America, plagued by a generation more interested in being elite than doing the work of an elite

America, plagued by a generation more interested in being elite than doing the work of an elite. By the Z-Man.

There is an old expression, “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”, that has haunted powerful people since forever. A variation on this is “The first generation makes it. The second generation maintains it and the third generation blows it”.  …

It is fair to say that popular forms of government were invented to address the problem of private rule going sour by the third generation. Caesar Augustus was the great founder of the empire. Tiberius Caesar Augustus was solid, but he suffered from the predictable maladies of every second generation ruler. Caligula is arguably Rome’s most famous lunatic. …

The promise of popular government is that the elites are in a competition with one another to run the society. The people get to pick the winner, based on their interests. This way the great man does not hand control over to his disinterested son and his disinterested son does not leave things to a maniac. Every generation gets to figure out who is the most fit to rule society. The theory takes the natural hierarchy of society and allows it to keep renewing itself through merit. That is the theory.

Reality seems to be that old adage at the start. We see this with the current ruling classes of the West. They are looking like Commodus, the heir to the great Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, the last of the five good emperors. Unlike his father, Commodus was much more interested in spectacle and what we would today call bourgeoise degeneracy. It was his excessive self-indulgences and reckless disregard for order that brought an end to the Pax Romana.

Commodus, in the movie Gladiator

Commodus is a good emperor to study when thinking about what is happening with the managerial elite of the American empire. When you look around at this elite, you see a lot of people like Commodus. They were born into privilege, doted on by parents who dreamed big dreams for them. They came into the world expecting the world to comport to their desires. Most important, you see that appropriation of authority that was never earned, but passed down from the prior generation. …

Look around at the elected class and you see the same pattern. There are no men who went from the middle class to elected office on their own merit. In fact, it is hard to find anyone in national politics who has ever had a job. No one in the leadership of both parties has a line for “private sector” in his resume. The reason for that is they have never done productive work. Instead, like our old friend Commodus, they were groomed from birth to take up positions in the ruling class.

Taken as a whole, the Commodus comparison becomes clear. Marcus Aurelius never would have set foot in the Coliseum, but his feckless son thought himself as Rome’s first entertainer, so he spent a lot of time performing. Our current ruling class looks more like carny folk than the men who built the empire. This is where you see the other comparison to Commodus. Like the doomed emperor, our ruling class cannot stop indulging its increasingly deranged whims. …

What this suggests about the current age is that there is not much that can be done to arrest this cycle once it has begun. The transformation of the American republic into an empire in the 19th century, despite maintaining the republican pretentions, meant that this period was as inevitable as the seasons. That old republican competition was replaced by an imperial selection system, which inevitably results in a generation more interested in being elite than doing the work of an elite.

I’m sure the cycle could be broken, somehow. Maybe if we stuck to the principles that worked before 1970, like meritocracy, honest money, free and fair elections, and an unbiased media that reported rather than barracked for its class interests.