It is natural that in any society, the people with the most money and power will want to believe that they deserve to have the most money and power. Plato proposed that the “noble lie”, the belief in a superior ruling class, was an important foundation of a stable society. In any case, the propaganda in favor of this myth is powerful, so many people tend to accept it. The mark of a true modern conservative may be his ability to believe that some older version of the noble lie is superior to the current version; here is Bobo, for example, lamenting the fact that today’s Asian and Jewish high-achievers lack the character of the WASP overlords of yesteryear.
Anne Applebaum has a reasonably interesting requiem-for-the-meritocracy column today. She blithely accepts today’s noble lie, the notion that our society is meritocratic — something that seems ridiculous for anyone in national media to do, given what a stagnant old boys’ sewer it is — but she actually does make some good points:
The old Establishment was resented, but only because its wealth and power were perceived as undeserved. Those outside could at least feel they were cleverer and savvier, and they could blame their failures on “the system.” Nowadays, successful Americans, however ridiculously lucky they have been, often smugly see themselves as “deserving.”
I think this is right, that today’s form of the noble lie is more potent than the one that Bobo liked (although I suspect there was some argument that the old Establishment was meritocratic, just not one that seems at all convincing to contemporary observers). Applebaum is also right that it is interesting that today’s “anti-elite-education” talk comes from conservative whites, not from liberals and non-whites, as Daniel Bell and others had predicted it would.
But this is taking it all too far:
If working hard, climbing the education ladder and graduating from a good university only wins you opprobrium, then you might not bother. Or if you do bother, then you certainly won’t go into politics, where your kind is no longer welcome. We will then have a different sort of elite in charge of the country — and a different set of reasons to dislike them, too.
The Tea Party movement isn’t nearly so Real Murkin as it pretends to be: Scott Brown is a millionaire Boston College law grad, Joe Miller went to Yale, and the whole thing is funded by the MIT-educated billionaire Koch brothers. There’s more misguided pseudo-intellectualism — Glenn Beck University, Ayn Rand, the strange fixation with Hayek — than overt anti-intellectualism among teatards, from what I can see. Sure, Christine O’Donnell told voters “I didn’t go to Yale”, but that seemed more a euphemism for “I don’t know what I’m talking about” than anything else.
Modern conservatism is about wealthy, often elitely educated people getting what they want by playing head games with middle-class white voters. It’s not about turning over any kind of social order, “meritocratic” or otherwise.