Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What's Wrong With America

Walter Russell Mead is a classical liberal and a Democrat.  Other than voting for Obama, he is a paragon of lucid thinking. He wonders if Americas decline can be traced to the decline and debasement of our elites.

We Americans have a disdain for royalty. Like most of my fellow countrymen, I paid scant attention to the recent royal wedding in Britain (I can’t even give you the names of who got married).  But reading Mead’s article, I realized one practical purpose for royalty:  To be a shining example of moral virtue and self-sacrificing patriotism, thus inspiring the rest of us to similar heights.  America’s elites, whether we like it or not, have historically served a similar purpose here.

Of late, American elites, like British royalty, have fallen into debased decline, and it puts our society in peril.
Here in the early years of the twenty-first century, the American elite is a walking disaster and is in every way less capable than its predecessors. 
It is less in touch with American history and culture, less personally honest, less productive, less forward looking, less effective at and less committed to child rearing, less freedom loving, less sacrificially patriotic and less entrepreneurial than predecessor generations. 
Its sense of entitlement and snobbery is greater than at any time since the American Revolution; its addiction to privilege is greater than during the Gilded Age and its ability to raise its young to be productive and courageous leaders of society has largely collapsed. (Mead)
While conceding that religion is no guarantee of moral virtue, he nonetheless fingers a lack of moral virtue as a contributor to our troubles
What a surprise!  We raised a generation of bright kids without a foundation in religion, and they’ve grown up and gone to Wall Street.  We never told them that the virtuous life was both necessary and hard, that character was something that had to be built step by step from youth, that moral weakness was both contemptible and natural: and we are shocked, shocked! when, placed in proximity to large sums of loose cash, they grab all they can. (Mead)
Today's Wall Street makes the robber barons look like Mother Teresa.  Add in Arnold's groping infidelities, an IMF Chief raping a hotel maid, serial crimes and outrages by the Kennedy family…  It’s rape, pillage and plunder at the hands of the world's "elites."
Many problems troubling America today are rooted in the poor performance of our elite educational institutions, the moral and social collapse of our ‘best’ families and the culture of narcissism and entitlement that has transformed the American elite into a flabby minded, strategically inept and morally confused parody of itself.  (Mead)
Worse, it has trickled down to the Hollywood pseudo-elite that so much of our society lamentably now looks to for guidance.  Is it any wonder a libertine anti-intellectualism has seized much of middle America?  The Establishment is perpetually disappointed in us.  It’s bad enough being preached at by your “betters,” but ordinary Americans can no longer abide the perpetual lectures from the morally and intellectually flabby.

The elites have historically taken the slings and arrows of the hoi polloi with magnanimity, earning a grudging if hidden respect from us in return when they did something right.  No longer.  The waters are poisoned, we are jaded.

Lecture me?  Screw you!  I'd rather go hunting with Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin.

Walter Russell Mead – Establishment Blues
Maureen Dowd - Powerful and Primitive
Globe and Mail – French Morals, American Justice


Unknown said...

Well put here Silver, well put.
BTW: " I'd rather go hunting with Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin."
Let me know, I'd like to tag along. :)

The Born Again American said...

Ted & Sarah, now they're worthy of immulating...

Anonymous said...

The Nuge, maybe, but not Sarah Palin.

Although I've agreed with just about all of what you've said, I'm confused about the comment on the American Revolution. Are we suggesting that the Founding Fathers had a sense of entitlement? If so, I'd love to hear the argument for that.

I wouldn't say, though, that it's a lack of religion that's the problem, because non-religious, non-spiritual people can and do lead very moral and virtuous lives. I would say the moral depravity is because there was nothing replacing the lack of religion. You can still teach Aristotelian virtue and come out with good, moral citizens, but as I've stated in my own writing, we've abandoned all of that as well.

Post-modernism, properly construed, is a good thing, but most people mistake it for meaning that we need to toss every idea that's more than 50 years old.

Silverfiddle said...

The comment on the American Revolution was Mead's, not mine.

Knowing his writing as I do, I doubt he was impugning the founders, but rather just using that as a demarcation for his reference to the time period in question.

Christopher - Conservative Perspective said...

Great post Silver. I see the mention of the founders not in the sense of financially elite although in their time I am sure they were, but rather elite in the sense of being intellectuals and real thinkers. All one has to do is read the Federalist Papers to understand this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification Silver.

Most Rev. Gregori said...

This downward slide of the so-called elite began a long time ago, and saw it begin to stain the fabric of moral America when I was a teenager.

Now the only question is, how much further can we sink into the slime hole before it is too late crawl back out?

It seems now to be the norm to use grass, crude language, not only in our private lives, but also in the business world and other public venues. It is the norm for kids to show up at school with their asses hanging out of their pants and the girls looking like they just crawled out of bed, and for many people, adults included, to show up to church, parties or other social events looking the same way.

Civility, what is that? Honesty, morality, self-reliance, respect, pride in one's work are all qualities that seem to have been bred out of human species.

Nobody so much as raise an eyebrow anymore to the low-life antics of those who are supposed to be setting a good example for the rest of us. On the contrary, the unwashed masses devour the stories of the sordid actions of our so-called leaders and high society twerps, like pigs slurping down swill.

I think I would rather take my chances going hunting with Dick Chaney. I would probably be much more safer then with any of the scum sitting on their pedestals lording it over the rest of us.

Jersey McJones said...

I'm a city boy. I couldn't imagine being bothered with hunting. That's why God invented the grocery store.

I think, sometimes, we forget that we were never really a great intellectual or moral beacon for the world. We are a nation of immigrants - tired, poor, huddled masses - and their ancestors. Happy, well-adjusted, educated, midedle and upper class people do not usually emigrate to foreign lands. They're happy where they are. It is the poor, the underclass, the crazy and often criminal who make the trek.

So, in a way, it's easy to understand the crassness of American culture. We've always been that way.

On the other hand, the anti-intellectualism we see today is a little over the top. There's the Know Nothing types on the Right, the Too Cool for School crowd on the Left and Middle, and the profiteers of profanity in the media, forming a triad of anti-intellectualism so pointedly stupid and vaccuous as to tear at the heart of our society.

I hate to sound bleak, but I don't know if we'll ever overcome that.


Jersey McJones said...

Oh - sorry I haven't been by to post, but there was a problem with Google.


Anonymous said...

There are still a lot of Americans with high moral standards, stong of character and of high intelect. Unfortunately, very few of these Americans are willing to enter politics and fewer still are able to get elected. They are too honest and forthright.

Jersey McJones said...

If they were such pillars, they'd run. Heck, we wouldn't know a pillar if we saw one. And remember this - one of our most moral, high-character, high-intellect presidents was an utter failure. Remember Jimmy Carter?

I'll take a human being over some robotic clone of Jesus.

The fact of the matter is that we are a rather debased culture - we're just to uptight to admit it. Ironic, huh?

We talk about "morals" and "family" and "God" but we don't live it.

It's easy to prove. Just compare us to our competitors abroad.

We have higher social ills and more religion.

We have lower social mobility and more rich.

We have "less government" and they have more.

They're just smart enough to use their governments for their best rational interests.


Finntann said...

Having lived in both Europe and Asia, I don't think I would necessarily agree that we have higher social ills, lower social mobility, and less government.

If you travel and visit all the top tourist areas, it certainly appears we are suffering more from social ills... get off the beaten path and your opinion might change, there are certainly neighborhoods in say London or Frankfurt I wouldn't be caught dead in... or perhaps more accurately you would precisely be caught dead in.

While declining, social mobility in America isn't necessarily systemic and may reflect more on individual not social attitudes. Mobility is also dependent on where you are moving from and where you are moving to. Much of the mobility worldwide isn't so much moving from one class to another than moving from one century to another. The average denizen of the average American city is still much better off than say the average denizen of say Pyongtaek.

As to having less government, we tend to mask government largesse through private contracts. Look at where the paychecks are ultimately coming from before you say we have less government. If Uncle Sugar is footing the bill, is the employee of a private company performing the labor a 'government employee'?

As far as being "smart enough to use their governments for their best rational interests" one must remember that governments are not money making magic service machines. From a slightly different point of view one could also easily say that they are immoral enough to use their fellow citizens via populist progressivism and legislation to further their own self-interests.

We do seem to have a tendency to vote ourselves bread and circuses, the fatal flaw of direct democracy.

WomanHonorThyself said...

Is it any wonder a libertine anti-intellectualism has seized much of middle America? sure isnt my friend...what a shame.

Jersey McJones said...


America has a serious problem with anti-intellectualism. We have a shrinking middle class. We're in trouble.

I haven't traveled all that much, but I did business around the world for years. Americans are lacking the critical thinkng skills to compete with this New World Order their idiotic predecessors sorta created.


Silverfiddle said...

Yes, we have a problem with anti-intellectualism, and I believe Mead explains why.

We are lacking in critical thinking skills thanks to our money-wasting, failed progressive public school system.

Can't think? Thank a liberal!

Fredd said...

I would argue that nothing is wrong with America. It is still the greatest nation on earth, and millions (if not billions) yearn to come here even as I type this.

Mead spins the tale of yore, and how much better things were in the good old days. Truth be known, the good old days were not that good. My father bored me incessantly with his memories of walking 10 miles to school in the snow, bare footed, and uphill - both ways.

Doesn't sound all that good to me. Yes, I get Mead's point. But relatively speaking, all societies have their ups and downs. We may be in one of our 'downs' right now, but that doesn't mean that when we look back to Alexander Hamilton as a shining example of what America's elite used to be like, we ignore that his foreman was out back, whipping the slaves.

Again, when we opine that things just aren't like they were in the good ol' days, it is inarguable that the good ol' days weren't all that good.



Silverfiddle said...

Good points Fredd. Papa Silverfiddle says the same thing. He looks around and says "we're going to hell in a handbasket," then recalls hearing his parents and grand parents saying the same thing 50 years ago...

Anonymous said...

Jersey now we understand what is wrong with you. You need to become one with the land.

Finntann said...

Jersey, I didn't say a word about anti-intellectualism. What I disputed is your assessment that in America:

" We have higher social ills and more religion.

We have lower social mobility and more rich.

We have "less government" and they have more.

They're just smart enough to use their governments for their best rational interests."

I will say that anti-intellectualism isn't an elitist problem, it is an American problem. We no longer value or even know what a real education is.

MathewK said...

Tis a valid point, but you also have to ask why is it that these elites have turned to shit.