FOREIGN POLICY AND THE AMERICAN ELITE: PART IVLink 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
"Foreign Policy And The American Elite Part III
": by Zenpundit
"Setting the floor (and the ceiling)
" by Dave Schuler
at The Glittering Eye
In Part III of this series I took a look at the demographics of the new, more representative bipartisan, elite that replaced the much vaunted, deeply WASP, Eastern Establishment. I argued that despite some superior attributes ( a point hotly contested by my blogfriend Dave)
this new elite was in some respects, far less effective at national leadership. A deficit that I attributed to a shift in ideology which is the subject of Part IV.
The Eastern Establishment dominated the making of American foreign policy from the Spanish-American War - which its members actively worked to provoke - through the Vietnam War. The "Best and The Brightest" blundered so badly in the jungles of Southeast Asia as to have discredited themselves, suffering not only a geopolitical debacle but in some instances, a veritable moral collapse. While many individual members of the Establishment retained considerable influence ( or institutions, even today the imprimatur of the Council on Foreign Relations
is nothing to sneeze at), decisive power in foreign affairs shifted to their critics on the Left and the Right in the Democratic and Republican Parties.
Today's politically bifurcated elite does have a " vital consensus" on strategic national interests but it is weak, representing the lowest common denominator that can be reached by two factions being pulled apart by the gravitational force of partisanship. The elite has less in common politically than they do in terms of class, education and culture - and even that is being eroded by increasing religiosity on the Right
. The elite today is effectively " Post-Nationalist
"in their worldview a way the Eastern Establishment, for all their Atlanticism and creation of international institutions, were not.
Worldviews are inculcated, maintained and are altered by education and experience. Many readers here are familiar with the OODA loop
of strategic theorist Colonel John Boyd
. The "Orientation'" stage results in the efficient cognitive integration of observed data or, alternatively, self-deception and error. While this process can be consciously analytical and methodical most often it relies upon automaticity
. Automatcity as the default process of cognition makes the educational aspectof worldviews ( which would fit under " cultural traditions" as well as "previous experience") deeply influential as core values are potent emotional triggers that can shut down analytical reasoning
. What you are taught to believe often interferes with how you think. Or even what you may perceive.
Ivy League American universities, along with a number of others in the top tier, plus Oxford and Cambridge, West Point, VMI and the Pentagon's system of war colleges are gateways to admission in the bipartisan elite. Having gained admission is itself often more important than what you subsequently choose to study. For example, one of my former students, on his first day of freshmen orientation at Yale, before he had attended even a single class or opened a book, already had three top-level summer internships at blue chip firms lined up before dinner. That's the cachet of a gateway university. But what these institutions teach future leaders also matters as the college years often constitutes a formative experience in young adulthood. And the values inculcated at elite colleges have changed since the early-mid 20th century.
American universities were once fairly conservative places in the main, methodologically as well as politically. The philosophical impact of the European academic exodus on American higher education has already been fiercely debated after the publication of Closing of the American Mind
by the late Straussian scholar, Allan Bloom .I will not retread that ground except to say that the brilliant minds of the old European Left refugees were an intellectually significant force here. What is less frequently observed is that they added weight to an already existing American radical tradition that had been in the minority in the Humanities, particularly the Social Sciences.
Henry George, Thorstein Veblen, Charles and Mary Beard, Ralph Bunche, C. Vann Woodward, Howard K. Beale, William Appleman Williams and numerous others ( including non-academic Progressive and Populist intellectuals) constituted an alternative viewpoint, often economically determinist and anticapitalist (though non-Marxist) view of American society and history. Always vocal though never dominant, the advent of European Marxists in American universities breathed new life into their attempts to foster a critical scholarship of American values and state interests. Williams, for example, influenced a generation of more radical - and often explicitly Marxist-" revisionist" historians.
These intellectual trends coincided with the golden age of postwar academia, the baby boomers, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the New Left, Feminism and wider societal changes. Universities changed as well. The intellectual Left did not succeed in imposing a neo-Marxist worldview on most American college students in the 1960's nor do they today. Their disparate efforts did succeed though in dismantling the Western canon from its old pedestal in undergraduate education, replacing it with a less coherent array of course choices, frequently taught from the critical perspective, albeit unsystematically and with less rigor due to grade inflation. The humanities disciplines suffered more than the hard sciences in terms of changing content but even the science and math departments were pressured to conform to politically correct shibboleths in hiring, tenure, funding and policy decisions.
The net result of eliminating or omitting so much of what had been the prior emphasis on positive aspects of Western culture and the critical thinking that accompanied the classical curriculum was not acceptance of socialism or various trendy schools of bastardized academic Marxism. That might have been the hope of radical professors and subscribers to Z Magazine
but adherence to impractical, strange and esoteric-Left doctrines is utterly useless in seeking a place in the foreign policy establishment. Instead, there seems to have been a twofold effect on those students who went on to become members of the bipartisan elite.
First, except perhaps for those members of the elite who come up through the military institutional gateways, the elite are emotionally detached from the traditional moral center of the American body politic. Exposed to primarily critical appraisals of American history and culture - and getting less exposure to history than previous generations - they lack the pragmatic and realistic identification with state interests that animated men like Stimson, Kennan or Eisenhower and informed their strategic choices.
Today's bipartisan elite are more hesitant to take a position of advocacy of a wholly " American" position and are more apt to be viscerally critical of those who do ( they are also critical of excessively hostile attacks on the "American" position as well - "exceptionalism" is what is being rejected in either case) . When commenting on conflicts between the United States and some third party, unless they are serving in a sitting administration, you will frequently hear the elite adopting the pose of a morally neutral arbiter who is above the fray. This is a pose that satisfies no one except themselves.
This " hands-off" approach to American interests is an attitude that trickles down culturally from the elite to the larger society. Some segments of the American media cannot bear to use the word "terrorist
", when reporting stories about Islamist terrorism, even when that label plainly fits. Some leading media journals are uncomfortable with reporters even aspiring to objectivity
in regard to American foreign policy and want to move to overtly critical stances. In the realm of public education, we have forsworn assimilation in favor of an intellectually vapid and ahistorical multiculturalism; a premise which leads to inane actions like banning American flags
( as if the flag was somehow on par with the flag of a foreign state) that would have been inconceivable at one time. Patriotism, if education journals like Phi Delta Kappan
are to be believed, is either a suspect concept or is best expressed by critical suspicion of American motives. This is a policy of deliberately cultivating Post-Nationalist detachment in the young.
Secondly, having studied more than their share of abstruse theory, the elite manifests idealism in the sense of emotional attachment to certain universal abstractions. A factor that explains the dominance of Liberalism as an IR theory in graduate schools and the Foreign Service as well as an increasingly expansive
and aggressive interpretation of the authority of International Law
and foreign laws being asserted in Law Schools
and even in the judicial branch
. There is a perspective here that evaluates potential actions not on the grounds of morality or strategic effect but on how well those actions might fit into these conceptual schemas or disrupt them.
These complex and legalistic arguments favored by the bipartisan elite do not resonate particularly well with ordinary Americans who are apt to argue pragmatically as to national self- interest or using the simple morality of right and wrong. These arguments also sit poorly because these debates are also about the elite preference for an eternally evolving process over a clarifying foreign policy decision that would require action and incur political and personal consequences. This careerist preference for inaction is a hallmark of the new bipartisan elite and is a stark contrast with the Eastern Establishment who generally sought office as a means to certain strategic ends. The self-interest of today's elite class is not invisible to the larger public.
What does the bipartisan and Post-nationalist elite hold to be important? They are robustly in favor of globalization, which earns them the sobriquet of "Neoliberal" from the hard Left; they revere multilateralism and international institutions such as the UN, NATO, IMF, WTO, Partnership for Peace and so on for their intrinsic value as well as their utility in implementing ( or avoiding) policy choices. This makes them mildly transnationalist and accepting of new institutions that might restrict sovereignty - though they have yet to show a preference for clearly written rule-sets to go with these institutions; they are "stabilitarians" who prefer to nibble at the edges of problem states; they are legalists concerned with finer aspects of the formal process of diplomacy. Some of these qualities, many of them in fact, are good and useful things but not at every time and place. These are the attributes of an era of peace and some of them fit less well for a moment of crisis.
The ideology of the bipartisan elite is one of a professional administrative class, overly certain of their judgment, stubborn in their views but relatively timid in their actions. They meander but do not lead.
In Part V, conclusions.ADDENDUM:Federalist X
( see comments) had an excellent example - I'm envious actually as I'd never heard it - of liberal education and the Eastern Establishment. While the substance of his comment wil have to be dealt with in Part V. Federalist X did suggest loooking at Dan
series on Liberal Education. Here it is:Part I: The Petty TroikaPart II: Liberation and RulesetsPart III: InfectionPart IV: The Mitochondrial Peace