Friday, July 8, 2016

A Fair Assessment

The larger phenomenon here, however, is a crisis not of ignorant masses, but of elites who have failed. All societies, except perhaps the Greek city-states of antiquity, are led by elites or, as the great sociologist Digby Baltzell described them, establishments. As long as they provide their societies with some consequential benefit (prosperity, success in war, or political leadership), can absorb talented non-elite members, and display virtues that the rest of society values (public service, self-sacrifice, or military courage) they deserve to hang on and do.

The elites of London, like those of this country and large parts of the Western world, appear in many ways to have failed those tests. The crash of 2008 crystallized a view of the financial class in particular as reckless, self-dealing manipulators. As Joel Kotkin among others has pointed out, by virtue of how our education systems have evolved, elite youth increasingly marry one another, and the prosperous can (and do) give their children every leg up—which poorer parents cannot hope to match. Meanwhile, the political and intellectual elites deserve, and receive, very little credit for patriotism or courage, because they do not exhibit much. As manifested on campuses in Great Britain as here, they increasingly show themselves intolerant of dissenting opinions, and inclined to bully because they have forgotten (or never learned) how to argue.

The failure of courage, Solzhenitsyn said at a particularly dark point in the Cold War, was in danger of becoming a distinguishing feature of the West. The young people who talked petulantly of abandoning their country because of a vote they did not like were bright graduates of the best universities in the English-speaking world—and severely deficient in pluck. They had no notion of that patriotism which says that when your country is in trouble, you are supposed to fight it out, not begin checking to see if Morgan Stanley is hiring in Madrid. They are not fit to be trusted with political power.

And in the very intemperateness of their reaction lies one of the best reasons to think that Brexit is, with all its hazards, a good thing.