The same old New Elite 100

In an article for the Washington Post, Charles Murray writes about a “new elite”, and what the Tea Party thinks of it.

That a New Elite has emerged over the past 30 years is not really controversial. That its members differ from former elites is not controversial. What sets the tea party apart from other observers of the New Elite is its hostility, rooted in the charge that elites are isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans.

He finds “some truth” in the Tea Party view:

There so many quintessentially American things that few members of the New Elite have experienced. …

Taken individually, members of the New Elite are isolated from mainstream America as a result of lifestyle choices that are nobody’s business but their own. But add them all up, and they mean that the New Elite lives in a world that doesn’t intersect with mainstream America in many important ways. When the tea party says the New Elite doesn’t get America, there is some truth in the accusation.

We think there is a lot of truth in it. That this elite is isolated and ignorant as charged, could not be better demonstrated than by the vicious calumnies and petty sneers that its members (see the Murray article for who they are) direct at Sarah Palin (for examples go here): they are characterized by snobbery.

A point on which we wholly disagree with Murray is the very point which he says is not controversial. We do not agree that the elite he writes about is essentially new. He is speaking of an intellectual elite, a grandly educated elite. They marry among themselves so that they bequeath to their progeny not only money but also their superior genes. He gives figures to show that most of its members are planted firmly in the political left, but does not say that their leftism defines them: he names conservatives that belong among them too. The fault he finds with them all is that they are out of touch with ordinary people.

There have always been just such elites, and – with individual exceptions – they have probably always been out of touch with ordinary people. (Did Plato socialize with hoi poloi?) And they have always married among themselves.

What’s particularly dangerous about the present elite is precisely its predominant leftism. And that danger in such a class is not new. The important Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises wrote in his book Socialism, which was first published in English in 1936:

The intellectuals, not the populace, are moulding public opinion. It is a lame excuse of the intellectuals that they must yield to the masses. They themselves have generated the socialist ideas and indoctrinated the masses with them. … The intellectual leaders of the peoples have produced and propagated the fallacies which are on the point of destroying liberty and Western civilization .

The intellectuals alone are responsible for the mass slaughters which are the characteristic mark of our [20th] century.

But he also writes that –

They alone can reverse the trend and pave the way for a resurrection of freedom.

Not mythical “material productive forces”, but reason and ideas determine the course of human affairs.

And he concludes with a statement that goes to the heart of our present predicament:

What is needed to stop the trend towards socialism and despotism is common sense and moral courage.

Both of which are plentifully possessed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

There’s nothing wrong with an intellectual elite. We could not do without one. What is wrong with the one America’s got is that it is holds wrong opinions. Its members, or most of them, have not learnt the lessons of the 20th century. And that means that intellectuals though they be, they are not intelligent – a distinction which Thomas Sowell makes at the start of his book Intellectuals and Society:

The capacity to grasp and manipulate ideas is enough to define intellect, but not enough to encompass intelligence, which involves combining intellect with judgment and care in selecting relevant explanatory factors and in establishing empirical tests of any theory that emerges.

Socialism was empirically tested for decades in Soviet Russia and Maoist China, and is still being tested in impoverished Cuba and hungry North Korea, and if socialists (or “progressives”, or “redistributionists”, or “community organizers”) cannot draw a lesson from its utter failure to better the lot of mankind, they are  proving themselves not just unintelligent but dimwitted, or intentionally evil, or both.