But I was thinking more of unelected elites when I posed that question -- policy wonks, journalists, Congressional staffers, think tank staff, bureaucrats, DC lawyers, etc. If the charge is that we're filling these positions with "the wrong kinds of people," something Tea Partiers would claim, then improving things is a matter of changing the selection process, isn't it? I'd argue, for example, that the Ivy League network makes for a more insular elite than is ideal, and that although it's desirable to have a well-educated ruling class, a true meritocracy would be somewhat less heavily populated by academic overachievers from the northeast. I imagine that change alone wouldn't cause the Tea Partiers to embrace our current system of elites, however, so I ask again, what do they propose?
How should the New York Times hire its reporters? What qualities should Sarah Palin look for in her press liaison? When the RNC looks for fund-raising staff what attributes should it seek? What qualifies someone to be director of the OMB? These questions force a line of thinking that I don't think the average Tea Partier has yet explored (let alone the average American).
Mr. Poulos does give his own account of how the culture of our ruling elites is broken, and although I won't try to summarize it, do give it a read.
What I'd like to do is skip down to this part of his post:
...progressivism tells liberal elites that the practice of politics is an
obstacle to perfecting liberal culture. As Bill Voegeli's remarks
suggest, if elites with a more conservative philosophy are vulnerable to
a different set of temptations, they're much less susceptible to this
one. The issue is simple: what is the foundation of that more
conservative philosophy? What are the principles that fuel the right culture among conservative elites?
If I could break in for a moment, my tentative read of modern American political history is that conservative elites actually have been vulnerable to a lot of the same temptations as liberal elites, and that ideology isn't actually the most important factor in what ails our elites. But I want to think about that provocation before committing to it, so let's move on:
central philosophical proposition of the tea parties is that the
Republican Party establishment has too many elites who have become
untethered from those principles and have been born and raised in the
wrong culture of elite-hood. Whether by coincidence or for some other
reason, this organizing conviction resonates extremely powerfully with
the contention that the central conflict in American politics is between
those who see political liberty as our most precious possession and
those who see political liberty as an outdated obstacle to true justice
From the standpoint of the lover of liberty, there is a punchy and potent shorthand for that conflict ready to hand: liberty vs. tyranny.
That's a slogan that must be unpacked, to be sure. But is it -- to use
your phrase -- "almost completely useless?" I report, you decide.
I'm inclined to stick to my guns, and in doing so, I want to note that Mr. Poulos spent a lot of time persuasively arguing why liberty belongs in that formulation, and no time persuading us that it ought to be pitted against tyranny. Sure, it's perfectly acceptable to make the case that political liberty is our most precious possession, and to let that insight guide our actions in the political system. The problem comes when, having decided that, your reflexive assumption is suddenly that all your political adversaries are on the side of tyranny. Someone can conclude, as many conservatives have done, that political liberty is one precious possession, but that we cannot value it exclusively. There were French revolutionaries who saw liberty as their most precious possession. Would it have been "almost completely useless" for them to tell Edmund Burke, "We are for liberty, and you for tyranny?" I report, you decide.