LOPEZ: Who is the ultimate anti-elite?
BERAN: The founders of the Republic. They were, certainly, an elite; but they were an elite gifted with self-knowledge, and they created a constitutional system designed to frustrate the human will to power. Their system of checks and balances has preserved Americans’ liberties and at the same time allowed men like Lincoln to rise into greatness — men who lacked elite credentials and would not have gotten very far under the elitist regimes of the Old World. The question today is whether we can prevent the wreck of the founders’ labors and restrain the Leviathan of the administrative state.
As a result of the mandarin revolution over which our elites have presided, too much discretionary authority has been confided to unelected regulators and unaccountable quasi-public bodies (like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), and too much purse-string power has been vested in robo-laws that automatically trigger expenditures of public funds and steadily increase the size and scope of the government. It is sobering to reflect that overall government spending in the United States, which accounted for less than 7 percent of the gross domestic product in 1903, was estimated in 2009 to account for as much as 43 percent of GDP.LOPEZ
: Is Sarah Palin’s popularity a response to the “pathology of the elites”?BERAN
: Richard Cohen said in theWashington Post
the other day that the Left “has long thought that there ought to be some connection between intelligence or learning and the right to govern.” How nice it must be to belong to that good-thinking mutual-admiration society that so forthrightly opposes its opponents’ faith in government by the stupid! For Cohen, the connection between intelligence and the right to govern is sufficiently attested in President Obama’s case by the fact that he and his wife have been “accredited by no less than four Ivy League institutions — Harvard twice and Princeton and Columbia, once each.” Res ipsa loquitur
, as we elitists might say.
Sarah Palin infuriates the elites because she has not only questioned their system of accreditation, she has identified their moral “spinelessness” precisely with the elite training they have received, and has in particular questioned the moral value of an “elite Ivy League education.” Palin is saying essentially what Trilling said 60 years ago when he argued that the “educated class” of his day, however accomplished it might have been, was morally unintelligent. Your garden-variety elitist will put up with this sort of criticism from Lionel Trilling, but not from Sarah Palin. They despise the folksy candor that has made her a popular figure in much of the rest of the country.LOPEZ
: Is there such a thing as being too uncritically anti-elite?
: The Yahoo in Swift’s book is uncritically anti-elite: He tramples down the oats and grasses of the Houyhnhnm, who is his superior in wisdom and virtue. We must all deplore that. The problem is this: It is not easy to say, at any given moment in time, who the truly elite are, of whom the real aristoi
— the wisest, the best, and the most virtuous among us — is composed. Cohen supposes that one can tell who the truly elite are by their academical credentials. Schopenhauer would, I think, have begged to differ. Swift’s formula, though admittedly imperfect, remains better than most. When the truly elect soul appears in the world, “you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are in confederacy against him.”LOPEZ
: Can the Tea Party stop the elites?BERAN
: Only if the Tea Partiers find a way to break through the elites’ Praetorian Guard, the public-sector unions.LOPEZ
: Are some elites more amusing than others?BERAN
: It was fun to see Bono arrive in Australia for a concert with a fleet of 747s.— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online.