Recently I read an article in The American Spectator entitled America's Ruling Class-And the Peril's of Revolution. I disagreed powerfully with Angelo M. Codevilla's conclusions, but thought that many of his arguments made sense, with strong logical foundations. A dangerous contradiction, and one that I've not experienced so strongly since reading The Unabomber Manifesto (and like The Unabomber Manifesto, America's Ruling class goes from "yeah, I agree," to "wtf are you smoking" fairly quickly).
Mr. Codevilla's thesis is that the political disenchantment in America, as most contemporanious represented by the Tea Party, comes from the growing power of a new ruling class since World War II, that class' arrogance, and its failure to govern. The common people of America, sick at this unnatural state of affairs, are beginning to rise up in revolt.
Who are America's ruling class?
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. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the "in" language -- serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct... Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.
The ruling class encompasses Democrats and Republicans. At its top are Senators and Congressmen, its ranks are swelled by public servants, teachers, union members, and those who suckle at the trough of public money, ranging from welfare queens to non-profit activists to research scientists.
I took immediate offense to this, but as I calmed down, I realized that the reason I got angry was that Mr. Codevilla was right. I am a member of America's ruling class. My education at a state university is subsidized by local taxes, and I plan to find more government grants soon. My friends are liberals who speak in a certain language, many of whom work in the non-profit sector. And I am skeptical of the ability of business to help America, and am sanguine about the power of intelligent government intervention.
America does having a ruling class, and no one can deny the influence of the federal government, and its followers. "By taxing and parceling out more than a third of what Americans produce, through regulations that reach deep into American life, our ruling class is making itself the arbiter of wealth and poverty... By making economic rules dependent on discretion, our bipartisan ruling class teaches that prosperity is to be bought with the coin of political support." Nor can I deny that this ruling class has failed America. Since WW2, we've seen four useless quagmire wars in Asia, the decline of American education, immense increases in pollution, a decline in global prestige, massive government debt, an expansion of regulation without a commensurate expansion in safety etc etc. The ruling class is separated from its intellectual foundations, and is less intelligent and less coherent than ever before. They have failed to make a case for their position, and now in the everyday process of politics, denigrate their own ability to govern.
The Center Cannot Hold
Codevilla posits as a counter-weight the forgotten America of ordinary people, what he calls the "Country Class." These plain folks are fed up with an intrusive, top heavy, inefficient and unresponsive federal government. They believe in local autonomy, the family, and the Bible, and their beliefs are cruelly mocked by the ruling class.
Describing America's country class is problematic because it is so heterogeneous. It has no privileged podiums, and speaks with many voices, often inharmonious. It shares above all the desire to be rid of rulers it regards inept and haughty. It defines itself practically in terms of reflexive reaction against the rulers' defining ideas and proclivities -- e.g., ever higher taxes and expanding government, subsidizing political favorites, social engineering, approval of abortion, etc. Many want to restore a way of life largely superseded. 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.
Wait, what? This class doesn't match any group I've heard of. Social conservatives are more eager than anyone short of radical Marxists to re-engineer society, in their case along Biblical lines. Libertarians want freedom to pursue their own rights, but trample over the ability of people to collectively face challenges. There is no such thing as a 'redistribution of wealth', all distributions are redistributions, and even hunter-gatherer tribes share food. The kind of society that Codevilla envisions is not Industrial, or old agricultural (as in Europe), it appears closest to the historical idealization of the American West. This lifestyle was contingent on a specific set of historical factors, primarily open land, that will not appear again. My personal experience of the country class, from the Tea Party, is that they are not rugged individualists, they are proles. They are worn out cogs in the social machine.
The country class wants local autonomy to choose their own school boards and curricula, but this is suicidal in a modern economy. Global competitiveness is dependent on a set of skills that can be assumed nationwide. Companies need to trust that their employees in Los Angeles have the same skills as their employees in Fargo, lest the company collapse through inefficiency and misunderstanding. They decry the intrusion of the Federal government, then demand agricultural subsidies, social security, and disaster relief. Without pork-barrel projects like the interstate highway system and rural electrification, the countryside would be a desolate wasteland of third world poverty.
Mr Codevilla shows his true colors: "Restoring localities' traditional powers over schools, including standards, curriculum, and prayer, would take repudiating two generations of Supreme Court rulings. So would the restoration of traditional 'police' powers over behavior in public places." What are these 'traditional police powers', not having to read suspects their Miranda Rights? What about immigrants? And where is the Military-Industrial Complex in Codevilla's society, the generals, spies, and defense contractors who justify so much of America's dysfunctional foreign policy in the name of 'national security'. I do not wish to call names, but under Codevilla's rejection of the Democratic-Republican establishment is a desire to raise up a new Military-Christian alliance, in short, fundamentalist fascism. Cities, the main drivers of American prosperity, would see their complex institutional networks disbanded in the name of 'autonomy.' And individually, small towns would slip into religious hysteria and xenophobic paranioa; Arizona's laws against illegal immigrants, and the Salem Witch Hunts.
America's ruling class has failed, but the solution that Codevilla advocates, a return to local autonomy, and "[An] attack on the ruling class's fundamental claims to its superior intellect and morality in ways that dispirit the target and hearten one's own is in effect the break-up of the American Empire (and we are an empire, even domestically). He may believe that America's grand democratic experiment that he claims to defend can survive this assault, but I feel differently. We are tottering on the edge of the knife. We must unite to survive. Policy debate and disagreement are vital to the health of our democracy, but the empty repetition that "Washington is broken" has to end.
Next Week on We Alone on Earth: America's New Ruling Class.
(PS: Apologies for typos, this was banged out in a hurry and I don't have time to proof read right now.)