The Corner

Re: Brooks and Elites

I think Jonah gets it right on that Brooks column. I would be an elitist if we had an elite that was able to govern. We don’t. Not even close. And what our cultural and political elites tend to lack most of all is prudence. Edmund Burke, the original conservative elitist, argued (in his Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs) that the lives led by the elites of his day taught them good judgment and prudence, and that was why they should rule. But the process by which people qualify for and retain elite standing in our own society tends to rob people of prudence; not in every case but in the great majority. Certainly being a senator for a long time is not good training in prudence—a fact that reflects on John McCain as well as on Joe Biden. That doesn’t make me a populist—I don’t think that lacking elite educational or cultural credentials or Washington experience is a positive qualification for governing. But I also don’t think having such credentials (given what they are and what they stand for in our time and place) is in itself much of a positive qualification for governing. I think we have to examine a person in finer detail, to get a sense of individual judgment and instinct. Sarah Palin comes off pretty well in such an examination—she has been a successful governor, for instance, and has run a city and a business too, and seems to have the right instincts on some key issues and the right attitude. All of that is important. It doesn’t make her the perfect vice presidential candidate (though it’s hard to see who among McCain’s plausible options would have been better and why) but I do think it makes her a good one, and a better choice for VP than Joe Biden.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.


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