The center still holds. It's the bottom and top of American society where we have a problem. And since it's the top that has such decisive influence on American culture, economy, and governance, I focus on it. The fact is that American elites have increasingly been withdrawing from American life. It's not a partisan phenomenon. The elites of all political stripes have increasingly withdrawn to gated communities--"gated" literally or figuratively--where they never interact at an intimate level with people not of their own socioeconomic class.
Haven't the elites always done this? Not like today. A hundred years ago, the wealth necessary to withdraw was confined to a much smaller percentage of the elites than now. Workplaces where the elites made their livings were much more variegated a hundred years ago than today's highly specialized workplaces.
Perhaps the most important difference is that, not so long ago, the overwhelming majority of the elites in each generation were drawn from the children of farmers, shopkeepers, and factory workers--and could still remember those worlds after they left them. Over the last half century, it can be demonstrated empirically that the new generation of elites have increasingly spent their entire lives in the upper-middle-class bubble, never even having seen a factory floor, let alone worked on one, never having gone to a grocery store and bought the cheap ketchup instead of the expensive ketchup to meet a budget, never having had a boring job where their feet hurt at the end of the day, and never having had a close friend who hadn't gotten at least 600 on her SAT verbal. There's nobody to blame for any of this. These are the natural consequences of successful people looking for pleasant places to live and trying to do the best thing for their children.
But the fact remains: It is the elites who are increasingly separated from the America over which they have so much influence. That is not the America that Tocqueville saw. It is not an America that can remain America.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Charles Murray gave the Irving Kristol Lecture. You should read it all, but neatly summarized he argues:
1. Obama has revealed himself to be a "Swede," meaning he wants to impose a European-style welfare state on the US with the goals of leveling inequality by providing essential services to all.
2. While the Euro-model provides material comforts, it takes away from humans the all-important sense of transcendence and accomplishment that gives the ordinary life its meaning.
3. US social democrats have spent the last 40 years using government to provide for the needs of the underclass to disastrous effect.
4. 21st century science will teach us that there are biological differences between humans based on gender, intellect, etc. that will render the Left's dreams of gov't derived "equality" moot.
5. There will follow from this a Great Awakening as Americans turn away from gov't as the solution to all their ills.
6. the American elites are ill prepared for such a moment because they have lost their connection to regular folks. (Murray's actually been hammering this theme for the last few years, but no one has listened as far as I can see)
7. They better get reconnected real quick or we're all in trouble.
Here's the grand conclusion:
Our elites are not like the elites of the ancien regime in France. They do not owe their positions due to bloodlines (although some have taken advantage of their presence in Bill Clinton's kindergarten class). If Americans want to move in a different direction, we will find new elites to take us there.