Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The Technocrats and the Ivy League

So I'm going to talk up William Voegeli's and Wilfred McClay's (it was online Friday but isn't now) articles on the Tea Parties.  They are really good at helping us understand the Tea Parties as a populist reaction to a governing elite that both seeks to expand government past its core functions and claims (or pretends to claim) incompetence at basic functions of government.  Voegeli gets to this contradictions when he writes that this elite both believes that it can transform our health system in a more state-run direction and that securing the border is impossible absent an amnesty first. 

The Voegeli and McClay articles are worth reading in conjunction with William Schambra's National Affairs article on Obama and technocracy.  What the Tea Parties are revolting against could be the view that "government exists not to attend to the various problems in the life of a society, but to take up society itself as a problem," and that "To address social problems this way, the policymaker must put himself outside the circle of those he governs, and, informed by social science, see beyond their narrow clashing interests."  This is especially necessary because "most citizens (and the self-interested politicians they elect) are either baffled by or deliberately ignore social complexity and interrelatedness." 

The relationship between the technocracy described above and Ivy League elitism is complicated.  Schambra's description of the good politician demands impossible standards of both intellect and disinterestedness.  That is why the President character on the West Wing is a combination of Jesus and a nonsatirical Cliff Clavin.  The Ivy League degree can serve as a signal that the possessor has the intellect needed to "take up society itself as a problem."  The problem of course is that one is beginning with unrealistic expectations of both government and politicians.

 But one can be a technocrat or a believer in technocracy (the West Wing had a pretty large audience) without an elite college background.  One can also be a believer in limited but effective government while being a Harverdian (to use Seth MacFarlane's expression.)  Which is to say that one can prefer Ouachita Baptist University's Mike Huckabee over Harvard's Obama and Brown University's Bobby Jindal over the University of Delaware's Joe Biden.

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 1 Comment

Good post. The expectations for the technocratic presidency must combine in one person Jesus and a nonsatirical Cliff Clavin. This is hilarious but true, and not just on the West Wing, but in the real life expectations of technocrats.

The president must show love as charity and more as generosity. He must demonstrate his love through his oft stated care, concern and compassion. Perhaps he must exemplify a divinity as a real life avatar. The president must mix this emotivism with lots of data driven policy proposals where science is put in its proper place. He knows facts about everything, citing what studies (and wikipedia) show at each turn of the wheel of fortune.

I'm not sure if you need to put the non-satirical qualifier for Cliff Clavin here. Satire or not, it comes across as a joke. I don't know whether to laugh or cry, and I fear the punch line.

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