Further Thinking on Social Class

I linked to Professor Codevilla's essay in my previous works on social class, but it's important enough to merit a little discussion by itself. Professor Codevilla's essay came out as I was writing my own ideas down, and appears to have made quite a splash in the blogosphere. In hopes of encouraging more people to consider the emerging right wing perspective on social class, I'll append a few excerpts. Codevilla is definitely our type of fellow: he's more of a Hawk than most would be comfortable with, but he finds the idea of exporting Democracy to be ridiculous, and he knows where the problems lie. He served in the Navy, as a Foreign Service Officer, and helped the Reagan Administration transition teams on intelligence. He's also very much against the present day Republican party, which he sees as part of the problem.

While he's an occasional contributor to National Review, they have so far treated his essay like a piece of road kill; prodding at it with a stick to make sure it's dead. Radio silence from Weekly Standard. Reason magazine is excited, but resentful that he doesn't include gay marriage enthusiasts and dope fiends in with the "good guys." I suppose the ding dongs in Reason Magazine are rightly confused: nobody wants to think of themselves as part of the problem, which they assuredly are.  Meanwhile, just about everyone else who isn't a mainstream conservative is pretty excited. Rush Limbaugh (whose audience is largely working and middle class) has been promoting him, and I hope he continues to do so.

Codevilla's class system is much more simple than mine, or Mencius Moldbug's: he divides it into them (effectively, the upper middle class and their clients) and us. He does get their origin exactly right, as does Mencius Moldbug (whose class system is worth a look): they're a quasi religious emanation of the progressive movements of 100 years ago.


Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters — speaking the “in” language — serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America’s ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.

The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century’s Northerners and Southerners — nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, “prayed to the same God.” By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God “who created and doth sustain us,” our ruling class prays to itself as “saviors of the planet” and improvers of humanity. Our classes’ clash is over “whose country” America is, over what way of life will prevail, over who is to defer to whom about what. The gravity of such divisions points us, as it did Lincoln, to Mark’s Gospel: “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.


Today, few speak well of the ruling class. Not only has it burgeoned in size and pretense, but it also has undertaken wars it has not won, presided over a declining economy and mushrooming debt, made life more expensive, raised taxes, and talked down to the American people. Americans’ conviction that the ruling class is as hostile as it is incompetent has solidified. The polls tell us that only about a fifth of Americans trust the government to do the right thing. The rest expect that it will do more harm than good and are no longer afraid to say so.


Our ruling class's agenda is power for itself. While it stakes its claim through intellectual-moral pretense, it holds power by one of the oldest and most prosaic of means: patronage and promises thereof. Like left-wing parties always and everywhere, it is a "machine," that is, based on providing tangible rewards to its members. Such parties often provide rank-and-file activists with modest livelihoods and enhance mightily the upper levels' wealth.


The ruling class wears on its sleeve the view that the rest of Americans are racist, greedy, and above all stupid. The country class is ever more convinced that our rulers are corrupt, malevolent, and inept. The rulers want the ruled to shut up and obey. The ruled want self-governance. The clash between the two is about which side's vision of itself and of the other is right and which is wrong. Because each side -- especially the ruling class -- embodies its views on the issues, concessions by one side to another on any issue tend to discredit that side's view of itself. One side or the other will prevail. The clash is as sure and momentous as its outcome is unpredictable.