Elites have a problem. Whoever they are, they’re the root cause of civic alienation and master minds of the wrong directions in which we are going. Elites are arrogant, smug, and think others are stupid. They’re over educated, believing they know better than everybody else. Most elites live in big coastal cities, but they also have hideouts in colleges and universities all over the country. Every town has a few elites, and they’re the ones who run things their own way no matter what the people want. If you’re an elite, you’re the enemy of the common man, or possibly woman. It used to be just the common man, but times change and the common woman has taken her place as the chief defender of the common man.
Are you an elite?
You are if you’re opposed to far right wing libertarians, at least in the parlance of various propaganda machines that seem determined to bring down liberal American democracy, which, oddly enough, they claim is in defense of liberty. Liberal, in this case meaning those favoring the broadest possible involvement of the people in the work of government dedicated to freedoms guaranteed by law, acting for the common good, and assuring justice in all aspects of public life.
Where does this aversion to “liberal elites” come from? How did it get to be so venomous?
As I continue to plow my way through Arendt’s TheOrigins of Totalitarianism (in between old English murder mysteries), I’ve been struck by her insight into the ease with which the authors of mid-twentieth century fascism were able to seduce whole societies of supposedly liberal and sophisticated peoples. One way was to prey on individual self interests by elevating them to ultimate value, asserting that ,“…the mere sum of individual interests adds up to he miracle of the common good.” Arendt went on to write that, “[It] appeared to be the only rationalization of the recklessness with which private interests were pressed regardless of the common good.” (ebooks are inconsistent in pagination, but it’s at the 42% mark)
We don’t live in a world of mid-twentieth century fascists, but we do live in a country and time where an extreme version of libertarian politics has become married to far right wing ideologies to create a movement in which the common good is said to be the sum of each person’s private interests – with a twist. The twist is that each person’s private interest is advertised as unique, in competition with all other private interests. Governments are suspect because they exist to limit the freedom to pursue private interests. Therefor, protection of private interests is really up to each individual. The NRA, and their kin, boldly assert that the land is overflowing with armed others who intend to satisfy their private interests by attacking anyone who has what they want. So the smart thing is to be well armed to defend one’s self against attacks certain to come. Other persons are always a potential enemies, especially if they look sufficiently different. Build walls, erect barriers, suspect foreigners, and don’t be too confident about neighbors. Build on that, and the common good fades into an irrelevant background.
Hobbes may have been right about what happens when societies of mutual accountability for the common good collapse. Anyone who advocates shared interests, shared responsibilities, and shared burdens of shared costs, is considered a threat to private interests. They are the liberal elite, and must be shut down. Lacking other means, holding them up to ridicule serves well for the time being. Eliminating them would be better.
In the meantime, is the current movement a spontaneous uprising of concerned citizens, or has it been manufactured in some way? There’s no conspiracy theory to trot out. The instigators are up front, out in public, proud of their work. Who are they? Obviously Trump comes to mind, but his adult track record doesn’t reveal capacity for strategic thinking, not even a tactical thinking. He’s more of an opportunist riding a wave he did not create, and only vaguely understands. Someone like Bannon understands well enough, but can never be anything but a third tier apparatchik; he has few resources and no ability to form enduring alliances. Moreover, he’s held in contempt by those who do. So who?
The group that revolves around the Koch brothers is the most likely candidate, but why would they? What’s in it for them? I doubt they can be cast in the mold of old time fascists, though they bear some of the same characteristics. More likely they are motivated by a visceral dislike of government interfering with the way they want to run their businesses, and may truly believe that doing away with it would make for a more free and prosperous nation. It would certainly mean more money with less hassle for them. If so, they’ve planned and executed well, so far, but probably not for long. However well planned, they’re also naive. Their ways screams with contempt for commoners, and hatred for unions. Sooner, rather than later, a critical mass among their base will wake up to having been duped, and made to play the fool, and that’s the one thing their base will not tolerate. They’re vastly overconfident of their ability to control movements they’ve set in motion. They severely underestimate the political and economic sophistication of the majority of voters, and of other leadership groups. And they’re saddled with a buffoon in the White House whose unpredictability predictably predicts chaos.
Could be the elite really do have a problem, just a different gang of elitists.