The Long View 2009-01-12: Establishment & Chaos
John J. Reilly quotes Carrol Quigley’s dim characterization of the American right in this blog post about the incoming Obama administration. I find it funny because the use of “petty bourgeois” as a term of abuse is coming back in style.
The Right, however, was dominated by a parody, also destined to be ephemeral in Quigley's estimation, of the disappearing middle class. The Right was "petty bourgeois" (he actually uses the term), grasping, intolerant and careerist. They were ignorant, even the ones who tried to get into top colleges on the basis of good grades, since those grades were achieved by unimaginative drudgery rather than by any real engagement with the life of the mind. The Right even came from unfashionable places, principally the Southwest, where they made fortunes in dreadful extractive industries, like oil and mining. The Right, particularly as manifest in the Republican Party, is merely ignorant. It must be combated, but need not be listened to.
Establishment & Chaos
Solid folk though the personnel of the incoming Obama Administration seem to be, perhaps it does them too much honor to be characterized as "The Return of the Best and the Brightest." as R. R. Reno does in the February issue of First Things:
With all its credentials and stellar achievements, the Obama administration recalls Franklin Roosevelts's Brain Trust and the Whiz Kids who revitalized the Ford Motor Company after the Second World War. Obama and his pals are the experts whom Kennedy promised would bring new ideas to government. Their progressive views, trim physiques, and well-disciplined lives remove all doubt: We're witnessing the restoration of the Establishment...
Establishments, however, are not friendly to all sectors of society. They try to tamp down competitors. The power of new money is always a threat. Wealthy outsiders and upstarts challenge the status quo. It's no accident that the 1950s and 1960s, decades of Establishment dominance, saw high marginal tax rates.
We should expect the same from the new Establishment, along with greater governmental management of economic affairs. It's troubling when the wrong sorts of people get rich, and doubly troubling when they use their new wealth to try to influence politics.
Paranoid though this might sound, it does mirror Carrol Quigley's views in Tragedy and Hope, as I noted in my review:
Quigley was aware that there was a substantial number of persons in the nascent conservative movement who did not think that all issues had been settled yet, but he regards their opinions as not just erroneous but illegitimate. Quigley has fits of class analysis, so he tells us that the traditional middle class, considered as a cultural pattern rather than an economic group, was evaporating because of growing prosperity and feminization. (His description of contemporary students as promiscuous, unkempt and unpunctual suggests he had some inkling of just how annoying the Baby Boom generation was going to be.) The Right, however, was dominated by a parody, also destined to be ephemeral in Quigley's estimation, of the disappearing middle class. The Right was "petty bourgeois" (he actually uses the term), grasping, intolerant and careerist. They were ignorant, even the ones who tried to get into top colleges on the basis of good grades, since those grades were achieved by unimaginative drudgery rather than by any real engagement with the life of the mind. The Right even came from unfashionable places, principally the Southwest, where they made fortunes in dreadful extractive industries, like oil and mining. The Right, particularly as manifest in the Republican Party, is merely ignorant. It must be combated, but need not be listened to.
On the other hand, we should also note that the old Establishment was willing to tax itself very heavily. That was part of the reason it had such a long run, in contrast to the fly-by-night petrolarchs and real-estate flippers whose affairs have just so conspicuously miscarried.
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Whenever there is persistently high inflation, there is always some alternative currency available. It might be bullion-backed certificates; quite often it's inflation-adjusted bonds. The US has had the latter for some time, and I was wondering recently what was happening to them, since $2 trillion seem likely to be pumped into the economy. I see now that other people are having thoughts along these lines:
At a time when central banks are attempting to prevent deflation, the hottest investments in the government bond market are securities that protect debt holders against rising consumer prices.
Inflation-linked debt from the U.S. to Japan returned 5.77 percent since November, including price gains and reinvested interest, compared with 1.55 percent for the government-bond market, according to indexes compiled by New York-based Merrill Lynch & Co...[They are cheap because they may be wildly underestimating inflation risk.]...
Barclays Wealth, which manages about $215 billion, estimates TIPS are pricing in 11 percent deflation, according to Kevin Lecocq, the firm's London-based chief investment officer.
"While we may get small deflation in 2009," he told Bloomberg Television last week. "But to get an 11 percent drop is unreasonable."
This is speculative investing, no doubt, but sometimes speculation is well founded.
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But what about China you ask?
As Russia clashes with its neighbors, China may be headed toward domestic repression. While growth of 7.5 percent as predicted by the World Bank will outstrip the industrial economies, the pace will be the slowest since 1990, the year after the army put down the Tiananmen pro-democracy uprising.
China's recipe for raising the standard of living has relied on creating jobs in coastal boomtowns like Shanghai as a magnet for millions of poor from the vast, rural interior. Now that formula is breaking down. More than 10 million migrant workers lost their jobs in the first 11 months of 2008, an unidentified Labor Ministry official told Caijing Magazine last month.
Using Communist Party code for riots and civil disorder, the state-controlled Outlook Magazine last week warned that a spike in "mass incidents" will test the government's ability to preserve the social peace.
Anyone who thinks that the current regime will be overthrown by a popular uprising, or by "chaos," is quite wrong. It will be overthrown by a reformer within the Party.
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Finally, here's an observation that bears on the Unconquerable World thesis, this in connection with the Gaza War:
J Streetıs founder and president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, was unapologetic, saying his group's stance on an immediate cease-fire "has a really massive base of support in the Jewish community. The fallacy here is the argument that a military victory against an insurgent group actually is achievable. ... Even if Israel wipes out every single missile launcher and takes every Hamas activist into captivity, what then? There are whole new generations behind them."
Here I am just echoing remarks at Instapundit and The Volokh Conspiracy, but it does seem to be the case that there are people who are intellectually invested in the thesis that insurgencies cannot be defeated, despite the ever-lengthening string of examples to the contrary. We are going to have to absorb the fact that the mid-20th-century golden age of insurgency was a product of decolonization, not its cause. Decolonization was an event within Western civilization, not an effect of better insurgents.
Copyright © 2009 by John J. Reilly