Friday, August 16, 2013

Don't Forget the "Rule" in Ruling Class

We conservatives are fizzing these days with the term "ruling class," as in Angelo Codevilla's Ruling Class vs. Country Class, and John Hayward's "Real Class War" between Ruling Class, Dependency Class, and Everyone Else.  Our fizziness is founded on the notion that conservatives aren't Ruling Class, no sirree.

We all understand that today the appellation "ruling class" means liberals.  Or progressives.  And Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism was and is the definitive description of our liberal ruling class masters and their corrosive apologies for liberal power.

Contra liberal power the whole argument of modern conservatism, starting with Edmund Burke's impeachment of the Governor of Bengal, Warren Hastings, is the limitation of the power of the ruling class.  Warren Hastings was the British pro-consul out in Bengal in the mid 1700s and he used his power to shake down the locals, including most memorably the Begums of Oudh.

Yes, I know, nothing changes.  Today our pro-consuls are shaking down the rich for political contributions, just like good ole Warren.

There is a problem with the conservative doctrine on the limitation of government power.  It means that people enraptured with political power won't become conservatives.  They will become Marxists, or socialists, or fascists, or race baiters, or global warmists single-payer health care activists -- anything that requires new powers for government and the ruling class or the next ruling class.

The point about a ruling class is that it rules.  The Latin "regere" means "to rule" as in regulate, regime, regimen.  To rule means to lay down the rules for the rest of us.  Period.  If you can't lay down the rules you aren't really the ruler.

Back in 1776 Adam Smith came up with a new and radical notion that human society might not need a real ruling class that ruled.  His Invisible Hand doctrine suggested that maybe people could engage in social cooperation via the market without having the clunking fist of government ordering the just price and the just wage and the just loan.  Maybe if the economy was founded on the notion that first each person had to make a product that other people wanted before they could scoop up their wages or profits, then we didn't need ruling classes at all!

It was the genius of Marx to offer a new justification for ruling-class power for the power-hungry young 'uns of the 1840s.  He said that the new capitalism that obviously transforming the world with steam power and unimaginable prosperity was really a horrible exploitation.  And only state power could keep it in check.  No wonder everyone loved him.  Because if you are an ambitious young chap with a taste for political power -- i.e. ordering everyone else around -- then there is nothing like a new political doctrine that bellows for the need for strong government power to keep the evil bourgeoisie from immiserating everyone into indigence.  Sign me up, Chuck!

Since Marx's time we have experienced enthusiasm after enthusiasm for unlimited ruling class power: Socialism, Progressivism, central banks, income taxes, universal government education, universal social insurance, civil rights, environmentalism, global warming.  Every one of these enthusiasms requires a strong ruling class with plenty of power to rescue us from disaster.

And we've had trenchant critiques, from the impossibility of calculating prices under socialism, to the bandwidth problem, to the unanticipated consequences argument, to public choice theory to supply-side economics.  And now we have George Gilder arguing that the secret to the future is knowledge over power.  We need to limit power and make it transparent and predictable, and we need to allow unlimited experimentation by business creators, because a new successful business is not so much a fount of profit as a creation of new knowledge.

The problem for conservatives is to develop a new political culture where it is unthinkable to propose and boost the unlimited kind of ruling class political power that young heads full of mush have loved ever since Marx.  There is a role for force, of course, in cracking the heads of street thugs and thug dictators -- in other words to wage war on all gangs of young male marauders.

But the role and the rule of force is limited.  Once you have dealt with the problem of thuggery, you don't need force; indeed force becomes counterproductive: that's why the Soviet Union is no more.  Once the thugs have been dealt with you need instead things like cooperation and trust and sincerity and the basic proposition of Adam Smith that if you want to thrive in the world you need to think and do something about satisfying other peoples' needs.

That is the great challenge for conservatives.  How do we construct and colonize the public sphere with a doctrine of political power that limits political power, that limits the "rule" in "ruling class?"  In other words, how do we sell the ruling class on a culture of political power that takes all the fun out of ruling?

Because, as the philosopher George Maroutsos said: You don't have power unless you've abused it.  Power without abuse is merely responsibility.  And who will fight and kill for mere responsibility?

How, in fine, do we make another Barack Obama impossible?  The terrifying thing about President Obama is not his apparent laziness, his divisiveness, his use of the IRS to punish his enemies.  It is that he is utterly oblivious of the totalitarian tendency of his politics, and his supporters in the educated liberal ruling class seem utterly unable to grasp where that politics leads.

That is our problem and it is scandalous that conservatives have not yet set the world ablaze with the glorious fire of our program of the limitation of powers.

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