Angelo Codevilla has spent more than his share of time as a sojourner among America’s ruling class. He was a key part of the Reagan transition and point-man in the Gipper’s efforts to transform both the foreign and the intelligence services. Then later he served as a professor of International Relations at prestigious Boston University. From this vantage point, Codevilla was able to get a close look not only at the international relations elite, but at the entire American ruling class, from which the former are overwhelmingly drawn. I had the honor of sitting across a Skype line with Angelo Codevilla recently to talk about his views on foreign policy and on the ruling class in general.
As the ruling class wannabes, has beens, might’ve beens and I ams gathered for yesterday’s inauguration ceremony to offer laud and narcissistic supply to the most perfect exemplar of the ruling class that they have ever seen, Codevilla’s observations about the rapidly imploding ratio of competence to confidence among America’s elite are a breath of contrarian sanity.
The discussion is available here. Although the first section is devoted to foreign affairs and the second to the ruling class, this column will focus on the second of the two topics. What follows are my notes from the wide ranging and fascinating discussion. I hope you won’t limit yourself to my jottings about the conversation, but go on to the conversation itself. The following is a collection of paraphrased quotes from Codevilla.
- The Ruling Class of America is not up to the challenge of leading America in the world, partly because it has engaged for several generations now in a process of reverse merit selection.
- Our ruling class has practiced negative selection for several generations now. I point you to a very, very interesting piece of research by a man called Ron Unz.
- Ron Unz, a wealthy entrepreneur, has just conducted interesting research on the admissions policies of America’s elite universities and has found that there is an iron quota against Asians in these universities: a limit of roughly 16 percent in these universities, even though the proportion of Asians relative to other ethnic groups among high achievers in the country has risen…they account for something like 40 percent of high achievers in the national merit scholar competition, national math and science competitions, etc.
- What you’ve got here is a ruling class in these universities which has perpetuated itself and has become more like itself, and has excluded alien elements. The element most excluded happens to be also the most numerous, which is to say ‘white non-Jewish Americans,’ and hence the overwhelming majority of high achievers. Yet the percentage of white non-Jewish admittees has continued to drop; there is especially a virtual absence of Christians among these admittees. The point being that this ruling class, which is increasingly styling itself as meritocratic, is anything but meritocratic and has renewed itself by cooption.
- This has nothing to do with fairness; this is not a moral argument I’m making at all…I’m saying that the people running this country are ever less competent to do their job. They are ever less able to do whatever the hell they do.
- They are ever more confident because they live in a bubble. They congratulate themselves. They give prizes to one another; they tell each other how smart they are.
- Having been a college professor for many years I saw students become ever more confident of their own intelligence and their own preparation while they were becoming less able to do the most elementary things.
- They are becoming more insular, less bright and less demanding of themselves.
- That’s what happens so often to ruling classes: they protect themselves against their competitors. Their greatest interest is in perpetuating their own cushy positions.
- Let me give you one example, look at Mikhail Gorbachev. Here was a man who was invested with total power; a system had grown up built by Stalin which gave all power to the general secretary; this general secretary had risen in a system which had prized people like himself who believed their own press clippings and who was literally out of touch with what was happening. So here was a man who took into his hands all the levers of power nd pulled them all in the wrong direction and brought the whole system crashing down without knowing what he was doing.
- The Soviet system was completely closed. Our system becomes more closed as the years go on….today’s American ruling class differs from even a generation ago…now they come to the ruling class almost exclusively from the most prestigious universities and through institutions which are connected to government. Very few people now rise independent of the ruling class itself: you have to rise through the ruling class to get to the ruling class…
- Given this kind of increasingly closed ruling class, given its tendency to go easy on itself…given the things that it does to guard itself against infiltration from the rest of the country…you have a class which is becoming ever less able to meet its basic responsibilities at home and abroad.
Me: Is Obama American Liberalism’s Gorbachev?
- The point here is that one part of the American body politic, that part which is connected to government, is well represented politically. The Democratic Party is a good and faithful representative of that sector of American life…those who are not part of the ruling class do not have a political vehicle. There are roughly 3/4s of Democrats who say they are happy with their party, while only 1/4 of Republicans are happy with their party.
- Obama, the main thing that he has done is to denigrate the country class, to denigrate everybody else.
- In what way is Obama like Gorbachev: if they are alike at all, they are alike in that Obama has now made it perfectly clear to the country class how alien is the ruling class. Never has the ruling class been so obviously alien to the rest of the country.
- In the election of 2012 the country class was demoralized. In this the Republican Party helped. You had a candidate who did not in any way defend the country class in the accusations brought against it.
- When you see a horse that is misbehaving you shouldn’t say, “Oh, what bad horse,” you should say, “What a bad rider.” This country, this wonderful horse of ours, has had a bunch of bad riders and the horse is gonna buck. May the next rider be worthy of the horse.
The paraphrased notes from above capture only a portion of our discussion about the ruling class, and none of our discussion about international relations. The latter topic deserves a separate column all together. But regarding the former topic, the ruling class: I came away from the interview with an odd feeling of exhilaration. America’s ruling class seems to this economist’s eye to contain the classic signs of a bubble: arrogance, narcissism, opulence backed by nothing other than the ongoing willingness of the patsies to go along with the con. And it is a con, as in confidence game. Our ruling class rules on the basis of sheer, unearned self-confidence. They are not up to running the nation, its economy, its markets, its school system, its philanthropies or its foreign affairs. It is a ruling class of pygmies who walk on stilts and call themselves giants. They are not giants and the moment the rest of us realize this, the long con is over.