At Instapundit today, you find Glenn Reynolds’ has captured David Brooks’ New York Times editorial titled, “Why Our Elites Stink?” It’s important to examine who is rising to power, and why, because someone strives to rise to the top and some succeed. The stuff that propels such ambition determines what they do with their conglomerated power. The rest of us live with it—or form Tea Party rebellions to throw them off and start again.
To the degree we believe that someone deserves to have all the power necessary to “straighten it all out,” we hail the autocracy in whatever form they make it.
So, what distinguished the old elites from the new? Brooks says it was a sense of moral duty. I think it’s deeper than that.
Brooks first identifies the old Protestant elites: “[A] relatively small network of white Protestant men dominated the universities, the world of finance, the local country clubs and even high government service.” Then, he contrasts the old elites with the new: [today] “People are more likely to rise on the basis of grades, test scores, effort and performance.”
That “meritocracy” appeals to us. We like the sound of it; it seems right.
But, all of our modern meritocracy institutions are busily churning out Idiocracy, bankruptcy, bureaucracy, and jail terms for the chronically corrupt. Why? If moving from “Who you are” to “What are your qualifications?” still leaves us short of the good government and prosperity most of us want, what is wrong with leadership by the super-qualified?
Brooks says they claimed, and now possess, what the culture recognizes as qualifications but do not see themselves as burdened by the duty of leadership that the old elites understood they represented. As a result, super qualifications wind the same twisted trail as super status: an entrenched, corrupt oligarchy.
Here is what the new elites lack that the old elites had, and what Brooks does not say. The key word is “Protestant.” The old elites came from that fundamental understanding that God ruled over the affairs of men and that—ultimately—they would face Him. They—like us all—sinned. Some monumentally; some more like you and I, playing out our more private imperfections in a daily dissonant symphony, which twisted tone never lets us entirely forget that we are sometimes too quickly angry, too selfish to grace another with a word of kindness, too prideful, too—you get the message. The old elites sprang from that fundamental understanding that their nature, too, fell short. Even as they garnered power, they were haunted by the nagging truth that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The modern, post-Christian West has never heard such admonition. If someone shouts it at them, the warning about corrosive power remains unperceived—in one ear and out the other. If so loudly reminded of it (such as by a Tea Party rally) that the warning cannot be ignored, they mock the speaker, the hand-lettered sign, the T-shirts, and the notion of such limits on the rightness of their power. They deserve power because of who they are (Does that sound familiar?): intelligent, gifted, talented, trained, and ready to take the reins of power and straighten it all out for the rest of us—even if they have to fight us to do it.
Only, it does not work out so well. Bill Clinton and Mark Rich. Senator Dodd’s loan-interest break with Countrywide. Solyndra. Welfare cheats pick up on the methodology, and play out their own games with the system they are invited into by those presiding over the society declared “Great.”
The modern elites climb to high government office only to manipulate the public with Fast and Furious, and carbon credits. Their perceived greatness exceeds the bounds of duty to the United States, and they negotiate the Law of the Sea Treaty, and join with the U.N.’s effort to take away Americans’ right to keep and bear arms.
We do not live in a great society because we are great. We enjoy great opportunity because our founders took measures to frustrate elite power, to break them up, dissipate their influence, limit them, check them and otherwise slow down the inevitable takeover by those who fancy themselves as meriting the crown.
The awful truth is: no one merits the crown. Even as the old elites grasped for it, they knew that—deep down. Today’s elites never even consider it. There is great freedom once you recognize that freedom is messy but preferable to a life of grinding serfdom under our self-anointed lords.
Our elites stink because they think they are special.