Ross Douthat takes a similar approach to Angelo Codevilla’s critique of the American elite – which Codevilla describes as essentially a left-wing, meritocratic mob of essentially not-very-bright Democrats – as I did to the calls Arthur Brooks has made for starting a new culture war over free markets in his book, “The Battle”.
But while I focused on keeping economic issues as far from the culture wars as possible, Douthat picks apart Codevilla’s assertions – which are similar to those made by Brooks – that the country is far more conservative and pro-free-market than the administrative class.
Yes, most Americans hate taxes, but the line between statism and small-government conservatism runs through many human hearts, rather than cleanly dividing Ivy League graduates from Tea Partiers and Middle Americans. And it’s essential to recognize that there are economic issues on which the American overclass — which, after all, includes the corporate as well as the political and intellectual elite, and thus tends to be center-left and Clintonian rather than deeply left-wing — sits to the right of the country as a whole. There’s a lot more support for free trade in Wall Street and Georgetown than in Topeka or Little Rock, for instance, and historically (though this may be changing somewhat) the same has been true of entitlement reform as well.
The whole notion of a ‘ruling class’ is a little bizarre. I imagine some members of that ruling elite at least tend to be extraordinarily rich corporate executives and the like, many of whom I imagine are members of the Republican party. I don’t think either side has a monopoly on elitism or political power, as evidenced by our rather divided country and its rather divided politics.
Douthat points to this piece by Arnold Kling, who describes Codevilla’s outlook as ‘neo-reactionary’ “because it is sort of like neoconservatism with the gloves off.”
Kling lists items he shares and items he disagrees with the neo-reactionary crowd over. He agrees that progressivism is ‘an ideology of power’; that progressives are ‘intellectual bullies’; and that American government has become ‘structurally less libertarian' and less democratic’ over the years.
Items he disagrees with: He thinks Brink Lindsey 'has a point’ and that progressives are ‘not wrong on everything, and conservatives are not right on everything’; he thinks Tyler Cowen has two good points – that ‘Manichean, confrontational politics is a dubious project’ and that – like Douthat argues – the majority of Americans are not, in fact, libertarians at all.
On those points I agree entirely. But I have a harder time believing that progressivism is ‘an ideology of power’ any more than any other political ideology is - at least in practice – which is why our system of government had a number of checks and balances written into it, and why we as a society continue to experiment with checks and balances in many other arenas.
Progressivism, like any other ideology, may also produce bullies, but it is not inherently a bullying ideology, even if I think that it is nonetheless inherently wrong in its approach to government.
Indeed, I would argue that most Americans are simply not all that politically minded. Of course most Americans hate taxes and complain about government; most, however, still want government when it benefits them. And few refer to the ‘administrative class’ in the sort of terms that Brooks or Codevilla prefer.
Culture and economics are inextricably wound together, true, but the free market culture war isn’t going to be fought between the ‘country class’ and the ‘ruling class’. It’s going to be waged between different factions within the elite class. Actual culture wars – like abortion and gay marriage – will burn on in middle America, but the big economic questions will be handled by the big economic players in industry and government and between members of the pundit class.
In the mean time, conservatives would be wise not to delude themselves that two-thirds of Americans are ready for some radical free-market, small government revolution.
If Republicans really can introduce limited government reforms, decentralize the power structure in America, and learn to be the party of small government once they’re actually in power then I may change my tune. Until then, Republicans should focus on positive ideas for reform rather than creating delusional narratives about ‘us’ vs. ‘them.’