Advancing a Free Society

Criticizing Elites, Cultivating Excellence

Friday, February 11, 2011

Conservative media stars have gotten good mileage out of elite bashing. Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck, who together reach tens of millions through radio, TV, and New York Times bestselling books, have argued robustly that our elites are arrogant, insulated, and obtuse. To a significant extent, the conservative media stars are right.

Overall, their sweeping indictment, which inspired a good deal of Tea Party activism, has been good for democracy in America.  By rousing large numbers of citizens of differing political inclinations last November to demand more effective and responsible representation, the indictment served the cause of self-government.

But dwelling on the vices of contemporary elites can also present dangers to the cause of freedom. For all the salutary attention it has focused on the American founding and Beck’s propulsion of Friedrich Hayek’s 1944 classic The Road to Serfdom to the top of the Amazon bestseller list in June 2010, the contemporary critique of what Angelo Codevilla calls “the ruling class” can cut too crudely. It frequently runs the risk of obscuring the dependence of constitutional democracy in America on the cultivation of excellence.

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