May 21, 2011
Elitist, Lead ThyselfBy Christopher Chantrill
Although I never got the official proclamation, last week seems to have been Blame the Elite Week. Of course, for conservatives, it is always Blame the Elite Week, but it was still gratifying to read Paul Krugman on "The Unwisdom of Elites."
Too many people in the "policy elite" are saying that our problems are "the public's fault," says Dr. Krugman, when clearly the three big recent problems were pushed by "small groups of influential people" in the elite: the Bush tax cuts, pushed by the Bushies; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, pushed by you-know-who; and the Great Recession, caused by a "runaway financial sector, empowered by reckless deregulation" advocated by "powerful people in Washington."
If the job of a politician is to tell the people what they want to hear, the job of a New York Times columnist is write opinions that liberals want to read.
Walter Russell Mead has a more nuanced take on the elite. Instead of shooting the Bushies and the greedy bankers one more time, he blames the whole establishment elite. He compares our modern elite to 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.
That's telling 'em! Mind you, I think my own efforts in this line, "The Crisis of the Administrative State" and "Beyond Mere Blame," have their moments.
"A leadership class is responsible for, among other things, giving a voice to the feelings of the nation and doing so in a way that enables the nation to advance and to change," Mead writes. Yes, but how?
If I have a prejudice, it is that the answer to any political and social problems is usually staring you right in the face. Some thinker has already thought what needed to be thought. The problem is that other members of the elite hesitate to get the word out. Like Nancy Pelosi, they are concerned that "it would confuse the public."
The first thing staring us in the face is that conservatism is the answer, especially the kind defined by Brit Danny Kruger in On Fraternity.
Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority -- the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says 'we should...'.
That is the essence of conservatism, from Edmund Burke to the present. Conservatism wants to limit government, the zone of force that says "you must," and it wants to maximize the zone of persuasion that says "we should." Liberalism wants to expand government and the zone of force.
Michael Novak in his Spirit of Democratic Capitalism notes what this looks like: "a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal." The idea is to differentiate "the three major spheres of life and to have assigned to each relatively autonomous networks of institutions" so that "individuals possessed of the will-to-power" must choose which greasy pole they want to climb.
The record of the last century is that when you combine the powers of the three sectors -- political, economic, and moral-cultural -- into one, you get totalitarianism and the death camp. You get poverty, and you get a collapse of all three sectors: politics into terror, enterprise into a bleak autarky, and religion into reeducation camps. So the idea of democratic capitalism is to separate political power from moral-cultural power and political power from economic power. It's the separation of not just church and state, but economy and state. I call this notion "The Greater Separation of Powers."
Our elite, the one that Krugman and Mead agree is in trouble, has forgotten the old injunction: physician, heal thyself. Tempted by power, our elite has collapsed the separation and the independence of the three sectors. The result is Obama America. When politics dominates business, you get crony capitalism. When politics dominates the moral culture, you get political correctness and hate-speech laws.
And then the elite has to lie about its mistakes. Nancy Pelosi can't admit that Social Security needs reform: dueling reform plans might "confuse the public." The Angelides Commission can't admit that the government's housing subsidies caused the Crash of 2008, so it has to blame greedy bankers and lax regulation.
I say: Elitist, lead thyself, before you try to lead others.
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.