No Good Answers, But An Interesting Question

July 9th, 2009at 07:30am Posted by Eli

David Brooks wonders whether the quality of our leaders has declined:

[T]ail, the death of Robert McNamara has me thinking about ruling classes. On the one hand there was the Best and the Brightest ruling class of which McNamara was a part. These were men (I guess they were all men) educated at the high water mark of technocratic self-confidence.

They believed they had mastered the knowledge required to make a society function. Through macroeconomics they would regulate economic growth. Through technocratic planning they would spur development in the post-colonial world. Through urban redevelopment they would eliminate slums. Through the application of logic and technology they would defeat the Soviet Union.

Didn’t work out so well.

Then there was the ruling class described in “The Wise Men” by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas. These were Wall Street plutocrats with an eye toward public service, like John McCloy, Dean Acheson, Robert Lovett, Averell Harriman and George Kennan. They were educated during the last gasp of American classicism. On his deathbed, McCloy asked that his son learn Greek.

They worked for a dollar a year and created the institutions of the post-World War II era. I’d say they did a pretty spectacular job.

Then there are America’s Founders. They were generally bluebloods with a talent for self-cultivation and a belief in a natural aristocracy….

(…)

Then finally there is our ruling class today: Ivy-League educated, meritocratic, circumspect, prudent and ambitious. Our ruling class has high SAT scores. It is tolerant and diverse. It is pleasant and it is produced by a system that is infinitely more fair and more just. I’d prefer to live under our meritocracy than under the aristocratic systems of the Wise Men or the Founders. And yet I don’t know about you, but something has been lost, some character formula, some aristocratic grandeur.

Our current ruling class reminds me too much of “the Best and the Brightest” – education and intelligence are useless without backbone, selfless dedication to public service, and a modicum of common sense.  Yes, there are a lot of smart people (although there is a depressingly high proportion of complete dumbasses, primarily but not exclusively on the Republican side), but very few of them seem to have the public good at heart.  They’re too beholden to big corporate donors, and they flinch whenever the conservative base throws a hissy fit (which is pretty much every day).

How many of our ruling class are willing to draw a line in the sand on the need for real reforms in the financial, environmental, or healthcare realms, and how many want to either obstruct them completely, or pervert them into toothless corporate giveaways, even though failure could very well mean disaster for the American people, if not the entire human race?

Intelligence is great, but character and vision are essential.  And right now they are sorely lacking.

Entry Filed under: Politics


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