The Crisis of the Modern Elites

For as long as anyone reading this has been alive, the people in charge have described the great divide as a conflict between those who are future oriented versus those who past oriented. Progressives don’t call themselves “progressive” because they long for a bygone era. They correctly see their thing as being focused on the Promised Land, somewhere over the rainbow. Their opponents are naturally cast as romantics, stuck in a past age, yesterday men who will be thrown into the dustbin of history.

In fairness to Progressives, their thing is mostly a set of highly refined feelings about the ever extending wave of probabilities rippling outward from now. It’s a blend of free will and predetermination and the interplay between the two. Progressives romanticize the future to the point where the only thing that matters is their place in it, which is determined by their role in bringing it about. The moral person is one who works to bring about the eschaton.

For American Progressives, the intellectual tradition from which this springs is different from what birthed it in Europe. In America the roots are in Yankee Calvinism while in Europe the roots are in the French Revolution. As is plainly obvious to those familiar with the development of European fascism, both traditions borrowed heavily from one another. That’s why it is easy to think of Barak Obama and Francois Hollande, for example, as fellow travelers. Critics on the right routinely call Progressives “socialists” even when said Progressive is an undiluted capitalist.

To some degree, this is also why Progressives are so fond of describing their opponents, real and imagined, as the heirs of Hitler and the Nazis. While it is mostly a way for the Cult to tar their enemies, the great divide between the heirs of Rousseau is over orientation. Fascists were “restoration socialists” who imagined they were ushering in a restoration of a utopia rooted in the past. Communists were breaking with the past in all regards, building a new society and new men.

That last bit is a good jumping off point as this is not a post about intellectual history. This “great divide” in orientation really does not exist, outside the imaginings of the Cult of Modern Liberalism, but they have been in charge for so long that their view of the world is the dominant one. Even “conservatives” accept this framing. Twenty-five years ago, when the political Left was reinventing itself, they held “Renaissance” weekends to plot strategy. The political Right held “Dark Ages” weekends.

The fact is, all mass movements are future oriented. Until someone invents a time machine, the only thing we can do anything about is the future. The fascists may have rhapsodized about the past, but they were all about building the glorious future. Similarly, the Bolsheviks may have talked a lot about breaking with the past, but they invested heavily in rewriting it. If they truly thought they were cruising to a glorious future, they would not have spent so much time airbrushing old photos.

The real difference, the real divide, is between those who see a world that is fully integrated, like an organism, versus those who imagine an atomized world where the parts bump against one another. The one side thinks the goal of human social evolution is something close to an ant farm, while the other side does not think social evolution has a goal. Individuals have goals, desires and dreams. Social evolution is just the unpredictable result of all those bits smashing into one another over time.

You see this in Europe and in the US. The European Left is pro-EU integration, pushing for the abolition of national sovereignty in favor of the committees of technocrats in Brussels. The EU will not just coordinate big macro issues like trade. They will make sure your food has the right amount of salt and your neighbor does not say mean things about you. The EU is The Borg.

In the US, the Federal state is The Borg, gobbling up the rights and responsibilities of state and local government. At the dawn of the First World War, it was possible for an American to have no interaction with the national government, outside of the Post Office. His government was the town, village, or city. Even his state government was alien to him. Today, it is impossible to live as an American without rubbing against the rasp of national government.

What we think of as liberalism is just a defense of these arrangements. The doctrines of the Left are contrary to observable reality and are mostly just expressions of sentimentality and resentment.  The obsession with fringe minority groups, the weirder the better, is just a distraction, an argument to kill time. No serious scientist, for example, thinks transsexualism is anything other than a mental illness. Yet, the elites insist we use feminine pronouns when writing about Bob, who now wears a sundress to work.

That incoherence is the reason both American political parties find themselves in turmoil. The voters of both parties, for various reasons, are questioning the rationality of the managerial state. The answer coming back from the elites is a combination of emotive nonsense and threats. The question Trump presents the Republicans, for example, is why is he less qualified for the job than any of the preferred candidates? The answer coming back is “shut up and do as you’re told.”

Every ruling elite needs a raison d’être. In the early medieval period, being the best warrior was enough. Later, having the magic blood was enough. Those reasons to be in charge may seem silly now, but they made sense at the time. They gave the people a reason, other than fear, to respect the arrangements. The modern managerial elite cannot articulate a reason to exist. That’s why they are in crisis.

8 thoughts on “The Crisis of the Modern Elites

  1. Pingback: Tuesday morning links - Maggie's Farm

  2. I’d like to know just how many Americans (particularly young ones) believe it’s logically true that a man who thinks he’s a woman is a woman. I’d love to believe most (even young) Americans know it’s bs and that this helps fuel the backlash to ‘progressive’ politics but I’m not at all sure this is the case. Extremist movements might tend to be irrational and political-correctness is increasingly an anti-rational movement (can’t let the truth get in the way). Once you can get people to believe the impossible, getting them to believe the implausible is nothing.
    I’d like to know what percentage believe a ‘person’ isn’t a woman simply by thinking so and what percentage know it isn’t true but believe it’s right and proper to pretend it is true in order to coddle them. In Europe, the dogmas of political correctness are being shattered by violent Muslim immigrants so Europe will move to the right. In America, there aren’t as yet as many Muslim immigrants and America might continue it’s steady march into the depths of political-correctness.
    Daniel Pipes noted after the Paris attacks that following Islamic terrorist attacks, the public moves to the right and governments shift further to the left. This seems to hold true even now. If Trump gets elected this might just change.

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  4. I don’t buy Mencius Moldbug’s Calvinist “Cathedral” theory that presumably you are alluding to, ZMan. Elements of it make some sense, but it completely ignores the Jewish influence on the Progressive movement, which has been growing steadily since the early 20th century, and is arguably now driving it completely.

    • Frankly, I think Moldbug is mostly a windbag. I’ve read little of his work because I don’t have time to read 10,000 word blog posts. So, any similarities you see are at best coincidental.

      As far as the Jews, my read is they just gave up their old religion for the new one. They brought brainpower and a Talmudical zeal to go with the Progressive Jesuitical zeal.

  5. Nice post – you really get to the heart of it.

    I’m starting to think it’s gone further than this — the managerial elite has an answer, and they’re not shy about articulating it. It’s “because we’re Better Than You.” Wasn’t it Bill Clinton who said that the problem with letting people invest their own retirement money is that they tend to invest stupidly? Bill Clinton, who never held a real job in his life?

    The old elite held this attitude, of course, but couldn’t say so. Consider William F. Buckley Jr. No doubt he thought he was far above us, but he’d done his time in the army, so he couldn’t lord it over the hoi polloi too much — Fred from the motor pool might have stories, and besides, he’d at least seen his fellow Americans at close quarters.

    The next generation of elites had never laid eyes on a real American, but as their fathers had, they at least possessed some residual humility. That’s why they placed such emphasis on college degrees — I’m objectively better than you, since I have a BA in “political science.” Not only does it say “science” right there in the title, but it’s from college, in an era where a high school degree is still something of an achievement.

    The third generation has not only internalized this attitude, but has no qualms about saying so. They’re just better, full stop. Which makes it awfully hard to periodically submit to the judgment of the hoi polli, even if it’s 99% fake and only happens every four years. (As you’re a student of Roman history, I’m sure you appreciate that this is the same problem they had in the latter days of the Principate — why go through the dog-and-pony show; why not just rule like Oriental despots, since that’s clearly what we are?)

    If I were some scheming Machiavellian adviser to the global elite (and guys, I work almost as cheap as a “new American;” call me!), I’d say they’ve forgotten to properly teach the great unwashed how to want. The old “American Dream” of material prosperity worked great for a while, but now even ghetto dwellers have plasma tvs and diabetes. Something else needs to stand in for “national greatness,” i.e. something that only the managerial elite can lead us to. For most English kings, it was a war with France. For the British in India, it was a big fancy durbar. The czars stuck it to the Turks, and the French brought civilization to Africa. “Free” prescription drugs and random cruise-missile strikes just don’t turn the proletariat’s crank on a deep emotional level. I’d suggest something like a space program — they’ve floated that trial balloon already; they should follow up. It’ll make America great again, and you can staff all kinds of meaningless side project with Islamic transsexual illegal immigrants of color.

  6. It is hard to know what is meant here by “Romantics” as it is a much abused and overused term, but I would suggest that in the historical political and philosophical sense, and perhaps a literary sense as well, that the so called “Progressives” are actually the “Romantics” and not their opponents. The late Florence King make this point succinctly about the Boomers in general (see &, but I suggest that her critique could be aptly applied to the Progressives as well.

    In fact it is they who are reactionary, if “reactionary” means responding to the present with a solution from an idealized past. Moreover, the progressive, when not motivated by personal or collective gain, or the the rationalization there of, is mostly motivated by casting blame for their conditions on any people places or eras they think they can get away with, and their attacks are generally based on falsehood, propaganda and bad faith. It amounts to a mixture of willful ignorance, arrogance, narcissism and irresponsibility. It has very little to do with any “future” real or imagined, as the disingenuous nature of their assaults richly show.

  7. They have a reason. It is that they will manage things better than we can, and we cannot be trusted to be free.

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