of Rights — are regarded by the Left as illegitimate, a way to rig the system against History and The People. …

There are many possible ways for the ruling class to respond to that political reality. One is to burrow into the cheap moralism characteristic of our times and insist that those who looked at the choices in 2016 and came to a different conclusion than did the executives of JPMorgan and Citigroup must be driven by some occult malevolence; this is Paul Krugman’s argument, that “good people can’t be good Republicans.” That is a sentiment unworthy of even so trifling and vicious a creature of the New York Times editorial page as Professor Krugman, who once was a highly regarded economist. Equally unworthy is the related sentiment: “Our candidate got 2 percent more of the vote than their guy did in 2016, so it’s only technicalities keeping us out of power. Once we have rectified that, we will simply dominate the other side with our superior numbers.” Never mind that those are only slightly superior numbers and that this advantage is not as fixed as the stars but like all things in the affairs of men subject to change. Is the domination of one group of citizens with their own way of life and their own values by another group of citizens with a different way of life and different values the best outcome? Is that what liberty is for?

As the polling consistently demonstrates, this division is not about policy. It is about hatred.

RTWT

19 Jan 2019

Our Bourbon Elites

, , , ,

Michael Barone finds the Transatlantic elite response to its political defeats in 2016 is identical to the response of the Bourbons to the Revolution in France. They are determined to learn nothing and forget nothing.

It was no coincidence that Donald Trump scheduled a trip to Britain, purportedly to inspect one of his golf courses in Scotland, on June 23, 2016. That was the day of the Brexit referendum, in which 52 percent of the electorate — 17.4 million voters — voted for their nation to leave the European Union.

Candidate Trump’s earlier endorsement of Brexit was criticized by elevated opinion as an unfriendly interference in another nation’s internal affairs. Few if any of the scoffers had similarly criticized former President Barack Obama for urging Britons to vote “remain,” even threatening that if they voted “leave” they would go “to the back of the queue” in seeking a free trade deal with the United States.

Thirteen months before Trump’s trip and the British vote, few thought there was any possibility of a Trump candidacy or a Brexit referendum. The shock of Brexit in June and Trump’s victory in November has not been fully absorbed by British or American financial, media, and political elites in all the time since.
30 Democrats in Puerto Rico with 109 lobbyists for weekend despite shutdown

As the gifted British political analyst Douglas Murray writes in National Review, “Instead of accepting the votes and trying to learn from them, elites have expended almost all their available energies trying to pretend that voters in 2016 were bad or duped. The past two years could have been spent trying to learn something or build something. Instead, the best minds of Left and Right have spent their time making claims of ‘racism,’ ‘Russia,’ and ‘Cambridge Analytica.’”

The unlearning continues. Here, the government (actually, less than one-quarter of the federal government) is “shut down” over Democrats’ resistance to Trump’s demand for funding the border wall — er, barrier — which he negligently failed for two years to obtain from the Republican-majority Congress.

Most Democratic politicians — and, polls show, many Democratic voters — favored border barriers before Trump’s victory. Now, they insist walls are “immoral” and ineffective.

RTWT

26 Nov 2018

The WASP Elite and Its Unfortunate Replacement

, ,

In the American Conservative, Robert W. Merry has a thoughtful essay contrasting the original American WASP elite with its contemporary successors.

Today we look back on that old elite, if we look back on it at all, as a relic of the distant past. But this development—the old elite’s slow loss of self-confidence after World War II and then its obliteration as a cultural force—represents a profound transformation in America’s social history. What emerged was a new country with a new elite.

In place of the old-school folkways and legends and values of the Anglo-Saxons, we have what is known as a meritocratic system dominated by a class of strivers who have managed to scope out the new system and rise to the top. …

[A]s far back as 1995, social commentator Christopher Lasch, in a book entitled The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (published posthumously), excoriated what he called America’s “new aristocracy of brains.” He wrote: “There has always been a privileged class, even in America, but it has never been so dangerously isolated from its surroundings.” He foresaw an emerging chasm between the country’s new upper class and its great mass of citizens. “The new elites,” he wrote, “are in revolt against ‘Middle America,’ as they imagine it: a nation technologically backward, politically reactionary, repressive in its sexual morality, middlebrow in its tastes, smug and complacent, dull and dowdy.”…

America’s Anglo-Saxon elite both reflected and perpetuated Anglo-Saxon sensibilities on the Continent for some 300 years. And it did so as its proportion of the country’s population declined steadily throughout that period. Given that, [Benjamin] Schwarz [in “The Diversity Myth,” published in The Atlantic in 1995] suggests that the American elite’s ability to “dominate American cultural and political life for three centuries—…in fact define what it meant to be an American—is a remarkable achievement.” It was an achievement of cultural identity and pride.

It couldn’t last forever. The question was—and remains—why. Alsop speculated that a significant factor was the decline of Great Britain as a global power, which undermined a significant element of the elite’s sense of identity. He surmised that the “erosion of authority” that transformed American society in a host of ways in the 1960s (and later the 1970s) may have been a factor as well. But probably the largest contributor was demographics. America was becoming less and less an Anglo-Saxon country, and less and less did it look to its old elite for guidance and governance. New impulses, attitudes, and agendas—precisely what Theodore Roosevelt had warned against—were making their way into the American consciousness with more diverse waves of immigration, and these had a profound effect upon the nation. …

[In terms] of what’s going on in America today. Christopher Lasch got closer to the heart of it in The Revolt of the Elites. To Lasch the problem doesn’t reside simply in the distribution of wealth or income, although these are not insignificant. It goes much deeper, far into the civic consciousness of the elite and the nation at large. The destructive nature of the new elite, by his reckoning, touches on profound questions of who we are, where we are going as a nation and society, and how we reconcile our present with our past and our future.

Like Stewart, Lasch sees major civic problems festering in America under the new elite. He views many of them, though not all, as economic in nature. And he believes that the new elites, in pursuing their positions of economic and social privilege, have ignored the fate of those below. “Elites, who define the issues, have lost touch with the people,” he writes.

But he goes further, painting a picture of an elite that harbors little sentiment of noblesse oblige toward the common people; that has little regard for democratic ideals; that favors globalism over patriotism; that accepts assaults on free speech in the academy; that sneeringly assaults the national heritage and the foundations of Western thought; that promotes a politics of diversity and a preoccupation with “self-esteem” (tied to identity politics) to the detriment of civic harmony; that fosters civic rancor through its open borders advocacy; and that employs powerful weapon-words such as “racist,” “sexist,” and “xenophobic” to stifle debate on matters it wants handled out of established halls of discourse.

In short, Lasch portrays an elite that has cut itself off from its own nation and civilization. He invokes Jose Ortega y Gasset’s famous book from the 1930s, The Revolt of the Masses, written in the era of the Bolshevik Revolution and the rise of European fascism. Ortega saw the Western crisis of that time as a product of the “political domination of the masses…the spoiled child of human history.” Now the spoiled child, says Lasch, is the new elite.

“Today,” he writes, “it is the elites, however—those who control the international flow of money and information, preside over philanthropic foundations and institutions of higher learning, manage the instruments of cultural production and thus set the terms of public debate—that have lost faith in the values, or what remains of them, of the West.” Indeed, he adds that for many of these people the very term “Western civilization” now “calls to mind an organized system of domination designed to enforce conformity to bourgeois values and to keep the victims of patriarchal oppression—women, children, homosexuals, people of color—in a permanent state of subjection.”

RTWT

20 Sep 2018

Left-Wing Elites think Ethics and Rules are for Deplorable Little People

, ,

Kevin D. Williamson observes that progressives believe rules and ethical norms apply only to little people.

Progressives conceive of themselves as a caste apart, a special and specialized group of enlightened men and women whose job it is to organize other people’s lives for them, a necessity because those people are too dumb to do it for themselves. And special people must enjoy special exemptions: Bernie Sanders can rail against the rich from his lakeside dacha, and Beto O’Rourke can lambast school-choice programs even though he himself ditched the public schools for the tony Woodberry Forrest boarding school, where tuition currently runs about $56,000 a year — a third more than the median household income in his native El Paso.

And, of course, Senator Kamala Harris of California can get away with the grossest hypocrisy.

During Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, she demanded to know whether the judge thought the president could legally politicize the Justice Department, for example by prosecuting his political enemies while going easy on his friends. Senator Harris would know more than a little about that: She wasted a great deal of time and a fair sum of Californians’ tax dollars illegally using her position as attorney general of California to attempt to bully nonprofits into giving up their donors lists. It was a transparent effort to target them for harassment and retaliation. That little jihad ultimately was ruled an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment by the federal courts. Harris and her opposite number in New York State, Eric Schneiderman, did nothing but misuse their offices to harass their political rivals. (Well, in fairness, Schneiderman did take some time to beat women, if The New Yorker is to be believed, and resigned his office after three women accused him of abuse.) She misused her job like that was her job.

You know how this works: Liars think everybody is lying, cheaters think everybody else is a cheat, and self-serving political hacks who misuse their offices think that that’s just how the game is played, that everybody does it.

RTWT

11 Sep 2018

Our Modern Marie Antoinettes

, , ,


Marie Antoinette playing shepherdess at the Petite Trianon.

Martin Hutchinson finds an excellent historical parallel to today’s divided-by-a-class-and-cultural-chasm American society.

With the important exception of the Trump administration, still young and possibly about to be cut off in the flower of its youth if the midterm elections go badly, the great majority of U.S. elites have a decidedly French air to them. They are now very separated from ordinary people, as Charles Murray brilliantly demonstrated in his “Coming Apart” a few years ago. The distance between Murray’s tony suburb of Belmont and his working-class community of Fishtown has only grown larger over the last few years, and the cultural gap, both in terms of interests and based on all kinds of other indicators, has also increased. Today’s intellectual Ivy-educated elite is wandering around the Petit Trianon playing at being a shepherdess, not playing cricket and hunting with ordinary folk.

In its economic attitudes, the U.S. elite is also 18th Century French. It sees essentially no limit to its ability to make economically damaging regulations if some pet cause is at stake. It takes a far greater interest in the theoretical possibility of global warming a century hence and in theoretical dangers to the environment from coal extraction than in the practical problems of generating electricity from wind power on a calm day or from solar power on a cloudy day. …

Today’s Marie Antoinettes have just one difference from the original: they take health-consciousness far more seriously than she did. Their advice for the rabble will thus be foul-tasting as well as disdainful: “Let them eat kale!”

RTWT

25 Jul 2018

Today’s Millerite Establishment

, , , , , , ,


In 1843, well-educated people thought the Millerites were crackpots. In 2020, the consensus of the supposedly well-educated is the equivalent of Millerism.

Roy Scranton is a professor of English at Notre Dame. His discussion of his feelings of guilt over having brought a child into this doomed world appeared in the New York Times.

Anyone who pays much attention to climate change knows the outlook is grim. It’s not unreasonable to say that the challenge we face today is the greatest the human species has ever confronted. And anyone who pays much attention to politics can assume we’re almost certainly going to botch it. To stop emitting waste carbon completely within the next five or 10 years, we would need to radically reorient almost all human economic and social production, a task that’s scarcely imaginable, much less feasible. It would demand centralized control of key economic sectors, enormous state investment in carbon capture and sequestration and global coordination on a scale never before seen, at the very time when the political and economic structures that held the capitalist world order together under American leadership after World War II are breaking apart. The very idea of unified national political action toward a single goal seems farcical, and unified action on a global scale mere whimsy.

And even if world leaders somehow got their act together, significant and dangerous levels of warming are still inevitable, baked into the system from all the carbon dioxide that has already been dumped. There’s a time lag between carbon dioxide increase and subsequent effects, between the wind we sow and the whirlwind we reap. Our lives are lived in that gap. My daughter was born there.

Barring a miracle, the next 20 years are going to see increasingly chaotic systemic transformation in global climate patterns, unpredictable biological adaptation and a wild spectrum of human political and economic responses, including scapegoating and war. After that, things will get worse. The middle and later decades of the 21st century — my daughter’s adult life — promise a global catastrophe whose full implications any reasonable person must turn away from in horror.

RTWT

The irony here is that he may be right: civilization as we know it may be doomed. But the cause of doom is going to be the ineffable stupidity of the morons who took over our establishment institutions, not the junk science theory of Global Warming Catastrophism.

15 Jul 2018

“Diversity”

, , , ,

In Hedgehog Review, Matthew B. Crawford explains precisely why “Diversity” is essential to the contemporary meritocratic Haute Bourgeois community of fashion.

[B]ourgeois society is fundamentally competitive. One has to enact one’s social value anew each day. …

The competition inherent in bourgeois society is responsible for its unprecedented ability to create wealth. But there is a problem. Furet writes that “the idea of the universality and equality of man, which [bourgeois society] claims as its foundation and is its primary innovation, is constantly negated by the inequality of property and wealth produced by the competition of its members. Its development belies its principle, and its dynamic undercuts its legitimacy. The bourgeoisie did not invent the division of society into classes, but by cloaking that division in an ideology that renders it illegitimate, they tinged it with suffering.”

The suffering is not confined to those who find themselves on the bottom. Furet is especially perceptive on the psychological effect of this contradiction on those who rise to the top: a kind of bourgeois self-hatred. He suggests that this sentiment is the secret source of the revolutionary passion (and in milder form, we might add, of liberal guilt).

The ongoing ferment on campus reveals the university as the site where the paradox of bourgeois society is most acute. As gatekeeper to the upper middle class, the elite university has as its primary social function the sorting of the population. (And it seeks rents commensurate with occupying such a choice position.) It detects existing inequalities, exacerbates them, and certifies them. And whatever else it does, it serves as a finishing school where the select learn to recognize one another, forging a class consciousness that has lately hardened into a de facto caste system. But for that very reason, by the logic Furet identifies, it is also the place where the sentiment that every inequality is illegitimate must be performed most strenuously.

In times of broadly shared upward mobility, this contradiction was perhaps less keenly felt. But for reasons that are only now coming to be broadly understood, once the Cold War ended, the economy increasingly took on the shape of a winner-take-all competition. The self-applied, legitimizing balm of campus progressivism became more necessary than ever.

But simply becoming more noisy about equality wouldn’t do the trick. Some conceptual innovation was needed, one that would shift the terms in such a way as to ease the contradiction. Enter “diversity.”

This concept claims descent from a lineage of shining democratic moments in the struggle for equal rights that we rightly celebrate: John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration, Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the statesmanship by which Nelson Mandela averted civil war in South Africa. But the family resemblance turns out to be superficial when one grasps the function “diversity” serves as a principle of administration in today’s political economy.

As Michael Lind has written, “Neoliberalism—the hegemonic ideology of the transatlantic elite—pretends that class has disappeared in societies that are purely meritocratic, with the exception of barriers to individual upward mobility that still exist because of racism, misogyny, and homophobia.” Marking out the corresponding classes of persons for special solicitude is thus key to sustaining the democratic legitimacy of our major institutions. Or, rather, the point is to shift the basis of that legitimacy away from democratic considerations toward “moral” ones. These have the advantage that they can be managed through the control of language, which has become a central feature of institutional life.

The concept of diversity first germinated in the corporate world, and was quickly seized upon by academia in the 1990s. It arrived just in the nick of time. The previous two decades had seen the traditional mission of the university undermined, if not abandoned, under pressure from a highly politicized turn in the humanities that made its case in epistemic terms, essentially debunking the very idea of knowledge. The role that the upper-tier university soon discovered for itself, upon the collapse of ideals of liberal learning, was no longer that of training citizens for humane self-government, but rather that of supplying a cadre to staff the corporations, the NGOs, and the foundations. That is, the main function of elite schools is to supply the personnel required to run things in an economy that has become more managerial than entrepreneurial.

The institutional desideratum—the political antipode to hated “privilege”—is no longer equality, but diversity. This greatly eases the contradiction Furet identified, shielding the system from democratic pressure. It also protects the self-conception of our meritocrats as agents of historical progress. As was the case with the Soviet nomenklatura, and the leading Jacobins as well, it is precisely our elite that searches out instances of lingering privilege, now understood as obstacles to fulfillment of the moral imperative of diversity. Under this dispensation, the figure of the “straight white male” (abstracted from class distinctions) has been made to do a lot of symbolic work, the heavy lifting of legitimation (in his own hapless way, as sacrificial goat). We eventually reached a point where this was more weight than our electoral system could take, as the election of 2016 revealed. Whether one regards that event as a catastrophe or as a rupture that promises the possibility of glasnost, its immediate effect has been panic in every precinct where the new class accommodations have been functioning smoothly, and a doubling down on the moralizing that previously secured them against popular anger. We’ll see how that goes.

The term shibboleth is interesting. Its definitions include “a peculiarity of pronunciation, behavior, mode of dress, etc., that distinguishes a particular class or set of persons” and “a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth.” It is a random Hebrew word that acquired its present meaning when it was used by the Gileadites as a test to identify members of an enemy tribe, the Ephraimites, as they attempted to flee across the Jordan River. Ephraimites could not pronounce the sound sh (Judges 12:4–6). I think it is fair to say that one’s ability to pronounce the word diversity with a straight face, indeed with sincerity made scrupulously evident, serves as a shibboleth in this original sense. It answers the question of whether one wants to continue as a member in good standing of those institutions that secure one’s position in the upper middle class.

RTWT

18 Jun 2018

The Arrogance of the Ill-Educated Elite

, , , , ,

Joseph Pearce responds with understandable frustration to the chief problem of our time: the combination of arrogance with lack of real education.

Recently, sitting in traffic, I saw this .. bumper sticker on the car in front of me… which declared the following: “What you call the Liberal Elite, we call being well-educated.” …

Clearly designed to offend other motorists, it is supremely supercilious and extremely arrogant. We, the average Joe, whoever we may be, are not as “well-educated” as the royal “we” driving the car in front of us. This pompous “we,” who is presumably a she, presumes that anyone who disagrees with her is poorly educated, whereas she, of course, is well-educated. If we were as well-educated as she, we would agree with her.

To be fair to her, she is basing her presumption on data that shows that those who are “well-educated” tend to vote for the Democrats whereas those who are less “educated” tend to vote Republican. She votes Democrat because she is well-educated. We, who are presumed to be Republicans (because we are presumed to be stupid), complain that those who are better educated than us (and are therefore better than us) are part of an elite.

The problem is that her education is not as good as she thinks it is. …

If she was educated in our secular system, she will know nothing of philosophy, or, if she does, she will believe that there was no philosophy worth taking seriously before René Descartes. She will know nothing of the philosophy of the Greeks, of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and still less of the great Christian philosophers, such as Augustine or Aquinas. Insofar as she’s even heard of these people, she will presume that they did not know what they were talking about: “What the ancient philosophers call error, we call being well-educated.”

If she was educated in our secular system, she will know nothing of history, or, if she does, she will know it only from her own twenty-first century perspective, or from the twenty-first century perspective of those who taught it to her. History is not about learning from the people of the past, their triumphs and their mistakes, but is about sitting in judgment on the stupidity of our ancestors, who are presumed to be unenlightened, or at least not as enlightened as she is or her teachers are. “What the people of the past believed to be immoral, we call being well-educated.”

If she was educated in our secular system, she will know nothing of great literature, or, if she does, she will have misread it from the perspective of her own twenty-first century pride and prejudice, or from the proud and prejudiced twenty-first century perspective of those who taught her. She would not think of trying to read the great authors of the past through their own eyes because, living in the past, such authors lack the sense and sensibility which she has.

RTWT

The usual argument over free enterprise versus the regulatory administrative state economy erupted over the weekend on my Yale class list. The usual three classmates who’d operated businesses defended freedom against the larger group of lefties who’d spent careers in academia.

The left-wing arguments were, as usual, actually embarrassing expressions of relativism combined with glib attempts to deflect substantive points by simple word-play. Reading the leftists’ efforts at debate, it is impossible to avoid noticing that what they really believe in is the absolute reliability of the consensus opinion of the community of fashion. The common culture of the establishment elite cannot possibly be wrong.

They fail to recognize at all just how dramatically that consensus has changed, even within their own adult lifetimes, because the accepted narrative is everything, History and Reality are nothing.

Their Cliff-Notes-based education has merely trained these people in the skillful manipulation of numbers, symbols, and ideas. Each of them is, of course, competent, even excellent, in some professional specialty, but if the gods of fashionable opinion decreed that college professors should go around barking like dogs, our universities would sound exactly like hunt kennels. They could be persuaded to accept anything, and they view with bitter hatred and disdainful contempt anyone daring to dissent.

12 Jun 2018

“A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad President Builds an Empire”

, , , , ,

Niall Ferguson points out that the supposedly oh-so-smart people just don’t get it. Trump is winning.

To most highly educated people I know, President Trump is a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad president.

For two years, the people with at least two university degrees (PALTUDs) have been gnashing their teeth about Trump’s every utterance and move. To the foreign policy experts, he is a bull in a china shop, trampling the “rules-based international order” underfoot. To the economics establishment, he is a human wrecking ball, smashing more than a half-century of consensus that free trade really works better than protectionism.

A striking feature of all this dire commentary is how wrong it has been so far. …

Despite all the trade war talk, the US economy is at full employment, the dollar is rallying, the stock market is up 30 percent since Trump’s election, and the only countries in any trouble are the usual suspects with their usual problems (e.g., Turkey).

It is not that Trump is an underrated genius, nor for that matter an idiot savant. It is just that his intuitive, instinctive, impulsive way of operating, familiar to those who have done business with him, is exposing some basic flaws in the conceptual framework of the PALTUDs. …

Think of the world as a three-empire system. It is dominated by the United States, China, and Europe, in that order. Each empire is evolving in a different direction. The American empire, having experienced overextension in Afghanistan and Iraq, has not retreated into isolation. Its latest step down the road to empire is domestic. …

All the accompanying symptoms of the transition from republic to empire are already visible. The plebs despise the elites. An old and noble senatorial order personified by John McCain is dying. A cultural civil war rages on social media, the modern-day forum, with all civility cast aside and character assassination a daily occurrence. The president-emperor dominates public discourse by issuing 280-character edicts, picking fights with football players, and arbitrarily pardoning convicted criminals.

Meanwhile, the Chinese empire becomes ever more centralized, ever more invasive of its citizens’ privacy, and ever more overt in its overseas expansion. The Western world regards Xi Jinping as an almighty potentate. Few observers appreciate the acute sense of weakness that has motivated his tightening grip on party and state and his surveillance of his own people. Few see the risks of imperial ventures such as the Belt and Road Initiative, which is drawing Chinese investment into economically unpromising and strategically dangerous locations.

The weakest of the three empires is the European Union. True, its central institutions in Brussels have the power to impose rules, fines, and taxes on the biggest American and Chinese corporations. But Europe lacks tech giants of its own. Its navies, armies, and air forces have melted away, so that it can scarcely defend its frontiers from penniless migrants, never mind hostile invaders. And the political consensus on which it has been based for the past 60 years —between social democrats and moderate conservatives in every member state — is crumbling under a nationalist-populist assault.

The logic of Trumpism is simply to bully the other empires, exploiting the fact that they are both weaker than the United States, in order to extract concessions and claim victories. The Chinese sincerely fear a trade war and will end up buying a very large amount of American produce in order to avoid one. The Europeans dare not stand up to Trump over his Iran sanctions and secretly agree with him about China, and so are reduced to impotent seething (Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany) or sycophancy (President Emmanuel Macron of France, until last week’s G-7 summit). If they unite against him, he brings up Russia and divides them again.

To the PALTUDs, who remain so certain of their intellectual superiority to the president, all this is incomprehensible. They will continue to find fault with Trump’s every success, nitpicking their way through the small print, failing to realize that in the imperial transition such details cease to matter.

25 Feb 2018

The Snobbish Revolutionary Left

, , ,


Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, Portrait of an Unknown Woman, 1883, Tretyakov Gallery.

Jeffrey Folks has got the Social Justice Warriors, the Reformers and Improvers, the Holier-than-thous pegged.

For liberals, the distinction between the “dumb masses” and their enlightened selves renders life meaningful. Disdain for ordinary folks is not just an ancillary trait of liberalism. It is fundamental to the its nature.

At its heart, liberalism is a gnostic religion, and the essence of that religion is the believer’s faith that he possesses the means of changing the world for the better. The belief that the world must be changed requires there to be a mass of individuals whose lives are in need of change. Following this logic, it is the liberal, not those deplorables in need of change, who knows what must be changed. For liberals, there must be a mass of people in need of this knowledge for life to make sense.

Above all, liberalism is a hubristic faith. Its followers share the fatal flaw of pride in their own intellectual capacity. This is why liberalism appeals so strongly to those in the knowledge trades: teachers, journalists, writers, psychologists, and social workers. The sense of “knowing more than others” is its strongest attraction – particularly to the young, who otherwise know so little. Liberalism confers, or seems to confer, almost immediate power and authority to those who embrace it.

The left’s obsession with superior knowledge runs through its entire history. As Woodrow Wilson remarked, the “instrument” of political science “is insight. A nice understanding of subtle, unformulated conditions.” Lyndon B. Johnson thought “a president’s hardest task” is “to know what is right.” And the most hubristic of all is Obama’s “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Yes, we are wonderfully bright, and we’ve been waiting eons for ourselves to appear.

The problem for the liberal is that most people do not want to be transformed.

RTWT

06 Feb 2018

“I Detest Trump, But a ‘Redneck’ Fixed My Prius with Zip Ties”

, , , , ,

Ruth Mayer knows that she is a superior person for holding progressive political opinions and despising Trump, then one of those deplorable Trump supporters comes along and helps her out!

After the march, Katherine and I hit the road in the late afternoon, feeling good; we had done our part to express our outrage. We were about 90 minutes south of D.C. when I heard a terrible popping sound. I assumed I had blown a tire and headed toward the nearest exit. The popping was followed by screeching — were we now driving on metal? Luckily, there was a gas station right off the exit.

Before I could do anything but park my gray Prius, a man rushed over. “I heard you coming down that road,” he said. Before I could say much he started surveying the situation. He didn’t so much offer to help us as get right to work.

It turned out that I hadn’t blown a tire; a huge piece of plastic under the front bumper had come loose, causing the screeching as it scraped along the road. After determining that he couldn’t cut the plastic off, he ran over to his car to grab some zip ties so that he could secure the piece back in place.

He did all of this so quickly that I didn’t have time to grab the prominent RESIST sticker on the side of my car, which suddenly felt needlessly alienating. As this man lay on the ground under my car with his miracle zip ties, I asked if he thought they would hold for four more hours of driving.

“Just ask any redneck like me what you can do with zip ties — well, zip ties and duct tape. You can solve almost any car problem. You’ll get home safe,” he said, turning to his teenage son standing nearby. “You can say that again,” his son agreed.

The whole interaction lasted 10 minutes, tops. Katherine and I made it home safely.

Our encounter changed the day for me. While I tried to dive back into my liberal podcast, my mind kept being pulled back to the gas station. I couldn’t stop thinking about the man who called himself a “redneck” who came to our rescue. I sized him up as a Trump voter, just as he likely drew inferences from my Prius and RESIST sticker. But for a moment, we were just two people and the exchange was kindness (his) and gratitude (mine).

As I drove home, I felt the full extent to which Trump has actually diminished my own desire to be kind. He is keeping me so outraged that I hold ill will toward others on a daily basis. Trump is not just ruining our nation, he is ruining me. By the end of the drive, I felt heartbroken.

When my husband and I first moved to Charlotte eight years ago, I liked to tell people that our neighborhood represented the best impulses of America. In our little two-block craftsman-home development, we had people of every political persuasion from liberal to moderate Republican to tea party, and we all got along. We held porch parties in the summer and a progressive dinner at Christmas. We put being a cohesive neighborhood above politics.

But this year, I realize, I retreated from my porch. Trump’s cruelty and mendacity demand outrage and the most vigorous resistance a nation can muster. Yet the experience with the man at the side of the road felt humbling. It reminded me that we are all just people trying to get home safe. It felt like a sign, that maybe if we treat one another with the kindness and gratitude that is so absent from our president and his policies, putting our most loving selves forward, this moment can transform into something more bearable? I want to come away from the march with that simple lesson, but it begs this question: How do we hold onto the fire fueling our resistance to the cruelty Trump unleashes, but also embrace the world with love? I wish I knew.

RTWT

Years ago, one day I had driven over to Bethel,CT from my Newtown home to do some shopping. I stopped for lunch at the Burger King, and when I’d finished eating and returned to my sexy and sophisticated TVR 2500 British sports car, it wouldn’t start.

I opened the hood and stood there confounded, and along came an older plumber out of a pickup truck. “You just need to see if you’re getting a spark and getting gas,” he explained. He first took a wire off a spark plug and held it near the engine. A spark jump the gap.

“Ok, there is spark,” he said. Then he opened the distributor, and examined the rotor and the points. “Aha!, dirty.” was his observation. He then produced a book of matches and used the striker to clear the contacts. He reassembled the distributor. I turned the key, and it fired right up.

I went to Yale and studied Renaissance Art, the Philosophy of Hegel, and Solar Mechanics. I was generally in the habit of looking upon myself as a few orders of superiority removed from the local working class rednecks, but there was factual, undeniable truth that the old fellow in the jeans could do a better job of logically thinking through the operations of the internal combustion engine than I could.

I puzzled about how all this could be so, and realized that I was better than him at all the highfalutin’ intellectual stuff probably largely because I was seriously interested in that kind of thing and worked at studying it to the point of acquiring the kind of familiarity and self confidence that produces competence. Just as he would be intimidated by a book of academic philosophy and experience a kind of intellectual paralysis preventing him from engaging it, so, too, in my own case, my lack of personal experience and long-term intense interest in automobile mechanics left me standing stupefied, despite my actually really possessing enough information to do all the things he had done.

It became apparent to me that the grand yawning class differences in brains were a lot more superficial than I had been in the habit of thinking. I drove away shaking my head ruefully at my past hubris.

Your are browsing
the Archives of Never Yet Melted in the 'The Elite' Category.











Feeds
Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark