ELITES, CITIZENS AND SOCIAL DESTRUCTION

by michael on May 15, 2011

I received this article from my dear friend, Stephanie West Allen.
(http://www.brainsonpurpose.com, http://www.idealawg.net )

Stephanie has become a wondrous resource for astute articles I would not necessarily find in my routine reading and researching. The article is titled Establishment Blues. It is written by Walter Russell Mead and is on the current blog The American Interest. http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/05/12/establishment-blues/

The article is lengthy but well worth the time to read it entirely. Here are a few paragraphs:

Establishment Blues
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD

I think the rot goes deeper and has spread out more widely. But the United States today — in both parties, in the corporate and business worlds, in academia and among the intelligentsia, in religion and in many other fields — does not have the strong and thoughtful leadership that we need.

But by historical standards, the average American is actually ahead of his or her ancestors. Today’s average Americans are smarter, more sophisticated, better educated, less racist and more tolerant than ever before. Immigrants face less prejudice in the United States than ever before in our history. Religious, ethnic and sexual minorities are more free to live their own lives more openly with less fear than ever before. There is more respect for science and learning, more openness to the arts and more interest in the viewpoints of other countries and cultures among Americans at large than in any past generation.

The American people are less prejudiced, more globally aware and more willing to meet other cultures and societies halfway than ever before. Minorities today are better protected in law and more fairly treated by the public than ever in our history. No previous generation has been as determined to give women a fair chance in life, or to attack the foul legacy of racism. The American people have never been as religiously tolerant as they are today, as concerned about the environment, or more willing to make sacrifices around the world to promote the peace and well being of humanity as a whole.
By contrast, we have never had an Establishment that was so ill-equipped to lead. It is the Establishment, not the people, that is falling down on the job.

Matt Taibbi’s article in Rolling Stone may be a little over the top for some tastes, but even if the Goldman Sachs executives he describes did nothing illegal, it is painfully clear that a great American financial institution has lost its moral compass. There is a dangerous moral vacuum at the heart of the American Financial Establishment.

We have had financial scandals before and we have had waves of corporate crime. We have had pirates and robber barons. But we have never seen a collapse of ordinary morality in the corporate suites on the scale of the last twenty years. We have never seen naked money grubbing among our politicians akin to the way some recent figures in both parties have cashed in. Human nature hasn’t changed, but a kind of moral grade inflation has set in and key segments of the American Establishment are increasingly accepting the unacceptable as OK. Investment banks betray their clients; robo-signers essentially forge mortgage documents day after day and month after month; insider traders are lionized. Free markets actually require a certain basic level of honesty to work; if we can’t be more honest than this neither our markets nor we ourselves will remain free for very long.

Many problems troubling America today are rooted in the poor performance of our elite educational institutions, the moral and social collapse of our ‘best’ families and the culture of narcissism and entitlement that has transformed the American elite into a flabby minded, strategically inept and morally confused parody of itself. Probably the best depiction of our elite in popular culture is the petulantly narcissistic Prince Charming in Shrek 2; our educational institutions are like the Fairy Godmother, weaving shoddy, cheap, feel-good illusions into a gossamer tissue of flattering lies.

Because the idea of an elite makes Americans nervous, and because American culture likes to blur class and power realities rather than highlight them, we don’t have much of a national conversation about the state of our elite and about how to improve it. That’s a mistake — and it is one of the reasons our elites are performing so poorly. The United States actually needs a healthy and far-sighted elite, and that means we need to look at the subject head on. I’ll be posting on this subject from time to time over the next few months; here are some initial, and not particularly Paul Krugman-like thoughts on what I think has gone wrong.

The leadership class of a country like ours needs to exemplify and to teach smart patriotism: a deep love of country that expresses itself in a concern for the well being of our fellow Americans, a sense of personal dignity and economic restraint, a willingness to set the example of sacrifice for the common good. Progressive taxation is a poor substitute for the kind of progressive patriotism that we need.

Too many American intellectuals today spend their time mocking popular expressions of American exceptionalism and other forms of patriotic thought without working to create and promote a richer vision of the country, a deeper and wiser patriotism that connects with the sentiments of ordinary Americans and raises them to a wider and more magnanimous plane.

It is worth going back to read some of Daniel Webster’s great patriotic orations like the Second Reply to Haynes or the speech of March 7, 1850 to ask how in today’s circumstances we can articulate a vision of our union that can equally inspire its defense and its reform.

The article goes on. Please read the complete piece.
More later

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