The Rich and Poor Will Be Always with Us. Those Between Are the Question.
By way of manufacturing disagreement over my post on the smoothing of life’s barbs and its disparate effects, David comments as follows:
Why is it now that you come to these conclusions? There has always been an aristocracy in our political world. Can you explain Carcieri? It seems only when the political tide runs against you that you notice the power world of money and influence.
Prior to substantive response, I’d opine that this is not an accurate inference from my actual writing, but a convenient imposition in order to find some way of objecting to what I’ve recently said. Without digging through years of archives, I can testify that I’ve always had populist inclinations and have objected to the formation of elite circles and dynastic progressions.
The point is not that America has heretofore been an egalitarian paradise devoid of an aristocracy with all of the attending advantages. Differing origins will always ensure differing opportunities, and efforts meticulously to erase that reality will prove disastrous. Rather, the point is much as Ross Douthat enunciates here:
Sarah Palin is beloved by millions because her rise suggested, however temporarily, that the old American aphorism about how anyone can grow up to be president might actually be true.
But her unhappy sojourn on the national stage has had a different moral: Don’t even think about it.
Which Glenn Reynolds sharpens as follows:
What Joel Kotkin calls “the Gentry Faction” has taken over the Democrats completely. Wherever they dominate, you see a lot of talk about equality — and a lot of effort at maintaining inequality and keeping the proles in their place. There are plenty of Gentry in the Republican party, too. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a populist backlash arise, on either the left, or the right, or both, or somewhere in between.
The talk, in an effort to distract from the fissure to which Reynolds points, is likely a significant motivation behind the push to remove the word “plantations” from Rhode Island’s official name (as discussed in these parts here, here, and here, yesterday). But the dynamic causing the fissure has been building for decades and may prove to be the pivotal bulwark in the culture wars.
The opportunity paradigm made tangible in the founding of the United States expanded freedom and opened up new frontiers for the economy (after the fashion that I described earlier this morning) in at least two key ways:
- It enabled people to truly own their property — keeping what they’d earned through labor, innovation, and risk.
- It gave them freedom to operate and interact as they saw fit to pursue those ends.
Consider the economic and social disputes of the last half-century in light of those two principles, and you’ll see that they’ve long been under an escalating attack. Taxation, freedoms of speech and association, economic regulation, government annexation of investment funding and scientific research, affirmative action, hate crimes legislation. The list is endless, and it is the crux of the push for and opposing reaction to creeping socialism.
The theme that has lately been emerging is that, beyond the diminution of principles that serve to level opportunity (often in the name of leveling outcomes), various barriers to entry are growing. The post to which David appended his comment touched on technology and the difficulties of life. A second barrier — a celebrity culture that requires public figures to emit star power in a stone-set image approved and promoted by media insiders — has been difficult to ignore in the era of the Obamanation; Sarah Palin’s been something of an antipode in that sphere, with her populist image disapproved by the media elite.
We will never erase distinctions of class, and it is folly to pretend that the categories don’t enable some useful average assumptions. The United States of America will seize up and atrophy, however, if we do not resist the manifold and often deceptive temptations that disrupt the organic churning of castes that our freedoms have permitted.