Angelo Codevilla – America’s Milovan Djilas

Older readers may recall the once famous but now largely forgotten Cold War figure of Milovan Djilas. While other dissidents from Communism like Andrei Sakharov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Whittaker Chambers acheived a more epic historical stature, Djilas was the first high Communist official, the adviser and likely successor to Yugoslavian dictator Tito, to turn against Communism as a system. More importantly, Djilas wrote New Class in 1957, a damning analysis that accurately castigated the hierarchy of Communist Party and government officials an exploitive and tyrannical ruling class that in the Soviet context was later termed “Nomenklatura“. For this act, Djilas would suffer in Tito’s prisons, but he outlived both Tito and Communism and his Party enemies were never able to shake off the truth of his bitter critique.

As related here in his post the other day by David Foster, Claremont scholar and Boston U. international relations professor Angelo Codevilla has published in The American Spectator a very lengthy, often brilliant, sometimes meandering, essay that is part analysis, part cri de coeur, but primarily the most devastating attack on America’s emerging, bipartisan, technocratic Oligarchy that I have ever read:

America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution

….Never has there been so little diversity within America’s upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America’s upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and “bureaucrat” was a dirty word for all. So was “social engineering.” Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday’s upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.

Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters — speaking the “in” language — serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America’s ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.

The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century’s Northerners and Southerners — nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, “prayed to the same God.” By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God “who created and doth sustain us,” our ruling class prays to itself as “saviors of the planet” and improvers of humanity. Our classes’ clash is over “whose country” America is, over what way of life will prevail, over who is to defer to whom about what. The gravity of such divisions points us, as it did Lincoln, to Mark’s Gospel: “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

That passage captures the zeitgeist. Read Dr. Codevilla’s article in in its’ entirety here.

I am not in harmony with everything Codevilla has written. Neither is Dr. James Joyner. Codevilla’s personal, very socially conservative, cultural preferences are not mine and, like Joyner, I would quibble with some of his descriptions as immoderate. In general, this essay would have benefited from either having been edited down to be more concise or expanded into a book to leverage greater evidentiary support of diverging political worldviews, which is out there. What is hard to deny though, is that Codevilla is pointing a finger at a visceral problem of a self-aware ruling class in the process of ossifying and separating itself culturally and legally away from and over the ruled – an alien thing in American history. Something the ancient Greeks as well as the Founding Fathers would recognize as anoligarchy“, a threat to democratic self-government and constitutional liberties.

Unlike Milovan Djilas, Angelo Codevilla will not face prison or lose his job for his criticism. Our oligarchy is in its newborn infancy, but it is hungry for power, venal in its corruption, covetous of security, impatient of democratic accountability and intolerant of dissent. Beware of legislative moves, cloaked in high-sounding phrases, to regulate speech, circumscribe criticism of public officials, grant police powers to private corporations like BP, tax farm the many to benefit the few, and generally exclude the public from important policy decisions by making citizen participation in governmental process more complex, opaque, indirect, financially burdensome and personally risky.

If any proposed government action would seem likely to legitimize an activity that would be unethical or illegal if an ordinary person did it, that is a time to make your voice heard against going down the slippery slope.

7 thoughts on “Angelo Codevilla – America’s Milovan Djilas”

  1. I read Dr. Codevilla’s article last night and was very impressed. He was acute in his diagnosis. I was surprised to see that he called the “ruling class” and their supporters a third of the population with the “Country Party” at two thirds. Sitting here in the San Francisco Bay Area, that gives me hope!

    Historically, one of America’s great strengths under the Constitution has been, with the one exception of the Civil War, the ability to replace or turnover its elites without killing them. This current crop is definitely digging in and Dr. Codevilla recognizes the difficulties ahead. The suppression of small business could be seen as a willful act to disable potential opposition since it takes resources to be effective political actors. To a great degree, the Ruling Class’s coalition of big business, academia, and the poor (through subsidies) have both the resources and the motivation to be successful political actors.

    How this will turn out historically will be a great political drama that will affect our lives in very personal ways. Let this article stimulate thinking and discussion of how to organize to make a future one of free men and women and not one of serfs.

    An American “Brave New World” doesn’t have to happen.

  2. Hi Joseph

    “I read Dr. Codevilla’s article last night and was very impressed. He was acute in his diagnosis. I was surprised to see that he called the “ruling class” and their supporters a third of the population with the “Country Party” at two thirds. Sitting here in the San Francisco Bay Area, that gives me hope!”

    I am glad that you brought that up. Codevilla is drawing on a very old Anglo-American tradition here. In early Hanoverian Great Britain, their came to be what some historians called a “Country ideology” feeling of proto-republican resentment among the rural gentry against “the King’s Party” in the Commons who were largely in the pockets of the great nobility via “rotten boroughs” and corrupted by the patronage offered by the Court.

  3. It’s very interesting to me that there has been this sudden interest in the whole “ruling class” vs the people issue. I wonder if it is coming from the tea parties activities or concerns about the coming election or maybe everyone is just fed up.

    Andre Breitbart’s revelations in video have cracked the vault door a bit to let us peek into the leftist strongholds, like ACORN and JournoList. Now, he has taken after the NAACP and the whole racist meme. I expect a revelation a day for the next few weeks. Andrew is very much a workaholic when he has hold of a promising gambit.

    A lot of depressed conservatives are getting a new stimulus to get to work and take the country back.

    It won’t be easy as these people will fight like cornered rats to keep their privileges and their sinecures.

  4. I’ve been going on a bit about the new aristocracy, for the last couple of years – here (good lord, from June 2007)
    and from late 2008 I wrote these two before the Tea Party was even thought of. This one was written just before the big Tea Party bash in April,2009 –
    And finally, after what I called l’affaire Polanski:
    My SWAG (scientific wild-ass guess would be – maybe it’s a sort of mass convergence; a lot of observant and introspective people looking around and noticing the patterns.

  5. > Codevilla is drawing on a very old Anglo-American tradition here.

    Yes indeed, and I’m surprised he didn’t use the term “Court Party” in this essay. A traditional historic distinction in British politics going back to the 1600s is the “Court Party” vs. the “Country Party.” This is King vs. Parliament in the Puritan Revolution; it’s Tories vs. Whigs at the time of the American Revolution. (The American revolutionaries resolutely regarded themselves as Whigs.) The Country Party, from the Puritans through the revolutionary Whigs, gave us the core of American government and constitutionalism. The Courtiers, Royalists, and Oligarchs have ever been present, though, and in the Obama administration they are especially aggressive.

    (If you want to know what the Journolist kids really are: they are junior Courtiers, the kind you would find circling around any royal court all through history. Shakespeare is full of them.)

    People who want to search the archives for some solid inspiration and encouragement in these troubled times should read up on the Levellers at the time of the Puritan Revolution. They were the libertarian branch of the revolution, and much of what lies at the core of American constitutionalism really comes from them. (They were a major source for Locke’s thinking.) Contrary to their name, they were not in favor of socialist “levelling” — the name was given to them as a term of abuse by their enemies, rather like calling the tea partiers “corporatists” or some such thing. (There *was* a socialist branch of the Puritan Revolution: the “Diggers” who fit squarely within the ancient tradition of voluntary religious communism. They are not to be confused with the Levellers.)

    The Journolist kids are the junior Courtiers. The Tea Party is the Leveller movement. Modern day libertarians might want to look at the experience of the Levellers and see what can be learned from them.

  6. Very interesting article by Codevilla, but with a lot of blank spots. One of them, the real story how the Ruling
    Class have been created.
    The “ruling class” is only a partial creation of liberal colleges.
    The Boston Bramins, Pittsburgh magnates, California landowners
    were seeing that their sons and grandsons are not too good
    to sit on corporate boards, run corporations, or big agricultural
    enterprises. What to do with not so bright and capable kids ?-
    create for them and their offsprings guaranteed jobs in
    Washington, and hire good CEO’s to run their businesses.
    Another reason, they didn’t want to send their kids to Vietnam.
    Are these big shots from Boston, Pittsburgh, California were
    oblivious what kind of brainwash their scions got in colleges ?
    Did not they talk to kids during summer vacations ?
    Did not they shower these colleges with donations?
    These big shots in Boston were not isolated from the
    NYC magnates, or Pittsburgh titans… they knew very well
    what was going on. Don’t make them innocent.
    One phone call from a Boston Bramin would send a liberal college
    professor sweeping the streets to the end of his life .
    Didn’t these big shots had not control over media ?
    Did not they own stocks of TV studios, newspapers, etc?
    The creation of the “Ruling Class” is the work of these
    big industrialists and landowners. And now we see the outcome
    of the monster they have created and fed. And this monster
    is going to devour many , but not the scions and their cronies.

  7. The partisan point of Codevilla’s article: the majority (country party) intend to REMAKE the Republican party into a force the will TAKE BACK THE POWER that the Ruling Class usurped, and restore the democratic republic.

    The Ruling Class extorted their power using
    1) Race and class hustles to extort redistributive arbitrary “discretionary” legislation
    2) Bureaucracy. Vague legislation was used to embed permanent and unaccountable bureaucracies that can be used to extort preferred private biz actions
    2) Oligarchy. Fascist capture of oligarch companies was achieved by threat of regulation and litigation. In exchange for gouged taxes and fees, labor and hiring concessions, politically correct biz decisions, and support of statist initiatives, the Ruling Class secured the oligarchs’ market shares thru tailored regs and keeps them alive with bailouts. These state-controlled monopolies are lost causes…abominations of captialism, and the co-opted remaining “competitive” industries are reeling like lobotomized mental patients under this arbitrary mind-control 1984-style nanny state.

    The people will stop this crap, one way or another. And they better fear the other.

Comments are closed.