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Published on: May 12, 2011
Establishment Blues

I don’t want to make this a habit, and I suspect he doesn’t either, but Paul Krugman and I are once again in (very) partial agreement.  We both think the American elite has intellectually and morally lost its way, and we agree that the problems our country faces today have more to do with elite […]

I don’t want to make this a habit, and I suspect he doesn’t either, but Paul Krugman and I are once again in (very) partial agreement.  We both think the American elite has intellectually and morally lost its way, and we agree that the problems our country faces today have more to do with elite breakdown than popular stupidity.  We locate the blame somewhat differently within that elite; Krugman splits the blame between George W. Bush and the economic policy makers of the Clinton/Obama administrations.  I think the rot goes deeper and has spread out more widely.  But the United States today — in both parties, in the corporate and business worlds, in academia and among the intelligentsia, in religion and in many other fields — does not have the strong and thoughtful leadership that we need.

That is not what the elite thinks, by and large.  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.

As the thoughtful and discerning Dan Drezner noted on his blog, the complaint isn’t all wrong.  Americans historically want generous government support for themselves and their families, and we do have a tendency to think that government exists to give us something for nothing.  Most of us think God has some kind of plan for the United States — that the wealth and the power this country has accumulated over the centuries is intended to benefit humanity as a whole in some way.  Nobody is going to argue that the American people are walking encyclopedias of knowledge about foreign leaders, new developments in European philosophy and WTO regulations.  If world power was determined by fifth grade math scores, the US would rank somewhere between Burkino Faso and Chad.

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.  Unsatisfactory as the American people may be from the standpoints of Georgetown and Manhattan, this is as good as it gets.  Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman could only dream of the kind of sophisticated and cosmopolitan understanding that folks in Peoria have now compared to the old days.

The American people are less prejudiced, more globally aware and more willing to meet other cultures and societies halfway than ever before.  Minorities today are better protected in law and more fairly treated by the public than ever in our history.  No previous generation has been as determined to give women a fair chance in life, or to attack the foul legacy of racism.  The American people have never been as religiously tolerant as they are today, as concerned about the environment, or more willing to make sacrifices around the world to promote the peace and well being of humanity as a whole.

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.   (There are, of course, many honorable exceptions to generalizations this sweeping; anyone wise enough to be reading this blog can safely assume that none of these terrible things apply to you.)

Take Wall Street.  (Please!)  Our corrupt financial and corporate establishment has by and large lost its concern for the well being of the American state and the American people.  Raj Rajaratnam’s conviction on 14 counts of insider trading is only the latest of a string of scandals, blunders and crimes that demonstrate the moral vacuity of the best and the brightest in the United States.  Matt Taibbi’s article in Rolling Stone may be a little over the top for some tastes, but even if the Goldman Sachs executives he describes did nothing illegal, it is painfully clear that a great American financial institution has lost its moral compass. There is a dangerous moral vacuum at the heart of the American Financial Establishment. 

We have had financial scandals before and we have had waves of corporate crime.  We have had pirates and robber barons.  But we have never seen a collapse of ordinary morality in the corporate suites on the scale of the last twenty years.  We have never seen naked money grubbing among our politicians akin to the way some recent figures in both parties have cashed in.  Human nature hasn’t changed, but a kind of moral grade inflation has set in and key segments of the American Establishment are increasingly accepting the unacceptable as OK.  Investment banks betray their clients; robo-signers essentially forge mortgage documents day after day and month after month; insider traders are lionized.   Free markets actually require a certain basic level of honesty to work; if we can’t be more honest than this neither our markets nor we ourselves will remain free for very long.  

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.

Because the idea of an elite makes Americans nervous, and because American culture likes to blur class and power realities rather than highlight them, we don’t have much of a national conversation about the state of our elite and about how to improve it.  That’s a mistake — and it is one of the reasons our elites are performing so poorly.  The United States actually needs a healthy and far-sighted elite, and that means we need to look at the subject head on.  I’ll be posting on this subject from time to time over the next few months; here are some initial, and not particularly Paul Krugman-like thoughts on what I think has gone wrong.

Guild Mindset

I’ve posted in the past about the power of the learned guilds in our society: lawyers, doctors, university professors, journalists (marginally) and other professionals.  These are the institutions in which much of the American elite makes its living.  That’s a problem, because the most important problems America faces today involve the need to break up these guilds and drastically reshape the professions.  This isn’t something our elite wants to think about — and it doesn’t want the rest of us thinking about it, either.  The system works fine for them, so what’s to reform?  Rather than leading the country into the Promised Land, the elites want to keep us in Egypt.

Progressive Myopia

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.

Blind Faith in Meritocracy

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.  Teddy Roosevelt and his cousins Eleanor and Franklin worked as hard as they did in part because they felt their privilege was unearned.  They were also a little bit afraid; nobody wants to end up in the tumbrils on the way to the guillotine like the French aristocracy.  Best look after the people before things get out of hand.

I don’t make this point because I want to go back to the days when a tightly knit WASP Establishment ran the country; I merely observe that some important things have been lost in what, on the whole, is a very beneficial transition.  We need to think about recovering what was lost even as we hold onto the gains we have made.

The Great Revaluation

There is an intellectual and a moral problem that undermines the ability of the American elite to perform one of the necessary functions of a leadership class: to draw on the country’s traditional values for the vision and the confidence to move into the future.  During the 1960s and 1970s, many of the most hallowed assumptions of American life were challenged.  Especially when it came to race and to gender relations, two of the deepest and most complex elements in the makeup of traditional American society, the 1960s and 1970s witnessed wholesale and radical change.

I am not, repeat not, saying this was a bad thing.  Having grown up under Jim Crow, and having seen the University of North Carolina deny my mother a chance for an advanced degree because it refused to admit married women into certain professional programs, I have no nostalgia for Tara.  Count me in with the carpetbaggers, scalawags and civil rights activists; I’m marching with Martin, not sulking with Scarlett.

But it has given the United States a complicated and kinky relationship to our national past.  The racist, Indian-killing, woman-oppressing America of the past was not a perfect society, but it was the source of the values that enabled us to grow.  Disentangling the good from the bad and finding a way for society to connect ever more deeply with the good in our roots without resuscitating old evils is one of the essential skills national leaders need.  A country like ours, needing both to reject and to embrace the past in complex and subtle ways, is a hard country to lead.  Unfortunately, our leadership class — impatient with the “bitter clingers” — sometimes doesn’t even seem to be trying.

The leadership class of a country like ours needs to exemplify and to teach smart patriotism: a deep love of country that expresses itself in a concern for the well being of our fellow Americans, a sense of personal dignity and economic restraint, a willingness to set the example of sacrifice for the common good.  Progressive taxation is a poor substitute for the kind of progressive patriotism that we need.

Too many American intellectuals today spend their time mocking popular expressions of American exceptionalism and other forms of patriotic thought without working to create and promote a richer vision of the country, a deeper and wiser patriotism that connects with the sentiments of ordinary Americans and raises them to a wider and more magnanimous plane.  It is worth going back to read some of Daniel Webster’s great patriotic orations like the Second Reply to Haynes or the speech of March 7, 1850 to ask how in today’s circumstances we can articulate a vision of our union that can equally inspire its defense and its reform.

An early daguerreotype of Daniel Webster (Wikimedia)

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.  Most of the American establishment today is too ignorant of and too squeamish about the history and language of American patriotism to do that job.  In the worst case, significant chunks of the elite have convinced themselves that patriotism is in itself a bad and a dangerous thing, and have set about to smother it under blankets of politically correct disdain.

This will not end well.

The Evaporation of Religion

The religion gap between the elite and the rest of the country is a big part of the problem — and in more ways than one.  I can’t help but notice that the abandonment of serious religion by most of the American elite has coincided with a massive collapse in both the public and private morality of the American establishment.  Kids who weren’t raised in church or synagogue or mosque, who were taught that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were simplistic categories in a complex moral world of shades of gray, who were told that their highest moral duty was to be true to their inner passions, who were the first generation in American history to be raised in a Scripture-free educational medium, turn into self-indulgent, corner-cutting, self-centered adults.

What a surprise!  We raised a generation of bright kids without a foundation in religion, and they’ve grown up and gone to Wall Street.  We never told them that the virtuous life was both necessary and hard, that character was something that had to be built step by step from youth, that moral weakness was both contemptible and natural: and we are shocked, shocked! when, placed in proximity to large sums of loose cash, they grab all they can.

Religion is no guarantee of righteousness; Elmer Gantry is not the only sticky-fingered preacher in the history of the world.  But at least in western history when the culture and habits of mind of an entire social milieu have lost touch with their cultural foundations in ethical monotheism, trouble is usually on the way.  The estrangement from religion is also an estrangement from the ideas and cultural values that bind society into a workable whole.

Eugène Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” painted in 1830 (Wikimedia)

The French aristocrats laughed at the manners and the morals of the common people and ridiculed the faith that lit the darkness and softened the harsh conditions of ordinary lives.  Enlightened and cosmopolitan, the establishment mocked the attachment of the ignorant peasants to the king.  The well educated, well connected elites accepted no limits on their ability to convert their social privilege into personal wealth; they accepted no limits on the gratification of their physical desires — flaunting their romantic affairs in the same spirit in which they feasted at Versailles while the gaunt peasants starved.  They used and abused to the fullest all the privileges that came with their status while mocking and rejecting any sense of duty and obligation.

It was fun while it lasted.

show comments
  • http://sites.google.com/site/lukelea2/thesoftpath Luke Lea

    You forgot to mention a growing libertarian/cosmopolitan strain that does not even recognize the legitimacy of a special concern for the life possibilities of their fellow countrymen — except they would not use the word fellow, or the word country either. For them it is all about the rights and claims of the individual, meaning themselves, and the well-being of “humanity” writ large. Another group thinks only about the health of the American economy and the state which it supports, with no consideration given to the lives and wages of the average majority who man it; they are the new imperialists.

  • KLSmith

    Very thoughtful and thought-provoking. I hope you don’t get too many people accusing you of being one of those nasty tea partiers.
    I think we do have two America’s; personified by those that appreciate your essay and those that don’t.
    Sometimes I wonder how quickly many of the elite would change their minds if we could try dividing the country in two – just as an experiment, for say a decade.

  • teapartydoc

    Mead, you got the big one right and then went on to totally ignore the implications and need for action on the point. The guild mindset of the elite class. This has to be broken and broken big-time. The notion that a skill-set is conferred by government recognition, and that there are no other ways to get it has to go. There’s nothing wrong with being educated, but when you start thinking that the government must provide a cachet into certain parts of the economy and deny it to others based on a credential, you have a formula for corruption and special favors that ALWAYS ends badly. The average person only understands this in an inchoate way now. When it enters their conscious minds, they will be angry. And there will be guillotines.

  • PamK

    It boils down to the loss of right and wrong. Churchs reinforced that and also introduced history to children in a context that was much grander and profound than in school. The loss of religion and its reinforcement of the value of historical teaching has complicated the transfer of the concept of right and wrong to our children.

  • http://www.omatumr.com Oliver K. Manuel

    Thanks for the article.

    Unfortunately, you are right.

    The story of how federal research agencies (NASA, DOE, EPA, etc.) used public funds to support the false story of CO2-induced global warming championed by world leaders (Al Gore & Associates), including the UN’s IPCC, is unfolding in Professor Curry’s blog, “NASA Earth Science Advisory Subcommittee”

    http://judithcurry.com/2011/05/11/nasa-earth-science-advisory-subcommittee/

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  • stu

    This is perhaps your most important contribution on your wonderful blog. You echo the concerns that were first brought to my attention as a young man by the work of Russell Kirk, who pointed out that we stand on the shoulders of those whose values were shaped by religion and that one or two generations removed from that foundation would produce the sorry state of affairs we have today.

  • David N. Narr

    Couldn’t agree more. For a longer exposition, see Angelo M. Codevilla, The Character of Nations.

  • CrackerMike

    An Excellent piece. The sclerotic “elite” has outlived their usefulness(if they were ever useful). The average Joe is still out there working hard; the problem is the nearly insurmountable obstacles placed in their way by the “elites”. Punitive taxes collected to redistribute the fruits of hard work to the welfare addicts the “elites” created and use as a power mechanism, the pseudo-intellectual Media and their childish, arrested ideas of some type of socialist utopia. My 19 year old daughter became a Capitalist quick when she saw the extent of Government theft of her labor. Of course, the “elite” believe they have it under control. Let me clue you, when you hear working aged middle class white men discussing, quite openly in public, the possibility of armed resistance to the Gov’t, the Gov’t AINT got it under control. The “elites” just may, and soon, get their [goshdarn --ed] heads taken off.

  • http://www.omatumr.com Oliver K. Manuel

    Thanks for the article.

    Unfortunately, you are right.

    The story of how federal research agencies (NASA, DOE, EPA, etc.) used public funds to support the false story of CO2-induced global warming championed by world leaders (Al Gore & Associates), including the UN’s IPCC, is unfolding in Professor Curry’s blog, “NASA Earth Science Advisory Subcommittee”

    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  • [withheld by editor]

    Your point about the Meritocracy is well taken. My feeling is that we must recognize everyone knows something but no one knows everything. Humility is lacking; no one in leadership ever seems to ask the vital question “Am I wrong?” It doesn’t appear to occur to them that they can be. Just recall the posturing of Obama, Pelosi, Reid and others during the healthcare debate two years ago. Juxtapose that with the way this great “accomplishment” is blowing up right and left now. Ego and hubris has replaced knowledge and experience.

    Today’s meritocracy basically is a cargo-cult creation. They are people who go thru the motions of having merit, graduating “elite” schools (which don’t really seem to actually teach anything anymore) or getting high grades on tests. This country USED to elevate people for things they actually DID. We wrote biographies of the Einsteins and the Eisenhowers in admiration of lifetimes full of momentus accomplishments. Now, our self-stlyed “geniuses” write them about themselves without having actually done anything besides write their biographies. This is a culture of personality and celebrity rather than of merit. It is garbage.

  • WigWag

    Mead describes an interesting paradox; while “today’s average American is smarter, more sophisticated, better educated, less racist and more tolerant than ever before…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.”

    There is an irony here that Mead fails to refer to specifically but which is implicit in his argument; the average American embraces the “Liberalism” of the enlightenment with far more enthusiasm than ever before at precisely the same time that American elites (especially in academia, journalism, law and politics) are rejecting the liberal ideology in favor of the dangerous and insipid ideology of multiculturalism.

    The evidence that Mead is right is overwhelming. Who would have believed even two or three decades ago that tens of millions of average Americans would vote for an African American presidential candidate or support the repeal of “don’t ask-don’t tell” or even support the concept of gay marriage? Who would have believed just a few decades ago that tens of millions of conservative and devout Christians would come to have such admiration and affection for American Jews and adopt as their credo, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

    I find it extraordinary that at just the moment when enlightenment values are being adopted by American society at large with more gusto than ever before, American elites are moving in precisely the opposite direction. The prevailing values of the American elite (especially on the left) now seem to center primarily around making excuses for those who hate liberal ideas.

    If honor killing, female genital mutilation, plural marriage (for males only, of course), arranged marriages and violent religious bigotry directed against Christians and Jews is ubiquitous in the Muslim world, what’s the response of today’s American and Western European elites? Do they react with horror to these anti-liberal barbarities? Of course not; instead they want to make excuses for the perpetrators of these acts.

    If the Hamas Charter not only calls for the extermination of Jews in Israel but refers specifically to the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” do elites in the Western world react with disgust? Of course not; instead their instinct is to treat the organization as just another one of the aggrieved parties that can be rationally brought into the peace process.

    At just the moment when the American masses are, at long last, prepared to accept gay Americans as equal members of society, American elites insist that despots like Ahmadinejad (who told a group at Columbia University a few years back that there are no gay people in Iran) should be engaged as equals.

    A mere 22 years ago, after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie because of his book, “The Satanic Verses,” American intellectual elites rallied to Rushdie’s defense. A quarter century later, when Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered in Amsterdam for the crime of making a film that Islamists found objectionable, the silence of American elites was deafening. When Ayan Hirsi Ali has her life threatened for being an apostate, icons of the elite press like Ian Buruma, Nicholas Kristof, Timothy Garton Ash and the now deceased Tony Judt treat her contemptuously.

    When Christians are brutally attacked by Muslim mobs in Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan and Malaysia, American elites could not be more indifferent, but if the Israelis put up a barrier or a fence to prevent suicide bombers from blowing up Bar Mitzvahs or pizzerias, the entire American and Western European elite becomes hysterical.

    For an excellent book on the subject that deals with the same theme that Mead addresses in this post, I recommend “The Flight of the Intellectuals” by Paul Berman (it’s available for the Kindle). Berman’s book is a stunning indictment about the status of intellectual elites in the West.

    I think Mead gets it wrong when he suggests that elites value “progressivism” more than ordinary Americans. In 2011 it’s the average American who is progressive while the average member of the elite class is more reactionary than ever.

  • Luke Lea

    “the first generation in American history to be raised in a Scripture-free educational medium. . .”

    I believe it was Matthew Arnold who once remarked that those who know there history and do not know their Bible do not know their history. Or was it the other way around?

    Either way, one of the failures of our educational institutions has been to ignore this primary document of Western culture and civilization, in ignorance of which it is impossible to understand not only the ideas and faith that motivated the men and women who, starting in servitude, built the modern world, but the origins of our modern “Enlightenment” ideals of political and economic freedom, social justice, and human equality. Harvard and Yale could remedy this situation if they had a mind to. Understanding, not belief, is the issue here.

  • Luke Lea

    Unfortunately an important dimension of the problem which we are loath to talk about is the ethnic/geographical unrepresentative-ness of our governing elites. We are heading towards a racially stratified class society, not only in the lower two-thirds, among the working classes, but also at the very tip top. If we are going to square meritocracy with democracy a case can be made that our elite gateway universities should recruit student bodies that reflect the ethnic and geographical diversity of America.

    In other words, affirmative action for all. Seriously.

  • Luke Lea

    Clarification: by affirmative action for all I meant recruiting “the best and the brightest” from every major ethnic group and part of the country. It would still be based on academic “merit” and it would still include the absolutely brainiest students in the nation, or at least those who wish to go to places like Harvard and Yale. (Science and engineering schools need not practice affirmative action at all, since what we are concerned with here is the composition of our leadership class.)

    The big losers here of course would be Ashkenazi Americans and their first reaction might be that this would not be good for the Jews. But over the long-term and on the whole I think it would be — by solidifying popular support for the safety and survival of the state of Israel for example. And talent will out in the world of business no matter where you go to school.

    The real issue is whether it would be good for the nation and, if it would, could it possibly not be good for the Jews? Think about that.

  • http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/ M. Simon

    There is nothing wrong with the traditional methods for improving the elites. Tar and feathers for the miscreants and hemp neckties for the evil. Pour encourager les autres. [This comment makes it through the editorial filter on the assumption that the calls for violence are rhetorical. Ed.]

  • http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/ M. Simon

    Luke Lea says:
    May 12, 2011 at 11:54 pm,

    Very good. It is no longer theft. It is now “care and concern.” Which I admit is a pretty good selling point. Until the thieving starts. Then it is everyman (or ethnic group) for himself. Until there is nothing left to steal. That is where things get really interesting.

  • Fred

    I agree about the elites, but I think he lets the rest of us off too easily. It is, after all, the public that keeps electing the politicians who are driving us into bankruptcy. Everybody knows entitlements must be reformed, but what happens to politicians dumb enough to even propose it? I read a book a while back, a critique of liberalism by a man named Kalb, I believe. He said something to this effect (paraphrasing wildly): “Our elites think the population is ignorant, greedy, shortsighted, and bigoted. Our population thinks the elite are out of touch, incompetent, and snobbish.” For me, the tragedy is that they are both right. I believe our culture is in an advanced state of entropy. I’d say our nation has about a century or so, less if Obama is re-elected and the Democrats regain the House and/or retain the Senate, until a collapse on the order of Rome or the the Soviet Union.

  • Sardondi

    As a Boomer who was there and paying attention, I have seen that is this Administration, and what has become the leftist bureaucracy, which is “The Establishment” that actually deserves the epithets that our current “leadership class” as erstwhile revolutionaries hurled along with bags of offal at U.S. leaders in the 60’s & early 70’s. It is so morally corrupt, and has so far abandoned not just the letter but the entire spirit of our Constitution that it and its members, supporters and servants truly deserve to be overthrown and cast down. The cynicism of these people astounds me.

  • http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/ M. Simon

    To clarify my 10:43 am.

    The elites will not change until their lives depend on it. How that dependency is expressed (can it even be done in a civilized way? I’m not aware of any prominent historical examples) will be interesting.

    At minimum some mob action is usually required (deposing Gorbachev). Some deaths. Or a lot of deaths. I don’t think we have a citizenry ready to die for change. Yet. Maybe never.

    Which is to say I don’t expect change. More like Britain and a genteel decline.

  • Joseph Somsel

    The great success of the United States has been our ability, in most cases, to replace our elites when they no longer contributed to our country’s success and held our values.

    Earlier in history and elsewhere, the people had to throw bad elites out windows, line them up before firing squads, chop off their heads (as the professor noted.) We have been able to vote them out of office (the Southern plantocracy was one exception) and have used that power when necessary.

    The disconnect between our elites and the bulk of the population is growing but so is the insistence that they move out of the way.

  • Peter

    “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.”

    Exactly so, Mr. Mead, and if I. could be assured of not being mistaken for a homosexcual, I’d kiss you.

  • Luke Lea

    Where I wrote of “the ethnic and geographic unrepresentative-ness of our governing elites” I might have written of their ethnic and geographic “isolation.” It’s not just that they are unrepresentative but they are completely out of touch.

  • http://discriminatingmorals.blogspot.com/ Stephen A. Meigs

    Prof. Mead, your main point is exactly right, I think. Our elites are messing up most terribly. But my explanation for it is somewhat different from yours. The greed of the 19th-century robber barons was more transparent; probably, they mostly thought the rich were just plain much better cleaner people than the poor, and so consequently deserved more. Nor is the elite flaunting its sexual escapades as you suggest the French nobility did before the revolution.

    The error that the elites tend to make nowadays is believing that what screws people up is lack of the social advantaqes that come from money, like having the right education or the right friends that come from joining the right clubs, or having been exposed to the right art or to the right upper-class music. It’s an error born in greed, giving an excuse for exclusiveness and, more particularly, for why they think potential mates should morally want them and their wealth as opposed to someone poorer. But it’s not directly responsible for greed so much as an inflated sense of self worth.

    What screws people up nowadays is the same as what has always screwed people up, namely sexual depravity (sodomy, i.e., semen in the digestive system), and to a lesser extent drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Rich people do tend to be cleaner and less defiling than the poor (but maybe not in pre-revolutionary France), but not because they are naturally morally better, but just because when you can attract mates with money better your competitors, but you can’t attract mates with depravity any better than your competitors, you will (rightly) selfishly tend to support the idea that people should not mate for depravity. I get the feeling that the Victorian aristocracy recognized their greater cleanliness and used it as an excuse to view themselves as morally superior to the poor. Nowadays, the rich are too dumb [...] to view cleanliness as any significance. They’re too busy claiming that the only depravity that matters is that arising from lack of elite education and expensive upbringing. The rich fancy themselves better because they have fancier educations and expensive upbringings, and they can’t claim that they are cleaner in the important sense because they want to deny there is any important sense of moral cleanliness other than that which arises from an elite education and expensive upbringing. They can’t understand how people who have had such great advantages and training could possibly do so much damage from running the financial system; and they can’t understand that they could do it so incredibly stupidly with such little eye toward the greater good as to cause extreme economic harm to the masses, even though they are the ones who are doing it. Banks are not like sodomy particularly, and so their anxieties are not towards them, which must make the financial system seem especially innocuous to them inasmuch as they are in the habit of being sophisticated about not being paranoid too much, a trait that lets them deal with all the anxieties that they, being undiscriminating dumb [donkeys], must have about most anything vaguely resembling sodomy (e.g., a house without respectable expensive window treatments or with a weed in the yard).

    To me the interesting historical jumping-off point is the conflict between the pietists and Robert Owen. Robert Owen largely believed that the moral problems of the poor came from their not having enough money and the advantages it can afford; the pietists (many of whom also led vaguely socialist lifestyles) viewed the claim with extreme abhorrence. Not that the pietists really understood morality well, but finally we are seeing the dangers they recognized as inherent in believing that poverty causes moral depravity. Many of the wealthy communities around New York actually vote Democrat, which makes me think that in many respects it’s this strain of early socialism that has infected the wealthy more than robber baron conservatism.

  • WigWag

    Mead is right when he says,

    “Too many American intellectuals today spend their time mocking popular expressions of American exceptionalism and other forms of patriotic thought without working to create and promote a richer vision of the country, a deeper and wiser patriotism that connects with the sentiments of ordinary Americans and raises them to a wider and more magnanimous plane.”

    It’s not just the elites in the world of academia, journalism, politics and law who deserve scorn, its cultural elites as well. If any segment of the elite community has lost its way and become (to use Mead’s words) “intellectually and morally lost,” it’s our cultural elites. The late Alan Bloom wrote eloquently about this in his 1987 book “The Closing of the American Mind” and his namesake, Harold Bloom (they are not related) did the same with his “Western Canon.”

    A perfect metaphor for the depraved conditions that American elites have descended to can be found by examining the recent debate about the decision of the City University of New York (John Jay College) to honor Tony Kushner with an honorary degree.

    The debate was farcical and devoid of honesty. Those who insisted that Kushner should be granted the honorary degree decried the fact that the original decision to deny him his recognition honoris causa was political. They waxed eloquent that politics should have nothing to do with it; that Kushner was being honored for his artistry not his politics.

    What a crock!

    As anyone who has seen any of Kushner’s plays knows, his artistry and his politics are so intermingled in his work that they are impossible to separate. If Kushner feels free to intertwine his political views with his creative works, why should anyone be criticized for suggesting that his political views are beyond the pale and should preclude a tax-supported public university from recognizing him?

    But the ultimate decision of the City University to give Kushner his honorary degree and the decision of New York cultural elites to object to the original decision not to grant the degree is even dafter.

    Kushner is merely a caricature of an artist. His work is so shallow, so superficial and so undistinguished that the fact that a major educational institution thinks it should be recognized, tells you all you need to know about how low the standards of our elites have sunk. Who will the City University be honoring next, Miley Cyrus?

    Either the people who nominated Kushner for his award are so deluded that they actually think his work is of outstanding quality, or they realize that his work is fluff and they chose to honor him for his politics (which is precisely what they said they were not doing). Either way, they are pathetic

    It should be pointed out that the academic leaders at the City University of New York who nominated Kushner are not the only perpetrators of an outrage against taste and quality that have become emblematic of the deterioration of America’s cultural elites. Professor Mead’s own professional home, Bard, stooped so low as to award Kushner an honorary degree in 2004. Similarly, Bard honored another no-talent hack who was recognized more for her politics than her artistry, Doris Lessing, with an honorary degree ten years earlier, in 1994. One is forced to wonder whether the academic elites at Bard granted Noam Chomsky his “Doctor of Humane Letters” degree in 1971 more for his work as a distinguished linguist or more in deference to his hatred of America.

    Respectfully, If Mead wants to examine the decadence of American elites that he decries in this post, he needs to stroll no further than the hallways of Aspinwall or any of the other classroom buildings at Bard.

  • Randy

    Dr. M,

    Sounds like you’re channeling C.S. Lewis in the Abolition of Man.

    “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

  • http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com/ M. Simon

    Luke,

    It is not their ethnic and geographic “isolation”. They are multicultural to a fault.

    It is an intellectual failure. They don’t get the American idea. Progressives ate their brains.

    They don’t get incentives. They lack patience. Their #1 fall back tool is coercion. Did I mention misunderstanding incentives because they lack patience that allows incentives to work.

  • Foobarista

    One element of our national elite is the general sense among many that the US is an evil, wicked country, unlike (insert Nordic paradise here). They may claim to love the “idea” of America, but have little regard for most of the actual people who live in the country or their values.

    They are also quite likely to argue that various forms of treason are really some exalted form of patriotism, since they claim their acts fit their “idea” of America while hurting the vile people they detest.

  • http://abriefhistory.org Mike_K

    Wig Wag said it all for me.

  • Vader

    Mead, you are quite correct when you say that “The United States actually needs a healthy and far-sighted elite.” The average American may be as well-equipped for good citizenship as ever, but the problem of “rational ignorance” is real and tell us that there will always be levers of power, and the hands on them will always be relatively few in number. Those hands need to be directed by “healthy and far-sighted” minds and hearts.

    The evil of Progressivism was certainly not its faith in human progress, nor even its reliance on an elite. It was guilty rather of two other evils. One was its belief that the people should be answerable to the elite rather than the elite to the people. The notion that such an aristocracy was good if it was based on perceived merit rather than birth betrayed a gross misunderstanding of the essential flaws in aristocracy. I am not myself convinced that the old aristocracy of birth were not in fact more meritorious, by Progressive metrics, given their monopoly on leisure for study and reflection.I think you came closer to the truth with the last two paragraphs of your essay.

    The other great flaw in Progressivism was its belief that the elite should be governed by human reason alone. Thomas Sowell has written at length on one flaw of this idea, which is that an intellectual elite tends to discount inarticulate knowledge in favor of articulate knowledge, to the great detriment of society. The other you have already identified: The abandonment of religion as a source of values. The two are closely related.

    I do not myself see much hope for improvement. History tells us that every great civilization has ultimately collapsed. I do not see why ours should be immune. But what can one do but everything one can do to postpone that day?

  • Jeff from Michigan

    It was William Buckley who said he would rather be ruled by the first 1000 names in the Boston Phone Directory than by the Harvard Faculty. These past four administrations bring this out. (All of them by the way are Ivy League grads vs. that amicable dunce Ronald Reagan Dixon College).

  • JLK

    Dr. Mead:
    You are absolutely correct in the idea that moral solipsism is rampant among our elite but this creates a problem you have not addressed.

    The American People do still believe in Exceptionalism which in my opinion is a healthy thing. It results in the opposite of what our so-called “Elite believe; that is a belief in America’s capability for good in the world leads to expectations of just that from our leadership. Navel gazing about the morality of “waterboarding” aside, it is a fact that among the world powers of history, the tack record since WW2 is about as good as it gets.

    The problem lies when leadership becomes so visibly and transparently corrupt, it is, in most people’s eyes, a green light to do the same.

    Main Street still wants a world where their children do better than they. But how do you get there in a world that is teeming with headlines and articles about the rich and powerful skirting moral, if not legal issues to get where they are. If Goldman Sachs is paid $9Bil by AIG and the taxpayer gets stuck with the bill, what are people going to believe about how to get ahead?

    If politicians get away with being “Friends of Angelo” (think Chris Dodd and others)when buying their latest multi-million dollar mansion on a low six figure income, while they are paid less than 1% on their savings accounts, are they going to believe in the traditional American way? Doubtful.

    The result is an elite whose influence is even more pernicious than you have already outlined.
    JLK

  • Anthony

    When WRM mentions Establishment, I infer club of multinational business executives, high ranking military commanders and politicians (Eisenhower’s military/industrial complex )aligned in artificial unity with the privileged ‘elite’ of America. In essence, the highly priveleged and the slighly privileged according to WRM have lost their way and we Americans who make up the remaining 99% are in unchartered space unless we re-evaluate historical traditions, values, principles, virtues, etc. Said re-evaluation acknowledges that U.S. elite is now a global elite for many in Establishment as a consequence of international economic links. Further, these enhanced links over last 40 plus years may have also contributed to elite characterization by WRM.

    Regarding meritocracy, an old book by Michael Young provides an instructive insight on belief in the rigorous and unimaginative application of the merit principle in a democracy as inferred in Establishment Blues. Finally, C. Wright Mills spoke to gossamer like conditions underlaying WRM’s elite. An elite enveloped, supported, and encouraged by Mills’ “cultural apparatus” to apparent 21st century detriment of majority U.S. citizenry.

  • Tom Holsinger

    #10 is dead on. One of the factors here is that the so-called meritocracy has focused on credentials rather than achievement as the leading indicator of merit. Intellectual merit has become a symbolic fetish for them, i.e., it is a cargo cult as (name withheld) contends.

    The American people have long, and correctly, perceived a difference between smarts and judgment (aka common sense). The so-called meritocracy has rejected this distinction.

    Hubris begets Nemesis.

  • Matt Cooper

    Tell it, Mr. Mead!

  • Paul Brinkley

    Let me be one of the few here questioning the religious overtones here. I believe there are things that are right and wrong, no matter what higher power you believe in – including none at all. The great religions of the world seem to have consensus on a small set (do not murder, do not steal, and so forth); that tells me there is something underlying all of these. Maybe it IS a higher power. But it does not matter; it is there; to ignore it is to subscribe to the short-term destructive behaviors that ensure crony capitalists, corrupted elites, and other riff-raff will not last more than a blink of an eye in the sweep of history. If God doesn’t get you, evolution will.

    Let us also take care not to fall into the trap of hubris. This article is seductive in that it assures us that None of This Is Our Fault. It saves itself by referring to fundamentals established elsewhere in literature – we are, indeed, “smarter, more sophisticated, better educated, less racist and more tolerant than ever before”. …There is a hidden warning here, however. We could backslide. Education all by itself is a continual maintenance game against the unending tide of newborn Americans. We will always be two generations away from the dark ages. We can always become the particular type of elite we despise, while aspiring to the elites we adore.

    This said, I happily clicked Like on this article, and would have done the same for practically every comment here as well.

  • Jim.

    “But it does not matter; it is there; to ignore it is to subscribe to the short-term destructive behaviors that ensure crony capitalists, corrupted elites, and other riff-raff will not last more than a blink of an eye in the sweep of history. If God doesn’t get you, evolution will.”

    Paul, read Suetonius for some records of what the sweep of History can involve… more than an eye-blink. Also, reflect what sort of means evolution uses to teach.

    Taking it from God’s Word is far less painful — both in process and in practice.

    Then contemplate this truth: without our reputation as a country governed by the tenets of Christianity, the Soviet Union would have won the Cold War via ICBM nuclear attack, attacks against which we would not have been able to retaliate.

    Why is this?

    Because the reason rocket scientist Wernher von Braun chose to defect to America in the last days of WWII (instead of go to Russia, or into hiding) is “We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through, and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured.”

    Without him — no American ICBM missile deterrent. Without being guided by the Bible — no von Braun.

    Without the belief that Scripture is sacred, we start the clock towards the time when we “sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” (Look it up if you can’t recognize that one.)

    Science and Reason will not save us. Again von Braun: “Science does not have a moral dimension. It is like a knife. If you give it to a surgeon or a murderer, each will use it differently.”

    Christian overtones, Christian undertones, and Christianity straight on through are essential here. I’m happy that Mead is so willing to treat the subject at all; my only complaint is his reticence.

  • Commentator

    But the point is the electorate are saavy. They realize they can vote toward getting something at the expense of someone else, increasingly future generations of USAers. And the political elite are doing what they’ve always done, i.e., give the people what they want.

    At the same time, despite the above the attempt to sell out future generations quickly causes present day harm via macroeconomics and beyond that a lot of the policies in place are hurting directly those who vote for them, especially the working and want-to-work poor. But to help those poorly educated to appreciate that requires another great communicator like Ronald Reagan (Barack Obama seems to communicate too often the opposite, an easy dissonance conducive to self-destructive voting and policy; a return to Carterism).

    In the end as horrible as the political elite might be, the laws of economics police them beyond the margins of impropriety forcing them and we the electorate to behave better or suffer the consequences. The only means to delay that corrective dynamic is corruption of the data collection and statistical computations – but even that only goes so far.

    Whatever the case, I love the USA – the last, best hope for humanity – lets make it all worth it, shall we?

  • rbrandt

    ‘Science and technology would guide impartial experts and civil service to a better society…’

    What happended here? Science is used only to support ideology. Does anyone honestly believe Hanson of NASA is an impartial expert? Sub species of common animals are created to prohibit industrial development and progress.

    Perhaps in the same way bankers have become narcisstic and perverted, so have our scientists.

    What can trigger a reformation short of a complete breakdown?

  • Mark

    Maybe we are just experiencing “growing pains.” The world has never been here before. We have a very large multicultural democratic republic that broke free from an aristocratic colonizer a little over 200 years ago. As far as historic models of elites we have aristocratic, religious, military, political, guild, and commercial in the most remarkable former cultures.
    In the US it seems that aristocrats are gone and we have developed structure to limit abuse by religious and military elites.
    Now it seems to me that the abuses by the elites come from the political, financial, and some of the professions. The intellectual-educational elites are split into the humanists and scientists. Most of the humanists have been hijacked a self-loathing progressive-ism. The scientific establishment has resorted to outright Sophism on the global warming issue.
    Auditors, prosecutors, and jail terms can help with some issues, but moral humanism hasn’t been enough to inspire these elites to altruism that is honest and functions effectively. In a smaller more culturally uniform country it might be time for rebirth of interest in traditional religion, but in the US that could be more difficult.

  • Doug

    If a nation gets the government it deserves, doesn’t it also get the elite it deserves? Take a look at the popular entertainment prevalent five or six decades ago and compare it to today’s. The moral decay of the US can be seen in every sector of society by those willing to recognize what is right before their eyes.

  • Michael Brazier

    What brought about the intellectual and moral collapse in the American elites? One possibility: a shift in what they were taught about privilege and inheritance. Before WWII American elites taught their heirs that unearned privileges were a debt, which has to be paid for; that made those heirs feel, and act, responsible and farsighted. In the 25 years after WWII, the elites – under the influence of Marx, I believe – began to teach instead that unearned privilege is a sin, that has to be repented of. From this much of the corruption came; for one can know oneself indebted for one’s life and retain self-respect, but one can’t think oneself condemned merely for living as one’s fathers did and not lose self-respect. The elites of the postwar generation, accepting what they were taught, therefore had to choose between proving that they truly deserved their inheritance, and rejecting the authority of the judge who condemned them. The guild mindset, the faith in academic credentials, comes from the first choice; the graduate from an elite university points to his degree to show that he has merit. The vanishing of theism among elites comes from the second choice; if God does not exist, privilege is not sin because nothing can be sinful. Of course the choice is not exclusive, and most elites today take both alternatives – affirming both that entry to the guilds is proof of moral superiority to the common citizen, and that morality is a “social construct” with no root in reality, so elites can define what moral superiority is to mean, just as they please.

    No doubt the delusion will break, when the elites’ favored credentials are discredited; and the day of disillusion draws very near. We can only hope for their sake and ours that when it comes, the elites will choose true repentance instead of conscious revolt against their Judge.

  • lndbgp8trfdcik

    It isn’t an either/or problem. The problem lies with the entire population elite and populace.

    It doesn’t matter how good the people are by historical standards. It is still their stupidity that is the source of our problems. In our democracy the people vote and select candidates. Every constituency has it’s own selfish focus that leads to such poor selection of candidates whether it is unionists, senior citizens, social conservatives, etc it is the people who don’t understand basic economics, history, basic political philosophy. You prove the point yourself when you say people want tax free benefits from the government.

    Who is willing to vote against their special interest for the good of the country – who understands what really is for the good of the country?

    Every minority religious group is more tolerated today. But Christians are less tolerated today than ever before. Are Jews more tolerated? In some ways, but the root of anti-israeli sentiment based on anti-semitism. Bias blinds you to the crimes of the group you support and to the legitimacy of the actions of the group you oppose. How else do you explain support for a group who’s main tactic is attacking civilians and opposition to a group that goes beyond any other country in the world to protect civilians while defending its own population. Certainly indian killing americans didn’t take such precautions.

    Indian killing? Which Indians? Who precisely killed them? You are generalizing, so I will reply with a generalization: the Indians were killing each other long before they taught European settlers how to do it. When your neighbor or loved one is kidnapped and tortured to death, it has a wonderful effect of concentrating the mind. Settlers didn’t come here for the purpose of killing, they came here fleeing economic and political oppression. All they wanted to do was live free and in peace and make their own living. Killing Indians was not something they had time for except when their lives depended on it.

    I agree with the analogy to the French revolution. You also have to parallel that the legal restraints (government regulation) limit people’s ability to support themselves through economic activity.

  • ldkjnbgvoliq3g5tv

    You counter the “stupidity of the populace” argument by contradicting the stereotypes the elite has of the populace. This simply proves the elite is stupid it doesn’t prove the populace isn’t. It might be stupid in ways that are different from how the elite thinks of it.

    Being tolerant of minorities doesn’t say anything about what economic policies voters will support. In fact people seem to confound free market policy with racism. All this “tolerance” is not free from it’s own brand of stupidity.

  • Koblog

    The inclusion of “Kids who weren’t raised in church or synagogue or mosque…” is most troubling.

    Until ten years ago, “mosque” meant less than zero in this nation. America was decidedly not built by children raised in the “mosque.” Quite the opposite.

    “Children raised in mosque” are the problem, world wide. They are taught, in the mosque, from their book, to terrorize the infidel.

    Simply put, America was built by the “P” in WASP.

    Look around the world where “C,” “J,” “M,” or “P” have built civilizations. The “C’s” of South and Central America and the “M’s” of Africa are fleeing to the “P” countries.

    Not just any religion will do. As the elite have discarded Protestant Christianity, we have failed, even as every other nation that has discarded Protestant reformed faith has failed.

    God will not be mocked.

  • Manbearpig

    You had me till you said “mosque.”

    So embarrassing.

  • Jocon307

    Nice piece, to be sure, but you’ve completely overlooked the most important part.

    It’s the (as others have pointed out) abandonment of the concept of “right” and “wrong”. And the Jacques Derrida, et al. concept of “truth is in the eye of the beholder”.

    You folks on the left have no idea how much damage you have done.

    You want to say abortion doesn’t kill a baby, you want to say that Pride & Prejudice is about the slave trade, you want to say that “gay” marriage is the same as baby-producing “straight” marriage and you want us to suck this all up and believe it.

    Nobody believes this [stuff--ed]. You all elites may be fooling yourselves, but you are not fooling the rest of us.

    It’s these nonsensical concepts that our “elites” have been steeped in for two, or three, generations.

    Forget all the balderdash, with your “progress” you’ve led us (I mean western civilization as a whole) to bankruptcy and perhaps domination by some new caliphate.

    What else can I say, other that WAKE UP PEOPLE!

  • http://edbrenegar.typepad.com Ed Brenegar

    I’m in agreement Professor Meade. The failure of elites to lead is, from my perspective, symptomatic of change, that we are at a transition point in American history, and, typically, the elites are the last to figure this out.

    The shift that is taking place has much to do with the lost of the context that provided the ground for both capitalism and progressivism to emerge. As a result, they became less rooted in reality, and have become absolutist tools of the elites.

    If we apply network theory to these elites, we’d see that they live in a closed, self-reinforcing society, where everyone knows everyone else, knows the same things, thinks the same way, and self-congratulations one another for their wisdom and high mindedness. The rest of the U.S. finds that survival depends on openness and diversity of thought.

    I’ve begun to try to put my own similar perspective into words at my blog, Leading Questions. Here’s where I started – http://edbrenegar.typepad.com/leading_questions/2011/03/theendandthebeginning.html back in March.

    Thank you for a great post.

  • C. Olivas

    Dr. Mead,
    You have it half right, throughout history; the elite (academia, bureaucracy, royalty, etc.) have always been the problem, never the solution. Today’s elite are comprised of credentialed people –not necessarily educated.
    They continue to firmly believe that they know better than the rest of us.
    And have put this country on a path that can’t be maintained, nor sustained.
    Have we begun the downward spiral to decline? Don’t know, but the reading of the tea leaves doesn’t look promising.

  • Jack

    While I applaud Mead’s mea culpa regarding the elites of today, what bothers me is his failure to acknowledge his own contribution to this sorry state of affairs.

    He had a long article about Pakistan not long ago, in which he made only one (historical) reference to Islam. I wondered at the time how any essay about politics in Pakistan could simply ignore the religious element. I still do.

    When Mead wrote an article about Climategate, he made excuses for Phil Jones, Michael Mann, and other climate alarmists, and absolutely failed to condemn their unscientific methods. Mead excused behavior in the scientific community (our elites), that he would press charges for in a plumber or auto mechanic.

    I doubt that Mead is even aware of the two by four in his own eye, as he (currently) condemns the beam in his social class equals. Why should he be? Is a fish aware of water? Mead swims in a sea of privilege where truth and falsehood don’t matter, but credentials and networks of like minded people do.

    Just because Mead is finally admitting that the Emperors have no clothes is no reason to refrain from pointing out that Mead is somewhat under dressed himself.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      But on me it looks good!

  • Anne Walker

    Whites will soon be the minorities in the nation and anti-white “racism” is on the rise.

    Why no mention of that?

  • Pete

    I’m no Commie, but old Chairman Mao might have been on to something when he sent China’s elite out to the country side during his great leap forward.

    If the similar things happened here, I think a good portion of our effeminized elite would expire after one days of honest work.

  • Bruce

    The biggest problem is that the elites gain their power with the consent of the governed by winning elections. The governed stopped paying attention and turned functions over to government that should be private and state functions were usurped by the Feds with very little objection. Our form of government only works if people are engaged. Our populace is not, beyond the engagement required to vote for whoever promises to maintain their benefits.

    The allure of power is too intoxicating for most elites to resist. Once they’ve tasted it, they’ll do anything to keep it. We’ve not held them to reaonable standards and they quench their unstoppable desire for power with our money. Society’s benefit becomes far less important than their own re-elections.

  • Betty Chambers

    Interesting topic. The average person on the street knows something is wrong, but the answer is always more of the same…

    I’d like to see the American people vote for real change come next November: make every single incumbent loses his or her office. It would be a terrific way to start with a clean slate.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    “Whatever the case, I love the USA – the last, best hope for humanity – lets make it all worth it, shall we?”

    By all means. But this idea that America is LITERALLY the last, best hope for humanity . . . I mean, I believe myself second to none in my admiration of Lincoln, but could it be that JUST THIS ONCE . . .

    Anyhow, much as I concur with #37’s desire for leadership that communicates hope – I must say, I find nothing in the least exotic or unfashionable about the sentiment he would appear to promote. Indeed, I honestly can’t imagine a presupposition about America that seems more widely shared across the full breadth of the American political spectrum. However differently we all may conceive of America’s “ultimacy” (awful word, I know), to me it appears to be the ONE bedrock assumption shared by pretty much the whole modern gamut, from our Palins to our Pelosis. Nor am I aware of a time when it’s been more loudly (or proudly) proclaimed from the rooftops than in these past 20 years. But what especially fascinates me is the MORAL tone of that same era – so capably, and witheringly, described above by Professor Mead. And also, if I’m correct, how it coincides with a period of almost unprecedented confidence in American superiority.

    To begin with, I find it extremely hard to believe that the “rot” Prof Mead speaks of ALL more or less began – or surfaced, or came out into the open? – with the actions of a certain Mr Paulson in September 2008, or with the inauguration of a certain One Whose Name is Beneath Mention in January 2009. Of course I’m nothing remotely resembling an economist. But I did live through the 14 or so years preceding the September meltdown, and THOUGHT I was awake and paying attention. Whatever else we may have been doing during that time, I honestly don’t recall Americans – of any political stripe – moving heaven and earth to create the sort of economy guaranteed to meet the approval of Swedish or Danish electorates. And even supposing we were, WHERE WAS THE OUTCRY? Shouldn’t we have been forming tea parties by, at the VERY latest, election year 2004? Or better yet, shortly after the Community Reinvestment Act of 1999? Maybe it was socialism we were up to the whole time (secretly seducing and corrupting the hitherto unblemished – and unsuspecting! – souls of our most upright bankers, lawyers, realtors, etc). But somehow I doubt it was the kind of socialism most Scandinavians would recognize, or that most German policy-makers would have deemed even remotely workable or profitable. Or maybe it was the IRISH playbook we were borrowing from . . . It all seems so long ago . . .

    Meanwhile, why not take a long, close, searching look at the whole period, from the Soviet collapse to the Obama debacle. The better part of 20 years of belief in American “ultimacy,” in ourselves as the world’s last and best (and even as socialists, weren’t we so much smarter than those staid, unvisionary Germans, or those pathetic, petrified Canadians?). And then take another, closer look. Do you like what you see?

    As for humanity’s REAL last best hope, maybe I need to get out more often. But last time I looked, it was some poor beggar hung from two pieces of wood a couple of millennia ago. Or am I taking things, again, way too literally? Anyhow (and religious bias aside), whatever “best” we Americans may be capable of – and I’ve no doubt it’s considerable, and world-class – could it be that belief in our own “ultimacy” is not exactly the BEST way of bringing it out?

    BTW, as good – and I mean really good – as most of the comments have been, is it just my oversight? Or have virtually none of them managed to address Mead’s (as I read it) thoroughly unsparing indictment of WALL STREET, along with the usual Washington suspects?

  • http://backwardsboy.blogspot.com/ BackwardsBoy

    What is most lost is respect, both generally and in specific.

    The disdain which the elite class cast upon the general populace is largely responsible for our current malaise. They insist that it is they, not us, who should guide our lives, and in thinking so, they give great disrespect to their fellow countryman who merely wants peace and prosperity for his family. The rest of us don’t want or need an overweening government making our decisions for us: we’re all grown-ups who can manage our affairs quite well on our own, thank you.

    They are seemingly also incapable of empathy, for they cannot seem to grasp the impact of their decisions upon the rest of us. Even when presented with the personal recount of the results of bad legislation, they reply in Marie Antoinette fashion, “You should buy a hybrid van.” Never mind that no such vehicle is currently available.

    Maybe the root cause is hubris. Elites so full of themselves, they truly think they possess the god-like power to understand this thing called life so much better than I, and that I should just relax and let them control mine.

    Um, no thanks.

  • Anthony

    WRM poses the thought for U.S social arrangements going into 21st century: United States does not have the strong and thoughtful leadership that we need. Additionally via this quote, “because the ideas of an elite makes Americans nervous, and because American culture likes to blur ‘class and power’ realities rather than highlight them, we don’t have much of a national conversation about the state of our elite and about how to improve it”, WRM strikes dead center with a diagnosis while searching for a cure. That is, WRM suspects new social arrangements and ideas are needed for this American democracy while utilizing critical revaluation of our past.

    For me, WRM is asking elites to exhibit a grander sentiment/commitment towards nation building in recognition of their distance from majority of American’s interests/views. The critical question is whether the discontent WRM describes registers with the highly privileged and slightly privileged elites discussed in Establishment Blues.

    “The prospect is for times of turmoil, struggle, but also inspiration” as we attempt to assess elite systemic displeasure while creating something anew for our children and grandchildren. WRM’s elites overlook that for many in the 99% we would like to love our country and justice too (Albert Camus).

  • Andrew Knutson

    “Taxation without Representation”, an important concept that was ignored with passage of the seventeenth amendment. Repeal maybe quixotic but the unintended consequences of centralization has led to the isolation of elites from the masses.

  • Meh

    If we’re honest with each other then I think we should admit that America is an increasingly failing socioeconomic experiment.

    It is certainly not a nation in the traditional sense of nationhood – a family of people bound together by the chords of history with a common culture and destiny – although it might have started out that way and still retains some of the characteristics of nationhood. At the same time, neither is it an empire – once again, at least in the traditional sense – although it retains some of the characteristics of empire (e.g. a multicultural, multiethnic polity with a cosmopolitan identity). The attempt to transition the American socioeconomic experiment into a more stable nationhood was thwarted by the mass influx of people that have come here over the last generation. In short, America has no future other than that of an increasingly fractious polity that will continue to have less in common until it eventually bursts at the seams in division. Alea iacta est, the die has been cast.

    Mead’s commentary on the progressive myopia of our elite is quite accurate. Their dilemma is that they know the ideas that come out of their progressive tradition aren’t working but they’re so committed to the values of that tradition that they can’t countenance an alternative. For them it’s progressivism or bust.

    Although what I am about to write may be a few years ahead of its time, the best thing for those currently living in this American experiment would be an amicable dissolution, where different regions and peoples go their separate ways while retaining as many of our historic economic ties as possible. Unfortunately, this will be a tragedy for the world’s stage as it badly needs a healthy, united America going into the 21st century; however, that America is fading fast and is not about to be resuscitated by its myopically stubborn elite. Either way, something like this is almost certainly bound to happen before the middle of the 21st century, the smoother this transition take place the better for all of us.

    Of course, I’ve can’t imagine a conclusion or prescription more horrifying for a pundit so enamored with America’s legacy as Mead. It may not be, “Progressivism or bust!” for Mead – who happens to love America too much – but it most certainly is for the bulk of his co-elites.

  • Anthony

    Meh @ 9 says we are neeither nation nor successful socioeconomic experiment and die has been cast! I humbly disagree. Respecting/loving America does not preclude recognition of its myriad 21st century social/economic arrangements. Nevertheless, the American nation, sans family of people, chords of history, bonds of territory, language, etc., as established by founders (elites) indeed meets criteria of a “New Nation” (United States, Democratic Republic, with flaws). Moreover, conceding its failed inception as an ongoing ‘socioeconomic’ model does not obviate 235 years of a people’s history. A history born of contention, adjustment, suffering, admendment, death, life, and progress. All so truly American.

    America and Americans have struggled to match creed with practice (we’re still talking elites here); such is the human nature. In America, our nation’s unity historically comes from its social ethos/American ideals (in reference to human interrelations as principles which ought to rule). We humans tend to percieve issue/nation in accordance with the position we occupy in the nation. Inter alia, America remains a nation with a historical embedded elite structure that WRM asks readers to consider judiciously going forward without laconic foreboding.

  • Luke Lea

    “The biggest problem is that the elites gain their power with the consent of the governed by winning elections”

    The choices we are offered are controlled by the elites. The Marquis de Condorcet figured that out a long time ago.

  • Corlyss

    “want infinite government benefits while paying zero tax”

    I haven’t seen any meaningful evidence to the contrary. People who support smaller government, lower spending, lower taxes, and entitlement reform have zero idea of how such policies would affect them in general, and when it gets to specifics, well, they want no part of it. It’s not a heartening sign.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    Yankovic: “I find it extremely hard to believe that the “rot” Prof Mead speaks of ALL more or less began – or surfaced, or came out into the open? – with the actions of a certain Mr Paulson in September 2008. . .” Alas it began in the 1960’s with my generation. Kennedy’s assassination and Vietnam were big factors, but so was LSD, a cultural solvent which was ingested by just about everybody back then (I kid you not) leading to a dissolution of all values from which we have still not recovered. When the hard hats and the college students went their separate ways over Vietnam, that was a major turning point looking back.

  • Cato Americanus

    This generation of elites expects the rest of the world to follow their decisions with no work necessary on their part, simply because they spake it into being, having believed themselves to have some godlike power to change the world through force of character.

    The reality of it is that their plans are only ever implemented on the side that tears down old social and economic structures. The new structures that they envision cannot be, do not work, and are never built. On the rare occasions that they are implemented, they fail dismally. Rather than react to such non-starts and failures, our elites continue to shove the same tired ideas down our throats as the society they destabilized collapses around all of us equally.

    How many times do we have to choke on the tired notions of Lenin-Marxist “Progress” before we move on? How many people will the average worker have to support via entitlements before he is no longer able to support himself? Have we not already reached this point, it certainly seems thus to me!

    How much of our industry and livelihood will we sacrifice on the twin altars of environmentalism and globalism before we decide that these ideas are not worth so dear a price?

    How much “Walmartization” will we accept before we realize that the very idea that there can be a “consumer nation” is preposterous! The nation’s money eventually runs out if they don’t make any products to export! There is a word for having endless expenses without the income to pay for them. This is called bankruptcy.

    And how long will we as Americans tolerate our corrupt would-be nobility of the Feudalism that our Revolution has degenerated into? To quote the Tao: The granaries are empty and the fields are choked with weeds, but the nobles have fine clothes, sharp swords, and gluttonous feasts. This is taking the lead in robbery, and it is far from the Way.

    This will not end well, but it will end.

  • Corlyss

    Reference to Samuel Huntington’s last great work, Who We Are, would also be enlightening on the subject of elites’ and their distance from all societies that matter, i.e., west European and the Anglosphere.

  • Luke Lea

    I should have said LSD was ingested by just about everyone who was young and in the upper- and upper-middle class. It was from that pool that today’s elites were drawn by and large. Blue collar and working-class Americans eschewed acid and maintained traditional beliefs and values for the most part.

  • Cato Americanus

    I tried to comment on this post previously, but internet disruptions seem to have eaten my reply. Thus, I post again. Sorry if it ends up appearing doubled.

    This generation of elites expects the rest of the world to follow their decisions with no work necessary on their part, simply because they spake it into being, having believed themselves to have some godlike power to change the world through force of character.

    The reality of it is that their plans are only ever implemented on the side that tears down old social and economic structures. The new structures that they envision cannot be, do not work, and are never built. On the rare occasions that they are implemented, they fail dismally. Rather than react to such non-starts and failures, our elites continue to shove the same tired ideas down our throats as the society they destabilized collapses around all of us equally.

    How many times do we have to choke on the tired notions of Lenin-Marxist “Progress” before we move on? How many people will the average worker have to support via entitlements before he is no longer able to support himself? Have we not already reached this point, it certainly seems thus to me!

    How much of our industry and livelihood will we sacrifice on the twin altars of environmentalism and globalism before we decide that these ideas are not worth so dear a price?

    How much “Walmartization” will we accept before we realize that the very idea that there can be a “consumer nation” is preposterous! The nation’s money eventually runs out if they don’t make any products to export! There is a word for having endless expenses without the income to pay for them. This is called bankruptcy.

    And how long will we as Americans tolerate our corrupt would-be nobility of the Feudalism that our Revolution has degenerated into? To quote the Tao: The granaries are empty and the fields are choked with weeds, but the nobles have fine clothes, sharp swords, and gluttonous feasts. This is taking the lead in robbery, and it is far from the Way.

    This will not end well, but it will end. This is neither threat nor prophecy, the status quo has no balance and cannot sustain itself.

  • Luke Lea

    Meh: “a multicultural, multiethnic polity with a cosmopolitan identity”

    Nice phrase. The cosmopolitan identity is only at the top however. At the bottom it is still largely a matter of class — but with a lack of class consciousness on account of color and race. Without a sense of the brotherhood of man that can bridge these divisions of race e pluribus unum will be hard to achieve.

  • Mercutio

    The problem with the sort of progressive policies that held sway for the bulk of the 20th century is not that they were faulty when initiated but rather that circumstances have changed so that they no longer work.

    Basically, 20th century progressive policies assume that the most effective and relevant form of organization is the nation state. As the 21st century proceeds, however, it is becoming more and more apparent that international, transnational, networked, and local organizations are supplanting it. Therefore, viewing matters from a national perspective is growing less and less focused.

    The decadence of the elites, which both Krugman and Mead perceive, is a symptom of this growing disjunct.

    Unfortunately, neither the neoKeynesianism which Krugman advocates nor the patriotism which Mead advocates can solve this problem – for both also rely upon the increasingly outmoded and dysfunctional nation state.

    Rather, we need to embrace the new, alternative modes of organization that are springing up around us – with the idea of ultimately sending the nation state ( along with its decadent elites ) on its merry way.

  • Sceptic in The Age of Unreason

    “If world power was determined by fifth grade math scores, the US would rank somewhere between Burkino Faso and Chad.”

    A conventional wisdom, while provably wrong, is repeated so often that it is treated like a fact.

    Both ends of political spectrum love to bash USA education results.

    Demorats love to do it to justify more money pumped into teachers unions.

    Repubics hate teachers unions (a rational response as said unions welded themselves to Dems) and use USA low AVERAGE scores to get rid of unions via magic silver bullets of vouchers and/or charter schools. Never mind that taxpayer paid vouchers get voted down by suburban middle class every time they are on a ballot.

    Reality is rather different and gives USA a good reason to be proud of our kids, teachers and schools.
    It just so happens that reality is not PC.

    PISA, The Programme for International Student Assessment, is a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old students performance, repeated every three years.
    It is coordinated by OECD to improving educational outcomes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programme_for_International_Student_Assessment.

    US Government published lattest PISA results for 2009 http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011004_1.pdf.
    Table R1 has results of all countries participating, Table R3 has USA results broken down by race of students.

    Summary of the results:

    Top 3 countries in reading are
    1.S Korea 539,
    2.Finland 536 and
    3.Canada 524

    Asian-Americans scored 541, if they were a country they would be in the first place.
    White non-Hispanic Americans scored 525, as a country they would be in the third place. They would be in THE FIRST place among large countries.

    USA high school kids can field 4 teams: Asian-Americans, European-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans.

    Each of these teams is the BEST or second BEST in their corresponding groups.
    In cases where X-American team is not the BEST in their group, difference between American team and number One is insignificant.

    Yes, Dems and Repubs, Asian-Am team beats or even with S Korea and Japan.
    White-Am team is behind only a couple of tiny countries size of an average county.
    Yes, white American doofuses beat UK and France and Italy and Russia.

    Hispanic-Am team beats ALL of Latin America. Black-Am team beats all of Africa.

    GO USA!

    About half of US students are Blacks and Hispanics, who, for variety of reasons, score significantly lower than Asians and Whites. So the average scores of US are mediocre. But that is no excuse for slander of US educational system and teachers from Repub and Dem punditry alike.

    US Education might not perfect, and it is Very expensive but at least 50% of students get results as good as any in the world.

    Obviously this information must be suppressed. Ruling class has decided that ed results are bad and non-PC.
    Here is info (Warning: some understanding of stats and some thinking is required):
    Steve Sailer covers some of it http://www.vdare.com/sailer/101219_pisa.htm
    Researcher at U Chicago has more detail analysis http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/12/amazing-truth-about-pisa-scores-usa.html

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    @ Meh:

    OUCHHHHHHH!

    I don’t know if what you’ve written will prove to be the unvarnished, straight-up prophetic truth (I sincerely hope it won’t). But it sure does hurt.

  • Luke Lea

    Skeptic is correct about U.S. public schools apparently. Once you compare apples with apples we stack up very well. This is not an unimportant fact. It takes courage to say so however. Not sure why?

  • Doug Page

    Another great blog piece.

  • Brian Macker

    Paul Krugman is part of the intellectual rot.

  • brio1111

    “The learned guilds in our society,” are failing because of their ignorance. I work at one of the largest universities in the country, but I am not part of the “credentialed but uneducated” class.

    Examples of the ignorance I see almost every day?

    A professor who claimed Obama was the only person who voted against the Iraq war. I disagreed and she said she would Google it and get back to me. She never has.

    A professor who told me that Obama was keeping his promises since he closed Guantanamo. I had to remind her that he just signed a piece of paper saying he would close Guantanamo in a year. It’s still open.

    A professor who claims that anyone born in the US is eligible to be president. We were discussing anchor babies (a term I am not told not to use at work). I asked her to review the term, “natural-born citizen.” I haven’t heard anything from her.

    Am I the smartest person in the department? No. But I do read political blogs for several hours every day. I try to get all sides of an issue–but I still have my own thoughts on an issue. They get their “facts” via sound bites.

    Working with PhDs every day has taught me that they aren’t smart. They know a lot about a very narrow area of study. But all professors got a doctorate by doing research–something most are obviously loathe to do regarding politics and how America works.

  • DSchoen

    Hate ta soil yur Wheaties here but you were never Elite, Paul Krugman was never Elite, anyone who tells you they are Elite, is not now nor will they ever be Elite.

    They are “Elitist” which also means “moron” “imbecile” “idiot” “fool” “lackey” “schmuck” “brown noser” “ego maniacs”.

    No one who is Elite will tell you their Elite, don’t have to, its obvious to all.

  • Chris Mac

    Amen, amen, and amen again, to both the post itself, as well as the very thoughtful and adult discussion that has hatched here in the comment section. Why the [heck --ed] can’t we have these kinds of conversations instead of the shouting matches that we all gravitate towards seemingly. We might actually get the republic we want if we can make certain to drift this direction with every debate/issue that comes up.

  • BoxHeadsBrawler

    HAHAHAHAHA!
    “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”
    I love this article.

    But should it even matter that our current elite are lazy and fake?

    Jefferson said that “the issue today is the same as has been through all history. . .whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite”
    |-_-|

  • peter38a

    Thoughtful piece as always Dr. Mead, thank you. It would do this reader a great deal of good–a productive place to start so to speak–if you were to point to the last administration you think had “it” mostly right. And secondly, what secular book, two (?) or three (?) would you suggest our elite read and think about?

    Murray addresses the same issue somewhat in his book on education. Any thoughts?

  • michael k power

    hello america,
    In case it is thought that paradigms lost, exist only in the united states i’d suggest that the thought be trancended…the past is not a prelude to the future; nobody did the past…it merely happened! The future will be the same…it will just happen! All things tend ultimately to their opposite…this is a certainty. These better pasts were never experienced by everyone…they were local phenomena, thus it remains; for some this is the worst of times, for others this is the best of times. It is elites who lament. The rest, the great unwashed, struggle, as always, against the exogenous forces of the other. Ideals lead to destructive experimentation. Idealists never learn to leave well enough alone. In this; the good is indistinguishable from the bad. Columbus brought what…that was good for the locals; disease, property rights, the wheel, the gun, mercantilism, white mans ways; what? Man is a failed experiment. ‘Something’ may have been possible for mankind at one time. It has always been possible for for a man to obtain something ‘higher’ but mankind, now, is merely a failed experiment. He suffers from the disease of tomorrow. Idealists are confused. They have no power to do! Either exogenously or within…
    For intellectual ‘man’, or emotional ‘man’ or ‘man’ the physical…there is no unity. There is no conscience! These are all sleeping ‘men’. Sleeping ‘men’ are nothing new. In the gospels, nothing is as clear as is the call to ‘wake up’…but we have no idea what that would involve; certainly not intellectualizing. Said today or said yesterday or said tomorrow, said well or said badly, it has always been plain to see that something has been lost. What to do? There are no solutions for all mankind…in time. Only for individual ‘man’, are there solutions. Whether there be jail or jailer…and there are many of these; there is no better time or place to begin to escape than the moment; this moment! If one man escapes others may too. But ‘escape’ is against all of our everyday impulses. Against the mechanicalness of what we call life.

  • SouthofMadison

    The problem is not that the elite are out-of-touch boobs with a too-high evaluation of their own abilities. There has also been that group of idiots. The problem is that we have ceded so much power to the government, especially the federal government. Now we have this group thinking that they have the power and the right to tell us what kind of light bulbs to use, how big our toliets should be, what kind of food to eat, etc. We have allowed them to have the power to micro manage our lives in a way akin to the frog in the slowly boiling pot of water. It has happened so gradually over the past 70 years that he were are the cusp of complete chaos and absurdiy without understanding when and how it got so hot.

  • http://www.tartanmarine.blogspot.com Robert A. Hall

    It is clear the elites have failed us, not the people. I will link to this in my blog: http://www.tartanmarine.blogspot.com. I have just published a book on the challenges facing us, and would be happy to send you a pdf review copy. (All royalties go to a charity to help wounded veterans.)

    “The Coming Collapse of the American Republic: And what you can do to prevent it”
    http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Collapse-American-Republic-prevent/dp/1461122538/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1304815980&sr=1-5

  • Timothy Hediger

    Our nation’s ultimate problem is to whom we give power – not economic. I concur with #31: “We the People” have always had the power – it’s that we’ve given it away to a distant elite in both political parties. Our current economic malaise always creates a clarifying moment for those in power. Do they look after the common interest or their interests?

    Unfortunately, we know the answer.

    Our leaders have failed us. It is time to lead ourselves.

  • ralph

    Paul Krugman is himself one of those elites: MYTimes, prizes,married to a multi-millionairess. This is again, the hypocrisy of the left: criticize what you are as if it were all someone else’s fault, thus deflecting all responsibility for your own actins.

  • http://www.sirjason.wordpress.com JASON LEVERETTE

    “…[t]he United States today — in both parties, in the corporate and business worlds, in academia and among the intelligentsia, in religion and in many other fields — does not have the strong and thoughtful leadership that we need.”

    Mr. Mead, thank you for your wisdom and insight on the elites who, are ruling rather than governing!
    Problem is we have allowed the elites stay in the status quo of always selecting another greedy, professional, political, parasite to replace the prior one!

    “We the People” have precisely the man who meets the standards and more that you have put forth.

    ALLEN WEST is a black, retired Army LTCOL who, is a Freshman Congressman (R-FL)representing District 22 who, will give no quarter to the elites and he smacks them down daily about their inequity!

    Allen West said, ” I will not be intimidated” and he will make Obama, IF he is on the ballot, sound like the uninformed imposter he is on any subject in any debate!

  • http://blog.skepticaldoctor.com Steve

    It seems to me that one crucial problem is that the modern American elite form judgments and express opinions in order to sound generous-spirited and humanitarian rather than to be right.

    Charles Murray’s research (due to be published soon) indicates that it is actually the lower classes whose behavior has deteriorated. In terms of marriage, industriousness, honesty and religious belief, the upper middle class continues to behave much as they always have, but the lower classes are abandoning these traditional virtues. Theodore Dalrymple has noted that intellectuals (almost always from the upper middle class) advocate the destruction of standards that (to their credit) they nevertheless continue to respect.

    The modern elite have increasingly bad ideas but continue to behave well while the lower classes embrace these bad ideas and therefore behave increasingly poorly.

  • Max Simon Uhrig

    Tell someone to quit smoking and they smoke more. Tell a person that they should not like guns, they’ll start shooting people after they’ve shot the stuffings out of some road sign. Tell people that their religious rights have violated public law and trash dumpsters are bombsites and security guards and others are killed for the curiousity factor. Tell a nation that their rights are stepping on the toes of Big Government and the Corporate boondoggal…..
    America. Wake up please. No SNIVELING!
    GET IT TOGETHER AND FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT, OR LAY DOWN AND DIE LIKE THE PIECE OF CHICKEN BONE YOU JUST SPIT UP LAST NIGHT LOOKS LIKE ON YOUR KITCHEN FLOOR.
    If being rude gets the job done of awakening this sleeping giant of needy people in America, then its a FAR CRY better than Planes and passengers plowing down NYC buildings, or getting one of our islands and Naval Fleets bombastically bushwhacked, or worse yet, having our sex-starved politbureau of politicians push the button on their own and blaming the Tali-ISP-eboni-cists-isms. Say that 9 times with crackers in your mouth and keep from biting your tongue.
    Yepperz, satire with a twist.
    Always in Christ,
    Max Simon Uhrig
    San Tan Valley, AZ

  • Gary Boatwright

    And so it goes . . . You have a fascinating echo chamber here that as usual is quite devoid of facts. It is amazing that our so called “well informed” electorate can still manage to blame the downfall and possible demise of the American Dream on a “progressive elite”. Let’s review the past thirty years from the Reagan Revolution to what one poster called the “Obama Debacle”. Exactly where has our liberal or progressive elite been hiding? Was Clinton a “liberal” President? Was Clinton a Marxist/Progressive President?
    I see scant evidence of a “progressive elite” except in the imagination of so called conservatives. I say this as someone who considers himself a TR Conservative with libertarian tendencies, who went to his State Presidential Convention as a Bush 41 delegate. It was during the Clinton impeachment that I wrote a conservative fellow traveler friend of mine (if you will excuse the Marxist/Leninist description – do I have to add snark?) that I wasn’t leaving the Republican Party, it was leaving me. If anyone wishes to challenge my “conservative credentials”, I invite one and all to remove their ideological blinders and visit The Russell Kirk Center:
    http://www.kirkcenter.org/index.php/detail/ten-conservative-principles/

    I find scant evidence of genuine belief in Kirk’s Ten Principles anywhere in the Republican Party or the “conservative movement”. I would be delighted to be proven wrong. I believe Russell Kirk is rolling over in his grave at the fanaticism that claims the conservative mantle. Sarah Palin? Michele Bachmann? Are you kidding me?

  • Gary Boatwright

    From Thr Russell Kirk Institute:
    The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.

  • Erik O. Garthe

    Wow! What a post, Walter. You could have opened the fire hydrant a bit slower so we could sip it in a brandy sniffer with a good cigar by the fireplace. I look forward to the subsequent posts. Watch your back … there are elites under every bed.

  • Graham Combs

    I recall Mr. Mead from the early ’90s in New York. His intelligence has achieved something rare in punditry — matured. I read his excerpts occasionally in WSJ, but now make his blog a regular pit stop. When I graduated from a New York law school in 1994, I walked away in something like a clinical depression at what I had witnessed and experience in three years. I was astonished and numbed by the state of legal thought and professorial behavior after three years. So much so that even I found my way onto the op-ed pages of the NY Times in June of ’93. Few students and no faculty members got my point and after being shouted down in class several times I gave up trying in the daily course of my education. But it was obvious to me that public faith in the integrity of the rule of law was heading toward crisis. We are now there. The disgust is bilateral and yet the elites refuse to acknowledge this. No wonder the Republicans are finding it difficult to field a challenger to one of the most blinkered of the elites ever to occupy the Oval Office. Thanks again to Mr. Mead for an analysis decades in the making and just as overdue.

  • Peter Peter

    Define ‘elite’, Mr. Walter Russell Mead! If you mean just the ‘established power groups’ or the ‘establishment’ you should say so. But you talk about them like you are talking about members of a monarchical system – as though they are entitled, as though they earned their positions legitimately and not through fraud, especially through the corrupt practice of secret networking; definitely NOT through a meritocracy unless we are using double-speak.

    I agree with SouthOfMadison’s assessment (#31) and also with Benjamin’s Franklin’s answer when a woman asked him what kind of government the convention had created, “A republic, ma’am, if you can keep it.”

    Unfortunately, we have not kept it. There were insufficient checks and balances in the Constitution, and the politicians and judges have flouted it for a century without any penalty for these lawbreakers.

    I don’t blame the Founders. They could not have foreseen how society would change through the decades and the centuries, and the methods that would be used to nullify the intent of their document with an intent to establish tyranny.

    How do we solve our conundrum? We may have to resort to the last resort, as reserved to us in the Declaration of Independence which states “.. when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

    THIS is the reason that the 2nd amendment exists, and the reason that the ‘elites’ are constantly trying to disarm the American populace.

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