A nation-state as old, and as large in territory, as the United States will experience in its old-age problems we associate with the elderly: loss of memory, preference for the past, reliance on creaky institutions that no longer work, limited income, and questions about the future. Our Constitution has logged 230 years since it was ratified in 1789 and is ready for remedies we associate with “Eldercare.”

As we Americans look about us, we don’t recognize our country. Changes in who we are as a people have occurred, and we find ourselves spiritually and intellectual weakened. We no longer have a sense of political “community,” and our many disparate parts no longer cohere. Hopes, institutions,  and opportunities that sustained our sense of community in past times are today insufficient and no longer sustain a vital “center.”

Three aspects of American political culture suggest we are in an era of decline. First, a serious “lack of will” of elected representatives. Second, decline in educational standards and assumption of the training of “journalists” into Departments of Communication,” and third, the growth of a political “New Class.”

1. Lack of will

“Lack of Will” on the part of elected leaders is serious. Had the men at Lexington and Concord lacked a will to fight, we would not have pursued “independence” from King George III. Had Union troops at Gettysburg buckled before Gen. George Pickett’s charge, the finale of our Civil War would not have occurred when and with the same result as it did. So, too, at Belleau Wood in World War I and Omaha Beach in World War II and the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, the will of Americans was tested and not found wanting.

Time and centralization of power, however, have changed American character.

“American Carnage,” a recent book by “Politico” writer, Tim Alberta, explores the inability of Republican leaders in Congress to organize and agree upon a set of priorities that would counter the initiatives of the Obama Administration.[1] Revising the debt limit led some members of Congress to challenge Republican leaders. In the Trump administration raising the debt limit was agreed upon without a murmur.

American politicians are elected from citizenry less well-educated than in generations past. The leaders of our War of Independence and the Philadelphia Convention had read the history of Rome and Greece and works by Cicero, Polybius, Solon, Aristotle and Plato. Today members of Congress are exceptions who have studied American government and the philosophy of limited government of the Framers of the Constitution. Only Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) come to mind. Most others are indistinguishable one from another and do not seek to become national leaders nor do they seek to lead other members of their Party in Congress. For them “To get along, go along” is a first principle.

In 1831 when Alexis de Tocqueville toured America, unlike native-born Americans, as a visitor to America Tocqueville could say some things about America that were distasteful. There was, for example, the “singular paucity of distinguished political characters” which he attributed “to the ever-increasing activity of the despotism of the majority in the United States.”[2]

Tocqueville found “very few men who displayed any of that manly candor and that masculine independence of opinion which frequently distinguished the Americans in former times.”[3]  President Andrew Jackson, whom he met and described as “a man of violent temper and mediocre talents,” was a prime example:

No one circumstance in the whole course of his career ever proved that he is qualified to govern a free people, and indeed the majority of the enlightened classes of the Union has always been opposed to him.[4]

Tocqueville believed that American statesmen of 1831 “were very inferior to those who stood at the head of affairs” fifty years prior.[5] “There is so little distinguished talent among the heads of Government,” he wrote, “the most able men in the United States are very rarely placed at the head of affairs.”[6]

Our elected officials are mediocre for the most part because, since the late 1960s when the Johnson Administration flooded American colleges with undergraduates, college administrators removed curricular requirements from undergraduate degree programs. No longer were students required to study American government, Economics, nor the History of Western Civilization, even fewer were required to learn a foreign language. For close to half a century—since the anti-Vietnam war campus protests—we have dumbed-down our college-educated citizens. The results may be seen in the faces, reflecting vacant minds, of elected officials and fearful educators.

2. Bad “Journalism”

In February 2016, Seattle, Washington media reported that Catholic Gonzaga University had hired University of Missouri’s Melissa Click.[7]

“The University of Missouri fired Click in February after a video surfaced of her calling for “some muscle” to remove a student videographer from protests on the school’s campus last fall. The student, a freelancer on assignment for ESPN, argued his First Amendment rights allowed him to be in a public area. Students and staff on the school’s campus had been protesting the treatment of African Americans by administrators. Click had been an assistant professor in the MU Department of Communication and held a courtesy appointment at the Missouri School of Journalism. She later faced more scrutiny after a video from a different protest on campus showed her cursing at an officer trying to clear the road during the university’s homecoming parade.”[8]

Missouri’s School of Journalism has a distinguished history going back to its founding in 1908. Professor Melissa Click taught in the University of Missouri’s Communication Department but held a collateral, “courtesy appointment,” in the School of Journalism.

That dual appointment revealed the rise of Communication theory and decline in traditional “Journalism.” Go to Melissa Click’s former department at the University of Missouri, or visit any state university’s website at random, access the Department of Communication, and click on information about courses taught by tenured Associate Professors and full Professors.

These courses taught in Melissa Click’s former Department at the University of Missouri reveal the primacy of Communication “theory.”

COMMUN 3100 Controversies in Communication
COMMUN 3460 Organizational Advocacy
COMMUN 3470 Culture as Communication
COMMUN 3525 Conflict and Communication
COMMUN 3561 Relational Communication
COMMUN 3571 Group Decision Making Processes
COMMUN 3580 Crisis Communication
COMMUN 4412 Gender, Language, and Communication
COMMUN 4415 Language and Discourse

De-emphasized is traditional reporting of “Who,” “What,” “When,” and “Where.” Former Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward explains why mastery of traditional reporting is important:

Things aren’t as they appear, … you need to find the disposed files if you want a fuller version of what the reality is. I guess I can’t emphasize this enough, the roadblock often is you, that you’re not creative enough, that you’re not determined enough. In reporting, you need to focus. You need to say, this is the story I’m working on. This is what I’m trying to get to. This is what I’m trying to understand, what I’m trying to unravel, gather information, to find documents, get people to talk, try to verify, try to see if there are other sides to the issue, and then have the experiences and go there yourself. Show energy, curiosity, as I say, work extra hard. Work two hours, maybe four hours extra than the eight hours that’s in the normal workday. Instead of going to bed or watching television make 3 calls, or whatever to people at home, or go see people. And then do it aggressively. Don’t sit by and be passive. One of the things we did with reporters at one point at The Post, we had a little sign that we pasted in the top of their computer, it was FAA. And that’s not Federal Aviation Administration, it means focus, act aggressively. Building a case is the process of gathering the interviews, the documents, the witnesses for the story, and that takes time. It’s so much about time against the problem and exploring all avenues. So what you do is you immerse yourself completely in it. I think that’s the core value that a reporter brings.[9]

Unfortunately, “Communication” courses are laden with critical theories that impose conclusions before engaging in acts of discovery and reporting. The one exception where “Communication-bias” was resisted, Fox News, is “maturing.” On January 1, 2019, I remarked on that in an essay in this journal, “The Coming Decline of Fox News.”

Twenty-two years ago, Rupert Murdoch brought British “advocacy journalism” to America, doing a big favor for the community of literate political, social, and economic citizens of the United States. A standard of “objective” reporting advocated by Edward R. Murrow, head of the news division of CBS, gave a pretense of objectivity to national broadcast news media that enshrined a dominant “Liberalism” of post World War II America.

Rupert Murdoch knew an opportunity when he saw one, and tapped GOP political operator Roger Ailes to serve as CEO of Fox News. President Clinton had begun his second term, and Republicans and conservatives were dispirited. And well they should have been dispirited.

The spirit of Woodrow Wilson had dominated American politics from World War I to the present day. By 1932, when the Great Depression devastated the world economy, Progressives in Academe changed the study of Economics from a once dominant classical liberalism of Adam Smith into studies of a Leftist utopian Marxist and Keynesian nature.

By 1973 when anti-Vietnam war protest disrupted American campuses, administrators of American higher education quickly dismantled generations of required courses. By 2009, higher education was “lost” to a “Left University,” the Conservative “movement” had transitioned into a business—as most ideological movements are prone to do—and, American journalists were champions of a variety of Progressive ideologies.

By bringing advocacy journalism to American national media, Rupert Murdoch inspired hope that this false “objectivity” of news reporting could be countered by open expression of political opinion. And Roger Ailes was the man to do it. He had worked for Richard Nixon, established “Talk News” at CNBC in 1993, and was freed by Rupert Murdoch to speak the truth as he saw it.

But, Rupert Murdoch, born in 1931, and at this writing is 88 years of age. Upon his death, his sons are poised to take command. When they do, Fox News will aspire to become a general-interest news service and no longer an advocate of Rightist advocacy journalism. Recently the presence of Democrats like Jessica Tarcov and Donna Brazile and the firing of Roger Ailes, Bill Shine, Bill O’Reilly, Bob Beckel, Jeffrey Lord, and Eric Bolling, point the way toward a Fox News cleansed of non-Progressive advocates.

It really does require knowledge of America culture and politics, however, to introduce a true reflection of that reality as an ingredient in news reporting, and the sons of Rupert Murdoch claim “global citizenship” more than American citizenship. The coming decline of News Corp is inevitable because Rupert Murdoch failed to educate his sons in anything resembling the ideas that attracted viewers to the unvarnished reporting and commentary at Fox News.

3. A “New Class” and Centralization of Power

A new class developed in the 20th century to assert the knowledge of educated professionals and make them central to administration of the administrative State.[10] In 1978, Irving Kristol attempting to explain the animosity of our “intellectuals” toward large corporations wrote as follows:

This “new class” consists of scientists, lawyers, city planners, social workers, educators, criminologists, sociologists, public health doctors, etc.a substantial number of whom find their careers in the expanding public sector rather than the private. The public sector, indeed, is where they prefer to be. They are, as one says, “idealistic” i.e., far less interested in individual financial rewards than in the corporate power of their class. Though they continue to speak the language of “Progressive-reform,” in actuality they are acting upon a hidden agenda: to propel the nation from that modified version of capitalism we call “the welfare state” toward an economic system so stringently regulated in detail as to fulfill many of the traditional anti-capitalist aspirations of the Left.[11]

Irving Kristol’s analysis contains a very hard truth: that a New Class has arrived with a “hidden” agenda of intense regulations and motivated by utopian aspirations that in the 20th century were openly “socialist.” The New Class distrusts “the people” because they have expertise that ordinary folks wouldn’t understand.

Since the election of President Franklin Roosevelt and a Great Depression that required immediate intervention by the national government, a vast administrative state of government agencies and programs dominates American life. These agencies require experts to administer government programs thus empowering those whom Kristol identified as members of a  New Class:  “scientists, lawyers, city planners, social workers, educators, criminologists, sociologists, public health doctors.”

In the vernacular, such persons who seek public employment in order to regulate and correct the decisions of the public are called “do-gooders.” The desire to “help people” is the position that the New Class carries deep in its “democratic” soul.

Allan Bloom believed that universities are a primary force infecting civil society with notions about “values,” “lifestyles,” and other evidence of value relativism.[12] Where before we educated citizens to be Americans, Bloom wrote, we now seek to create the “democratic personality.” Bloom calls this the replacement of the natural soul with an artificial one.[13]

If the New Class is rooted in a disturbance of the soul, concentration of power in the administrative state poses grave issues for the future of representative government.

So much of what Tocqueville writes in L’Ancien régime et la revolution seems familiar to contemporary American readers that we are compelled, if we love America as much as Tocqueville loved France, to study carefully what, in hindsight, Tocqueville believed was responsible for the destruction of the ancient order of society and politics of the great French nation.

Alexis de Tocqueville’s study of democracy in America in 1831 was followed by his analysis of the revolution that beset the ancien Régime of monarchical France. That analysis, published in 1856, is the best regime analysis since Aristotle organized the study of regimes into Constitutions. Every American concerned about great questions of political order today must study Tocqueville’s little book. For, in that book, may be discovered everything we need to know about how political community weakens and falls into decay as the powers of the State are centralized.

Tocqueville refers to key aspects of the history of France that led ineluctably to a centralized monarchy and violent reaction resulting in revolution as frustrations with an oppressive monarchy developed. Appreciation of what transpired in France is much like what Francis Graham Wilson described in his study of Spain. How can two monarchical regimes—of France and Spain—have any relevance for understanding democracy in America?

The first modern revolution was experienced in France was shaped, not by foreign invaders, but by the actions of French monarchs—from the reign of Charles VII (1403-1461) to Louis XVI (1754-1793)—contributed to the growth of a centralized State. Here are their sins as recollected by Tocqueville:

  • Charles VII assumed the power to impose taxes without the consent of those who were taxed.
  • Louis XI (1423-1483) distributed titles of nobility in order to reduce the power of the nobility and withdrew the rights of municipalities.
  • Henry IV (1553-1610) lamented that nobles were leaving their lands thus leaving unattended their obligations to the peasants who remained. But, later in 17th century, it became common practice to lure the nobles to the Court.[14] French kings divided men “so as to better rule them.”[15]
  • Louis XIV (1638-1715) granted and then reclaimed municipal rights of self-government in order to raise revenue. He engaged in the persecution of Huguenots at the same time that the language of “natural rights” of the philosophes became common. Louis XVI foolishly considered the aristocracy a threat, not the urban masses congregated in the city of Paris.

Tocqueville cited key historical dates and events that, in retrospect, pointed to the outpouring of destructive violence that occurred in 1789. Beginning in 1356, attitudes began to change sharply with the chaos caused by the captivity of King John at the battle of Poitiers. The insurrection of peasants in 1358 prefigured the periodic violence that erupted in France’s history. That insurrection was called the “Jacquerie” because the nobility commonly referred to any peasant as Jacques, or Jacques Bonhomme.

Another insurrection occurred in 1382 in response to the imposition of taxes was called Mailotins because of iron mallots that the mob confiscated and used to attack business owners, government officials and money lenders.

The year 1388 was marked by the madness of Charles VI (1368-1422) and the disorders of his rule that ensued. His reign was followed by the reign of King Charles VII who was permitted to impose a tax without the people’s consent. Tocqueville writes: “On that fateful day… the seeds were sown of almost all the vices and abuses which led to the violent downfall of the old régime.”[16]

In 1591 a public uprising in Paris against the temporizing policies of Henry III is called the Council of the Sixteens. The head of the Catholic League led representatives of the sixteen quartiers of Paris who arrested and executed three magistrates of the Parlement of Paris.

In 1648 the French nobility engaged in a last attempt in a series of wars, called the Fronde, to recover privileges usurped by French monarchs. Yet again, in 1685, Louis XIV disturbed civic order by arbitrarily placing dragoons in Protestant households as part of his persecution of the Huguenots.

In 1701, the “War of Spanish Succession”(1701-1714, following the death of Charles II of Spain, threatened the balance of power in Europe and led to war between the French and an alliance of  England, the Dutch Republic and Austria. Though the power of Louis XIV was challenged, the King secured the borders of France and continued his policy of centralization of state power.

In 1777MaupeouChancellor of France, carrying out Louis XVI’s reforms abolished the system of Parlements, or regional courts. Though the French had felt oppressed by the Parlements, with their abolition, Tocqueville writes, “had fallen the last barrier still capable of holding in check the monarch’s absolute power.”[17]

If there is one thing we learn from this historical narrative, it is that centralization of the power of the State endangers ordered liberty.

Quite early in France, the powers and responsibilities of local governments had been broken down and made way for a central administration staffed by a bureaucracy. Royal power was centralized in the conseil du roi or Royal Council.[18] Except for taxes negotiated directly by the Royal Council, “all other imposts such as the taille, which had in the past been entrusted to local officials capitation tax, and the vingtièmes, were assessed and levied directly by agents of the central government.”[19]

A Controller General, had the whip hand,[20] and the Intendants—usually “a young man of humble extraction”—administered all local powers. That included conscription for military service, forced labor to repair roads and military barracks, the management of brigades of mounted police to enforce decisions of the Intendants, and selection of candidates for local office who were preferred by Intendants. The assemblies in the parishes became an “empty show of freedom” with no power to put deliberations into effect.[21]

“It would have been impossible to find,” Tocqueville wrote, “in most parts of France, even ten men used to acting in concert and defending their interests without appealing to the central power for aid.”[22]

France’s men of letters exacerbated the desire to replace an odious system with something better. Their vision of a “perfect State… estranged the imagination of the masses from the here-and-now.”[23] Voltaire, for example, envied the English for their freedom, but was indifferent to their political freedom: “He quite failed to realize that the former could not have survived for long without the latter.”[24]

The French revolution, which Tocqueville described as “a grim, terrific force of nature, a newfangled monster, red of tooth and claw” was inevitably violent.[25] A nation so unused to acting for itself was bound to begin by wholesale destruction when it launched into a program of wholesale reform.[26] At the end, even the character of the French had been alteredSocial habits, created by despotic government, included love of gain, fondness for business careers, a desire to get rich at all cost, a craving for material comfort. Easy living became “ruling passions.”[27]

The parallel between centralization of power in France and the United States is ominous and we would not be citizens of a democracy, if we didn’t ask “What next?” That question reveals some difficult problems. The ranks of Congressional leaders are composed of the lackluster, the cunning, the zealots, and utopian idealists. None gives confidence that after the next election we’ll find anything better.

If this trajectory of decline can be reversed, we must change the culture. How can we do that?

First, in the short term, institute tough libel and slander laws, publicly rebuke journalists who define themselves as “citizens of the world” and impose the ideology of “Globalism” on a public unaware of the ideological bias of news reporting.

Second, over the long term, remove Progressive domination in American higher education by starting dozens of new colleges, universities and boutique graduate schools.

Third, begin to examine how to recover a commitment to civic education that prior to World War II was taught at every level of public education. That instruction in “Americanism” may not be a good fit for education in the United States today, but surely we should make American history, economics, and government, and the history of Western civilization central components of education in our high schools and colleges.

Do that, and Jesse Watters’ “World” will feature interviews with sensible, knowledgeable citizens not unlike those who fought a war to establish the independence of the American colonies. If we fail, we will lose our country.

via Imaginative Conservative


[1] Tim Alberta, American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump (New York: HarperCollins, 2019)
[2] Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the French Revolution, trans. Stuart Gilbert (New York: Doubleday, 1983), p. 151.
[3] Ibid., 152.
[4] Ibid., 163.
[5] Ibid., 115.
[6] Ibid., 115.
[7] ” University of Missouri fires professor Melissa Click.”
[8] “Missouri professor Melissa Click fired for calling for ‘muscle’ to remove reporter hired at Gonzaga.”
[9] Bob Woodward, “How to Approach In-Depth Reporting.
[10] We trace use of the concept “New Class” and its relevance for How We Got Here to two sources: Irving Kristol’s 1975 essay in the  Fall 1978  issue of The Public Interest titled “On Corporate Capitalism in America,” and Dr. Angelo Codevilla’s Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It. New York: Beaufort Books, First edition (2010)
[11] The Public Interest, Fall 1978, p. 134.
[12] Richard Bishirjian, “Allan Bloom’s Six Ways that Universities Corrupt the Youth,” The Imaginative Conservative, November 1, 2018.
[13] Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, 30.
[14] Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the French Revolution, trans. Stuart Gilbert (New York: Doubleday, 1983), p. 122.
[15] Ibid., 136.
[16] Ibid., p. 99.
[17] Ibid., p. 166.
[18] Ibid., p. 33.
[19] Ibid., p. 37.
[20] Ibid. p. 35.
[21] Ibid., p. 50.
[22] Ibid., p. 206.
[23] Ibid., p. 146.
[24] Ibid., p. 158.
[25] Ibid., p. 3.
[26] Ibid., p. 167.
[27] Ibid., p. xiii.

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