The Ruinous Calamity of the Ruling Class
Never assume the U. S. has escaped the caste system. The late Angelo Codevilla has devised the monikers “Ruling Class” and “Country Class” to describe the castes that bitterly divide our nation.
Dear friends and supporters,
The prominent conservative thinker Angelo Codevilla died in a car accident this past week. In the last few years of his life I developed if not a friendship, certainly an acquaintanceship, with this remarkable, unique man.
Angelo, an unashamed Christian who loved his native Italian homeland and his grape vineyards, was a blend of old-school conservatism and Founding-era liberalism. He was what we call a libertarian conservative. (So am I.) He was committed to a strong conservative Christian social vision that most certainly did not include a muscular politics. He was a sworn enemy of statism and sworn champion of the family and church. He believed in liberty within the bounds of godly morality: political liberty, religious liberty, and economic liberty. He was a U. S. naval officer who later earned his Ph.D. and worked for a number of years in the defense and intelligence community in Washington D.C. The last 40 years or so he has worked in think tanks and academia. He was an expert in international relations and warfare, but among the broad conservative (and non-conservative) public he was known best for his two books The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It and The Character of Nations: How Politics Makes and Breaks Prosperity, Family, and Civility.
What Is the Ruling Class?
The Ruling Class, by far the shorter of the two, was an expansion of his earlier American Spectator article. By the Ruling Class, Angelo meant a virtual U. S. caste, highly educated (which is not the same thing as highly intelligent), militantly progressive, proudly secular, and boundlessly arrogant, which began politically with President Woodrow Wilson but emerged as a major social force in the 1930s. It has gradually come to dominate almost all centers of cultural influence: national politics, the universities, the news media, the major foundations, and the mainline denominations.
It would be incorrect to identify the Ruling Class with the wealthy and the Country Class with the less than wealthy. Donald Trump is wealthy (just ask him) but he’s emphatically not a member of the Ruling Class, one reason the latter abhorred his presidency. Barack Obama, on the other hand, was certainly not wealthy (at least not until he signed lucrative politically achieved book deals), but he was the epitome of the Ruling Class.
While the Ruling Class is Leftist and progressive, its chief distinguishing feature is its entirely unexamined assumption that its members alone possess the wisdom, acumen, and, above all things, disinterested humility to guide the rest of the poor, benighted society.
The Country Class
This latter category Codevilla designates the Country Class. He doesn’t mean that they literally live “out in the country” but, rather, that they’re attitudinally and dispositionally far from centralized cultural power — notably the power centers of the Ruling Class. The Country Class are not interested in dictating to their fellow mere mortals. They basically just want to be left alone with their family and church and job and friends. Unlike the Ruling Class, they couldn’t care less about a grand utopian social vision. They don’t claim to have the answers to society’s problems; they have enough problems of their own.
This isn’t true of the Ruling Class, who are supremely confident in their social-saving vision and lust for the tools to implement it. Angelo’s bracing rhetoric describes what they’re after:
[O]ur Ruling Class’ first priority in 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….
Here is the Ruling Class’ view of the Country Class:
… [L]eft to themselves, Americans use land inefficiently in suburbs and exurbs, making it necessary to use energy to transport them to jobs and shopping. Americans drive big cars, eat lots of meat and other unhealthy things, and go to the doctor whenever they feel like it. Americans think it is just to spend the money they earn to satisfy their private desires, even though the Ruling Class knows that justice lies in improving the community and the planet. The Ruling Class knows that Americans must learn to live more densely and closer to work, that they must drive smaller cars, if they drive at all, that they must change their lives to use less energy, that their dietary habits must improve, that they must accept limits on how much medical care they get, that they must divert more of their money to support those people, cultural enterprises, and plans for the planet that the Ruling Class deems worthy.
The condescending disposition of the Ruling Class consists not so much in their intellectual cocksureness but, more perniciously, in the rock-solid conviction of their own superior virtue. The Country Class is self-centered, greedy, and cocky, while the Ruling Class is disinterested, generous, and humble. They’re the natural born rulers.
Angelo’s book was published in 2010, and 10 years later the ruinous calamity of the Ruling Class appeared in its most vivid colors during the COVID-19 drama, the George Floyd riots, and the ubiquity of wokeness.
The Ruling Class Today
Emergencies, whether actual or invented, always provide the Ruling Class with exciting possibilities to expand its power (Rahm Emanuel: “Never allow a crisis to go to waste”). The almost instantaneous response of the Ruling Class, embodied in the majority of our national politicians, was to impose executive lockdown orders for the entire nation. Apparently there was no time, not even eight hours, for Congress or state legislatures to debate these draconian lockdowns. The Ruling Class, leaping into action, knew precisely what to do, and any checks on their power they would dismiss as uncaring, callous, and perhaps even murderous.
Lockdowns whose original rationale was “two weeks to flatten the curve” gradually turned into nearly a year’s economic calamity. Unemployment soared far beyond 20%. The stock market tanked. Many businesses closed, never to reopen. Retirement savings were lost. The federal government generously provided largesse in the form of direct-dollar subsidies to the vast majority of Americans (meaning: they gave people back their own money), and instituted an extended unemployment benefit.
Although this action mitigated the immediate economic burden for individuals, it created another problem that Codevilla outlined in his book The Character of Nations: It created habits among citizens detrimental to society at large. Angelo had observed that the greatest danger of economic interventionism isn’t to the economy itself but to the citizens who began to adopt culturally destructive habits that, if unchecked, warp a nation’s entire culture.
The most obvious was a refusal to work for a living. Throughout the first half of 2021, many more jobs were available than employees to fill them. Why work for a paycheck when you can play video games on the dole?
These calamities were mostly irrelevant to the Ruling Class, which in any case could always simply print and distribute more money, and could consolidate greater political power by which to produce The Just Society.
After the Republic
Angelo M. Codevilla, one of the most astute observers over the last few decades of our cultural climate, lays our maladies largely at the feet of what he has elsewhere labeled “The Ruling Class,” a cadre of cultural elites whose homogeneous thought patterns and accompanying hubris have imposed on the United States a vision in striking conflict with that of our Founders. Codevilla argues that the new, revised vision has become so entrenched that no political election can undo it. It is fundamentally a cultural problem, not a political problem.
You can get the book here.
Ruling class racism
Moreover, the violent race riots surrounding the senseless George Floyd killing provided the Ruling Class another treasured opportunity. The Ruling Class, like its Marxist fellow travelers, perceives in the street chaos of the unwashed proletariat the shock troops of the revolution. For the Ruling Class, this meant degrading Western ( = Christian) civilization, identified as “white supremacy.” In reality, an inexcusable, excessive use of force by a handful of police officers was enlisted to indict all law-enforcement and call for “defunding the police.” “Systemic racism” was employed as the Ruling Class‘ language warfare to loosen the attachment of patriotic Americans to a free, virtuous country. Nobody wants to be accused of racism, and if the country is racist, the country isn’t worth defending.
The Ruling Class as a whole is not particularly interested in individual Blacks or Hispanics. A number of its policies are objectively harmful to those very races (think: affirmative action, gun control, and “defunding the police”). But racism as a broad, cultural accusation is remarkably effective in bolstering the (im)moral standing of the Ruling Class as the vanguard of The Just Society.
Finally, the political oppressiveness of the Ruling Class’ Covid dramatics energized its cultural counterpart: cancel culture. This is the name for concerted outcries by Leftists, generally on Twitter, demanding the firing or resignation of anybody not sufficiently Leftist or woke.
Examples are numerous, but one of the most ridiculous was the cancellation of Maria Tusken, who owned a knitting business and is a prominent figure within the online knitting community. She had planned a trip to India, and innocently tweeted that she was as excited for the trip as she would be if traveling to Mars. This innocent, if clumsy, tweet was widely derided as racist, and eventually she suffered severe economic loss.
On this issue also, Codevilla had been prescient. His 2016 article “The Rise of Political Correctness” detailed the genealogy of today’s Ruling Class strategy of cancel culture: Marxism’s political correctness. Only certain ideas are permitted in public discourse; all unacceptable ideas are simply forbidden and purged — right along with the people unfortunate enough to have voiced them.
[F]or the American Left cultural hegemony means using … power to suffocate Judeo-Christian civilization in its several cradles; to allow in public discourse only such thoughts as serve the identity of the party’s constituent groups; and to denigrate, delegitimize, and possibly outlaw all others. In short, it means political correctness as we know it.
The Ruling Class, according to Codevilla, doesn’t kill its enemies but rather “revel[s] in breaking their spirit by inflicting indignities.”
Like the Cultural Revolution in China, in which students publicly goaded and paraded and humiliated professors and other traditional leaders, today’s cultural revolutionaries degrade and demean authority figures (some of them other insufficiently woke Leftists) into graveling apologies, which are never sufficient to the revolutionaries, who then engineer their firing and relegation to oblivion. They first grovel, then are crushed. (See Total Revolution: How the West Is Being Transformed Before Our Eyes and What We Can Do About It.)
Codevilla believed that the Ruling Class‘ hegemony had become so entrenched there is no way to dislodge it. He once he told me that America is far gone, and simply cannot be recovered. As a dyed-in-the-wool pessimistic amillennialist, he saw no hope. In “The Cold Civil War,” Angelo suggested how the United States might forestall a revolution that would, in effect, spell the end of the nation, the sort of nation-collapsing revolution toward which our social unraveling is hurtling us:
Fostering a mutual forbearance may require loosening the Union in unfamiliar and unwelcome ways to accommodate differences that may otherwise become far worse.
He suggested a revived federalism, implying, for example, that conservatives move to red states and liberals move to blue states. For the sake of the Union, people with fundamentally different, mutually irreconcilable visions of life could survive within a single large nation, if only they stayed away from each other. He did not explain how it was possible for blue cities surviving in red states or red countrysides dominating blue states would work in this revised federal arrangement. After all, it’s not just states that are either red or blue.
As an unapologetically optimistic postmillennialist, I pin my hopes not on sociopolitical strategies but on the promises of the Word of God, the success of the gospel in the present age, and the inevitability of the kingdom of God in Christ established by Holy Spirit power. (See “Pessimism Is Not a Strategy”). It’s not fundamentally a political Kingdom, certainly not in the modern sense, though it has political implications, and this great gospel victory will produce Christian culture, in which political authority would be significantly decentralized (matching the American Founders’ vision), and in which individual and family and church and business liberty prevails. But one thing is for certain: Christian culture is simply incompatible with our present Ruling Class.
If Christian culture is to come, the Ruling Class must go.
This Tuesday Sharon and I will head for Canada to visit our son Richard and his wife Samantha. Please pray that despite the numerous Covid border restrictions, we can get into Canada and back into the U. S. expeditiously.
I hope to get out by Christmas the edited work Failed Church: Restoring a Vision of Ecclesial Victory. The seventeen chapters from faithful men of God and incisive thinkers bristle with sobering analysis and biblical direction for a return to fidelity in our deeply unfaithful ecclesial situation.
Next week’s e-letter will likely be an audio iteration. Stay tuned.
Yours for liberty in the living Lord,
Founder & President, Center for Cultural Leadership
Saturday, December 4
Center for Cultural Leadership Annual Symposium in San Francisco
9 AM — 3 PM
Includes catered lunch in a four-star hotel on the Bay
“Un-Virtuous Economics: Political Interventionism, Woke Capitalism, and Church Pietism”
“David L. Bahnsen: “Politicized Economics in One Lesson” and “Pietized Economics in One Lesson”
Jerry Bowyer: “The Maker and the Takers”
Brian G. Mattson: “Alarmed by Cultural Marxism? Don’t Forget Real Marxism!”
P. Andrew Sandlin: “Creational Economics versus Contra-Creational Economics”
Jeffery J. Ventrella: “The Anthropology of Judicial Economics”
Since this isn’t a talking-head conference but a symposium, every attendee will get a chance to comment and share his views.
Hotel rooms available for early registrants. Airport hotel with easy, quick 24-hour shuttle.
This event is free, but it isn’t open to the public. It’s by invitation only. You get invited by contacting me (P. Andrew Sandlin) privately.
Seating is limited, but I hope to see many of you there.
More great stuff:
The Center for Cultural Leadership site is here.
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The CCL phone number is 831-420-7230.
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Center for Cultural Leadership
P.O Box 100
Coulterville, CA 95311
With Angelo Codevilla at CCL’s 2016 Symposium