1.6.10

IDIOTIC CEREBRAL MERITOCRACY. Perhaps a first cut at providing some sort of structure to the tussle between Tea Partiers and The Establishment begins with a remark attributed to Chris Matthews, he of the tingly leg. Here's my understanding of the setting: there is a secular crisis in which major social distress (backward-looking religion conflicts with overweening science), major economic distress (backward-looking good government conflicts with overweening business cults), and major environmental distress (take your pick among oil spills, volcanoes, sinkholes, and the onset of hurricane season) coexist with a population in which most of the people currently living have no recollection of The Global Great Depression and World War II. And at the moment, claimants to Franklin Roosevelt's mantle hold most of the levers of government power after a long spell in the wilderness. Reason's Matt Welch suggests those claimants, upon securing the requisite Democratic presidency and majorities in both houses, overreached.
But now that progressive economic thought has its first real foothold in Washington since the 1970s, many long-marginalized ideas are being dusted off for real-world testing, from taxing stock transactions to “getting people out of their cars.” If we’re lucky, those debates will take place before the ideas are cemented into law. Better yet, maybe the growing unpopularity of central planning will dissuade the enthusiasts from inflicting their experiments on the rest of us in the first place.
The enthusiasts are encountering some push-back that perhaps they hadn't expected. Whether that was a misreading of popular discontent with Republicans who were anything but limited-government conservatives or a reinforcement of chattering class commonplaces in an echo chamber remains to be seen. Roger Simon summarizes the reality, as he sees it.
The times, they are definitely a-changin’. Liberalism, as we have known it for decades, is on the defensive. With the welfare state unsustainable, it has nowhere to turn and its adherents are turning tail in every direction. They are mad and they are, in many cases, unmoored. Lifetime ideologies are beginning to crumble. Personality constructs are at risk.
That's hyperbolic, but not completely wrong. A longer Claremont Institute essay by William Voegeli (via Newmark's Door) hints at the longer-term effects at work.
It's not too early to venture some tentative explanations, however. The Tea Party movement caught fire one month after Barack Obama's inauguration. It is, in part, a reaction to the Obama presidential campaign and its accompanying cult of personality. It is also a reaction to the Obama Administration's effort to keep the financial crisis from going to waste by using it to enact an agenda of "shock and awe statism," to borrow a phrase from Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana.

There are clear signs, though, that the Tea Party movement cannot be summed up by its relation to the dawning of the Age of Obama. It emerged at the culmination of the long project to supplant a ruling class based on social position and wealth with one based on brains. The new meritocrats who direct our government, economy, and national discourse are being disparaged at Tea Party meetings and blogs by the people whom they govern. This is an important, unexpected development—the democratic repudiation of the consequences that have followed from the successful effort to democratize entrĂ©e to the nation's highest circles of power.
The entire essay is worth your time. I want to focus on that transition from one ruling class to another. For the most part, the transition has been one in which autonomous individuals gain power relative to their rulers. I'm relying heavily on The Fourth Turning here, and what follows is a brief summary. Think of the secular crisis culminating in the sinking of the Spanish Armada, the separation of France from Spain and Dutch independence. The next secular crisis, England's Glorious Revolution, leads to the emergence of what that book characterizes as a cadre of professional managers (this anticipates my carping about Silent Generation vicars of vacillation, but that's for another day). A century later comes the War of American Independence. You don't have to be Captain Kirk to grasp the meaning of those tall words, proudly saying We the People. That's followed in another ninety years by the Southern Rebellion, in which slaves are emancipated (continuing the movement toward individual autonomy) but Abraham Lincoln establishes the foundation for the managerial state.

The next secular crisis is The Great Depression and World War II. Although the resolution of that secular crisis puts an end to the extreme form of social engineering variously known as fascism or Nazism, it also gives a new cadre of managers what they understand as the proper tools for Enlightened Government (at the same time that it leads to recognition that a segregated military, or segregated common schools, is too much like a Judenrein Grossdeutsche Reich). But being able to bark "New Deal" or later "Great Society" or call opponents "malefactors of great wealth", or with the Consciousness Revolution (not a secular crisis, for reasons I will develop in a subsequent post), "racist", is not a substitute for argument and evidence. And thus the fear raised by The Anchoress:
They propose dictatorship because they are no longer able to get away with their former arguments, which boiled down to: “shut up. You’re stupid. We’re cool.”
That's the subtext behind invoking Herbert Hoover or Joseph McCarthy or mischaracterizing Barry Goldwater's objections to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (The other form of "You're stupid. We're cool" is to hide behind those Ivy League credentials.)

The best response the usually logical (if in the service of the wrong policies) Mahablog can offer:
Unfortunately, Goldberg is not the only idiot writing for the Web. At the Catholic site First Things, The Anchoress turns Friedman’s words into a hysterical rant about a leftist totalitarian takeover.
Perhaps that's what "shut up, you're stupid, we're cool" translates as. The tussle, however, is one in which the next step forward in individual autonomy is wresting power from the philosopher kings who supplanted the hereditary kings. That dialectic might play out over another 500 years. Health care and oil-spill management and counter-terrorism are the symptoms.

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