Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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At War (or Not) with the "Elites"

In addition to the Peggy Noonan column (already cited in my post below) there are some of good links worth exploring on this question of an American/conservative/Tea Party backlash against so-called "elites." 

One is this column by Anne Applebaum which Jonah Goldberg lays to waste here.  Applebaum then responds to Jonah, and Jonah responds--again--to Applebaum.  Note, too, this oldie but goodie from the Goldberg files. 

The dangers of populist anger (like the dangers of all anger in politics) are nothing new and nothing to be dismissed.  Every expression of popular outrage and exasperation, however, does not constitute some vast threat to the health of the republic.  There is such a thing as righteous anger and, even when it is clumsily expressed, a wise student of politics does well to consider the complaint on its merits (and as it was obviously intended) rather than to scour it for what amounts to the equivalent of spelling errors and a few over-broad generalizations.  The political philosopher, Leo Strauss, is noted (when he isn't being attacked as the god-father of warmongers) for making the very sensible and irrefutable point that if you want to understand a text or the work of a great author, you have to understand that author the way that he understood himself.  It seems to me that this maxim is desperately needed by more than a few would-be observers of American life and the American people.  It's not fair to be critical of them or of it until that kind of clarity is achieved.  
Categories > Politics

Discussions - 3 Comments

My weekly column deals with this subject also. You are "right on," Julie.

Nicely done, RIchard. I like the Huck Finn reference, especially.

Much better than the war of these Rising Star Pundits over such minor details is this article by a professor who is so unknown by the general public he might as well just be another name in the East Lansing phone book. Vladimr Shlapentokh gets into the obvious chasm between a popular idol among the libertarian tea partiers - Ayn Rand - and those Teabirchers who would be happy to make Jesus Christ the next POTUS. The interesting thing, though, is that he never even mentions her (fairly militant) atheism here. He just addresses the inherent elitism in her philosophy and her expressed attitudes towards the common folk, which are hardly complimentary. (This article is even more interesting when read after going through Justin Paulette's post about Catholics and the tea parties)

Here's a key excerpt:

"But by clinging to the superficial commonality of hostility to welfare, tea partiers fail to see (or willfully ignore) something critical: Rand espoused an elitist, oligarchic philosophy that is both fundamentally anti-American and deeply at odds with the tea party's own “we the people” cause.

At tea party meetings in September, Rand’s name competed in popularity with Jefferson. Some demonstrations even started with a reading from “Atlas Shrugged,” which was coupled with the declaration that this book should be treated as “America’s Second Declaration of Independence.”

But the ironic truth is that, among American authors over the past two centuries, it is impossible to find somebody who has so openly and consistently praised the American elite as Rand has. Rand created magnate protagonists like John Galt and Francisco d’Anconia who ran their industries and societies without paying heed to public opinion. Rand and her heroes hold ordinary people in great contempt. They would surely be appalled to see how the “everyday Americans” at tea party rallies have demanded that they (not the American nobility nor the Ivy League graduates) should have the decisive voice in American politics.
Rand loves the elite.

Tea party activists, in their fervor against the elites, more closely echo the motto of the Russian Bolsheviks who insisted that “the cook if taught will efficiently govern society.” So deep is the tea party mistrust of elite, over-educated Americans that the mediocre academic pedigree of some of their favored political figures seems to be a point of pride."

For now, the tea party's anti-elitism is riding off of the popular perception (true to some extent) that universities are dominated by liberal professors (almost by force, according to the Teabircher wisdom), and that they largely crank out liberal drone students. Toss in some contrived resentment against the rich kids who can go to whatever universities they want for as long as they want without the fears about loans and income, too, and it gets interesting.

So, the charges of elitism are mainly targeted at college-educated people who are liberal and seen to be oppressing them (in whatever way - typically some imaginary imminent action - Fairness Doctrine, FEMA camps, taking their guns, etc.). As far as economic policies go, however, the Teabirchers are happy to fight for just about any and every policy that will benefit the corporate elite, because they imagine that someday, they too, after successfully pulling themselves up by their bootstraps (a la callers-to-Limbaugh and featured case studies on the 700 Club), they too will be at the top of the totem pole, or maybe they too can have a career path that takes them from angry letters to the editor of their local gazette to their own barstool radio show like Beck, Limbaugh, etc. If one of their guys blatantly caters to Wall Street at Main Street's expense, as in the TARP bailout, well, they can just tweak history a bit and make people think that the dangerous dark man from Kenya ("I'm not racist, honest - I love my black mailman!") did that as part of his Communist agenda.

Being college-educated IS impressive and indicative of merit to tea partiers as long as the person at issue is appropriately conservative (and therefore magically seen as "non-ideological").

In this, conservatives really adore outcome-based education - education that results in graduates who are socially and economically conservative Judeo-Christian theists.

If ideological affirmative action projects like David Horowitz's "Academic Bill of Rights" (among others) has a long-term impact on the American higher education system (by defunding it, reducing higher education as a priority, and making the typical college like Liberty, Regent, Patrick Henry, Hillsdale, Claremont, etc.), then the right's appreciation for this kind of populist anti-elitism will fade, with more college grads in the Sarah Palin to Jonah Goldberg range, and promotion of meritocracy will be en vogue again.

In any case, there's some obvious irony in people like Andrew Breitbart, Christine O'Donnell, or Glenn Beck threatening to "Go Galt!" - if they did it, it wouldn't matter (i.e. their space would be filled up again in no time at all).

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