Dr. Gary North’s insightful examination of Professor Angelo M. Codevilla’s brilliant essay, “America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution,” adds a further dimension to our understanding of its powerful impact. As I have said in a previous LRC blog, I believe this essay is the most important that I have ever read.
One of the most exciting elements of Codevilla’s article is how he stands Marxist economic class theory on its head. Marxists believe that the basis of all history is the class struggle. This conflict is based on the antagonism resulting from control of the material means of production at the economic base of society. One’s class membership or “class consciousness” is defined by this economic relationship. “Ideologies” or belief-systems are shaped by these material productive forces, not by conscious thought processes. Codevilla moves beyond the narrow “economic class” terminology most analysts and pundits misuse, in describing two antagonistic classes based on opposing sociocultural world-views which define how they perceive economic relationships. In Marxoid lingo, it is the “superstructure” defining “the economic base.”
At the root of his analysis is how each class sees political power — the use of coercion or state-applied violence to control others and obtain wealth, status, hegemony, or domination. Basically this is Libertarianism 101. But Codevilla is no Libertarian. He is, as Gary North keenly observes, “America’s smartest conservative political analyst,” a view I have also held since I briefly studied with him at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Western Summer School at Thomas Aquinas College in 1975.
Codevilla’s two classes, “the ruling class,” and “the country class,” (or the political elite versus virtually everyone else in society) are attitudinal mind-sets more cultural than economic. But this is much more than “the culture war” Pat Buchanan or Kevin Phillips discussed in the past. It is the arrogant presumption on the part of the governing elite that they are better than their inferiors, that “the elite is neat and the masses are _____.” And what are asses but dumb beasts of burden which labor for their masters. This is comparable to the aristocratic disdain of the peasantry in pre-Revolutionary France found in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities.
Angelo Codevilla traces this arrogant posture of the elite back to its origins in progressivism. Dr. North is entirely correct in his discussion of Codevilla’s analysis of progressivism and its secular roots in the Darwinian presumption of the natural selection basis of creation. But I would put the source of this elitist scientism back even further to the Enlightenment. There is a dark side of the Enlightenment and its social engineering progeny that many libertarians (particularly those enamored by Ayn Rand’s militant atheism) do not acknowledge. They continue to blindly hold to the secular mythology that the Enlightenment was entirely about bringing truth, reason, tolerance, and light to the miserable masses held in bondage and superstitious oppression by Throne and Altar. A wide range of dedicated scholars such as James Billington, Michael Burleigh, Murray Rothbard, Henri de Lubac, John Gray, Terry Melanson, and F. A. Hayek have documented the emergence of ersatz gnostic political religions as outgrowths of the Enlightenment. First a stridency emerged from clandestine Free Masonic enclaves such as the Parisian La Loge des Neuf Soeurs, the Grand Orient (and in Weishaupt’s Illuminism) which influenced the savage course of anti-clerical genocide in the French Revolution — and later in Comtian Positivism and Marxist dialectical materialism — all of which saw Christianity, particularly Roman Catholicism, as its sworn deadly enemy.
While Codevilla slammed both modern political parties in America as corrupt tools of the ruling class, he took specific aim at the Democrats in this essay. (He has, as in a recent address to the Philadelphia Society, also concentrated on the Bush regime and the GOP in language reminiscent of the “Red State Fascism” detailed by Lew Rockwell.) From Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama, Democratic Party leaders who have occupied the White House have been characterized by a haughty elitism endemic to progressivism. I believe the key volume to unlocking and understanding the establishment mind, and particularly this elitist temperament, remains Ur-progressive Walter Lippmann’s A Preface To Morals.
With this in mind, take another look at this very prescient April 15, 2008 article, “Candidate On A High Horse,” focusing upon then candidate Barack Obama by syndicated columnist George Will. It contains one of the most concise yet perceptive analyses of this phenomena, showing the destructive elitist roots of the progressive agenda, and how the so-called “party of the common man” actually holds everyday working and middle-class Americans and their basic values in contempt.
Celebrated academic elitists who had a life-long hatred of capitalism and bourgeois culture such as Institutionalist/Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith and former Communist historian Richard Hofstadter, are singled out for their influential contributions in furthering this deadly contagion by Will:
“The emblematic book of the new liberalism was The Affluent Society, by Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith. He argued that the power of advertising to manipulate the bovine public is so powerful that the law of supply and demand has been vitiated. Manufacturers can manufacture in the American herd whatever demand the manufacturers want to supply. Because the manipulable masses are easily given a ‘false consciousness’ (another category, like religion as the ‘opiate’ of the suffering masses, that liberalism appropriated from Marxism, four things follow:
“First, the consent of the governed, when their behavior is governed by their false consciousness, is unimportant. Second, the public requires the supervision of a progressive elite which, somehow emancipated from false consciousness, can engineer true consciousness. Third, because consciousness is a reflection of social conditions, true consciousness is engineered by progressive social reforms. Fourth, because people in the grip of false consciousness cannot be expected to demand or even consent to such reforms, those reforms usually must be imposed, for example, by judicial fiats.
“The iconic public intellectual of liberal condescension was Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, who died in 1970 but whose spirit still permeated that school when Obama matriculated there in 1981. Hofstadter pioneered the rhetorical tactic that Obama revived with his diagnosis of working-class Democrats as victims — the indispensable category in liberal theory. The tactic is to dismiss rather than refute those with whom you disagree.
“Obama’s dismissal is: Americans, especially working-class conservatives, are unable, because of their false consciousness, to deconstruct their social context and embrace the liberal program. Today that program is to elect Obama, thereby making his wife at long last proud of America.
“Hofstadter dismissed conservatives as victims of character flaws and psychological disorders — a ‘paranoid style’ of politics rooted in ‘status anxiety,’ etc. Conservatism rose on a tide of votes cast by people irritated by the liberalism of condescension.”
This is exactly the same diagnosis Codevilla made in his article discussing “the Authoritarian Personality” and the “country class,” an earlier Marxofreudian version of Hofstadter’s ‘paranoid style’ smear.
Angelo M. Codevilla is our generation’s Tom Paine. He has authored a “Common Sense” analysis and call to action against a hubristic ruling class that debases our currency and our culture. They are putting our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor at risk of insolvency and destruction. Will Americans, as in 1776, answer this challenge?6:01 am on August 4, 2010