Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Decline of Civilization--Part II--The Provincial and the Cosmopolitan

View of the World from 9th Avenue

          Part 1 of this series examined the basic theories and ideas of Oswald Spengler and Joseph Tainter. Now I want to examine some of these ideas in further detail in relation to the current state of affairs.

          I suppose the first and most basic sign of the decline of a society is the creation of one or more "world cities." Spengler explained:
Finally, there arises the monstrous symbol and vessel of the completely emancipated intellect, the world-city, the centre in which the course of world-history ends by winding itself up. A handful of gigantic places in each Civilization disfranchises and disvalues the entire motherland of its own Culture under the contemptuous name of "the provinces." The "provinces" are now everything whatsoever--land, town, and city--except these two or three points [world cities]. There are no longer noblesse and bourgeoisie, freemen and slaves, Hellenes and Barbarians, believers and unbelievers, but only cosmopolitans and provincials. All other contrasts pale before this one, which dominates all events, all habits of life, all views of the world.
(Vol. II, 98-99).

(Continued below the break)

         Angelo M. Codevilla's 2010 article, "America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution," is probably one of the best descriptions of the "cosmopolitans" (what he calls "the ruling class") and the the "provincials" (what he calls, "the country class"). There are a few important takeaways from Codevilla's article.

          First, is that the actions of the elite, however noble they may clothe them, are ultimately aimed at gathering and maintaining power. Codevilla writes:
Our ruling class's agenda is power for itself. While it stakes its claim through intellectual-moral pretense, it holds power by one of the oldest and most prosaic of means: patronage and promises thereof. Like left-wing parties always and everywhere, it is a "machine," that is, based on providing tangible rewards to its members. Such parties often provide rank-and-file activists with modest livelihoods and enhance mightily the upper levels' wealth. Because this is so, whatever else such parties might accomplish, they must feed the machine by transferring money or jobs or privileges -- civic as well as economic -- to the party's clients, directly or indirectly. This, incidentally, is close to Aristotle's view of democracy. Hence our ruling class's standard approach to any and all matters, its solution to any and all problems, is to increase the power of the government -- meaning of those who run it, meaning themselves, to profit those who pay with political support for privileged jobs, contracts, etc. Hence more power for the ruling class has been our ruling class's solution not just for economic downturns and social ills but also for hurricanes and tornadoes, global cooling and global warming.
Lind explains in his article, "Striking Back at the Empire", that the ruling elites first loyalty is not to the state, but to the international order they seek to create. Discussing French and Dutch referendums in opposition to a European Constitution, Lind observed:
Normally, we would think of elites as representing the state and the common people rebelling against the state. That is not what happened here. On the contrary, the elites represent the destruction of the state and the French and Dutch people rebelled in defense of their historic, national states. .... 
Today's European political elites, like most of their counterparts elsewhere, do not give their primary allegiance to the state. Rather, their first loyalty goes to a New World Order that advocates world government (even the EU is just a way station on that journey), a globalized economy in which European and North American living standards are averaged with those of the Third World, and the general abolition of religions, customs and traditions in favor of a culture based on commercialism, materialism and sensual pleasures. Western elites, especially Europe's, add one more element: the ideology of cultural Marxism, the Marxism of the Frankfurt School, which says that the white race (especially males), the Christian religion and Western civilization are all evils that must be repressed and, in time, eradicated. ....
In his article, "The Ruling Elite Settle In," J.R. Dunn goes beyond Codevilla's description, writing:
So what is the ruling elite we are facing? With far leftists and blacks at one end, remnants of the old WASP ascendancy mingling with Hispanics and Asians in the center, and urban conservatives on the right, this is not your typical 20th-century statist conglomeration.  This is something new; the old appellations just won't work.  It's probably best to simply identify its chief characteristics for the time being: a worship of the state as a source of power, a veneer of "progressivism," in the sense that society consists of "problems" that can be solved only by state-wide efforts, green technology,  and of course, a hefty dose of classism.

This goes a step beyond Dr.  Codevilla. What we are seeing is the foundation of a new form of technofeudalism.  Conservatives often waste their time fighting enemies that no longer exist -- consider how often we see people ranting about invisible "hippies" or "communists." In fact, the major impetus to the current progressive program isn't political at all -- it's a combination of economics and pseudoscience.  The ruling class believes that we are on the verge of an environmental collapse, triggered by "climate change." They intend to keep their toys and privileges no matter what.  The rest of us will have to do without -- no heat, bad food, no transport, all of life's luxuries (and freedoms)-- vanished with the snows.  They will retain all this and more in well-protected enclaves, keeping a careful eye on the proles with their drones and PRISM-derived surveillance systems.  The American ruling class will by this means join the transnational elites living the same way -- as in many areas, among them Africa, Central Asia, and Latin America, they do already.
      Second, the ruling class believes it is morally and intellectually superior to the rest of humanity. Codevilla notes that "[i]ts first tenet is that 'we' are the best and brightest while the rest of Americans are retrograde, racist, and dysfunctional unless properly constrained." There is no equality of man in the eyes of the ruling class, except as a rallying cry to augment its own power. I recently cited an article by Bruce Thornton at the Hoover Institute explaining the historical mistrust of the masses by the ruling elites, and how this translated into a concentration of power in the Federal government:
Unlike earlier antidemocrats, however, the framers of the Constitution did not believe that a Platonic elite superior by birth, wealth, or learning could be trusted with unlimited political power, since human frailty and depravity were universal, and power was of “an encroaching nature,” as George Washington said, prone to expansion and corruption. Hence the Constitution dispersed power among the three branches of government, so that each could check and balance the other. For as Alexander Hamilton said, “Give all power to the many, they will oppress the few. Give all power to the few they will oppress the many. Both therefore ought to have power, that each may defend itself against the other.” 
A century later, for all its talk of expanding democracy, the Progressive movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries promoted a form of rule by elites, dismissing the fear of concentrated power that motivated the founders. The Progressives argued that government by experts was made necessary by industrial capitalism and new transportation and communication technologies, and that the new “sciences” of psychology and sociology were providing knowledge that could guide these technocrats in creating social and economic progress. 
Future Progressive president Woodrow Wilson in 1887 argued for this expansion and centralization of federal power in order to form a cadre of administrative elites who, armed with new scientific knowledge about human behavior, could address the novel “cares and responsibilities which will require not a little wisdom, knowledge, and experience,” as he wrote in his essay “The Study of Administration.” This administrative power, Wilson went on, should be insulated from politics, just as other technical knowledge like engineering or medicine was not accountable to the approval of voters. Thus Wilson envisioned federal bureaucracies “of skilled, economical administration” comprising the “hundred who are wise” empowered to guide the “thousands” who are “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish.” 
Like the antidemocrats going back to ancient Athens, Wilson’s ideas reflected contempt for the people who lack this specialized knowledge and so cannot be trusted with the power to run their own lives. Today’s progressives, as Jonathan Gruber’s remarks show, share the same distrust of the masses and the preference for what French political philosopher Chantal Delsol calls “techno-politics,” rule by technocrats. 
Thus on coming into office in 2009, President Obama said that on issues like stem-cell research or climate change, he aimed “to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision-making” and to protect them from politics. We hear the same technocratic ideal in one of Hillary Clinton’s favorite talking points, that public policy should be guided by “evidence-based decision making” rather than by principle, fidelity to the Constitution, or virtue. The important question, however, is whether or not political decision-making requires technical knowledge more than the wisdom gleaned from experience, mores, and morals.
Unfortunately, its moral and intellectual superiority is an illusion. In October 2014, explaining why Americans don't trust the government to correctly respond to the Ebola outbreak, George Will stated:
 Frankly, it's [the government] not competent under Republicans or under Democrats. It is always a monopoly and monopolies are not disciplined by market forces that connect them with reality. 
Teasing this segment, you said, can we have faith in government? I think we have much more to fear from excessive faith in government than from too little faith in government.
You asked, can we trust the government to do its job? What isn't its job nowadays? I just made a list of it. It's fine-tuning the curriculum of our students K through 12. It's monitoring sex on campuses. It's deciding how much ethanol we should put in our gas tanks. It has designed our light bulbs and it's worried sick over the name of the Washington football team.
Now, this is a government that doesn't know when to stop. The distilled essence, and here I get partisan, my friend, the distilled -- ...  The distilled essence of progressivism is that government is a benign -- that is disinterested force, that's false. And, (b), it is stocked with experts who are really gifted at doing things. Republicans do this also. Democrats do it in domestic policy. The Republicans brought us nation-building and regime change. A common theme is the excessive faith in the skills of government.
         Third, this cosmopolitan elite is self-selecting. Membership in the ruling class is based mainly on ideological purity rather than ability. Codevilla points out in his article that wealth, professional prominence or position, and merit are not, by themselves, grounds for membership in the ruling elite. "[O]ur ruling class grew and set itself apart from the rest of us by its connection with ever bigger government, and above all by a certain attitude," writes Codevilla. "What really distinguishes these privileged people demographically is that, whether in government power directly or as officers in companies, their careers and fortunes depend on government." He continues:
[G]etting into America's "top schools" is less a matter of passing exams than of showing up with acceptable grades and an attractive social profile. American secondary schools are generous with their As. Since the 1970s, it has been virtually impossible to flunk out of American colleges. And it is an open secret that "the best" colleges require the least work and give out the highest grade point averages. No, our ruling class recruits and renews itself not through meritocracy but rather by taking into itself people whose most prominent feature is their commitment to fit in. The most successful neither write books and papers that stand up to criticism nor release their academic records. Thus does our ruling class stunt itself through negative selection. But the more it has dumbed itself down, the more it has defined itself by the presumption of intellectual superiority.
Lest you think that some branches of government, such as the military, might be different, I would direct you to an article written by William S. Lind in 2007 entitled "General Incompetence." He cites to a study by an Air Force officer showing self-selection within the military for its officers.
He found that the Air Force administers the Myer-Briggs Personality Inventory test at both the Air Force Academy and the War College levels. At the Academy, the bureaucratic personality type (ISTJ) is just one among many. But by the War College, ISTJs are completely dominant. Why? Because one of the characteristics of that type is that they will only promote others like themselves.
         A consequence of this self selection is that the ruling elites represent only a single outlook--a mono-culture, if you will--hostile to outsiders. Again, turning to Codevilla's article:
Never has there been so little diversity within America's upper crust. .... 
Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the "in" language -- serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government. 
The two classes [the ruling class and the country class] have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century's Northerners and Southerners -- nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, "prayed to the same God." By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God "who created and doth sustain us," our ruling class prays to itself as "saviors of the planet" and improvers of humanity. Our classes' clash is over "whose country" America is, over what way of life will prevail, over who is to defer to whom about what. The gravity of such divisions points us, as it did Lincoln, to Mark's Gospel: "if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand."
... Much less does membership in the ruling class depend on high academic achievement. To see something closer to an academic meritocracy consider France, where elected officials have little power, a vast bureaucracy explicitly controls details from how babies are raised to how to make cheese, and people get into and advance in that bureaucracy strictly by competitive exams. Hence for good or ill, France’s ruling class are bright people — certifiably. Not ours. But didn’t ours go to Harvard and Princeton and Stanford? Didn’t most of them get good grades? Yes. But while getting into the Ecole Nationale d’Administration or the Ecole Polytechnique or the dozens of other entry points to France’s ruling class requires outperforming others in blindly graded exams, and graduating from such places requires passing exams that many fail, getting into America’s “top schools” is less a matter of passing exams than of showing up with acceptable grades and an attractive social profile. American secondary schools are generous with their As. Since the 1970s, it has been virtually impossible to flunk out of American colleges. And it is an open secret that “the best” colleges require the least work and give out the highest grade point averages. No, our ruling class recruits and renews itself not through meritocracy but rather by taking into itself people whose most prominent feature is their commitment to fit in. The most successful neither write books and papers that stand up to criticism nor release their academic records. Thus does our ruling class stunt itself through negative selection. But the more it has dumbed itself down, the more it has defined itself by the presumption of intellectual superiority.

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