Notes: The Monday Taki post is up. This week it a visit to an old topic that deserves a better airing. Sunday Thoughts is on holiday, but there are new posts behind the green door about various things. SubscribeStar and Substack.
Spengler famously described a civilization as having a birth, life and then a decline into death, much like the life of man. One of the features of decline is the elite stops being elite in term of talent and ability. They may sit atop society and hold power over the people, but they are no longer a genuine elite. They simply hold positions in a system created by those who came before them. They are the inheritors of status that they did not earn and they lack the ability to earn.
This reality is becoming increasingly obvious as we see highly credentialed morons stagger from one blunder to the next. Europe is about to go into a modern version of the turnip winter because European leaders picked a fight with Russia, the primary energy supplier to the continent. The people leading Europe do not decorate themselves like African potentates, but they are every bit as ridiculous. They are like children wearing their parents clothes, pretending to be adults.
The decline of the elites has become so obvious that even some former neocons are starting to notice the problem. Victor David Hanson has a piece in American Greatness bemoaning the decline of the elites. He clings to his old civic nationalists beliefs, so that has left him in a no man’s land of sorts. He cannot take the trip over the great divide, but he cannot sign onto the latest thing. He is left to argue that better people at the top would somehow fix the system.
What civic nationalist critics fail to see is the elite incompetnace is a product of the system, rather than a plague upon it. The crisis in the West is not caused by failed leadership but rather the elites are a product of the same forces behind the general crisis in the West. A bourgeoise culture evolved in the 20th century that naturally leads to a flattening of talent. The elites seem mediocre because bourgeoise society, taken to its logical end, is the celebration of mediocrity.
One part of it is democracy. The core assumption of democracy is that all opinions are equally valid, if not equally correct. The former is a moral claim while the latter is an empirical claim. The problem is you cannot suppress a moral claim with a factual one, so bad opinions can flourish like weeds alongside good ones. Before long it is impossible to tell the good from the bad. In fact, any effort to pull the weeds from the garden is met with howls of protest.
Of course, democracy in the modern sense is only possible in a society with a large middle-class, like post-war America. Prior to the war, egalitarian notions had little purchase in American society. Men were equal before God and equal before the law, but few people confused that with equality of talent. Nonwhites were systematically excluded from everything important because whites naturally assumed they lacked the ability to perform the duties of citizens.
The great explosion of middle-class life after the war changed that view. In a world where most white people could expect a nice house in a nice neighborhood and their kids would have a better life, natural equality started making sense. As the bulk of white Americans entered the material sameness of middleclass life, they began to adopt the spiritual sameness of bourgeoise life. When the observed differences were the result of effort, it is not a big leap to egalitarian civic nationalism.
Late 20th century America became a bourgeois-ocracy. Middle-class values dominated not just the popular culture, but elite culture. The world of deeds gave way to the world of clever words. When the plumber’s house is not that much different from the lawyer’s house, there has to be something other than material prosperity to distinguish the lawyer from the plumber. The result was a growing collection of soft things, moral signifiers to distinguish people within the bourgeoise space.
As an aside, the drive to impoverish the middle-class is not the result of a ravenous elite seeking to enrich itself. It is the result of an insecure elite trying to create distance between itself and the vast middle-class. Think of the college student that comes home with a nose ring and blue hair. The point is to put space between herself and her family with the exaggerated gesture. Our sophomoric elites are doing the same things, except you will eat bugs and walk to work.
Putting that aside, this need to distinguish oneself within a system that champions sameness is part of what drives the current thing. People within the elite of a bourgeois-ocracy struggle to distinguish each other within the elite. The reason they rush from one weird fad to the next is the fear of melting into the bland, gray nothingness that is bourgeoise culture. They are not weird for material gain or even spite, but out of fear of being smothered by the great nothingness.
This excellent essay in First Things about the intelligent is pre-revolutionary Russia gets at an aspect of this phenomenon. In a world where deeds count for very little, the only thing left is posturing. In pre-revolutionary Russia, liberals were happy to sign on with the radical terrorist, even though they were often the victims. The reason is the pose was a way to signal their existence. They sided with radicals because that let them stand apart from the crowd.
The modern intelligent, with her pronouns in her profile, is simply hoping to create barriers in the gray nothingness. On the one hand, it signals moral status within the gray nothingness of bourgeois life. On the other hand, it creates the sense that there is a moral barrier to entry. The gross people at Target do not use the proper pronouns, while the cool people using Instacart never deadname anyone. The meaningless gestures are supposed to give meaning in an otherwise meaningless culture.
The crisis in the West is not due to faulty elites. The elites are the product of a long decline into a bourgeois-ocracy. The replacement of the vertical relations with horizonal ones was always unnatural and unnatural things cannot last. The mediocre elites are just the natural result of mediocre people spawned by the socio-political culture that values mediocrity over greatness. Nature selects against the mediocre and therefore the bourgeois-ocracy is trundling to its natural end.
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