From Ruling Class to Oligarchy

By its campaign and conduct of the 2020 election, the ruling class ceased pretending to be part of a constitutional republic. By treating fellow Americans as inferiors through word and deed, its members renounced their common citizenship with us. Eschewing persuasion, they set about compelling obedience to an openly manipulated election. 

Thus did they burn their bridges to the rest of America as surely as did Hernán Cortéz when he burned the ships that had carried his troops to conquer the Aztec empire. Henceforth, they must rule or ruin as the oligarchy they have become.

For four decades beginning in the mid-1960s, a class of rulers grew in America. They became ever more uniform socially and intellectually, ever more opposed to the rest of Americans, and ever more powerful. This happened as government took upon itself the tasks of eliminating poverty and harmonizing the races, and as it controlled ever greater shares of the national income. 

Increasingly, their powers were based on claims of expertise coming from the universities. These underwent a fourfold increase in size (from 9 percent of Americans with four-year degrees in 1965 to 36 percent in 2015). Their connection with government conferred both wealth and additional prestige. Few paid attention to President Eisenhower’s warning about the connection between government and academic elites.

Elsewhere, I have discussed how inherently pregnant with peril the existence of such a class was for constitutional life. Suffice it to say, by the beginning of the Obama Administration in 2009, the rest of Americans had sensed that American public life had ceased to revolve around the struggle between Democrats and Republicans, and was more between those who lived by the ruling class’ privileges, and those who did not—between the “ins” and the “outs,” between the ruling class and what had been known in English history as the country class.

During the Obama years, the American country class’ budding resistance spurred the ruling class further to become conscious of itself, to increase its own privileges, its cohesion, and above all its contempt for and demands on those below them. Political correctness ceased to be bemusing for the country class and came to be seen as the threat to freedom that it is. Corporate America became indistinguishable from government in its demands for compliance. That is why the 2016 presidential primaries and election revealed a substantial anti-ruling class majority among Americans, though it was split between opposite ends of the political spectrum. 

In short, during the Obama years the ruling class was becoming an oligarchy that ruled by exercising the powers of government and of incumbency in corporations as well as all manner of social institutions. Private institutions, allied with government and inspired by government-supported universities, increasingly exercised arbitrary powers. 

But by November 2016 this oligarchy had yet to articulate itself into something capable of acting for a common purpose. That is why the 2016 election may prove to have been the last more-or-less bona fide free election in America’s history.

Donald Trump’s surprising victory proved to be the catalyst for this oligarchy to articulate itself into something that was able to transcend our constitutional republic altogether, to dispense with and even to penalize the habits and institutions that had held it together. Ours is now a socio-political system wholly different from that constitutional republic of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. It is mandating a way of life that few in America could have imagined.

It is unlikely that in November 2016 the Democratic Party’s leaders who continued to blame “the Russians” for Hillary Clinton’s defeat meant more than to salve a bit their defeat. They probably did not mean for their “resistance” to be more than a traditional mobilization of defeated forces. But the “resistance” took on a life of its own, fed from on high by such as the CIA’s John Brennan and FBI’s James Comey, and the host of their politicized subordinates, as well as from below by violent “intersectional” groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter. 

This resistance was powerfully sustained in the middle by countless corporate executives, government employees, editors, and reporters. The convergence of so many like-minded people quickly and decisively transmuted a political tactic into the replacement of a republic with an oligarchy. It replaced government by consent with rule by force. 

Because this revolution involved subordinating truth itself to political power, it effected negation of civilization itself.

This is how it happened. It had been clear to that class that Trump was dangerous only because he represented his “deplorable” supporters. The ruling class sought to resist them by dispiriting them and discrediting them in their own and others’ eyes. Demonizing Trump was the means by which they sought to do this. 

Arguably the American country class’ principal mistake between 2016 and 2020 was to suppose that the Left was actually after Trump, rather than set about crushing them and killing the American regime. 

When those at the top of American communications’ food chain, the folks at the New York Times, said openly that they would put truth aside during the noble fight against Trumpism, when the news industry shamelessly purveyed obviously incredible stories about Trump’s alleged Russia collusion; when they shamelessly purveyed obviously unsourced rumor as truth; when they seconded officials’ using classified information as a shield and sword against conservatives; when corporations and even government agencies began to require that employees attend brainwashing sessions; when communications companies—especially Google, Facebook, and Twitter—began mathematically to discriminate against conservative communications; when the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives’ proposed legislation would have mandated voting by mail and ballot harvesting—severing the link between any ballot and the voter’s will or even existence—conservatives imagined that this was mere hardball politics within a republican context. Not so.

When the coronavirus hit, Americans did not realize how thoroughly their ruling class had already jelled into an oligarchy with the intention above all to crush them. Neither did they comprehend how assuredly it would not waste this opportunity to do so. Tragically led astray by Donald Trump’s misplaced faith in the objectivity of “the experts,” personified by Dr. Anthony Fauci, conservatives were persuaded to respond to an epidemic with an infection/fatality rate comparable to the average flu as if it were the plague. 

But even plagues, once endemic, follow ineluctable courses through populations. Thus, by following the ignorant promise of safety through masks, etc. did conservatives at first agree to suspend face-to-face relationships. They suffered to disarticulate social life even more than economic life, to put aside one’s friends and God. They agreed to restrict their understanding of things to what the mass media would allow them to hear. They did all of this even as evidence mounted that the “experts” were nothing but agents of the oligarchy.

And then Election Night. As predicted, election officials in places controlled by the Left stopped counting until it was clear how many ballots it would take for Trump to be defeated. The requisite number came, filled out by no one knows who. And then . . . who wouldn’t have predicted it? The call came from all of society’s commanding heights: Trump’s defeat had been declared. By whom? By the folks on these varied heights—certainly not by the authorities designated by the Constitution to decide who wins and loses. 

But the more instances of fraud the Trump campaign sought to investigate, the louder and from more sources sounded the judgment that there was nothing to investigate. It had been decided. You peons shut up and obey.

That is how oligarchies work.

What may be done about this is another story. But the story’s premise is that it must begin with the realization that the conservative more-or-less half of American life is living under an alien regime that means to continue harming us socially and morally just as much as economically. Plainly, we find ourselves in a (mostly not yet violent) state of war. The beginning of such safety as we may work out for ourselves is to regard our rulers as they regard us.

About Angelo Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).

Photo: Mike Rosiana/Getty Images

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