Friday, March 31, 2006

Link Preface:

"American foreign policy in an age of proximity" by Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye

"Foreign Policy And The American Elite: Part I" by Zenpundit

"Foreign Policy And The American Elite: Part II" by Zenpundit

Parts I. and II. of this essay discussed the disconnect that exiss between the bipartisan elite and the American people and the history of the old ruling Eastern Establishment. Part III. is about their successors, a bipartisan, bicoastal and increasingly transnationalist elite.

As in any evolutionary political situation, the new elite is partly an amalgamation with the old, thus we see scions of Eastern Establishment families like George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al Gore, Jay Rockefeller and so on firmly ensconced in the new American elite. It is tempting to assume that little therefore has changed but what these individuals have benefitted from is simply enjoying comparative advantage vs. other individual members of the new elite. They are still playing by a different set of rules and hold a different worldview from their fathers and grandfathers whose mores were formed at Groton and Andover and finished at Harvard or Yale.

Today's elite differs from the old Eastern Establishment in two very important aspects:

1. Demographically.

2. Ideologically.

Of the two the former change has been, in my view, mostly positive. The second unfortunately, while not wholly negative, has already had serious consequences in foreign policy and will, if not remediated, cause domestic political upheavals as well as the rulers become progressively more isolated from the ruled.

As mentioned previously, unlike the elite of today, the leaders of the Eastern Establishment took the long view. As early as the 1920's, it was becoming apparent to them that an increasingly diverse nation 120 million being ruled forever by a numerically tiny Episcopalian ecclesia of Ivy League bankers was not sustainable forever. So, a two-track policy was initiated. Immigration was sharply curtailled while assimilationist policies were pursued in the public schools to inculcate basically Anglo-Protestant " American values" in immigrant children while social mobility for the most able American citizens would be increased.

Pursuant to this, the number of top tier university " gateway" schools were increased, some of them, like Stanford and Chicago, had been built by the noveau riche of the previous generation. Harvard University president Charles Conant promoted the SAT test to turn the Ivy League from an aristocracy to a meritocracy. Gradually - very gradually it must be stressed - the Eastern Establishment opened the doors to middle-class Protestants, followed by Catholics, Jews and finally African-Americans and women. Policies such as the GI BIll and support for Civil Rights legislation had intrinsic merits but they were also a safety valve in the eyes of Establishment leaders. Access to the system's commanding heights - or even the promise of a fair chance at access for one's children - does a great deal to defuse social frustration.

The SAT and other measures to sift the best from increasingly larger pools of prospective students also had the effect of dramatically raising the mean ability level of the students in top tier and even second tier universities. Harvard students in 2006 would wipe the floor with those who went there in 1946 or even 1966 on any standardized test of IQ. You don't get a remarkably better engineering or physics education today at MIT than you do at the University of Illinois but you are likely to have far smarter classmates, if not professors, if you go to MIT. As Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Chicago and similar schools produce a disproportionate number of future leaders in government, science, law, business and even the arts, the elite today should be qualitatively better than the Eastern Establishment.

But they aren't. At least in terms of results it would be hard to argue that politicians who are wholly products of the new elite - basically the Boomers - have been more statesmanlike or wiser than their predecessors. The reason for this disparity between talent and results I think is reflected partly in the ideological differences between the bipartisan elite and the Eastern Establishment. Circumstances create opportunities and dangers but worldviews frame how those dangers or opportunities are perceived. Or if they are perceived at all.

There is not a simple partisan explanation for this either; though in a sense, the academic Left was, many decades ago, a prime mover in starting the change of worldviews among the elite, the outcome was probably very far from what they intended. An intent that was not geared to a specific policy result any more than Leo Strauss interpreting classic texts in the 1960's was intended to influence neoconservatives to favor an invasion of Iraq in the 21st century. Unintended consequences ruled.

In Part IV. we will examine the ideology of the bipartisan elite and the growing disconnection with the American people, that if left uncorrected, threatens its political legitimacy.
Remember though that the Elite's opening of doors wasn't always go-slow -- sometimes it was go-backwards.

In college admissions, for example, criterea was specially designed to minimize the success of minorities and maximize that of less meritocratic Elite ("whole man" requirements to keep out Jews, "well rounded" requirements to keep out Chinese, etc).

Of course, a high-achieving elite has different things to fear from otehr high-achievinng elites (displacement within the existing system) than from low-achieving groups (social revolution).

Dan tdaxp
Changes of this kind are frequently two steps forward, one step back. Conant was an anti-semite despite his championing of meritocracy and knocking the often ridiculous preferences for children of alums down to a reasonable level didn't become a reality until the 1970's ( neither Bush nor Kerry were really Ivy League material except by birth).

The SAT wasn't pefect but it was and is a fairly reliable predictor of aggregate academic aptitude - certainly far more so than familial ties.
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