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Angelo Codevilla’s article on the ruling class

Posted by John Reed on

Readers often thank me for recommending books and articles to read. One subscriber to my Real Estate Investor’s Monthly said the occasional book reviews alone and the books they led him to were worth the cost of the subscription ($125).

I am one of the few book authors who still generally puts bibliographies into his books (not to mention indexes). Other authors and their publishers do not want the expense of the extra pages or of compiling and organizing the information. They also do not want to alert you to where they got their information or to the existence of competing books.

In this article I give you a recommended reading list of one article: America’s Ruling Class—and the Perils of Revolution by Angelo M. Codevilla in the July-August 2010 issue of the American Spectator.

I heard Rush Limbaugh talk about it. Also, my sister-in-law sent it to my wife who gave it to me.

Read it.

My comments on the article

This 24-page article tells you what went wrong with American governance in the 20th and 21st centuries. It articulates the problem and its causes better than anything else I have seen.

It says the solution is not the Republican Party, although the Republican Party is trying to depict itself as the solution. In fact, a new party made up of those who in 2008 were independent, moderate Democrats, and most Republicans is needed.

The Libertarian Party is probably the existing party that best captures it, but they have done a lousy job of building a brand since they began in the 1970s.

The Tea Party, which is more a vague manifestation of discontent than a political party, is currently getting the attention as the savior organization. Considering their lack of definition and organization, they have accomplished an amazing amount.

So did Ross Perot with a similar effort in 1992. The fact that the Tea Party and Perot were able to accomplish so much shows how relatively easy it would be for a true party that represented the views of the non-hard-core leftists to win power.

According to Codevilla, the ruling class currently has only about one-third of the voters. They are in power in spite of their minority status because the other two-thirds of the voters have no one to vote for. Indeed, current polls say that 80% of the American people do not like either party.

Neither the Republicans nor the anti-government parties offer enough legitimate candidates or any hope of victory. The ruling class Democrats also use specific tricks like gerrymandering, keeping third parties off the ballot, addicting government employees and recipients to government checks, weakening non-government institutions like marriage and corporations, and so on to artificially weaken their political opponents.

The “ruling class” is the Democrat leadership in elected and appointed government officials, labor leaders, and government employees and and leftist non-profits. Academia and the traditional media are generally also a part of the ruling class.

What defines the ruling class? They think they know best what’s good for you.

They are unified by the belief that they know best. They have a sort of list of approved beliefs. You can join the ruling class by proclaiming allegiance to its party platform—global warming, single-payer health care, Europe is better than America, and all that.

Republicans do not really oppose the ruling class. They want to be part of the ruling class. You can see that in the lukewarm reception by many Republicans to Sarah Palin, who is not a member of, nor does she aspire to be a member of, the ruling class, and who does not like either their policies or their attitudes towards the American people in general.

Mainstream Republicans are not so much opposed to the Democrats. They are the Democrats lite. They are more interested in regaining personal government power than restoration of the Constitution. If you think the Constitution does not have to be restored, you apparently missed Nancy Pelosi’s answer to being asked the Constitutional authority for forcing every American to buy health insurance. She answered,

Are you kidding? Are you kidding?

The ruling class don’t need no stinking Constitutional authority

The ruling class is defined by their connections to and support of bigger government. They work for the government or they work for non-profits that want more government. They are your high school “in” crowd writ large. If you are “their kind,” you’re in. If not, you’re out. People like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh are not their kind. People who like Palin and Limbaugh are not their kind. (I like Limbaugh. I am not sure what to make of Palin.)

As in high school, you get into the ruling class “in” crowd mainly by merely showing your extreme eagerness to fit in. Just as wearing the “right” clothes helped you get into the high school “in” crowd, driving the “right” car, going to the “right” schools, working for the “right” employer, and so on get you into the ruling class.

Codevilla says the ruling class thinks the rest of us are stupid.

Actually, I agree. We did put the ruling class in power in 1932 and every two years since.

I vote Libertarian, but most of the rest of you have elected these guys. So I think the burden of proof is on Codevilla to prove that non-ruling class Americans have a goddamned brain in their heads. Less than two years ago, they elected Barack Obama and massive majorities of Democrats in both houses of Congress. That’s a pretty strong case for stupid.

The ‘right’ thoughts trump reality to them

I have recently written that to the left, their good intentions are a 100% substitute for actual results. (,,,,

Codevilla quotes Karl Marx as saying ethical (Marxist) thought is “superstructural” to material reality.

That’s another way of saying what I mean when I say leftists do not care that socialism does not work. They believe it is morally superior and the fact that it does not work is beside the point and the solution to government control not working is always even more government control—like new government watchdogs to watch over the government watchdogs that did not get the job done before.

Under the subhead “Dependence economics,” Codevilla has this great line:

Thus if you are not among the favored guests at the table where officials make detailed lists of who is to receive what at whose expense, you are on the menu.

The solution is not to get a place at the table, as business initially tried to do with the Obama administration. All that got them was the opportunity to be both at the tale and on the menu.

The solution is to upend the table and tell the people there to go home and leave us alone. Go get real jobs in the private sector. Abandon your career as a government leech on the private sector

Here is another great line from the article:

Nowadays, the members of our ruling class admit that they do not read the laws. They don’t have to. Because modern laws are primarily grants of discretion, all anybody has to know about them is whom they empower.

Our founding fathers said laws would be enacted by Congress and signed by the president who could be thrown out on election day. It did not occur to them that the Congress and the President would delegate that authority to permanent rule issuing and rule enforcing bureaucracies who need not run for election, who cannot be voted out, and who regard the appointed heads of their department as passing annoyances.

Story of my life

This has been going on for longer than I realized. Codevilla says that President Woodrow Wilson, Glen Beck’s latest crusade, falsely told Europe that the American people demanded Article X (which created the League of Nations) of the World War II peace treaty be approved while simultaneously telling the American people that Europe demanded that Article X be approved.

To perpetrate this international fraud, the U.S. government temporarily seized control of the transatlantic cable to prevent the two sides from realizing Wilson’s scam. Ultimately, the Congress refused to join the League of Nations. As a result, the left blamed Americans who rejected membership in the League of Nations, not Hitler or Tojo, for World War II.

One paragraph said what I have been saying since I was in college. Here it is:

Members of the [non-ruling] class who want to rise in their profession through sheer competence try at once to avoid the ruling class’s rituals while guarding against infringing its prejudices. Averse to wheedling, they tend to think that exams should play a major role in getting or advance in jobs, that records of performance—including academic ones—should be matters of public record [common in other countries like France and India], and that professional disputes should be settled by open argument.

I have written a whole bunch of articles on that general theme at my military web pages. When I was judged objectively in the Army—at West Point and at Army schools ranger, airborne, signal corps officers basic, radio officer, and satellite communications officer—I always passed. Many of my West Point classmates were below me in the class at West Point and many of those above and below me at West Point flunked the subsequent Army schools. Ranger school recommended that I be brought back as an instructor. I got promoted to first lieutenant while in Army schools.

But when I started going to Army units where I was in the chain of command, I got lousy efficiency reports, was not promoted to captain and generally got harassed and retaliated against. Why?

I fought against various practices that were illegal or unethical. My being in that government organization—the U.S. Army (West Point cadets are active-duty U.S. Army personnel)—for eight years was a microcosm of what is going on in America.

For the first five years of West Point and Army schools, I did better than average. Once I hit the part of the Army where all evaluations were subjective and adherence to the party line and going along to get along ruled, I was suddenly a pariah.

The ruling class seeks an America where it’s whom you know not what you know that matters. I experienced both of those in the U.S. Army and the whom you know world is far worse than you think.

I saw the same in civilian employment. Bosses and tyrants tend to want a zillion subjective laws and rules. They want everything to be subjective with their opinion being the only one that matters.

Good people want to be judged on their merits as they are when on commission or self-employed. Obama and his crowd and his predecessors going back to at least Woodrow Wilson want the ruling class’s power to be absolute and the rules that restrict them to be totally subjective so they can claim to be abiding by them when they are not.

Speaking of the military…

Codevilla has a brief discussion of the military which is probably accurate as far as it goes, but it contains some rather glaring, to me, contradictions that Codevilla himself is apparently blind to. Codevilla divides the U.S. population into the ruling class and what he calls the “country class.” In that phrase, the word “country” apparently refers to the country of the United States not rural areas or country gentlemen with country estates. He further puts our active-duty military in the “country class.”

This [country] class also takes part in the U.S. armed forces body and soul: nearly all the enlisted, non-commissioned officers and officers under the [general] rank belong to this class in every measurable way. Few vote for the Democratic Party.

I would not know how many military vote Democratic. No one would. Secret ballot.

Otherwise, I think these statements are demonstrably false. Codevilla says the main distinguishing characteristic of the ruling class is they work for the government, support more government, or work in the shadow Democrat government of non-profits, think tanks, Department of Defense civilians and so on.

Uh, excuse me Professor Codevilla, but U.S. military active duty personnel work for the government. A high percentage of them stay for at least 20 years, retire with half pay or more and have very cheap health care benefits for themselves and their dependents cradle to grave. Furthermore, a high percentage of those who retire from the military double or triple dip by taking civilian Department of Defense or other federal jobs to get additional retirement pay.

I am a West Point graduate—Class of 1968. By far the largest contingent of my class now lives in the DC area. They have monthly meetings.

Here in the San Francisco area, West Pointers have several meetings for all classes per year.

The top colonels and generals, when they retire, most certainly do NOT start their own businesses or work on commission or become heads of corporate profit centers where their performance can be measured objectively. Rather, they join foreign policy think tanks, work for government contractors as glorified greeters and cronies of those still in the military in purchasing positions, or take Department of Defense civilian jobs.

In short, they are so into being part of the ruling class, and have been since they were teenagers, that they cannot comprehend the “country class.”

As I said above, I was in the Army for eight years. I saw that crowd up close and personal. They are not comfortable with the white wine, Ivy League, draft dodger crowd, but except for their preferred beverage, pedigree, and military service resume, active and retired military are arguably even more ruling class than the ruling class.

The military life is in most ways more Marxist than even liberal bastions like Cambridge, MA or Hyde Park, IL. There is no freedom of speech within the military. They get housing, jobs, medical care, assignments, moving expenses, government pensions, and, at times, three meals a day, from the government. They live and work within a regimented all-government structure.

In some aspects of appearance and taste, military seem the opposite of the ruling class, but in terms of their basic view of government versus the private sector and their actions in living their lives, the military could not be much more ruling class.

Although the civilian Ivy League ruling class (I also am a Harvard MBA) looks down on military personnel, believe it or not, military career officers are very much suffering from the delusion that they are a sort of royalty. Getting saluted and called “sir” seems to have gone to their head. See my various military articles for more on that, especially “command performance” parties hosted by colonels at The military officer corps’ royalty delusion gives a whole new meaning to Professor Codevilla’s “ruling class” concept.

Professor Codevilla was a Navy officer. Here is his biography.


Codevilla is also big on depicting religious people as the opposite of the ruling class. If they’re Amish, I agree. But evangelical Christians have been stalwart parts of the Republican coalition since the late Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority began in 1979. They were not shy about trying to be part of the conservative ruling class and impose their agenda on the rest of Codevilla’s “country class.”

Do the Ivy League ruling class members look down on the Christian right? Absolutely. But that’s a two-way street and the evangelical Christians look down just as much on secular people as their moral inferiors.

Instead of Marxist ideology, the Christians have Biblical ideology. As a member of neither of those two groups, I see no useful distinction between a person who is trying to impose either Marxist or religious orthodoxy on me. About the only virtue of the political religious right at the present is they do not have power at present.

But they had it and behaved in their own way like the Codevilla’s ruling class when they did. They also are extremely eager to get that power back so they can again rule over their political and sectarian opponents.

I am a libertarian. My message to all versions of the ruling class is leave us alone. Codevilla’s article loses some of its power and moral authority when it fails to see the ruling class tendencies of the military and the religious right.

‘Lacks its own political vehicle’

The key portion of Codevilla’s article starts with the sentence:

Certainly the country class lacks its own political vehicle—and perhaps the coherence to establish one. In the short term at least, the country class has no alternative but to channel its political efforts through the Republican Party, which is eager for its support. But the Republican Party does not live to represent the country class. For it to do so, it would have to become principles-based, as it has not been since the mid-1860s.

That’s the 1860s.

Well-put. The Republican brand is toast. They are the ruling class loyal opposition, the once and future ruling class in their minds. They do not want to end the ruling class. They want to be the ruling class—again. Only a new party can attract the anti-government-expansion coalition of independents, libertarians, moderate democrats, and conservatives.

Academic prose

One last criticism of Codevilla’s article. It is written the language of the ruling class academics. As a result, it is somewhat hard to read.

I wish Codevilla would sell me the plain English language translation rights. I could turn it into a far more readable, powerful, and effective article by removing all the high-falutin’ intellectual speed bumps.

I almost wonder if Codevilla’s writing like a university professor writing for other university professors to mock their ruling-class affectations. Whatever his reason, he has made this important article accessible to precisely those who are least likely to read it or agree with it, and inaccessible to those most likely to read it, agree with it, and act on it.

Until Codevilla sells the plain English translation rights to a competent, readable writer, I urge you to force yourself through the thing. It is worth it.

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