Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thoughts on Professor Codevilla's "America's Ruling Class"

A friend sent me Professor Angelo M. Codevilla's excellent American Spectator article "America's Ruling Class." I recommend reading it with careful attention. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that Professor Codevilla’s hope that a country party that  represents pro-freedom Americans is possible. The reason, as Professor  Codevilla points out, is that the potential members of a country party are diverse, spread out, and difficult to organize.  Moreover, he romanticizes the electorate, which is more corrupt today than earlier in my lifetime.

I literally live in the country and have gone door to door in my rural Catskills community, which has gone from Republican to Democratic over the past 40 years.  A large segment of the voters is preoccupied with government programs that secure them jobs in areas like nursing or education. An almost-as-large segment is comprised of welfare recipients who have been attracted to Kingston, NY by subsidized, public-and-private-partnership housing that has enriched developers at the expense of taxpayers, who are increasingly saddled with the cost.  Yet, the voters themselves are clients of the politicians, for 51% of the county works for government.  In other words, I don’t think a country party politician is electable in my part of the country at this point.  

Professor Codevilla unearths historical processes that have led to current problems. His implicit model is of a unitary elite.  There are elites, but they are more pluralistic than he assumes.  Also, he is vague about how the unitary elite is constituted.  Are they conscious that they are a unitary elite?  I don’t believe so—there is not a conscious conspiracy, although there are a number of old boys’ clubs.  He is right that education has homogenized the elite. At the same time, I don’t believe that the most powerful are fixated on social or religious issues. 

Investment and commercial banks play a bigger role in formulating economic policy than he says.  They constitute an interest group that likely trumps the others--especially in the economic realm.  At the same time, interest groups ranging from the professions to the pharmaceutical industry to agribusiness have identifiable interests that collide with the socialist and anti-religious objectives of Northeastern academics.  The array of interests collaborates in many ways, but they are also at loggerheads some of the time. The Republicans attract diverse special interest groups, which enables them to ignore their own rank-and-file. Thus, as Professor Codevilla suggests, the Republican Party is a me-too party that is at war with its supporters. I agree that there has been an attack on Christianity and on freedom, but I’m not sure that every section of the elite array is represented in those attacks.  At the same time, his analysis of the role of universities is on the money.

His analysis of why the Democratic Party is dominant is brilliant, but it begs the question as to why no Republican who represents the majority has stepped forward. First, I regret to say that given my small amount of experience with politics I am not optimistic about the intelligence or morality of voters, whom Professor Codevilla idealizes.  Second, my guess is that rank-and-file Americans have been bought with a $25,000 Social Security benefit and Medicare. That seems to me to be selling  freedom cheap,  but as Professor Codevilla--along with de Tocqueville--implies, democracy leads to the impulse to enhance one’s specialness or individuality by claiming privileges at others’ expense, and I believe that rank-and-file Americans have been convinced that government programs do that for them, so they identify with the elite power structure to a greater degree than Professor Codevilla admits. 

In other words, the people of the country party are as much to blame for their loss of freedom and opportunity as their leaders are.  How else did all the political goofballs get elected?  I briefly campaigned to be on the town’s Republican committee.  I got elected, but some of the people I met still give me nightmares.  When I listen to political conversations among the Democrats at the Kingston YMCA, I get a similarly queasy feeling.

A related story is this:  Two of the most conservative people in Ulster County, a guy who runs a fruit stand and a guy who runs a newspaper, for which I wrote for several years, both went on a warpath to defeat the Democratic county executive because he would not renew a subsidized lease to a tourist railroad.  When I suggested to them that a government subsidy to a tourist railroad is not a particularly freedom-oriented cause, the fruit-stand owner said that a private firm could not buy the property and run a private tourist railroad because it costs $25 million; therefore, government needs to do it.  

 Country party, maybe. Freedom oriented—I don’t think Americans know what the word means anymore. 
 Professor Codevilla Responds  
Dear Mr. Langbert   
Thank you for your thoughtful reading of my article.   Of course, I never suggested anything like a ruling class conspiracy. but near uniformity based on common mentality, experience and interest is even more solid.   Is the ruling class motivated by social issues? I suggest that it identifies itself in those terms. Animus and disdain seldom come from mere interest. Its common interest comes from its other defining feature - connection with government?   Why no serious Republican opposition? Why does not the moon slip its orbit from the earth? Just look at what the mass of Republican satellites are trying to do to Cruz, and why they do it. They are comfortable as satellites.   You are quite correct about the country class’s corruption. Yes, the country class is likely to take power carrying all that corruption with it. (vide Trump)

Best wishes
Angelo Codevilla