Friday, July 23, 2010

The Comng Second American Revolution?

I have been reading a fascinating article by Angelo M. Colevilla in the American Spectator entitled: "America's Ruling Class - and the Perils of Revolution." (HT to David P. Goldman at First Thoughts.)

It is very interesting reading in that it clearly calls for a revolution against the current ruling class of America, which seeks to undermine America as a conservative, Judeo-Christian nation founded on "nature and nature's God." He describes the ruling class this way:

Never has there been so little diversity within America's upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America's upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and "bureaucrat" was a dirty word for all. So was "social engineering." Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday's upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.

Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the "in" language -- serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.

Codevilla describes the majority of Americans as people who have a very different life experience, a very different worldview and as having no (or few) elected representatives fighting for their convictions:

As over-leveraged investment houses began to fail in September 2008, the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties, of major corporations, and opinion leaders stretching from the National Review magazine (and the Wall Street Journal) on the right to the Nation magazine on the left, agreed that spending some $700 billion to buy the investors' "toxic assets" was the only alternative to the U.S. economy's "systemic collapse." In this, President George W. Bush and his would-be Republican successor John McCain agreed with the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama. Many, if not most, people around them also agreed upon the eventual commitment of some 10 trillion nonexistent dollars in ways unprecedented in America. They explained neither the difference between the assets' nominal and real values, nor precisely why letting the market find the latter would collapse America. The public objected immediately, by margins of three or four to one.

When this majority discovered that virtually no one in a position of power in either party or with a national voice would take their objections seriously, that decisions about their money were being made in bipartisan backroom deals with interested parties, and that the laws on these matters were being voted by people who had not read them, the term "political class" came into use. Then, after those in power changed their plans from buying toxic assets to buying up equity in banks and major industries but refused to explain why, when they reasserted their right to decide ad hoc on these and so many other matters, supposing them to be beyond the general public's understanding, the American people started referring to those in and around government as the "ruling class." And in fact Republican and Democratic office holders and their retinues show a similar presumption to dominate and fewer differences in tastes, habits, opinions, and sources of income among one another than between both and the rest of the country. They think, look, and act as a class.

Although after the election of 2008 most Republican office holders argued against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, against the subsequent bailouts of the auto industry, against the several "stimulus" bills and further summary expansions of government power to benefit clients of government at the expense of ordinary citizens, the American people had every reason to believe that many Republican politicians were doing so simply by the logic of partisan opposition. After all, Republicans had been happy enough to approve of similar things under Republican administrations. Differences between Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas are of degree, not kind. Moreover, 2009-10 establishment Republicans sought only to modify the government's agenda while showing eagerness to join the Democrats in new grand schemes, if only they were allowed to. Sen. Orrin Hatch continued dreaming of being Ted Kennedy, while Lindsey Graham set aside what is true or false about "global warming" for the sake of getting on the right side of history. No prominent Republican challenged the ruling class's continued claim of superior insight, nor its denigration of the American people as irritable children who must learn their place. The Republican Party did not disparage the ruling class, because most of its officials are or would like to be part of it.

Here in a nutshell is the genesis of the Tea Party movement. Those who mistake it for an upsurge of populist Republicanism do so at their own peril. These people do not want to vote for the Republican Party: they see it as corrupt and they want to take it over and reform it! They feel only slightly less alienated from the Republican Party than from the Democratic Party, but they are realistic enough to recognize that a third party would split the conservative vote and the only real chance to gain power is through the Republican Party. If they do take over the Republican Party, it will be an event similar in importance to the New Left takeover of the Democratic Party in 1970, which resulted in the exodus of many of the few remaining true liberals from the Democratic Party (the neoconservatives). Expect a similar phenomenon if the Tea Party folk take over the Republican Party. The Charlie Christs and Arlen Spectors will be just the beginning.

Codevilla's article is too long and rich to summarize properly here, but the heart of his argument, I think, is that the two classes (what he calls the ruling class and the country class) are separated most fundamentally not by levels of wealth or education, but by diverging religious/philosophical faiths. The idea of equality of all people is the view of the country class (the conservatives):

The notion of human equality was always a hard sell, because experience teaches us that we are so unequal in so many ways, and because making one's self superior is so tempting that Lincoln called it "the old serpent, you work I'll eat." But human equality made sense to our Founding generation because they believed that all men are made in the image and likeness of God, because they were yearning for equal treatment under British law, or because they had read John Locke.

However, the ruling class (the progressives) do not really believe in equality, except in the sense that it is up to them to create equality:

It did not take long for their paradigm to be challenged by interest and by "science." By the 1820s, as J. C. Calhoun was reading in the best London journals that different breeds of animals and plants produce inferior or superior results, slave owners were citing the Negroes' deficiencies to argue that they should remain slaves indefinitely. Lots of others were reading Ludwig Feuerbach's rendition of Hegelian philosophy, according to which biblical injunctions reflect the fantasies of alienated human beings or, in the young Karl Marx's formulation, that ethical thought is "superstructural" to material reality. By 1853, when Sen. John Pettit of Ohio called "all men are created equal" "a self-evident lie," much of America's educated class had already absorbed the "scientific" notion (which Darwin only popularized) that man is the product of chance mutation and natural selection of the fittest. Accordingly, by nature, superior men subdue inferior ones as they subdue lower beings or try to improve them as they please. Hence while it pleased the abolitionists to believe in freeing Negroes and improving them, it also pleased them to believe that Southerners had to be punished and reconstructed by force. As the 19th century ended, the educated class's religious fervor turned to social reform: they were sure that because man is a mere part of evolutionary nature, man could be improved, and that they, the most highly evolved of all, were the improvers.

Thus began the Progressive Era. When Woodrow Wilson in 1914 was asked "can't you let anything alone?" he answered with, "I let everything alone that you can show me is not itself moving in the wrong direction, but I am not going to let those things alone that I see are going down-hill."
The Progressives believe that they constitute a superior group within the human race and that they have the ability, the right and even the responsibility to improve the world by social engineering, eugenics, social reform and progressive education.

The Conservatives believe that human nature is fixed and fallen. So, while there undoubtedly can be material progress, moral progress is impossible. Therefore, change should come gradually and cautiously and all Utopian schemes and Pelagian denials of the intractability of human sinfulness must be firmly resisted.

For Progressives, democracy is good because it helps to overturn aristocratic or oligarchical rule, which tend to be conservative. For Conservatives, democracy is good because it allows for the widest possible dispersion of power and thus avoids the dangers of power corrupting a small group in society to the detriment of all.

The American Founders believed in God, believed that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were grounded in "nature and nature's God," and they created a political system that makes radical change difficult, limits government and divides power among the three branches plus state as well as federal governments and relies on individual initiative, individual virtue and individual piety rather than on government bureaucrats or programs.

The Progressive movement, which in some ways began in the abolitionist movement, the civil war and reconstruction, really got off the ground with Woodrow Wilson, World War I and the League of Nations. It was moved forward by FDR, who laid the foundations for the welfare state, and LBJ, who built on those foundations. Barack Obama is attempting to write another major chapter in the narrative of "progressivist" progress.

The usefulness of Codevilla's article is that it explains so well the depth of the gap between what he calls the "ruling class" and the "country class" and what I term the "Progressives" and the "Conservatives." Compromise between two such radically different faiths is going to be very difficult and the total victory of one over the other is going to be likewise very difficult. This leaves the future unclear except that continuing conflict is inevitable.

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