The ‘historic decoupling’ of the global elite

It’s the read of the day. Peggy Noonan has written a thought-provoking essay (follow this link) on a phenomenon we all recognize, the rise of global elites detached from the lives of ordinary people. “Those in power see people at the bottom as aliens whose bizarre emotions they must try to manage.”

This is about distance, and detachment, and a kind of historic decoupling between the top and the bottom in the West that did not, in more moderate recent times, exist.

She uses as her example Angela Merkel’s Nazi guilt-inspired imposition of catastrophic levels of Muslims “refugees” on her people:

Merkel had put the entire burden of a huge cultural change not on herself and those like her but on regular people who live closer to the edge, who do not have the resources to meet the burden, who have no particular protection or money or connections. Ms. Merkel, her cabinet and government, the media and cultural apparatus that lauded her decision were not in the least affected by it and likely never would be.

She sees Merkel, in her detachment from the consequences of her decision, as similar to American liberals, such as:

 In Hollywood the wealthy protect their own children from cultural decay, from the sick images they create for all the screens, but they don’t mind if poor, unparented children from broken-up families get those messages and, in the way of things, act on them down the road.

We’ve always had “limousine liberals” who force policies on people they regard as inferior, and who wall themselves off from the consequences. I lived in Boston during the racial bussing, when South Boston exploded in protest, and the Boston Public Schools went into decline. The federal judge who ordered the bussing, Arthur Garrity, lived in Wellesley. But Noonan sees something new:

...this is something we are seeing all over, the top detaching itself from the bottom, feeling little loyalty to it or affiliation with it. It is a theme I see working its way throughout the West’s power centers. At its heart it is not only a detachment from, but a lack of interest in, the lives of your countrymen, of those who are not at the table, and who understand that they’ve been abandoned by their leaders’ selfishness and mad virtue-signalling. (snip)

In Silicon Valley the idea of “the national interest” is not much discussed. They adhere to higher, more abstract, more global values. They’re not about America, they’re about . . . well, I suppose they’d say the future. (snip)

From what I’ve seen of those in power throughout business and politics now, the people of your country are not your countrymen, they’re aliens whose bizarre emotions you must attempt occasionally to anticipate and manage.

And this is a global phenomenon:

...elites, of Mumbai and Manhattan, do not often identify with, or see a connection to or an obligation toward, the rough, struggling people who live at the bottom in their countries. In fact, they fear them, and often devise ways, when home, of not having their wealth and worldly success fully noticed. (snip)

…something big is happening here with this division between the leaders and the led. It is very much a feature of our age. But it is odd that our elites have abandoned or are abandoning the idea that they belong to a country, that they have ties that bring responsibilities, that they should feel loyalty to their people or, at the very least, a grounded respect.

I would caution that this is not be entirely a new thing.  A century ago, “cosmopolitan” people (mostly meaning the Jews) were denounced for their lack of allegiance to the peoples they lived among.  And of course historically the very point of an aristocracy is to be different from those below you and to operate in a context that in Europe transcended nationality, with intermarriage and more.

Nonetheless, I agree that this latest cycle is different in degree. Ease of travel and changes in the economy driven by the internet, plus the emergence of English as the de facto global language, have made the new globalists far more numerous than any aristocracy of yore. Their culture -- which is upstream of their politics, as Andrew Breitbart told us -- is very liberal. That puts conservatives on the side of the populists, no matter what you think of Trump.  The problem is that people who are tasked with running our political institutions, including the parties, have to constantly deal with members of the global elite, and over time therefore become members of it themselves. 

If you experience technical problems, please write to