Friday, January 31, 2014

How Did We Get Here from There?

Here's a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger story about the republic of France.  Did you know that foreign investment in France has gone down by 77 percent in 2013?  Writes Tom Rogan:
That figure isn’t just bad, it’s unambiguously catastrophic. But the costs of President François Hollande’s failure aren’t simply economic. They’re also societal. Galvanized by popular disenchantment with the establishment, the French far Right hopes to win major victories in forthcoming local elections.

In short, the Fifth Republic isn’t looking so great.
Oh no, not Fascism!

But the question is: how can France be so stupid?  How can it build such a gigantic state and do nothing about it?  What is preventing it from declaring victory over Big Government and getting on with life?  Well, the answer is simple: chaps like Hollande from the grandes écoles.

The problem can't really be the people.  As Joseph Schumpeter wrote in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy back in the 1940s, Democracy is not the rule of the people, for the people clearly cannot rule.  Democray is the rule of the politicians.

So why don't the politicians Do Something about the mega-state?

Perhaps democracy isn't the rule of the politicians.  Maybe it's the rule of someone else.

What about Andre Codevilla's Ruling Class?
Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the "in" language -- serves as a badge of identity...  America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.
Good enough.  But that suggests the "New Class" of Milovan Djilas, once an associate of Yugoslavia's Tito and Vice-president of Yugoslavia.  Djilas's New Class was "the privileged ruling class of bureaucrats and Communist Party functionaries" the "nomenclatura" that possessed not just power over the economy but over a nation's politics as well.

People like me are dissatisfied with this analysis because it does not address the idea that, in the aftermath of the death of God, the New Class or Ruling Class also operates as a kind of established secular church.  In our present society moral leadership and moral creativity comes not from divines but from people in the academy.

The trouble with the academy is that we are not talking about the detached moral leadership of medieval philosophers and scribes.  As Julian Benda claimed in The Treason of the Intellectuals in 1927, today's thinkers are not universalists; they have betrayed their calling.  Roger Kimball:
The “treason” or betrayal [Benda] sought to publish concerned the way that intellectuals had lately allowed political commitment to insinuate itself into their understanding of the intellectual vocation as such. Increasingly, Benda claimed, politics was “mingled with their work as artists, as men of learning, as philosophers.” The ideal of disinterestedness, the universality of truth: such guiding principles were contemptuously deployed as masks when they were not jettisoned altogether.
In other words, today's intellectuals are not just ivory-tower thinkers.  They come down from the mountain and use their ideas for political purposes in the street.  They now count political commitment as a virtue, not a conflict of interest.

The late Andrew Breitbart memorably said the "politics really is downstream from culture."  It's no use trying to change politics if you don't change the culture first.  But what if culture is downstream from religion, whether a transcendental religion such as Christianity or a secular religion such as socialism or progressivism?

So the best way to think about any human community is to think first about the people that are setting the agenda for moral discussion.  And in our society, those people are the professors.  They form, in essence, a established secular church.  They formulate correct opinion; they decide what is beyond the pale.  The media takes its cue from the academy: that is what all those experts are doing on your TV.  And the politicians take their cue from the media.  In other words, the "Cathedral."
The Cathedral has two parts: the accredited universities and the established press. The universities formulate public policy. The press guides public opinion. In other words, the universities make decisions, for which the press manufactures consent. It's as simple as a punch in the mouth.

The Cathedral operates as the brain of a broader power structure, the Polygon or Apparat - the permanent civil service. The Apparat is the civil service proper (all nonmilitary officials whose positions are immune to partisan politics, also known as "democracy"), plus all those formally outside government whose goal is to influence or implement public policy - ie, NGOs. (There's a reason NGOs have to remind themselves that they're "non-governmental.")
And further,
Today's Cathedral is not a personality cult. It is not a political party. It is something far more elegant and evolved. It is not even an organization in the conventional, hierarchical sense of the word - it has no Leader, no Central Committee, no nothing. It is a true peer-to-peer network, which makes it extraordinarily resilient. To even understand why it is so unanimous, why Harvard always agrees with Yale which is always on the same page as Berkeley which never picks any sort of a fight with the New York Times, except of course to argue that it is not progressive enough, takes quite a bit of thinking.
The point about the Cathedral is that it not only has political power, through the fact that it pwns the minds of the politicians.  Not only does it have cultural power in that it defines what it is to be enlightened and fashionable.  Its primary power is that it has moral power.  It decides what is acceptable to think and say, i.e., politically correct or what used to be called orthodoxy, and it decides what is "hate speech," i.e., politically incorrect or what used to be called heresy.

Mencius Moldbug has lots of ideas.  Some of them are good, and some not so good.  But his idea of the "Cathedral" magnificently encodes the nature of the modern ruling class and our current moral, cultural and political predicament.

Anyone that wants to get somewhere from here has to start with the fact of the "Cathedral."  Because the Cathedral is what has got us to our present moment.

And don't forget, if you want to change things:  As far as the Cathedral is concerned, the world is working pretty well right now.

1 comment:

  1. Some time ago, I set out to identify the 200 most influential persons in America, and to describe a nearly as possible their cultural/political/organizational affiliations. Several books came out that seemed to head in the same direction, and in a lot more detail.than I could muster, so I shelved the idea. Now the idea of the American Cathedral pops up here, but with no identification of the palyers. Thus we cannot target them and discount or discredit them where possible. It is shadow-boxing, because there are no real targets.