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A Failure to Govern
The Crisis of Elite Authority in the West

The indolence of our political class lies at the center of the systemic dysfunctions bedeviling Western democracies.

Published on: September 27, 2017
Andrew A. Michta is the dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. Views expressed here are his own
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  • seattleoutcast

    Thank you Andrew Michta for understanding the issue. I might offer one suggestion: an irreversible loss of public support for fundamentals like free trade, liberalism, and multilateralism will not happen because of the failure of our Betters. Rather, our Betters have abandoned those fundamentals and populism is a way to get them back. It is sad, but true that those who have risen through the ranks of the post WWII system of institutions and governmental bodies have a deep and utter contempt for the masses.

    • FriendlyGoat

      We may have to realize that “the masses” ain’t what they used to be. Maybe it’s a few years of being sold insurance by a gecko, a duck, a squealing pig and an empty box. Maybe it’s the era of people paying too much for coffee and bottled water seeming “normal”. Maybe it’s wide acceptance of car dealers marking up all the new cars with a “market value adjustment” so sticker price can be raised to some new sticker price for no particular reason. Maybe it’s decades of sitcoms to the point that few wisecracks remain unheard. Maybe it’s the addiction to various electronic communications. Maybe it’s stronger drugs floating around. Maybe the dumbing down of our masses is a lot of things. But, undeniably, huge chunks of our masses ain’t very wise anymore and this is not getting better.

      Politically, we either have a rational middle which anchors the country to some kind of sense—–or we don’t. The evidence is piling up that we don’t.

      • seattleoutcast

        There always has been an “appetitive class”. The problem for the past 100 years is that there has been an intentional dumbing down of this group of people so that the roots of our Republic can be destroyed. It’s easy to get cynical and wipe one’s hands clean of the hoi polloi; that gives one justification to be a selfish, greedy, totalitarian, fascist jerk. It’s much harder to work with the great unwashed and make sure you have a strong Republic.

        And where can we place the blame? Our wonderful school system. Thank God the internet is allowing education to flourish once again and free those terrible “masses” from the yoke of servitude to the Government/Corporation/Educational Institutions.

        • FriendlyGoat

          The masses I’m worried about going dumb are not necessarily unwashed. Some of them are at the tattoo shop regularly and some others of them are at church regularly, but they all wash. The chances of them forming a group of populists which outsmarts those who would fool or take advantage of them in this country, though, is absolute zero. This is being proven every day.

          • seattleoutcast

            I will have to agree that no matter how hard the populace tries to keep a democracy, there are always a percentage of psychopaths and sociopaths who somehow manage to worm their way into the system and destroy it. Of course, this is the whole point of having a Constitution with negative liberties; read Essay 10 of The Federalist Papers.

            Perhaps the Universe is so large because every place is ruined by these kleptocrats and we need to keep running further and further away them in order to maintain our liberties and freedoms.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Perhaps this could all be described more simply. Perhaps people who can be stoked against football players not standing for the national anthem and the remote possibility of a transgender person in their restroom can be assembled to support once-in-a-generation destruction of the tax code at the high end. You just literally saw that happen.

          • seattleoutcast

            I knew this would degenerate into an anti-republican thread.

            Never mind.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Little else worth talking about these days.

          • Isaiah6020

            “sole reason”

          • D4x

            “sole reason” !?!??!!

            Athazagoraphobic Antidaeophobe with Automatonophobia

            Antidaeophobia – Fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is
            watching you (fictional, from Gary Larson cartoon).

            Athazagoraphobia – Fear of being forgotten, ignored or forgetting

            Automatonophobia – Fear of any inanimate object that
            represents a sentient being, eg. statues, dummies, robots, etc.
            So many labels…

          • Isaiah6020

            It lasted way longer than I thought it would however. And that’s not nothing.

          • Dale Fayda

            Hight-end tax cuts! Yay!!!

      • Blackbeard

        Ah, as always the perfect progressive reply from our friend Mr. Goat. The problem isn’t the elitist nomenklatura that rule western civilization, it’s the stupid voters (the “masses” in FG’s formulation) that are at fault. After all, we told them clearly who to vote for and they didn’t listen. Time to junk this silly democracy idea.

        • FriendlyGoat

          I spoke of masses because I was replying to seattleoutcast who spoke of masses. And, yes, certain of them can be manipulated to vote against their own interests. Quite a few, actually.

          • Blackbeard

            “And, yes, certain of them can be manipulated to vote against their own interests. Quite a few, actually.“

            Exactly! For example, like the African-Americans who keep voting Democratic and get nothing in return.

          • FriendlyGoat

            And they got “what” from conservatism?

          • Dale Fayda

            A MUCH lower illegitimacy rate, for one:

            When this country was socially Conservative, the black family was largely intact. After (60) years of Progressivism, it’s almost completely destroyed, as is everything else liberals get their rat claws on.

          • gates of vienna

            Daniel Moynihan warned LBJ that his “War on Poverty” would destroy the black family. But LBJ knew well – and said so – that it would also destroy the link between the GOP and blacks, which had existed since Reconstruction. Dems fought integration until they couldn’t anymore and then they cynically co-opted it.

          • Blackbeard

            First, because I’m quite critical of progressives please don’t assume I like Republicans any better. I think both the red and blue tribes are tearing this country apart with their mindless partisanship.

            But to your question, consider the issue of school choice. Urban schools do a terrible job even though we spend a ton of money per student and even though we keep increasing school spending (real dollars, per pupil) every year. And of course the hardest hit are African-Americans who are largely stuck in inner city schools and have a harder time fleeing to better schools in the suburbs. Why do we keep pouring money into K-12 education when we are getting no results. (I have a graph that shows this but I can’t figure out how to use the upload images thingy. Sorry!)

            The answer to my rhetorical question is the unholy alliance between the teacher’s union and the Democratic Party. The teachers are the Democrats biggest contributors and besides that the provide a lot of the footsoldiers that do campaign work. But in return the Democrats prioritize protecting the teachers over the welfare of the students. President Obama, to his credit, fought this, but the Democratic establishment resist and, in the end, he accomplished little. School choice, which would bring some much needed competition to the K-12 education world, is a big part of the answer but it’s never going to happen as long as the teachers union owns the Democratic Party. I think Betsy DeVos is going to change this.

            This is only one issue but it’s a big one. We could also talk about the criminal justice system which is a national disgrace and, of course, again hits minorities hardest. In his eight years in the White House did Obama accomplish anything in this area? Probably he was too busy with more important issues like unisex bathrooms.

            I think that as you look at these issues again and again that the Democrats talk a good game regarding racial justice but accomplish little.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m happy to refer to conservatism as opposed to Republicans only. Certainly, putting large numbers of ghetto-stuck children into better schools on scholarship would be a worthy goal. Some of it has already happened, and “some” more might happen, but we should be aware that the main hopes from the people who like Betsy Devos are: 1) Getting government scholarships for existing Christian-school kids so the existing parents can pay less, 2) Getting government money to teach religious ideas in general, and 3) Being certain that nothing is diluted in the nature of their private schools by inflowing outsiders such as scholarship students.

          • gtwreck

            Not just a good game but also command of the communications heights viz news TV education etc..Fought hard against civil rights but own the minority vote excluding Asians. Public education has enabled the Dems to make sure the minorities are well educated in Dem view of everything including History hence the bitter opposition to School choice. Brain washing is so much easier with children. Public education provides the perfect captive audience.

  • Boritz

    inability to deliver…….inability to control…….inability to remedy…….

    Refusal is a better word.

    • D4x

      Michta uses the wrong noun “indolence” to describe the wrong culprit “political class” in his opening topic statement, with which he decided to make an emphatic statement, his ‘hook’: “The indolence of our political class lies at the center of the systematic dysfunctions bedeviling Western democracies.”

      Deconstructing the “pundit class” can be quite interesting. Start with my ‘hook’:
      Michta uses several words to define “political class”: “elites”, “governing class”, “government”, “political establishment” . He then only cites political leaders and political parties: Emmanuel Macron, Donald Trump, Alternative für Deutschland, CDU/CSU, SPD, Angela Merkel, Otto von Bismarck, Barack Obama, the Bush and Clinton families (dynasties).

      Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) presided over the unification of Germany and the first modern ‘social welfare state’ as part of his state-building strategy to “make ordinary Germans—not just his own Junker elite—more loyal to throne and empire, … to provide a countervailing power against the modernist forces of liberalism and socialism …[by focusing] on insurance programs designed to increase productivity…sickness insurance, accident insurance, disability insurance, and a retirement pension, none of which were then in existence to any great degree.”

      Considering the reams of laws, regulations, Executive Orders, resolutions, and treaties AFTER Bismarck in the 1880’s through America’s FDR in the 1930’s, there has been NOTHING “indolent” about the “systematic dysfunctions bedeviling Western democracies”

      1. indolence, noun:; avoidance of activity or exertion; laziness. synonyms: laziness, idleness, slothfulness, sloth, shiftlessness, inactivity, inaction, inertia, sluggishness, lifelessness, lethargy, languor, languidness, torpor, torpidity.

      As for the real culprit expending so much energy over-regulating every problem? The belief that scientific method could be applied to the study of economics, politics, and the other ‘social sciences’ collided with too many lawyers/not enough plumbers, in 1977, when the first personal computers launched the post-industrial “Information Age”.

      Forty years later, Michta is “lamenting the looming collapse of the liberal world order, to be accompanied by a surge of illiberalism, nationalism, and fringe politics.” Deconstructing that conclusion will have to wait.

  • Dale Fayda

    I’ve posted this quote a few times previously, but I feel it bears repeating.

    “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations.

    Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.
    Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice.

    And the decline in courage, at times attaining what could be termed a lack of manhood, is ironically emphasized by occasional outbursts and inflexibility on the part of those same functionaries when dealing with weak governments and with countries that lack support, or with doomed currents which clearly cannot offer resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

    Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?”

    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    • ltlee1

      Courage, like open-mindedness, comes from knowledge. Knowledge or the lack of it, according to Andrew K Michta, depends on the effort of the political class.

      But is this really the issue? For instance, voters recently elected Roy Moore into the US Senate. Are his supporters lack of courage or knowledge? Is it a matter of indolence of the political class? Or something more fundamental is involved?

      • Dale Fayda

        “Courage, like open-mindedness, comes from knowledge.”

        Disagree with that assertion. IMHO, courage comes from confidence and conviction.

  • AnonymoussSoldier

    Regime change and immigrantion policies are to blame. Regime changes are seldom popular. Maybe NK would be the exception? No good reason to have destabilized the Middle East though. No good reason to import millions of third world economic migrants and criminals. Yeah those are not popular.

    • Unelected Leader

      I don’t disagree that those are the two largest issues when you look at all of these countries in the aggregate. But if you’re looking at the UK and US, then you are also having to factor economics in much, much more. Trump took the place by storm railing against bad economics [for the common man in the US] and railing against global distorters of trade, and unfair traders, like Germany and China.

      • AnonymoussSoldier

        Well yeah of course. America never tolerated large trade deficits, at least not for many consecutive years, until immediately after World War II. The whole thing was a gambit and a bribe. Ally and foe alike could export to the US to enrich themselves again, but they had to fight the Cold War Americas way.

        Now, that was the right thing to do at the time, and it was wildly successful. But then the greed kicked in at the top. Germany and Japan were rebuilt by the 70s, and another strategic gambit had short-term results, long-term detriment — Kissinger and Nixons mao rapprochement.

        Now the whole free-trade nonsense is falling on more and more deaf ears because it’s a lie today. It only benefits a few, and depresses everybody else’s wages in exchange for what, slightly cheaper stuff? The liars to pump out continued free trade baloney always talk about prices rising, they also conveniently leave out wages rising.

  • Tom

    As a side note to the point about an inability to pass the baton onto the next generation, it should be pointed out that Trump is no spring chicken, either–he was 70 when he took office, the oldest a president has ever been when initially inaugurated.
    It’s possible that this, and the indolence of the elites, may be an artifact of the Baby Boom–the Boomers seem to be grimly determined to run on the principle “apres moi, le deluge,” which does not fill those of us who are younger with confidence.

    • Boritz

      The ‘younger’ were filled with confidence by Bernie who ran on the principle of ‘free tuition’ and would have been 75 when he took office.

      • Tom

        Some of us were.
        I was not one of them.

  • Angel Martin

    Good article !

  • Kevin

    A very good article.

    I’m not sure it’s so much indolence though. Our elite is not particularly lazy. (I would include heads of finance and major firms and institutions in the elite, not just the political/governing class and intellectuals.) They are more energetically self-dealing than indolent in my view. Still the sum total of their collective actions resemble indolence when addressing the common interest. Whatever the cause is, this elite seems to have a disdain for the nation and the bulk of its citizens.

  • ვეფხისტყაოსანი

    What if the problem with the elite is that it isn’t?

  • PierrePendre

    The mission of the liberal (aka Western) world order is the abolition of the nation state as a response to the causes of the two 20th century world wars. Remove the baneful influence of nationalism and mankind can embark on a future of harmony and amity in which there will be no racism, no harmful competition and no cause for violence. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this universalising theory of humanity’s evolution is supported by the peoples who make up individual nations. The United Nations, far from being the embryonic world government it was conceived as, is a standing example of the incompatibility of different peoples, regions and political systems. If the UN really were a world government, the West would find itself ruled by a majority of some of the most inimical political forces on the planet. The centralising of power in Europe and the intent to turn it into a federal superstate is increasingly resisted with Brexit as exhibit one. The growing centralisation of power in Washington – whereby a simple Dear Colleague letter with no force in law from an unelected official can roil the entire university system – has provoked Trump’s presidency which is dedicated to unravelling the liberal gains of recent decades. There was a lot of debate a few years back about whether the nation state was the optimal unit of efficient government. Despite the failures of the UN and the EU, the West’s increasingly transnational political class remain committed to the progressive downgrading of the nation state whereas their electorates cling to it as an essential part of their identity. Germans have dealt with the Merkel migration with admirable maturity and restraint. But the result of the country’s general election showed clearly that voters and politicians are out of tune with each other. If it is still true that democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people, it is time for arrogant liberals to ease up on their theories of how the world should be forced to look and pay more attention to how the governed want it to look.

    • Jim__L

      “Collega Carissimi” was meant to be able to roil an entire university system. Giving unelected Politically Correct officials the ability to spew their ideology ex cathedra is the point of Liberalism.

      I think you’re missing a major point here about the “optimum” of the Nation State; this is not some vague Taylorist idea of “efficiency”, so in vogue among bureaucrats; this is a matter of at what level can a Social Contract be maintained. Bureaucrats want to do away with Consent of the Governed as a limit on their power. Populations, of course, want to maintain their sovereignty.

      Who should win, the ideologue bureaucrats, or the populations? TAI is coming down on the wrong side of this divide way too much of the time.

  • Jim__L

    “Simply put, the citizenry in the West has been frustrated for decades
    with its elites’ inability to deliver workable solutions to the problems
    of slow growth, deindustrialization, immigration, and the overall
    decline of self-confidence across the West.”

    That’s because the “elites” of the West support ideologies that make these problems **worse**.

    – Elite attempts to control everything — from over-regulation, to over-centralization of economic decisions (whether through government or too-big-to-fail banks) hampers growth

    – The above, plus slavish (yet NIMBYist) dedication to the will-o-wisp of “green” (and the attendant deprecation of nuclear energy and heavy industry) means the industrialization of the non-Western world proceeds at the cost of industrialization in the Western world.

    – Add to that the disdain of Elites for jobs where you get your hands dirty, and didn’t require exclusive educations (Why shouldn’t plumbers get paid more generously than -Studies majors? Seriously, why shouldn’t they?) and you’ve got elites completely incapable of imagining a world where anyone that isn’t from their culture should be economically comfortable. If they can’t imagine it, is it any wonder they can’t work towards it?

    – Elites want to “dissolve the old electorate and impanel a new one”. In their hubris they believe they are emperors and empresses of the whole of humanity, rather than public servants of the constituencies within whose borders they serve. This causes them to ignore or break social contracts with their neighbors, who in turn withdraw their support.

    – Political Correctness is based on the fundamental proposition that the West is not exceptional in any way, that traditional Western values hold no unique understanding of what it takes to thrive in this world. The self-confidence of a culture is based on a firm belief in that culture’s own values (which can include the value of adopting the useful values of others, as Westerners have done since Herodotus) are worth living for and dying for.

    If the elites were capable of appreciating the West’s powerhouse values — industrialization, the value of physical work, social-contract governance, and yes, Christian ethics to humanize the whole of it — then the West would be humming along still.

    As it is, the hubris of the elites is their downfall. They’ll drag us with them if we don’t cashier them.

    • ltlee1


    • However, it is not just the elites that are Part of The Problem.

      In grand Flounderian fashion, the citizenry f____d up and trusted the promises of the elites, to solve too many of those problems FOR them from the top down, instead of taking the responsibility and initiative to solve those problems as individuals and neighbors where they stood (and ignore the non-problems like developing green energy).

      Of course, the elites cheered this on, because it would put them on pedestals of power and influence, and would grease the wheels to impose their One and Only True Way upon us all.

      We wanted others to deliver a shortcut to prosperity and security for us … when those others were INCAPABLE, regardless of their best intentions, to deliver that … so we wouldn’t have to take the risks and make the effort to better secure our own futures in more reliable ways. So we checked our common sense at the door and outsourced our responsibility and initiative to those others … making ourselves vulnerable to their errors, greed, mendacity, and delusion.

      What we did, was sign up for a modern form of serfdom.

      Until we all acknowledge that … which is far more real than the “justifications” being used to encourage our self-flagellation over past racism and colonialism … the lemming parades will continue, right off the cliff.

  • Jim__L

    ” In the United States the middle and working classes have been
    frustrated for decades with the government’s inability to remedy
    de-industrialization, urban decay, and declining economic opportunity.”

    – Trade policy on the Right, and environmental policy on the Left, determine levels of industrialization in this country. The current “middle of the road” championed by our elites is a Green environmental policy and a Free trade policy. Is it any wonder that Americans went for Trump, who might be a protectionist without any particular interest in AGW?

    – Urban decay is a function of de-industrialization. Solve the first, you solve the second. Also, the tendency of money and power to concentrate in DC, New York and Silicon Valley has a tendency to beggar every other urban area in the country (not to mention fly-over country.)

    A decade ago I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but “pork-barrel” politics at a national level are probably a very good idea — or at the very least, resistance by the rest of the country against NYers, SVers, and DCers who want to pass legislation highly prejudiced towards places that meet the description of NY and SV (and highly prejudiced against places that differ from SV, DC, and NY) — is probably the only thing that will get this country back on track.

    – Declining economic opportunity? For flyover country, maybe. Elites are doing just fine. They simply don’t care that everyone else isn’t, and buy into self-aggrandizing nonsense (“The jobs of the future will look like our jobs (we’re just so special! and so smart!), and there’s no bringing back any other kind of jobs”) that perpetuates the system that is, from start to finished, rigged against everyone but the elites, by the elites, for the elites.

    Want to bring America back together? Decentralize — break up the banks, the tech giants, and Washington DC. Subsidiarity, not subsidies. The folks that are sucking the oxygen out of the room need to be stopped.

  • TBill

    How we handle the North Korean problem will have a critical impact on how Americans view the competence of the government. Administrations from both parties for a quarter century promised us that North Korea would never put our homeland at risk. Much bigger deal than “if you like your doctor you can keep him”, which was awful enough.

  • allencic

    To put it in simpler terms, get off your flabby backsides you lazy bums and get to work for the people instead of just being posing frauds. Start earning your overly generous pay and perks you worthless phonies.

    • Jim__L

      Unfortunately, if they DID start being more active, their policies would look a lot like Hillary’s… which is not what the country wants.

      I would advise them to move to Canada, only I like Canadians too much. Maybe we could convince them to sea-stead a new Utopia for themselves, and leave the rest of us alone?

  • hoosier1234

    anyone know what they’re talking about when leftists talk about their “glorious past”?

  • Terenc Blakely

    ‘Our elites aren’t elite but they are elitist.’

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