A Splendid Essay on the Two Great Classes in Contemporary America

Angelo M. Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, has written an extraordinary essay for the July/August issue of The American Spectator. It’s called “America’s Ruling Class – And the Perils of Revolution,” but it deals much more extensively with the anatomy and functioning of the class system in the United States today than with the prospect of revolution.

Codevilla cuts immediately to the core: the United States today is divided into (a) a ruling class, which dominates the government at every level, the schools and universities, the mainstream media, Hollywood, and a great deal else, and (b) all of the rest of us, a heterogeneous agglomeration that Codevilla dubs the country class. The ruling class holds the lion’s share of the institutional power, but the country class encompasses perhaps two-thirds of the people.

Members of the two classes do not like one another. In particular, the ruling class views the rest of the population as composed of ignoramuses who are vicious, violent, racist, religious, irrational, unscientific, backward, generally ill-behaved, and incapable of living well without constant, detailed direction by our betters; and it views itself as perfectly qualified and entitled to pound us into better shape by the generous application of laws, taxes, subsidies, regulations, and unceasing declarations of its dedication to bringing the country—and indeed the entire world—out of its present darkness and into the light of the Brave New World it is busily engineering.

This class divide has little to do with rich versus poor or Democrat versus Republican. At its core, it has to do with the division between, on the one hand, those whose attitudes are attuned to the views endorsed by the ruling class (especially “political correctness”) and whose fortunes are linked directly or indirectly with government programs and, on the other hand, those whose outlooks and interests derive from and focus on private affairs, especially the traditional family, religion, and genuine private enterprise. Above all, as Codevilla makes plain, “for our ruling class, identity always trumps.” These people know they are superior in every way, and they are not shy about letting us know that they are. Arrogance might as well be their middle name.

The ruling class, not surprisingly, is also the statist party:

[O]ur ruling class’s standard approach to any and all matters, its solution to any and all problems, is to increase the power of the government – meaning of those who run it, meaning themselves, to profit those who pay with political support for privileged jobs, contracts, etc.

Despite the rulers’ chronic complaints about people’s exercising “discrimination” of one kind or another, they have no intention of treating everybody equally. Hence, “[l]aws and regulations nowadays are longer than ever because length is needed to specify how people will be treated unequally.” As the recent health-care and financial-reform statutes illustrate perfectly, however, much of the inequality is achieved not directly, but by the statutes’ delegation of authority to countless regulatory and administrative bodies, which will use their ample discretion to do the desired dirty work.

Codevilla’s description of the ruling class and its modus operandi is longer and more detailed than his account of the country class, which is probably inevitable in view of the latter’s extreme heterogeneity. And the force of his argument wanes a bit toward the end of the essay, when he muses about how a country party might turn the tide against the domination and contempt it presently suffers at the hands of its officious rulers. Nevertheless, I heartily recommend this magnificent essay, which is one of the most intelligent, forthright discussions of America’s current socio-political condition I have ever read. If we serfs are ever to escape the grip of our overbearing, self-appointed nobility, the first requirements will be to recognize correctly our current condition, to denounce openly its injustice and idiocy, and to deride every claim of legitimacy or entitlement our rulers have the temerity to make or presume.

Robert Higgs is Retired Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Founding Editor of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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