A well deserved tip of the hat must be delivered to Zenpundit. His words served as a springboard for this post, and I draw liberally from his ideas. However, Zen writes only of the first tragedy listed here; I find the second one to be just as, if not more, important.
The greatest threat to the safety and liberty of the American people is recognized by very few. Though formidable in their own right, this hazard is not posed by any state among the new class of rising great powers. Nor is the great danger to be found among transnational terror networks, violence caused by religious extremism, or the anarchy of ethnic upheaval. Nuclear proliferation, ecological crisis and the rise of biological weaponry, though all proper cause for consternation, pose a challenge dwarfed in many ways by the task set before us.
This is because these dangers and perils are but a subset of a much larger problem – the outgrowths of a crisis that threatens to engulf the entirety of America’s strategic decision making machinery. If the United States has any hope of maintaining its elect position over the course of the following century, this crisis must be recognized and resolved.
And it is a crisis that lies within ourselves.
It is time for serious analysts of American civilization and concerned citizens of the United States to recognize two uncomfortable truths about the republic in which they dwell. These truths, disturbing to accept, are entwined evils which underlay the Republic’s current and coming decay.
The American Republic is no longer governed by the people. The rule of the people has been replaced by an oligarchy of well meaning elites. Not limited by professional divides, these men occupy the vaulted halls of business, media, politics, and academia; they are united in only their unshakable faith in their own beneficence. Entirely sure of their ability to cast a society better than that which already exists, these elites are uncomfortable with democratic accountability or financial liability, and constantly seek opportunities to free themselves from both. This desire to be free from the censure of their countrymen easily translates into a bunker mentality that views individual empowerment, decentralization, and meritocracy as assaults on their power and influence. Unabated social stratification, the erection of barriers to political and economic participation, and the implementation of incomprehensible, unreasonable, and ultimately self-serving regulations are the consequences of this paternalistic culture.
Living lives that are isolated from their fellow citizens, the identity of the elite is formed along lines of privilege and class, not ties of community and country. Unsurprisingly, the oligarchy of good intentions has difficulty demarcating the divide between special and national interests. Nor can they be expected to construct sustainable solutions to the problems faced by the nation; a ruling class who has made a lifestyle of shifting blame is not an instrument suited to complete such tasks.
The people have no desire to govern America’s Republic. The oligarchy of good intentions maintains its dominance over society by claiming that its members are the sole possessors of the knowledge needed to hold the reigns of enterprise and state. This claim is for the most part true. Across the board, Americans are woefully ill informed in the fields of science, civics, and history. The worldview of the average citizen is provincial, the media he consumes even more so. There is little indication this will change any time in the near future. To the contrary, the population of the United States is marked by a multi-generational decline in political participation matched only by the nation’s falling levels of civic engagement. With pure passivity the public gazed on as its access to the conduits of power were cut off one by one; without raising a voice in protest the people have have seen their liberties stripped away. Those few items that can capture the interest of the citizenry are petty – popular public discourse is but a competition to see who can fit the most theatrics into a seven second sound bite, politics but a never-ending game of governmental “Gotcha!” Such is needed to keep the attention of a population obsessed with the flashy and trivial; the affairs of the country one has no affection for pale in comparison to the allures of the circus. Bread also has a part to play: in an age where voluntary associations have collapsed and economic disparity is growing, every trial and tribulation has become a problem best solved by someon else.
This was a role the oligarchs were all too happy to fill. When they did, American society underwent an incredible cultural transformation. Her people are no longer citizens – they are subjects. The United States is a nation of sheep being led to the slaughter. The few who recognize this are paralyzed, unable to proceed in an environment where protests are useless, the people’s will is ignored, and the sheer scope of the corrupted institutions make anything short of revolution a half measure.
The hazards found in this system of oligarchy are not difficult to see. Plato’s philosopher-kings these men are not. Mired in factional infighting and entrapped by special interests, the elite are unable to form a clear image of reality. The citizenry, in turn, are too ill-informed to hold the elite accountable for their failure. In this lies the source of the last quarter century’s strategic malaise; her ability to observe and orient destroyed, America has become a blind Goliath, stumbling from one international crisis into another. This sorry state will remain her fate as long as society’s ship is captained by a class of oligarchs who remain hostile to the innovations necessary for success in an age defined by networks, rising powers, and instantaneous exchange. Of these things the ruling class does not care – they are too busy skimming the project’s profits to bother with steering us away from the rocks and shoals of the future.