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Elites Gone Bad

What America needs is a better class of left-winger.

Jun 13, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 37 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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Democracy-fatigue on the left works beautifully with the Obama-crat philosophy of government by professional elite. We know all about the lack of business experience among the president’s cabinet members and close advisers; we know that Obama himself has exactly (and only) the right training and experience to be a philosopher king. The post-patriotic Obamacrat professional ruler substitutes, naturally, adult analysis and sheer intelligence for the mere duty and devotion of political hacks and drooling amateurs whose exhibitions of unglobal, particularist patriotism inspire Ph.D.s everywhere with disgust.

And isn’t it natural for the growing cadre of government workers to include themselves in the ruling class, peers of the American realm, alongside the Ivy League law-school alums? 

To understand where the Obama-crats are headed, we need to look at Europe. Given their admiration for Europe, it’s not surprising that so many Obamacrats got over patriotism and are tired of democracy. Europe has shrunk patriotism to the size of a soccer ball; and Europe has only a shallow and fragile tradition of democracy. 

Britain comes closest. But despite the reform act of 1832 (almost half a century after the U.S. Constitution), “democracy” remained a dirty word (as bad as “republicanism”) in Conservative and Liberal circles through much of the 19th century. As late as 1889, Henry James wrote in The Tragic Muse about an aspirant to parliament who is sure of winning: “It’s her place,” says the candidate, referring to the widow of the great local landowner, who owns most of the town; “she’ll put me in.” And she does. Time out of mind English politics had worked like that. Only in the early 20th century was the House of Lords (for that matter) effectively excluded from the political process.

France, Germany, and Italy acquired stable democracies after World War II. (France is, of course, on her Fifth Republic, which dates from 1958, following the collapse of the Fourth over war in Algeria.) Eastern Europe, aside from the former Czechoslovakia, has no real democratic traditions older than the dissolution of the Soviet empire.

And the European Union is an insulating blanket designed to smother any escaping democratic sparks. EU laws—like America’s Electoral College and the choice of senators by state legislatures under the Constitution—interpose a protective layer between the public and its rulers. We moved to popular election of senators and a rubber-stamp Electoral College long ago; Europe is moving the other way.

In November 2009, the first president and foreign minister of the full-blown European Union were selected—not by the people of Europe but by the 27 EU heads of state or government through negotiation and discussion. The EU bureaucracy is famously remote from mere public opinion. The EU itself was created by the Lisbon Treaty of 2007—which was ratified not by the people but by their national legislatures; the EU was born in a sort of bloodless coup.

In the ostensibly pro-democracy United Kingdom, the Labour Parliament refused to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty; the Conservatives promised one, then changed their minds. (Today pro-referendum agitation is boiling up yet again in Britain.) Only Ireland did hold a referendum on Lisbon and embarrassed itself by voting no. But responsible Irishmen understood that this was only a mistake on the electorate’s part, so the referendum was thrown out and a second one was held, and this time the Irish behaved as they were supposed to—like dutiful children of a better tomorrow. So now the Finns are making trouble. Children are like that.

But the EU is European Obama-care: Eurocrats and Obamacrats both speciously insist on “moving forward” and not rearguing (or in the Obama-crats’ grating term, “relitigating”) old disputes. Naturally they don’t want those disputes reargued; they have already lost the argument once, and if they lose again, things might turn unpleasant.

Where are Europe and the EU headed? Unless democratic forces do better than history gives us any right to expect, both are headed towards consensual autocracy. 

One set of EU rulers will choose the next (and be rewarded in turn with many honors and comfortable retirements), the EU bureaucracy will grow in wealth and power; but the rights of individuals will be respected (so long as they attract no undue attention from their Muslim betters), and the whole thing will look and feel and taste like—in a sense will even be—democracy, because nearly all Europeans will agree on nearly everything anyway. They have already made a promising start by achieving continent-wide agreement (more or less) on such topics as global warming, Israel-hating, and spending a bare minimum on their armies while permitting the clownish Americans to take care of the messy and expensive military details.

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