America’s Ruling Class – And the perils of Revolution, Part 10
By Angelo M. Codevilla from the July 2010-August 2010 Issue of the American Spectator
The Country Class
Describing America’s country class is problematic because it is so heterogeneous. It has no privileged podiums, and speaks with many voices, often inharmonious. It shares above all the desire to be rid of rulers it regards inept and haughty. It defines itself practically in terms of reflexive reaction against the rulers’ defining ideas and proclivities—e.g., ever higher taxes and expanding government, subsidizing political favorites, social engineering, approval of abortions, etc. Many want to restore a way of life largely superseded.
Demographically, the country class is the other side of the ruling class’s coin: its most distinguishing characteristics are marriage, children, and religious practice. While the country class, like the ruling class, includes the professionally accomplished and the mediocre, geniuses and dolts, it is different because of its non-orientation to government and its members’ yearning to rule themselves rather than be ruled by others.
Even when members of the country class happen to be government officials or officers of major corporations, their concerns are essentially private; in their view, government owes to its people equal treatment rather than action to correct what anyone perceives as imbalance or grievance. Hence they tend to oppose special treatment, whether for corporations or for social categories. Rather than gaming government regulations, they try to stay as far from them as possible. Thus the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo, which allows the private property of some to be taken by others with better connections to government, reminded the country class that government is not its friend.
Negative orientation to privilege distinguishes the corporate officer who tries to keep his company from joining the Business Council of large corporations who have close ties with government from the fellow in the next office. The first wants the company to grow by producing. The second wants it to grow by moving to the trough. It sets apart the school teacher who resents the union to which he is forced to belong for putting the union’s interests above those of parents who want to choose their children’s schools. In general, the country class includes all those in stations high and low who are aghast at how relatively little honest work yields, by comparison with what just a little connection with the right bureaucracy can get you. It includes whose who take the side of outsiders against insiders, of small institutions against larger ones, of local government against the state or federal. The country class is convinced that big business, big government, and big finance are linked as never before and that ordinary people are move unequal than ever.
Members of the country class who want to rise in their profession through sheer competence try at once to avoid the ruling class’s rituals while guarding against infringing its prejudices. Averse to wheedling, they tend to think that exams should pay a major role in getting or advancing in jobs, that records of performance—including academic ones—should be a matter of public record, and that professional disputes should be settled by open argument. For such people, the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Ricci, upholding the right of firefighters to be promoted according to the results of a professional exam, revived the hope that competence may sometimes still trump political connections.
Nothing has set the country class apart, defined it, made it conscious of itself, given it whatever coherence it has, so much as the ruling class’s insistence that people other than themselves are intellectually and hence otherwise humanly inferior. Persons who were brought up to believe themselves as worthy as anyone, who manage their own lives to their own satisfaction, naturally resent politicians of both parties who say that the issues of modern life are too complex for any but themselves. Most are insulted by the ruling class’s dismissal of opposition as mere “anger and frustration”—an imputation of stupidity—while others just scoff at the claim that the ruling class’s bureaucratic language demonstrates superior intelligence. A few ask the fundamental question: Since when and by what right does intelligence trump human equality? Moreover, if the politicians are so smart, why have they make life worse?
The country class actually believes that America’s ways are superior to the rest of the world’s, and regards most of mankind as less free, less prosperous, and less virtuous. Thus while it delights in croissants and thinks Toyota’s factory methods are worth imitating, it dislikes the idea of adhering to “world standards.” This class also takes part in the U.S. armed forces body and soul: nearly all the enlisted, non-commissioned officers and officers under flag rank belong to this class in every measurable way. Few vote for the Democratic Party. You do not doubt that you are amidst the country class rather than the ruling classes when the American flag passes by or “God Bless America’ is sung after seven innings of baseball, and most people show reverence. The same people wince at the National Football League’s plaintive renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Unlike the ruling class, the country class does not share a single intellectual orthodoxy, set of tastes, or ideal lifestyle. Its different sectors draw their notions of human equality from different sources: Christians and Jews believe it is God’s law. Libertarians assert it form Hobbesian and Darwinist bases. Many consider equality the foundation of Americanism. Others just hate snobs. Some parts of the country class now follow the stars and the music out of Nashville, Tennessee and Branson, Missouri—entertainment complexes larger than Hollywood’s—because since the 1970s most of Hollywood’s products have appealed more to the mores of the ruling class and its underclass clients than to those of larger percentages of Americans. The same goes for “popular music” and television. For some in the country class Christian radio and TV are the lodestone of sociopolitical taste, while the very secular Fox News serves the same purpose for others. While symphonies and opera houses around the country, as well as the stations that broadcast them, are firmly in the ruling class’s hands, a considerable part of the country class appreciates these things for their own sake. By that very token, the country class’s characteristic culture venture –the homeschool moment—stresses the classics across the board in science, literature, music, and history even as the ruling class abandons them.
I can relate to this group, for the most part. There are, however, stupid people everywhere!