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Discussion Point XXIX

How has the current Western political class come into being?

What economic, social, historical, cultural, technological or other factors have contributed to its growth and ascendancy?

45 comments to Discussion Point XXIX

  • Alice

    Many factors are responsible for our despicable Political Class — but the importance of societal wealth (human productivity) can hardly be underestimated.

    As recently as 1900 in (say) Ohio, the majority of people lived & worked on farms, where a lot of their effort went simply into feeding themselves. The big social issue of the day was stopping children working in mines. Government was relatively unintrusive because the people could not afford anything more.

    Our predecessors learned to harness the power of fossil fuels more effectively, which created a virtuous cycle of increased production per man-hour, part of which could be plowed back into increased knowledge & education, facilitating even higher productivity.

    The unintended consequence has been today’s rich society which can afford lots more overhead — more politicians, more lawyers, more bureaucrats, more regulations. And the Political Class has been glad to step in and appropriate a big share of the increasing societal wealth.

    Another important issue has been the decline in education since the 1960s — lots more of it, but delivering less. Partly this has also been a result of increasing wealth (built on fossil fuels & knowledge). Society can now afford the overhead of long & increasingly pointless education for everyone. And afford the burden of declining quality too, since fewer people than ever before have to work at genuine productive tasks in order to keep everyone in a lifestyle beyond imagining only a few generations ago.

    Was it inevitable we would develop a Political Class which would waste that opportunity? It may be that wealth is its own undoing.

  • Ian B

    Requires a book. 🙂

    There are a zillion ways to consider and answer such a question. It may be useful to consider it from this angle; every society has an elite class (and libertarianism can be considered to be a unique philosophy which attempts to dismantle that elite). The question might therefore be best put not as “how has [this] political class come into being?” but rather, “what processes have shaped the elite into the form which it currently assumes?”.

    I’ve been desperately punting a narrative to a disinterested world for some time now which traces our modern elite back to the religious revivalism of the early 19th century, which created a hunger for social reform, which created “victorian values”, which led to the plethora of social reformists who have plagued us since. Social-ism, literally. The key evil of the modern elite, is that desperation to help people, whether they want to be helped or not, and that is rooted in evangelism. Give me a lord, if lord I must have, who spends his time carousing and cares for me not, rather than a lord who would save me, because the latter is the one who’ll snatch my beer from my hand for my own good.

    The modern political class is a hive of total bastards who are trying to save the world. The immensity of it comes from that evangelical zeal; when normal people would be relaxing, evangelists are busy setting up another committee for this and another committee for that, and marching down the road waving banners and trying to drag more souls into their crusade. There’s a powerful snowball effect. It’s unclear how much larger the snowball can get before it crushes us all.

  • Laird

    The “evangelists are busy setting up another committee for this and another committee for that” are the “useful idiots” who plowed the field, but the political class are the calculating power-seekers who seized the opportunity thus provided. Far from being “total bastards who are trying to save the world”, the political class as a group are total bastards trying to enslave the world. With themselves at the top of the food chain, of course. (It’s not the poor we shall always have with us, it is the power-mad.)

    Anyway, there’s a much simpler answer: the Illuminati.

  • Rob Spear

    If you want to control a territory, you need to get as many of the population as possible believing that you have the right to do so. The mass media, along with public control of education, are the main instruments for promoting that sense of normalcy. It also helps if you can maintain a decent economy…

  • Alice is right on about the increase in productivity. I would add equal suffrage, income taxation, and income tax withholding as major facilitating steps too. These developments set societies on the much-discussed slippery slope whereby promising to rob Peter to pay off Paul became a viable (and increasingly more so) political strategy.

    To the extent that a short answer is possible – follow the money. Criminals have known for centuries that a protection racket is more profitable than one-time robbery. The politicians learned at some point in the late 19th century that it pays even better if you legalize it and monopolize it.

    Being the surly curmudgeon and pessimist that I am, I must admit that I was surprised and encouraged by the recent California vote on the state budget. It seems that people still have not lost the ability to be pissed off about the theft of their money – enough to not be swayed by the usual “human shield” of “But… but… we’ll have to fire policemen, firemen, and teachers!”

  • john_r

    Voter apathy

  • Drew

    As the traditional clergy withered in both power and possessions, a new priesthood schooled in the political theology first fully enunciated by Rousseau filled the vacuum in service of a new god, The People and began to proselytize their creed:

    There are no People but the People, and the State is their Prophet.

  • I am going to confine my thoughts specifically to Britain in this answer.

    I think that the redefinition of British national identity around socialist institutions, particularly the NHS after the end of the second world war was the British left’s greatest political triumph in the last 100 years.

    The NHS was the Trojan horse that has allowed the political class to perpetually expand in power and influence ever since

    In a matter of mere decades the NHS managed to eclipse even the queen in potency as a symbol of the national community.

    It is rivaled only by the BBC

    Because of the NHS’s role as a tribal totem no discussion of its merits and faults as a model for health care delivery is possible.

    Politicians in Britain don’t promise to improve access to health care as they do in other countries. They promise to “Save our NHS”

    I know of no other civilized country where a rational discussion of health care reform is less possible than in Britain.

    The goal of access to health care seems secondary to the preservation of the totem.

    Apart from the depressing fact of soviet style healthcare itself, I think it (along with the BBC) has done profound damage to the British psyche.

    It has helped to ensure that for a considerable proportion of the population the only conception of a national identity even conceivable is a socialist one.

    To people inside this perverse meta context an institution can only conceived of as authentically British if it is state funded.

    It has encouraged a belief in the state as an essentially parental figure.

    When people jokingly call the BBC ‘aunty’ are they really being ironic? I honestly dont think so. I think that for many people this grotesque description of it strikes an emotional chord.

    To such people a question such as ‘Do you believe in the BBC/the NHS?’ is indistinguishable from ‘Do you love your country?’

    This viewpoint is fundamentally incompatible with a classically liberal conception of the relationship between individual and society.

    The power of the political class is rooted in the inability of most people to even imagine an alternative.

  • Nuke Gray!

    Contrarily, I am appalled at the recent referendae results, though it conforms to expectations- The book ‘The Future of Freedom’ mentions California as an example of how such things can go wrong. Referendas have pre-carved Budgets, without any room for any adjustment, even if conditions change radically! Trying to run a whole state by such measures seems to be not working, in a big way! (Of course you might think, as I do, that we don’t need states that big, and you’d have a good point.) As a libertarian, I foresee politicians using these results to discredit the idea that people can run their own affairs- they’ll need governors to do it without the masses interfering!

  • thefrollickingmole

    Id agree with the first poster on education. There are people today voting based on collecting unemployment benefits. Who do you think they will vote for?

    No-one seems to have touched on the lawyer side of the argument. The infiltration of lawyers into committees, charities and businesses purely on the backs of legislation THEY have crafted shouldn’t be understated. The legal and political professions are one and the same, neither can be weakened without tackling the other.
    Part of the slippery slope came with the allowing of jail/crippling fines for potential acts.
    I mean drink driving and similar. From there its a short step to taxes on things that are “bad” (smokes in Australia contribute around 3 times the cost of smoking related diseases in taxes, yet every tax rise on them is reported as “to cover the costs to the health system).
    After that well any action they decide is “bad”.

    Without root and branch reform and repeal of about 90% of pettifogging laws a reform of the political system would fail.

  • Kevin B

    How has the current Western political class come into being?

    One word. Gramsci.

    As the cold war rumbled on, there really was a Soviet plot to march on the institutions in order to destroy the west.

    Using the tried and true tactics of bribery, blackmail and useful idiots, they’ve managed to infiltrate the universities, the media and the civil service, and they’ve even got their man in the White House now.

    The fact that the USSR has collapsed while socialism has taken over the west is doubly ironic. As is the article I stumbled across in Pravda, (unfortunately I can’t seem to find the link), advising Russian money men to take their assets out of the US, and quoting Putin advising Obama on the dangers of socialism.

    Are these the paranoid rantings of an old man brought up during the cold war? Perhaps. But I invite you to examine the current attack by the academy, the media, the bureaucracy and the political class on the energy infrastructure of the west.

    It is quite plain that the anti CO2 measures being pursued in Brussels, Westminster and Washington will cripple the economies of Europe and America for decades to come, yet it is impossible to find anything but token resistance to this insane legislation.

    While the economic factors Alice mentions play their part, as does the mad utopianism Ian B brings up, and the social factors embodied in the NHS mindset that Jay evinces, only a malignant plot could explain the total insanity of our current masters.

  • Hugo

    I agree with above posters that government control of the education system, and the existence of the BBC, has helped foster favour for statism (the belief that for any problem, the state should help). So I disagree with john_r’s explanation of “voter apathy”.

    I’m tempted to say that government will always attempt to maximise revenue. So as we get richer, they’ll continue to take as much as they can without killing the golden goose. Sometimes they get greedy and revenue declines, but even then the politicians who want to lower taxes try to justify it by saying it will raise revenue.

    However, the question is not about the size of government, but about the political class. I am convinced that the voting system is to blame here. If there was a transferable vote system, safe seats would not exist. With MPs more at risk of losing office, I believe the political class would be very different. Less recognisably a “class”.

    The US has somewhat more direct democracy. As a result, they are one of the few countries that still has a death penalty.

    Ironically for libertarians, I believe more democracy is the key.

    Still, state-run schools and hospitals have got to go.

  • Kevin B

    Ah, I’ve found that link to the Pravda article at Counting Cats.

    And it’s Marxism that Putin was warning Obama about, not Socialism.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Ian B – there is a book, I presume you knew that and were being sarky. For those who don’t know, Peter Oborne is the hero of the moment.

    Alice – absolutely right. Only the great productivity leaps of the last 150 years have allowed this to come about; no previous society could have afforded to have seven million people (out of sixty million) working in non-productive jobs.

    Ironically enough, the statists and their bedfellows the global warming alarmists, would very much like to put this productivity gain into reverse. Perhaps we should give them their head, and the State would then have to shrink.

    But otoh, they probably see nothing wrong with a country where everyone is a beaureacrat – they might just be that disconnected from reality.

  • James

    Fiat money has empowered government at the expense of ordinary citizens. Most readers of this site will know why, but for any newbies out there this link might be interesting:


  • permanentexpat


    was the Teacher Training School……………

  • the other rob

    thefrollickingmole wrote

    No-one seems to have touched on the lawyer side of the argument. The infiltration of lawyers into committees, charities and businesses purely on the backs of legislation THEY have crafted shouldn’t be understated. The legal and political professions are one and the same, neither can be weakened without tackling the other.

    This to my mind, is an important point. It’s not just politicians, it’s all the guilds, doing exactly what Adam Smith said they do and restraining trade by means of laws. WTF would somebody need a licence to cut hair, for God’s sake?

    I came across a startling example the other day, on some cop show. A parolee walks into a courthouse and is told that it is illegal for him to be there without an attorney. I thought “The lawyers must have really patted themselves on the back when they got that one passed.”

  • M

    The fact that the USSR has collapsed while socialism has taken over the west is doubly ironic.

    Murray Rothbard did say that “It is the Mensheviks, not the Bolsheviks, who threaten us the most.” Looks like he was right. The Bolsheviks now control Cuba and North Korea. The Mensheviks now control the United States and most of Europe.

  • RRS

    T.T. –

    Thank you for bringing this on.

    Other Rob –

    No, it was not (at least in the U.S.) the “lawyers” who got a statute passed. It was the judicial issue of determining what is required for “Due process.”
    [MIRANDA]. It is in the Constitution.

    Permanent Expert –

    Yes. There is some form of symbiosis between the “Academic” class which is generally well-informed (as distinguished from knowledgable) and the Political Class which generally is neither. But, that does not address the questions – the “how” part.

    James –

    How has that given rise to the political class? How has Fiat Currency (as opposed to a broader definition of “money” – which today is mostly forms of credit) been a factor?

    Alice –

    You lead into something that is probably more intrinsic to what we can call Political Anthropology.

    As long ago as 1937/38 (U.S.) I noted the growing trends (correlated to increasing “urbanization”) for individuals to escape what had traditionally been personal responsibilities (such as intra-familial). Some of this may have been accelerated by the economic pressures of the Great Depression ih which the individual might have felt not only powerless, but overpowerd by events beyond one’s resposibilities.

    My own (unjelled) thinking leads to considerartion o0f the changes in (or lack of commonality of) the recognized and accepted individual sense of obligations (oughtness); possibly due to effects of population mobility impacting the chains of traditions via dispersal of experiences and associations.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    As well as Peter Oborne’s book, The Rise of the Political Class, may I also recommend Thomas Sowell’s, The Vision of the Anointed.

    Also, any of the major essays by HL Mencken. Although he was at his heyday in the first three decades of the 20th, the Sage of Baltimore correctly identified some of the themes mentioned here, such as IanB’s point about religion and puritanism, the creation of false scares, the hubristic desire to control everything, etc.

  • Brad

    Everything has a precedent so it’s hard to trace to any specific points in time that wins hands down as to what has contributed to the ascendancy of the political class. Of course I’ll give it a crack anyway.

    Personally, speaking for the US, I’d say the watershed moments occured with the implementation of the Central Bank (socialist money) and the income tax amendment in 1913. Progressivism had existed long before then, as had fascistic industrialists, but it wasn’t until money was socialized and labor was so easily confiscatable that the collectivists of the right and left could solidify their strength.

    Basically people who wanted to dominate and people who wanted to be led have always existed. But it wasn’t until equity was so easily taken did those who want to be Leaders of Men begin to flourish. The last three decades has seen the final end game between the Statists ( the leaders and the led) with the last thread breaking when the Republican/Conservatives decided that their compromises would come in the form of protecting their social conservatism with fiscal liberalism. They couldn’t beat’em so the joined’em. And the rise of the political class was complete.

    But it stands that watershed is still centralized money and unlimited claim to individual labor.

  • I agree with permanentexpat – I would say it is the education of the masses by these intellectual bottomfeeders and the politics of envy. The first leads to the second and the second leads straight into hell.

  • Oh….and having so many things “deducted” from your wages helps to keep you from seeing what you are getting (which is to say, screwed unless you are a dependent of the state).
    If every person had to write a check once a year for all the things their wages were garnished for, they’d be voting VERY differently.

  • “How has the current Western political class come into being?

    What economic, social, historical, cultural, technological or other factors have contributed to its growth and ascendancy?”

    As someone else said, it requires a book.

    But I will also try to confine this to the UK, as we’d get terribly bogged down otherwise.

    There are two fundamental historical strands at work.

    Firstly, we British were tired out, financially and morally busted, and sorrowfully-gutted by the 46-year 20th-century World War, from 1899 to 1945, with two semi-short armistice periods in it from 1902 to 1914, and 1918 to 1945. We however Did The Right Thing: we could do no other in the end and yet hope for English liberal Classical culture to survive. no other people on the planet imho, could have stood firm to buy the needed time. Churchill even weaponised the English Language – you have only to listen to his “finest hour” thingy to know what he did.

    There were no conditions under which we could ultimately have avoided confronting militant State-Collectivism, in war, in the last century. It is a double tragedy for mankind, for us and for the Germans that the one nation which ought to have been, and can be, and often is, the engine of intellectual and scientific progress – Germany – was the main enemy in both cases, and allowed itself to be redirected into evil by political craftsmen of a very high and irremediably-wicked order. It ought not to have been like that, but what was, was. It’s done and gone, and we did cock up the 1919 settlement by being tired and bored too, so we are at that point at least partly to blame. This has hopefully been fixed but at what a cost.

    Sadly, because initially the aggressor in such a case has all the cards, all the steel mills and all the answers, it requires oceans of blood and mountains of sorrow to climb, to beat one like these.

    The second strand of worm-drilling into the body-politic and body-cultural comes from our willingness, especially marked after 1945, to let militant-Gramscian-Collectivists into teaching posts in Universities. Yes yes yes I _know_ we say everybody ought to be able to say what they want, even if it is wicked, or rubbish, or destructive.

    So, I do _not_ know how, in a morally-consistent way, to get round the problem of letting cheerfully-frank and avowed GramscoFabiaNazis – who truly do appear to believe what they themselves are saying – and totally do mean to put the stuff in place, first in young people’s minds, and then in the State – into places where they can proselytise.

    I don’t know what the solution is. You can kill them, yes, but like Jason’s teeth they will come back. Like we do. So no go. But they got their traction while we were tired and busted (even worse after 1945!) and asleep. Their chance came when it did, because their major philosophers had been doing their stuff in the early 1900s, and it was all then coming to the boil. The most obvious nations to attack were the British Empire and the USA – the only “last men standing” after 1945 – be they ever so dog-eared and burnt round the edges.

    In my best moments, I do not make any distinction between “The British Empire” (which I am now supposed to label as the Anglosphere) and the USA. To me they are one civilisation, and they embody all that statist-ically driven Gramscians hate and fear. Therefore, what we call an “Enemy Class” – not just intellectually founded on the pre-capitalist-barbarian notion of a “ruling class”, but also designed from the ground upwards to subvert and destroy liberalism at its roots, had to be made.

    That’s the best I can do, people.

  • the other rob


    No, it was not (at least in the U.S.) the “lawyers” who got a statute passed. It was the judicial issue of determining what is required for “Due process.”
    [MIRANDA]. It is in the Constitution.

    In your rush to be condescending, you appear to have read the exact opposite of what I wrote.

    I did not say (as you appear to believe) that a chap couldn’t be questioned without his lawyer being present.

    I described a situation where, having served his time and been released on parole, the man was barred by law from entering a court house for *any* reason (such as filing for divorce, filing a claim etc.) without first paying gelt to the lawyers.

  • Ian B

    David, if your thesis offers an explanation, it needs to explain why GK Chesterton was writing and warning about this stuff before the First World War, why he describes it as “Prussianism” and why he dusted it off after that war and published it because he’d realised with despair that the war had not put an end to it.

    I think we need to find our answers in the murk of the nineteenth century. My own view is that we need to draw a categorical distinction (the categories will be blurred somewhat, but that is true of all such attempts, in the real world) between marxist/communist socialism- which I would argue is central european and specifically germanic in nature, and progressive/reform socialism, which is Anglospheric in origin and which I personally like to call “anglosocialism”.

    The categories are blurred heavily, because the two things have cross-fertilised- anglosocialists for instance adopted to varying degrees elements of “germanosocialist” (i.e. marxist) economics and marxist political and organisational stratagems have been used heavily to great success- that Gramscianism we talk of so often. But my argument is that reform socialism- which is primarily characterised by a moralist zeal- is largely itself of anglospheric origin and can be traced to our own historical precedents, particularly in some religious ideologies. Marxist communism was tried, and failed. But meanwhile angolosocialism ground onwards, creeping forwards, and succeeding where the “prussianists” failed, by taking an inch of ground at a time and, when it lost an inch, taking two inches somewhere else. This is the form of socialism which is now our enemy, unperturbed by the fall of communism because it is not the same thing, and being steadily imposed worldwide due to american (in particular) hegemony.

    Ever wondered why there’s a war on drugs? Why it’s worldwide? Why it seems impossible to stop despite the sheer absurdity? Why the war on smokers, on drinkers, on pr0n, on fat people, on tasty food? That’s anglosocialism in action, that is. Moral control of the individual’s life. The marxist economics just holds its coat.

    The fruit juice drinkers and sandal wearers who Orwell bemoaned were always the heart of anglosocialism, not the embarrassing liggers he thought they were.

  • Ivan

    Ian B:

    I’ve been desperately punting a narrative to a disinterested world for some time now which traces our modern elite back to the religious revivalism of the early 19th century, which created a hunger for social reform, which created “victorian values”, which led to the plethora of social reformists who have plagued us since. Social-ism, literally.

    I find this narrative, or at least something along similar lines, eminently plausible.

    Nowadays, the mainline liberal Protestant churches throughout the Anglosphere have pretty much dropped their Christian theology altogether, and their present teaching and activism has been more or less reduced to whatever is the standard mainstream lefty PC agenda of the day. Even the more liberal strands of non-Protestant religions have been moving in the same direction. (In fact, the contemptuous “fundamentalist” label is nowadays applied to anyone who takes some sort of actual theology seriously, and the mainline liberal Protestants are more likely to establish dialog and alliances with militant secularists and atheists than with the dreaded “fundamentalists”, as long as the former are on the PC side overall.)

    Conservative Christians, of course, argue that the mainline churches have been corrupted and hijacked by leftists in a Gramscian takeover in recent decades. However, a different interpretation is that already for centuries, the mainstream left-leaning forces in the English-speaking world have been exactly those driven by the Nonconformist Protestantism of the day, whose vortex gradually also sucked in the Anglican/Episcopal Church. (High-Church Anglicanism is nowadays pretty much a fringe conservative position; the present Archbishop of Canterbury obviously doesn’t support it!) If this is true, then the modern leftism that dominates the intellectual and political life of the Anglosphere is merely the next step in the natural evolution of Anglo-Protestantism — which means that Marxism and other foreign intellectual currents were only secondary influences in its evolution, and the “fundamentalists” are merely a temporary grouping of people whose beliefs are falling somewhat behind in this historical evolution, and whose numbers are occasionally inflated for a while by awakening movements.

    Certainly, this view is consistent with the utopian social engineering attitudes of the Anglo-Protestant Low-Church mainstream during the Progressive Era. Walter Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel, Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward”, the prohibitionists, the Wilsonian idealism in U.S. foreign policy, even many of the Fabians, or at least their mentors from the previous generation such as F.D. Maurice — none of these people were significantly influenced by Marxism, and Gramsci was still in diapers during their heyday. I think the above comment about the “Victorian values” is inaccurate, though, since these values also incorporated lots of the conservative Tory/High Church attitudes that were hostile to progressivist social engineering (though not to the legislation of traditional morality, of course).

    If this perspective is true (and I’m myself not quite sure what to think of it), then it poses some major problems for libertarians. It basically implies that the classical liberalism was also just another temporary phase in this evolution, which lasted for several generations and then gradually and naturally morphed into the “Social Gospel” progressivism, which has evolved into the modern PC leftism since then. This makes questionable the usual libertarian attitude towards classical liberalism as the pinnacle of political philosophy that was later corrupted by alien leftist ideological influences.

    (There is, by the way, an extremely interesting blog called “Unqualified Reservations”, whose author advocates more or less this view of modern history. However, he tends to be extremely long-winded and often engages in hyperbole and outrageously provocative statements, so I’m not sure how much the typical readers of this blog would enjoy it.)

  • Ivan

    Ian B:

    I think we need to find our answers in the murk of the nineteenth century. My own view is that we need to draw a categorical distinction (the categories will be blurred somewhat, but that is true of all such attempts, in the real world) between marxist/communist socialism- which I would argue is central european and specifically germanic in nature, and progressive/reform socialism, which is Anglospheric in origin and which I personally like to call “anglosocialism”.

    Here’s an interesting website that nicely illustrates this point: http://www.anglocatholicsocialism.org/. Note especially the section “The Heritage”. Although there had been at least some cross-fertilization with the continental traditions even back then, no other proof is really necessary to demonstrate the existence of the independent anglosocialist tradition. (My only problem with this website is that the people they champion have more connection with the Nonconformist/Low-Church tradition, as well as some fringe left currents of Roman Catholicism, than with the tradtionally Tory, High-Church Anglo-Catholicism.)

    Also, the answers might be buried even deeper than the murk of the 19th century. Arguably, you can trace the same tradition all the way back to the likes of Gerrard Winstanley and the rest of the “Left Opposition” to Cromwell, perhaps even all the way back to the more radical streams of Lollardy. Their legacy, of course, lives through their long-lasting influence on the more mainstream churches and other institutions and the more modern and sophisticated individuals who have rediscovered their ideas since, not the short-lived extremist movements of their own day.

  • veryretired

    I do not disagree with any of the previous commenters to any significant degree, but I would like to put my 2 cents worth in anyway.

    I especially agree with the comments regarding education, increasing prosperity, and over legalization, but also feel that, in very significant ways, these are symptoms, not causes.

    At any rate, three specific areas:

    1) An endless series of crises, some real and some manufactured, going back centuries into european history, which culminated in the repeated moral, social, economic, and military crises in the 19th and 20th centuries that inspired the growth of the state as THE agency of response.

    In this role, the state gradually subsumes the work of the churches and other local agencies, often with their wholehearted support, in social matters, and adopts the guise of protector in economic situations as the turbulence of capitalism becomes more complex and threatening to traditional populations.

    Many of these problems are, of course, brought about by the endless military scheming and warmaking of the aristocratic elites which controlled world affairs until they destroyed themselves with WW1.

    To fill the subsequent vacuum, we saw the rise of the populist demagogues preaching the ideologies which so marked 20th century politics, and which all relied on controlling the lives of the people to a degree unheard of in previous regimes, regardless of their superficial differences.

    2) Playing into the hands of those wishing to find villains whom they could scapegoat for any real or imagined problems are the utterly tone deaf early major capitalists, in the US referred to as “robber barons”, who seemed to adopt every possible aristocratic snobbish attitude and idea that would alienate them from the average worker.

    The result was, in far too many cases, a large population of voters who responded to the disdain of their “masters” by flocking to any populist who promised to bring the high and mighty down a few pegs with taxes and/ or legal restrictions.

    It is one of the supreme ironies of the modern era that so many of those who were raised from their forefathers’ lives of endless drudgery and subsistence farming end up voting for punitive policies out of resentment, instead of recognizing their true interests in more openness and economic freedom.

    3) There may not be any deeper and older intellectual and moral tradition in western culture than that of disdain and suspicion towards the merchant class.

    Although such feelings are not limited to the west, by any means, the combination of anti-semitism, aristocratic disdain, militaristic contempt, and religious hostility form a poinsonous brew in much of europe’s cultural heritage.

    The so-called (lordly) right despises the “nuveux riche”, with their crass attempts to pretend they are equal to their betters, while the peasant left hates the wealth and power of a new class of people who seem to control everything, not based on the noble rites of feudal duty, or even the earthy value of hard, physical labor, but the mysterious, and suspicious, habit of buying and selling scarce commodities at a profit.

    Add to this the capitalists habit of introducing new and innovative techniques and processes, thus disrupting the traditional and known in favor of the unknown and uncertain, and the hatred and suspicion solidifies into a palpable social and political force.

    As I have said in another context, much too often those of us who celebrate freedom and economic liberty fail to understand the enormous threat such a system presents to the ordinary person, steeped in traditional forms of labor.

    Suddenly, everything this person thought he or she knew is obsolete, and the survival of themselves and their families is dependent on struggling to learn an entirely new set of skills, and, eventually, an entirely new way of life.

    It is not surprising that so many react with hostility and suspicion, especially if the primary educators and influencers in their society are preaching an almost undiluted stream of invective against these “evil capitalists”.

    The state is, in almost all cases, the main beneficiary of all these cultural trends, for reasons that, I think, are so primitive that they may be deeply placed in our primate brain. Fear of the unknown, and an emotional need for a reassuring alpha figure to “take control”, are some of the greatest obstacles to the continuance of freedoms and liberties which rely on rational analysis and decision making.

    The “Age of Enlightenment” was a period of respect for reason and science. It is no accident that the rights of man were recognized so powerfully during this period.

    And it is no accident that these same rights are now under attack, in an age more and more divided between the rational and scientific, and the abysmal irrationality of collectivist ideology and magical thinking.

  • John_R in Western Australia

    “It needs a book”? There’s been a book: “The God of the Machine” by Isabel Paterson. Published in 1943 and still available from Amazon.

  • Ivan


    The “Age of Enlightenment” was a period of respect for reason and science. It is no accident that the rights of man were recognized so powerfully during this period.

    Frankly, I think that the standard story about the Enlightenment, which you repeat here, is not only a gross simplification of the actual history, but in fact almost complete bunk. The 18th century French philosophes were, in my opinion, akin to the leftist militant atheists and secularists of today, who flatter themselves that they are fearless champions of reason fighting off a deadly menace of superstition and theocratic despotism, while they’re in fact just beating the imaginary ghost of a long dead horse (and in fact, a straw man caricature thereof). In both cases, the ideas that are actually dangerous and apt to cause misery, mayhem, and tyranny, have been completely off their radar, and often even actively championed by them. I don’t think I need to point out any particular examples either from the 18th century or the modern age.

    In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the modern historical notion of the “Enlightenment” has been contrived by the subsequent radical movements, almost uniformly antithetical to liberty, who have found it convenient to proclaim themselves as heirs of this supposedly courageous and freedom-loving intellectual tradition, at the same time setting up a strawmen of the evil Ancien Régime against which the forces of good formed a subversive vanguard of progress — just like themselves in their own day. The same pattern of caricaturing reality has formed the core of the leftist worldview to the present day.

  • Most of what I know of the French Enlightenment I know from Will Durant, and he and I came to opposite conclusions.

    One area of disagreement is over France’s contribution to representative government. The Anglosphere pioneered that, thanks to a king getting steamrolled into signing a Great Charter that divested modest amounts of royal power. Want to give a meme longevity? Get it in writing. English subjects thought the Charter was law, while a lot of monarchs thought otherwise. The subjects ultimately won.

    Durant was also under the impression that the French Enlightenment fostered religious tolerance. Yeah, and labor unions love Wal-Mart. Neither the philosophes nor the French revolutionaries could perceive peace with the church. That the CofE allowed Dissenting churches to even exist suggests to me that the Anglosphere played a key role in religious tolerance. (At least the Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t have to sign a Great Religious Charter at swordpoint.) IIRC, the more cosmopolitan trading hubs of Northern Europe were also environments where the varying faiths could grow to get along with each other.

  • guy herbert

    Universal sufferage + the domination of the media by tabloid telly were the preconditions. The mechanism: party control of political careers + closure of the electoral system against outsiders in the name of protecting voter choice.

  • Hugo

    I’ve finally come up with the solution.

    You know how:

    * there’s a ratchet effect: Labour do bad things, and the Tories don’t reverse them
    * The “centre” moves irreversibly leftward
    * Fabian strategies only seem to work for lefties
    * Even if Tories don’t cut spending, they’ll still be accused of it, yet Labour could do so and no-one would notice…

    Well, I’ve finally come up with the solution. We need to train up some kids to be libertarians, as various groups are doing now, and get them to join the Labour Party. Then wait 20-30 years.

  • the pro from dover

    There are two natural states for homo sapiens –that’s us, that is- to be in.
    One is hungry (lean and mean), the other is corpulent (fat and lazy)

    Most of us want to ‘succeed’ in life; this usually means warm, secure, wealthy enough not to worry where the next meal is coming from, and with enough spare time to enjoy leisure or luxury. A nice by-product is that we hope to get some respect from our tribe for the success. Well not if you are selfish…

    The problem is, when we get all that, Mother Nature has ensured we tend to get fat and lazy with it. Nature knows that we don’t evolve if we get too comfortable, so it likes us to be always on our toes.

    The trick for the worst of us is to find a way to be unassailable, in a protected state in the shadow of someone or something more powerful.
    The State, the Banks and the Legislature are such bodies (strangely enough the military isn’t because it has lost power to its funders).
    The envious, the snivelling, the pompous and the ill-at-ease-in-their-own-skins, all find it much more preferable to hide under the petticoats of ‘publi-service’ than to go it alone like most of the rest of us.

    The backlash against the political classes won’t happen unfortunately, until the pips of the masses are squeaked. In about 20 years time unfortunately, when the pensions crime fully explodes.

  • Ian B

    Ivan, thanks for your replies. They’re most interesting and I’d reply in my usual long verbose stylee, but I feel a little weary and I’m having one of those days when I feel furiously angry at the world (a discussion elsewhere about the upcoming law against hentai caused me to read the text of what passed for a parliamentary debate regarding it and left me incandescent at the peabrains who represent us in our pathetic parliament), so I just want to express my appreciation for your posts.

    One quick thing; you disagreed with me regarding Victorian Values. What I meant there was that VVs represented the creation of a moral(ist) hegemony which remains to the present day- the idea of the state representing and imposing moral values such as sobriety, temperance, the “work ethic” and so on. The hegemonic values change over time, but the character remains, and in my interpretation that is a consequence of the anglosocialist success, which rooted in non-conformist protestantism and then, as you put it so well, sucked everything else (e.g. the anglican church, also the political and social elites) into its vortex.

  • veryretired

    I expected the immediate negative reaction to my citing the enlightenment, and I was not disappointed.

    What I am disappointed about is the inevitable critics who get all pissy over one sentence in a comment and just blow off the rest.

    Really, really narrow minded, and, beyond that, simply a waste of time.

    I’m not going to bother having an extended argument with those whose minds are closed and locked up tight.

    Yeah, life would be so good without that evil enlightenment messing everything up. Right.

  • I thought the comments about “do you believe in the NHS” being used as a proxy for “do you love your country” was an interesting one.

    Amongst some morons in America, the proxy questions are:

    1) Do you believe that Iraq could have conquered America?
    — Surprisingly enough, you love your country if — and only if — you actually believe it was in danger from a goofy looking dictator in a third world nation with little industry

    2) Do you believe that people tend to tell the truth under torture?
    — Apparently, those who love America also believe that statements made under torture tend to be true.

    There are others, but these seem to be the oddest.

  • I don’t think Iraq or Tm McVeigh or Al Capone or Bill Ayers or Ted Kaczynski or even Showa Japan were capable of conquering or otherwise destroying the entire nation. I also doubt that the Iriish Republican Army had similar capabilities regarding Britain. But…aren’t officeholders obliged to defend against all criminal threats against citizens?

  • Rich Rostrom


    Over time, the “political class” has been selected for behaviors which keep them in office. These behaviors include doing favors for as many interests as possible while giving serious offense to as few groups as possible, and tweaking the political system to minimize public input.

    Another factor has been the continual crisis level in world affairs since 1939. In the U.S., it caused a substantial jump in the time each Congress was in session. The 73rd Congress of 1933-1934, which enacted FDR’s drastic New Deal, met for only 266 days! The 76th Congress of 1939-1940 met for 625 days, and every Congress since has met for at least 417 days – most over 600 days. Thus being a Senator or Representative became a full-time job, not something a person with other occupations or interests could do. I suspect something similar happened with Parliament.

    I could be wrong about the cause (correlation != causation), but I think that’s it. War is the health of the political class.

  • Tedd McHenry

    Ian B:

    The key evil of the modern elite, is that desperation to help people, whether they want to be helped or not, and that is rooted in evangelism.

    Or, as P.J. O’Rourke said, “Earnestness is just stupidity sent to college.”

  • Tedd McHenry

    Do you believe that people tend to tell the truth under torture?

    Actually, whether people tend to tell the truth under torture, or not, is mostly irrelevant. Torture, properly applied, is used in conjunction with other interrogation techniques (prisoner’s dilemma, etc.) to produce useful information.

    That’s not an argument in favour of torture, only an argument against the pragmatic argument that torture doesn’t work. It’s better to argue against torture on principle, rather than pragmatism.

  • Paul Marks

    The political class represent the ideas and view of the world they were taught at school and univesity (and which are supported by the mainstream media of most Western nations).

    They are the “good students” (even if they were C grade students like George Walker Bush) who never challenged the basic assumptions of their school teachers and college lecturers.

    They are also people who have not really changed their priniciples and way of looking at the world since they left college.

    However, I doubt that “experience in business” in whatever would really have helped them.

    After all many (if not most) corporate executives are subsidy grubbing degenerates who have not really changed since they left college either.

  • yatalli

    It is hard to disagree with commenter, Alice that underlying much of the drift to the nanny state and the rise of “western political class” has its roots in the educational system. The government education system is designed to give the masses the illusion of being educated without the substance of a true education. The hours are filled with meaningless drivel. More class room hours equate to a better education, right? The students can roll a condom on a banana but have no idea that the constitution of the US places restraints on government.