Elites Against Western Civilization

elites western civilizationThe intellectual class across the West—encompassing its universities, media, and arts—is striving to dismantle the values that paced its ascendancy. Europe, the source of Western civilization, now faces a campaign, in academia and elite media, to replace its cultural and religious traditions with what one author describes as a “multicultural and post-racial republic” supportive of separate identities. “The European ‘we’ does not exist,” writes French philosopher Pierre Manent, assessing the damage. “European culture is in hiding, disappearing, without a soul.”

The increasingly “woke” values of the educated upper classes reflect, as Alvin Toffler predicted almost half a century ago, the inevitable consequence of mass affluence, corporate concentration, and the shift to a service economy. The new elite, Toffler foresaw, would abandon traditional bourgeois values of hard work and family for “more aesthetic goals, self-fulfillment as well as unbridled hedonism.” Affluence, he observed, “serves as a base from which men begin to strive for post economic goals.”

The driving force for these changes has been the ascendant clerisy, which, reprising the role that the Church played in medieval times, sees itself as anointed to direct human society, a modern version of the “oligarchy of priests and monks whose task it was to propitiate heaven,” in the words of the great French historian of the Middle Ages, Marc Bloch. Traditional clerics remained part of this class but were joined by others—university professors, scientists, public intellectuals, and heads of charitable foundations. This secular portion of society has now essentially replaced the clergy, serving as what German sociologist Max Weber once called society’s “new legitimizers.” The clerisy spans an ever-growing section of the workforce that largely works outside the market economy—teachers, consultants, lawyers, government workers, and medical professionals. Meantime, positions common among the traditional middle class—small-business owners, workers in basic industries and construction—have dwindled as a share of the job market.

The educated, affluent class detests President Trump, whom many in the Third Estate support, and has rallied to its preferred candidate, Elizabeth Warren, who emerges from the legal and university communities and voices the progressive rhetoric common to this class. (Warren’s less brainy left-wing rival, Bernie Sanders, fares better among struggling, often younger workers.) Warren’s clerisy supporters represent what French Marxist author Christophe Guilluy calls the “privileged stratum,” which operates from an assumption of moral superiority that justifies its right to rule. They are the apotheosis of H. G. Wells’s notion of an “emergent class of capable men” that could “take upon itself the task of “controlling and restricting . . . the non-functional masses.” This new elite, Wells predicted, would replace democracy with a “higher organism” of what he called “the New Republic.”

For generations, the media embraced an ideal of impartiality and the validity of diverse viewpoints. Now, as Andrew Sullivan recently noted, it’s almost impossible to consider the mainstream news as anything other than a partisan tool. Perhaps nothing illustrates this more than the media role in the resistance to Trump; however awful he may seem, no president, even Richard Nixon, has suffered such total opposition from powerful media, with an estimated 92 percent negative coverage from the networks, even before he assumed office.

The media’s anti-Trump lockstep reflects broader changes in the industry. Reporters rarely come, as in the past, from the working class but instead from elite universities. They tilt overwhelmingly to the progressive side. By 2018, barely 7 percent of U.S. reporters identified themselves as Republicans; some 97 percent of journalist political donations go to Democrats. The ongoing media takeover by tech leaders is certain to accelerate this trend. Nearly two-thirds of readers now get their news through Facebook and Google, platforms that often “curate,” or eliminate, conservative views, according to former employees. It’s not just conservatives who think so: over 70 percent of Americans, notes a recent Pew study, believe social media platforms “censor political views.”

Similar patterns can be seen in Hollywood, once divided between conservatives and liberals but now heavily slanted to the left. Liberal columnist Jonathan Chait, reviewing the offerings of major studios and networks, described what he called “a pervasive, if not total, liberalism.” Virtually all mass-media cultural production follows a progressive script, from the music industry to theater—and now including sports, too.

Perhaps nothing has so enhanced the power of the clerisy as the expansion of universities. Overall, the percentage of college graduates in the labor force soared from under 11 percent in 1970 to over 30 percent four decades later. The number of people enrolled in college in the United States has grown from 5 million in 1964 to some 20 million today. Universities, particularly elite institutions, have emerged as the primary gatekeepers and ideological shapers for the upper classes. A National Journal survey of 250 top American public-sector decision-makers found that 40 percent were Ivy League graduates. Only a quarter had earned graduate degrees from a public university.

Orthodoxy of viewpoints in contemporary higher education is increasingly rigid. In 1990, according to survey data by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, 42 percent of professors identified as “liberal” or “far-left.” By 2014, that number had jumped to 60 percent. Another study of 51 top colleges found the proportion of liberals to conservatives ranging from at least 8 to 1 to as much as 70 to 1. At elite liberal arts schools like Wellesley, Swarthmore, and Williams, the proportion reaches 120 to 1.

These trends are particularly acute in fields that affect public policy and opinion. Well short of 10 percent of faculty at leading law schools, such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, and Berkeley—schools that graduate many of the nation’s leaders—describe themselves as conservative. Leading journalism schools, including Columbia, have moved away from teaching the fundamentals of reporting and adopted an openly left social-justice agenda.

Once largely a college phenomenon, progressive ideology is now being pressed upon elementary school students, a development that could transform our politics permanently. As authoritarians from Stalin and Hitler to Mao all recognized, youth are the most susceptible to propaganda and most easily shaped by the worldview of their instructors. This process has been most apparent in the environmental movement, which has elevated as its ideological battering ram the unlikely figure of Greta Thunberg, a seemingly troubled Swedish teenager. With her harsh millenarian rhetoric about the end of the world, she reprises the role played by youthful religious fanatics during the “children’s crusade” of the thirteenth century or, more recently, the Red Guards, whom Mao mobilized to silence his critics.

The politicization of basic education, particularly concerning American history, is notable throughout the country but most entrenched in liberal regions such as New York City and Minneapolis. In California, schools are scrapping measures such as exit exams for more ideologically correct policies. Once a leader in educational innovation and performance, California now toils near the bottom of the pack, ranked 40th on Education Week’s composite score of school performance. These poor results mean little to progressives in places like the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has banned “willful defiance” removals and suspensions in the name of racial equity. A bill that would do the same statewide is moving through the legislature, along with a massive campaign to weaken the state’s charter schools. Nothing has been more illustrative of our educational establishment’s far-left, racialist agenda—tinged with a strong dose of anti-capitalist indoctrination—than the draft proposal for an “ethnic studies” curriculum for the state’s schools. The program has provoked fierce opposition and is unlikely to be adopted in its present form, but activists will surely keep trying.

Ethnic-studies programs are aimed at high schoolers who often lack even the most basic understanding of American history. Incapable of meeting national standards for basic grade-level English language arts and mathematics, many of these students would instead learn academic jargon like misogynoircisheteropatriarchy, and hxrstory—which ethnic-studies advocates, such as R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, a member of the advisory committee that worked on the draft, defend in the name of legitimating the discipline. “AP Chemistry, for example, has some very complex academic terms, difficult to pronounce, but it’s expected because it’s AP Chemistry,” Cuauhtin explains.

The clerisy is working to undermine basic liberal democracy. In the years ahead, technology will help shape attitudes on everything from the environment to the existence of “unconscious bias” against racial and sexual minorities. China’s efforts to control and monitor thought, sometimes assisted by U.S. tech firms, are likely a hint of things to come in Europe, Australia, and North America. Already we see the rise of a new political generation with little use for the Western political tradition or the cultural values that shaped it. American millennials—despite, or perhaps because of, their high educational attainment—are increasingly inculcated with the idea that America is hopelessly racist and oppressive. Their worldview includes embracing limits on free speech. Some 40 percent of millennials, notes Pew, favor limiting speech deemed offensive to minorities—well above the already-depressing 27 percent among Gen-Xers and 24 percent among baby boomers. Among the oldest cohorts, though—those who likely remember fascist and Communist regimes—only 12 percent support such restrictions. European millennials also display far less faith in democracy and fewer objections to autocratic control than Americans or previous generations. Young Europeans are almost three times as likely to see democracy as failing than their elders, and many in countries as diverse in Sweden, Hungary, Spain, Poland, and Slovakia embrace the far Right, while others, notably in Great Britain and France, favor the far Left.

With lower levels of cultural literacy and reduced interest in history, the new generation could reprise the intellectual deterioration of the Middle Ages, when, according to Belgian historian Henri Pirenne, “the very mind of man was going through degeneration.” Just as the feudal prelates disdained classical culture, today’s clerisy seeks to unmoor liberal culture and the Western political tradition; nearly 40 percent of young Americans, for example, think that the country lacks “a history to be proud of.” Far smaller numbers than previous generations prize family, religion, or patriotism.

If one does not even know about the complex legacy underpinning democracy, including the drive for individual freedom and open discussion, one is not likely to understand when it is in peril. If we are to save our uniquely open civilization, we must counter the clerisy’s efforts to discredit our past and demolish our future.

Reprinted with permission from - City Journal - by Joel Kotkin

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Jack Thomas
2 years ago

What is happening in much of Western Europe is no less alarming than the insidious demise of our own country. Our social, religious, and government institutions are under constant attack by shady, malicious, vengeful groups bent on destroying the United States and our constitutional republic from within. Civility has given way to ever-increasing incivility. Where there was order there is rampant disorder. Traditional Christian values and morality have been marginalized as irrelevant, and replaced with “moral relativism” which is nothing more than a false secular ideology. Our politicians to the ‘left,’ aided by their proxies in the media and academia, continue their efforts to distort U.S. history in order to indoctrinate the young into accepting their “Globalist” agenda. All of which brings to mind what Franklin D. Roosevelt once astutely observed: “THEY (WHO) SEEK TO ESTABLISH GOVERNMENT SYSTEMS BASED ON THE REGIMENTATION OF ALL HUMAN BEINGS BY A HANDFUL OF INDIVIDUAL RULERS . . . CALL THIS A NEW ORDER. IT IS NOT NEW AND IT IS NOT ORDER.”

2 years ago
Reply to  Jack Thomas

Interesting that you quote FDR, who during his terms in office tried and thankfully failed, in his attempt to pack the Supreme Court to end run around Congress that resisted his micro-management of the economy and attempted re-shaping of American society as a whole to adhere to his progressive vision. Hardly what one would call a constitutionally conservative role model by any stretch of the imagination. He had a nasty habit of making speeches saying one thing, but then trying or doing the exact opposite policy wise.

I do agree with you that much of Western Europe is indeed imploding in upon itself, but that is chiefly the fault of the people who opted to elect their own string of so-called social democrats (their term for what we in America call progressives), that promised their people much of the same government-provided services in exchange for more and more control of the populace. The EU, which started out as merely a means to facilitate trade across the national borders of Europe quickly morphed into an over-arching and completely unaccountable entity that supersedes the governing powers of the countries that it was supposed to serve and respect. Today, the EU dictates policy to its member countries and the elected national governments of those countries have little to no recourse but to comply. In essence, a socialist overlord entity that has successfully co-opted the national rights and freedoms of the member countries and peoples that comprise it.

As you no doubt know, what you are referring to as civility has little to no value in a socialist society. The populace is merely expected to comply with the edicts of the government and resistance to those edicts will be severely punished. That is how all socialist societies have always functioned. That is why Democrats here are constantly saying we should emulate Europe. That is their end goal. If you’re bemoaning the death of religion in Western Europe, that largely was achieved by the end of the 1980’s, when progressive politicians promising endless social welfare spending had secured power in most European countries. The same is being pitched here by all the Democrats running for POT in 2020. Same strategy with the same desired outcome. They all hope that the public has been sufficiently dumbed down here to fall for the same cr2p that was spoon fed to the citizens of Western Europe.

The EU, positioning itself for permanent power realized they needed to ensure a base of future votwers who could be bought off relatively cheaply, as so much of European economies had already been gutted to pay for existing social welfare spending. So they sanctioned the wholesale importation of millions of uneducated or mostly illiterate Muslims into Europe in 2015. The calculation being that they could be bought off cheaper than Europeans in terms of monthly checks. Very few of which had any interest in assimilation into a non-Islamic society. The EU member nations neither wanted this horde, but under EU rules they were unable to refuse them. The resulting increases in rampant crime, permanent increases to social welfare spending to support them, higher taxes to pay for the higher social welfare spending were all quite predictable. Yet the EU refused to acknowledge any of it and insisted flooding Europe with what amounts to be nearly now 4 million Muslims that will require a lifetime of welfare to them and their families was “good for Europe”.

\So to sum it up, Europe as a whole is done. Bemoaning the perceived lack of civility, while the Western European countries are drowning in debt and their economies are being strangled by mountains of laws and regulations designed to kill off all innovation and growth, is pretty much a waste of time. Worry instead that the socialists here don’t gain total power or we will quickly join Europe in its decent into the abyss the left calls Utopia.

Jack Thomas
2 years ago
Reply to  PaulE


I quoted FDR in this particular instance, not because I’m a fan but because his observation clearly parallels today’s “globalist” movement (although FDR was obviously referring to the rise of other autocracies). You’re correct that FDR tried to do an end-run around Congress, and tried unsuccessfully to pack the Supreme Court with justices who would sign on to his “progressive” vision for the country. Hardly a conservative role model, as you say. In fact, his actions as president likely exacerbated the effects of America’s economic depression, rather than mitigating them. However, I think historians may have judged FDR too harshly; he had his good points.

Re: the decline of Western Europe, the EU as the central controlling entity is, again, the problem not the solution. You can hardly blame those who supported Brexit for wanting to opt out. Europe is a total mess. The UK is overrun with Muslims who largely don’t want to assimilate (it’s not in their cultural DNA) and — truth be told — their main focus as good foot soldiers of Islam is to attempt to take control from within. This is what they’ve done and still try to do all over the world. The same result will occur in Germany, the Netherlands, etc. simply because they’ve allowed themselves to be subjugated by E.U. policies. Here in the USA, we have a similar dilemma, but to a somewhat lesser degree. Imagine a U.S. Congress dominated by the likes of Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and others of their persuasion. America as we’ve known it would disappear if they had their way. And it could if the socialist Democrats ever obtain total control. But … getting back to the E.U. —- the Brits and the rest of the Europeans have no one but themselves to blame, so I don’t feel sorry for them. They’ve learned how to be their own worst enemy.

As to your comment about bemoaning the lack of civility, as you put it, I was referring to the growing “incivility” here in our society —- the hell with what’s going on in Europe. Nothing we can do about that, anyway. But there IS something we can do about how we handle social and political discourse in our own country.

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