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Monday, January 11, 2016

 

The faithless

The loss of political faith imposes a cost to government. Ambitious men through the ages have made the mistake of imagining that power grows in proportion to the coercive force they possessed. In fact there is an inverse relationship between coercion and lasting authority. As Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center noted, the more armed groups, secret police and enforcers there were in Syria, the faster it fell apart. By contrast the power of the American political class was never more secure than when authority figures like Walter Cronkite and John Kennedy were implicitly trusted and obeyed.

States fail not from a lack of a police but from a surfeit of lies. Societies die from the loss of trust. Joel Kotkin of the Daily Beast believes that "the disconnect between the hoi polloi and the new bureaucratic master race has spawned a powerful blowback" the world round. "Support for the EU is at record low ... the extreme discontent in America—epitomized by the xenophobic Trump campaign—reflects a similar opposition to bureaucratic overreach."

Because action and reaction feed each other the gap can only be expected to widen. "This conflict can be expected to grow as new federal initiatives ... stomp on even the pretense that cities might have any control over their immediate environment. " The preferred relationship is morphing from one of trust to one of dominance.

this new centralist ruling class ... relies not on tradition, Christianity, or social hierarchy to justify its actions, but worships instead at the altar of expertise and political correctness. ...
As the Obama era grinds to its denouement, grassroots democracy, once favored by liberals, is losing its historic appeal to the left. Important progressive voices like Matt Yglesias now suggest that “democracy is doomed.” Other prominent progressives, such as American Prospect’s Robert Kuttner, see the more authoritarian model of China as successful while the U.S. and European political systems seem tired.

Increasingly the call is not so much for a benevolent and charismatic dictator, but for an impaneled committee of experts to rule over our lives. Former Obama budget adviser Peter Orszag and Thomas Friedman argue openly that power should shift from naturally contentious elected bodies—subject to pressure from the lower orders—to credentialed “experts” operating in Washington, Brussels, or the United Nations.

It is a false kind of dominance, outwardly strong yet too expensive to sustain. This may be a regrettable development, yet one that is easily understood. Our betters have for decades striven to erode the "we" to the point where the word itself is racist and seditious. It is the autocrats who are seceding as Kotkin notes:

Levels of trust for the dominant institutions like the federal government, Congress, the courts, big banks, media, and the academy are at historically low levels.
Roughly half of all Americans, according to Gallup, now consider the federal government “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.” In 2003 only 30 percent of Americans felt that way.

The destruction of trust may in retrospect be the single most destructive act committed by elitist politics in the Western democracies, all the more because its object is intangible and therefore its damage more lasting. As George Orwell wrote in 1984 words can be forgotten. It is feelings that count; real betrayal takes place when you stop caring. The elites may stopped caring a long time ago, what they never expected was that one day the masses would return the compliment.

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