Everything is set for a new century of growth, writes Walter Russell Mead, except for America's political class.
America has everything it needs for success in the twenty-first century with one exception: a critical mass of thinkers, analysts and policy entrepreneurs who can help unleash the creative potential of the American people and build the new government and policy structures that will facilitate a new wave of private-sector led growth.
It's the intellectual class that's the problem. It is backward looking and reactionary. In several ways.
- Support for statism. "Since the late nineteenth century most intellectuals have identified progress with the advance of the bureaucratic, redistributionist and administrative state. The government, guided by credentialed intellectuals with scientific training and values, would lead society through the economic and political perils of the day. " Yeah. I'll say.
- Interest and class. "Most intellectuals today still live in a guild economy. The learned professions – lawyers, doctors, university professors, the clergy of most mainline denominations, and (aspirationally anyway) school teachers and journalists – are organized in modern day versions of the medieval guilds. " Actually, I would say that the liberal guilds are caricatures of the old medieval guilds, which were, at bottom, self-governing social organizations perched perilously under the warrior aristocrats that ruled the age. The liberal guilds are little more than political pressure groups. They are not true "mediating structures."
- Training gap. "We are much less effective at teaching and supporting people who are able to master the essentials of many complex subjects, integrate the insights from this kind of study into a coherent social or political vision, and communicate what they have learned to a broad general lay audience. " Hmm. The trouble with this sort of thinking is that it assumes the continuation of the current bureaucratic administrative elite. Suppose that the new elite to come doesn't operate that way. Suppose it operates more by spontaneous association and the promotion of ideas and leaders from below instead of the top-down processes of today. Suppose that the future is Tea Party, not Anointed Ones?
Actually, all this is beside the point. The big question, in my mind, is whether our current liberal elite--the "clerisy," the Class of 1848, the New Class, the educated elite, whatever you want to call them--will have the decency to leave the stage without pulling the scenery down around them, and the rest of us as well.
The foundational assumptions of American intellectuals as a group are firmly based on the assumptions of the progressive state and the Blue Social Model. Those who run our government agencies, our universities, our foundations, our mainstream media outlets and other key institutions cannot at this point look the future in the face.
Who cares? Don't look the future in the face, liberals, if you don't want to. The trouble is that liberals don't want to let the rest of us, who do want to look the future in the face, take power and get on with America's future. Because the whole point of modern liberalism since its invention in the culture of the revolutions of 1848 is political power. It wasn't ever really about the working class, or women, or minorities, or gays, or whatever. It was always and only about the power of the intellectual class.
What these chaps cannot face is that the ordinary chaps who really made a difference in the industrial age, men like the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Edisons, were not men from the intellectual class, nor did they have pretensions about themselves. Nor were they interested in political power. They just wanted to build their businesses in the intoxicating days of the 19th century. When they had strutted their hour upon the stage they were quite happy to go home and let someone else take over.
Unlike today's intellectual class.