Taking on the Ruling Class

Glenn Reynolds and his readers are commenting on Angelo Codevilla’s piece about the “Ruling Class“. Who are they?

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.

They are the leaders of both parties and government–especially the federal–bureaucracy; and though it’s not a “party thing”, the ruling class finds a more comfortable home amongst Democrats with a few wannabe Republicans tagging along. That’s been particularly the case in Rhode Island. Their motive is power. They seek to wield power for its own sake, or because–following the Progressive tenets that supported the emergence of this new ruling class–they know better than the average person how to run things and what is best. They play rhetorical games to get this power and make deals–with unions, big business–to keep it. Yet, they are still the minority. Indeed, as Codevilla states, there are more people in America not in the “ruling class” who he calls the “country class”–those not oriented towards government for a solution to all problems (there are even some within government in this “class”).

In general, the country class includes all those in stations high and low who are aghast at how relatively little honest work yields, by comparison with what just a little connection with the right bureaucracy can get you.

How old-fashioned: believing that it is what you know (and do) over who you know. Codevilla continues:

It includes those who take the side of outsiders against insiders, of small institutions against large ones, of local government against the state or federal. The country class is convinced that big business, big government, and big finance are linked as never before and that ordinary people are more unequal than ever.

That is why ordinary folks are organizing on the local level to try to take back some power. But it will be tough slogging: this new generation of reformers will be faced with a more legalistic and bureaucratized government than previous generations.


For instance, schools:

The grandparents of today’s Americans (132 million in 1940) had opportunities to serve on 117,000 school boards. To exercise responsibilities comparable to their grandparents’, today’s 310 million Americans would have radically to decentralize the mere 15,000 districts into which public school children are now concentrated. They would have to take responsibility for curriculum and administration away from credentialed experts, and they would have to explain why they know better. This would involve a level of political articulation of the body politic far beyond voting in elections every two years…to subject the modern administrative state’s agencies to electoral control would require ordinary citizens to take an interest in any number of technical matters. Law can require environmental regulators or insurance commissioners, or judges or auditors to be elected. But only citizens’ discernment and vigilance could make these officials good.

For his part, Reynolds offers a few tactics to take against the ruling class:

First: Mockery. They are very mockable, and they are very thin-skinned. That leads them to erupt in embarrassing ways. Use their sense of entitlement against them.
Second (and related): Transparency. One-party government makes you stupid, and although composed of both Democrats and Republicans the political class is basically its own party, and these people are pretty stupid. Point it out, repeatedly. Use FOIA, ubiquitous videocameras, and other tools to make the stupidity show.
Third: Money. 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.” The coming budget crisis — already here, really, but still largely denied by the rulers — is an opportunity to defund a lot of this patronage stuff. They’ll try, of course, to cut the muscle and preserve the fat, but that won’t work very well if they’re closely watched (see above). Cut them off in other ways, too. Don’t support the media, nonprofits, and politicians who support them with your money.
Also, make sure that money flows TO things you like: Businesses, alt-media, politicians who aren’t part of the problem, etc. Build up countervailing institutions that don’t depend on the government to survive.
Fourth: Organize and infiltrate. Take over party apparats from the ground up. Create your own organizations that can focus sustained attention — the “ruling class” relies on others having short attention spans while it stays focused on amassing and protecting power.
Finally: Don’t act like a subject. Rulers like subjects. Don’t be one. As a famous man once said: Get in their face. Punch back twice as hard. Words for the coming decade?

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Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

I don’t know what is new here. All groups, lower class, middle class, upper class have always sought to adopt the “group markers” which identify them. Consider the modified “Valley girl” accent still adopted by some teenage girls, or the recent rage for neck scrafs with silver threads to identify women from Cambridge, MA.

David P
David P
11 years ago

Those of us who believe in limited-government, individual liberty vision of America (whether we call ourselves, conservatives, libertarians, federalists, constitutionalists or whatever) need to realize that we have no natural allies in Washington. Many Republicans will claim to be our allies. They will learn to talk like we do. But they got where they are because they are ambitious and ambitious people do not willingly part with power. In my formative years I was a fan of Ronald Reagan and his plans to cut the size of the federal government. It never quite worked out that way but I knew that there was only so much he could do when the House of Representatives was controlled by Tip O’Neill. I was able to make similar excuses for George H.W. Bush. When the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress in 1994 I thought “now we’re going to see some action.” However, it didn’t take long at all before the Republican revolutionaries had all gone native. It was like the end of Animal Farm when the pigs end up wearing clothes and sleeping in beds. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” In 1996, when Bob Dole was running for president, he made a point of carrying a copy of the Tenth Amendment and reading it as part of his stump speech. This struck me as simultaneously cynical, bizarre, surreal and laughable. Nothing in Dole’s career had ever suggested he had more than a passing acquaintance with the Tenth Amendment, or any other part of the Constitution. However, he was convinced that reciting the right mantra could get the rubes on his side. In 2000 the Republicans won it all, House, Senate and White House, and the country was rewarded with an expensive new entitlement (Medicare D), an… Read more »

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

I was enthusiastic for Bob Dole.I’d have preferred Colin Powell because he could have won,but Dole was a MAN.Not a bet hedger like Lieberman and Biden who ran for Senate and VP simultaneously(we don’t use that word enough)-Dole stepped aside from a safe Senate seat because he felt he couldn’t run AND serve his constituents.Obama?Kerry?
Bob Dole suffered a grievous wound in WW2,he never let people notice it.He could only use one arm.It didn’t slow down this man who lived in a basement in Kansas.End of creation from the rarified world of the Sheldon Whitehouses.
Dole was from the great tradition of George Aiken,Ralph Flanders,Hubert Humphrey,Adlai Stevenson,Claiborne Pell, Henry”Scoop”Jackson,BOB Kerrey,and many others.

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