The poverties of the elites

Walter Russell Mead has quite a lot to say about the poverties of the American elites. He doesn’t seem to think that things are going to turn out well. We’ll just look at a few snippets:

the American elite is a walking disaster and is in every way less capable than its predecessors. It is less in touch with American history and culture, less personally honest, less productive, less forward looking, less effective at and less committed to child rearing, less freedom loving, less sacrificially patriotic and less entrepreneurial than predecessor generations. Its sense of entitlement and snobbery is greater than at any time since the American Revolution; its addiction to privilege is greater than during the Gilded Age…

I’ve posted in the past about the power of the learned guilds in our society: lawyers, doctors, university professors, journalists (marginally) and other professionals. These are the institutions in which much of the American elite makes its living. That’s a problem, because the most important problems America faces today involve the need to break up these guilds and drastically reshape the professions…

The increasingly meritocratic elite of today has no…qualms. The average Harvard Business School and Yale Law School graduate today feels that privilege has been earned. Didn’t he or she score higher on the LSATs than anyone else? Didn’t he or she previously pass the rigorous scrutiny of the undergraduate admissions process in a free and fair process to get into a top college? Haven’t they been certified as the best of the best by impartial experts?…

The French aristocrats laughed at the manners and the morals of the common people and ridiculed the faith that lit the darkness and softened the harsh conditions of ordinary lives. Enlightened and cosmopolitan, the establishment mocked the attachment of the ignorant peasants to the king. The well educated, well connected elites accepted no limits on their ability to convert their social privilege into personal wealth; they accepted no limits on the gratification of their physical desires — flaunting their romantic affairs in the same spirit in which they feasted at Versailles while the gaunt peasants starved. They used and abused to the fullest all the privileges that came with their status while mocking and rejecting any sense of duty and obligation. It was fun while it lasted.

From their earliest days, American children are in large measure trapped inside an educational structure whose values are often both cloistered and perverse. By the time they are in college and graduate school, they are taught mostly by people who have never left the cocoon of academia and its strange values. So it’s no wonder that they believe all sorts of dogma that they could have questioned with ten seconds of skeptical thinking. Worse yet, they often belittle the skeptics, ample evidence itself of the poverty of their education.

And we now observe many of these people who graduated with honors, joined their guilds, and never left the cocoons of their familiar beliefs, blithely telling us that dark certainties are nothing to worry about.

Is the situation recoverable? Not without a great deal of pain and disruption in our view. (Let’s hope that Mead was jesting about the French Revolution.) Education reform is one part of a solution. But consider this: many of America’s greatest men of accomplishment had poor and incomplete schooling. So the issue goes far beyond education. How to encourage, not only hard work, but a pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit instead of a dull conformity? That’s a tough one today.

One Response to “The poverties of the elites”

  1. MarkD Says:

    It will fix itself, but there will be casualties along the way. Today’s local paper has a story about some poor publicly policy grad with a masters degree who is waitressing. You can’t escape the fact that not all college degrees are worth the cost. With student loans not dischargeable by bankrupcy, that is going to be an inscapable truth for many.

    Once you know they’ve lied to you, you start to question what else they have told you that just might not be true.

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