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Support for the Tea Party from an Academic

Angelo Codevilla’s new book: the anger is legitimate


Angelo Codevilla, a CAS professor emeritus of international relations, derides America’s “Ruling Class.” Photo courtesy of Beaufort Books

Rare is the professor whose latest book can boast a gushing introduction by Rush Limbaugh. But when the book sides with the Tea Party movement, it’s perhaps inevitable that it attract the attention of one of the country’s preeminent conservative commentators. The volume, by Angelo Codevilla, a College of Arts & Sciences international relations professor emeritus, earned Limbaugh’s endorsement by making the Tea Party case “more soberly, bluntly and constructively than anyone else has done,” according to a New York Times reviewer.

The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It grew out of an article Codevilla wrote for The American Spectator. The book argues that an elite, bipartisan “Ruling Class”—comprising Democratic politicians and voters, Republican political leaders, and government bureaucrats—has overtaxed, overregulated, and scorned the “Country Class” or “Country Party,” Codevilla’s term for all those who dissent from the Ruling Class’ views. Rather than serve the common good, he writes, modern liberalism’s government programs serve well-connected special interests.

With several Tea Party–backed candidates preparing to take office in the new Congress, you’d think Codevilla would be gleeful. But his book outlines more ambitious goals than cutting federal spending and taxes. The Country Class can only reassert itself, Codevilla says, by recapturing a civic involvement and self-governance that it has ceded to government bureaucrats. For example, he says that there were 117,000 school boards in 1940; today, all those boards have congealed into just 15,000 school districts, giving Americans less chance “to exercise responsibilities similar to their grandparents’ ” in running schools.

BU Today asked Codevilla about his philosophy and whether last month’s rout of the Democrats augurs well for his politics.

BU Today: Are you optimistic that the newly elected Congress will take up the agenda outlined in your book?
No. What I outlined goes beyond mere restrictions in spending, which are certain to come because there isn’t enough money to continue with the way we’ve been going. The agenda in my book involves a reassumption of citizenship on the part of the American people. It is by no means certain that either the Republican Party or what I call the larger Country Party is willing to take the burdens of citizenship that their fathers and mothers laid down a generation ago—meaning service in local government and doing without some of the entitlements and administrative agencies that have come to characterize our lives. The differences between the agendas of the Republican and Democratic parties are really more apparent than they are real.

Might Democrats and Republicans agree on these matters because the New Deal, and our recent financial crisis, showed that some crises can only be redressed by government?
In your question are two assumptions: the Country Class cannot manage for itself, and the political class has the right to preclude the Country Class’ choice of how it is going to deal with its own problems. I reject both of those assumptions. If you read the history of the Great Depression, you find that the initial crashes were of a kind that occurred before and since—investment bubbles—and the effects were worsened and made permanent by the actions of government. The same thing is being attempted this time by the Ruling Class. The difference is that the American people have decided that the bailouts and additional regulations are bringing us to a so-called new normal that is worse than what we’ve ever had.

Didn’t FDR’s programs giving unemployed people jobs make their lives better?
It made their lives better at the cost to those from whom the money was being taken.

In the past, 19th-century European conservative leaders like Bismarck and Disraeli supported or invented the welfare state. Why do today’s conservatives break with that tradition?
You may choose to call these people conservatives, but a far more descriptive term is “statists,” who wish to conserve, to grow the power of the state. Bismarck saw himself as the embodiment of the state, the mind as well as the body of the nation. The subjects of the state are to be governed, managed for the sake of the whole. This is a corporativist view of political life, poles apart from the American, traditionally conservative, Anglo-Saxon view of politics, which sees it as the working out of the hopes of individuals.

Your book argues that the Ruling Class cares most about its own power. A liberal would say, “When we had less government interference in the private sector, poor and working class people suffered badly.”
That is a worthy argument. I strongly disagree with it, because if that were the case, why did millions of immigrants, of whom I am one, come to this supposed vale of tears and exploitation? This country was, because of its lack of regulation, a place where people could own what they earned and do what they wished with it.

Poverty will always be with us.

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.


13 Comments on Support for the Tea Party from an Academic

  • Anonymous on 12.01.2010 at 9:12 am

    Answering his one question

    Answering his one question: “why did millions of immigrants, of whom I am one, come to this supposed vale of tears and exploitation? ” — Almost always because the governments of Italy, Ireland and other high emigration states had destroyed their local hopes and dreams for a good life. — As with many of the Tea Party members, Mr Codevilla’s statements above show a world view 50 years out of date. The struggle is not between the state and the citizens, the struggle is between the citizens and the multinational corporations with the state as the weapon of control. Without state power on their side, his ‘Country Class’ doesn’t stand a chance against the corporations .

  • Ben Solow on 12.01.2010 at 10:10 am

    I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that an emeritus professor in international relations pontificating in areas far outside of his expertise has no reality-based policy prescriptions. Empty catchphrases like “there isn’t enough money to continue with the way we’ve been going” show a staggering level of ignorance of basic economics. A reading of the history of the Great Depression that finds no possible scope for government intervention can only be grounded in fundamentalist ideology; right-wing economists as conservative as Milton Friedman, perhaps history’s greatest scholar of Depression-era economics, find a clear role for government in responding to crises. It takes a special person to claim that the “new normal” of today is worse than what we’ve ever had in this country – including slavery, segregation, no suffrage for women, and a host of more mundane improvements in quality of life that have Americans working fewer hours, living longer, and earning more.

    Prof. Codevilla simply proves that, as per the New York Times review of his book, even the most sober, blunt, and constructive cases for the Tea Party are rooted in fundamentalist lunacy of the highest order.

  • Anonymous on 12.01.2010 at 10:29 am

    So, the U.S. is divided into something called “the Country Class” and the liberal “Ruling Class?” What strange straw men Prof. Codevilla has created!

    Here in the real world, the vast majority of U.S. citizens fall into neither group. But I suppose they, like the poor, don’t count in his America.

    “The poor will always be with us” was first uttered by someone whose very existence was devoted to justice for the poor. It should not be misused by ideologues who so clearly lack that concern.

  • Steve on 12.01.2010 at 10:30 am

    Varying political cultures

    Much like the lack of consistency in their voting preferences (eg., voting for “fiscally conservative” candidates who then don’t control spending once elected), Americans also have varying and deeply-rooted political cultures. There certainly is no common “Anglo-Saxon view of politics.” In fact, a significant challenge to Professor Codevilla’s thesis is that the largest groups of immigrants who came to this country (I’m particularly thinking of Irish, German, Mexican, Italian, and Jewish immigrants) created or embraced the exact forms of statist local government that Codevilla would seem to claim that they came to escape. And to suggest that there is a majority “Country Class”, I think, disregards the many competing pressures (ethnicity, race, gender, sexual identity, socio-economic status, education) that form our individual interpretations of political culture.

  • Anonymous on 12.01.2010 at 10:42 am

    A whiff of substance but nothing more

    I was with you on the increase in civic-mindedness, but you lost me when you stopped caring about the plight of your neighbors. Codevilla and other Tea “Party” supporters like to claim the moral high ground as if the ideal of a small, powerless government were somehow more pure than what we have now. The rotten, unexamined core of this thinking becomes evident from the callous disregard for their neighbors’ suffering shown by comments such as “Poverty will always be with us.” Should we ignore the rapidly growing income gap in this country? Should we have let the banks fail and let the poor and middle classes suffer through a prolonged global depression?

    Until we return to a world without mega-corporations manipulating their markets we need a strong and powerful government at least as big as those corporations to keep them in check and clean up the messes they make.

  • JH on 12.01.2010 at 10:51 am

    How did we get here?

    This notion that by deregulation we will achieve a more natural human condition I believe is less accurate than it would intuitively seem. Europe and the United States have historically reached higher levels of economic and human development through the implementation of successful competitive institutions. The comparative underdevelopment of many parts of the world can be attributed to the lack of strong institutions. An example of this is Brazil, which had consistent institutional difficulties over its history and was progressing at a slow pace until the 1990’s. In the early 1990’s a series of liberalization reforms began that have resembled Tea party libertarian ideals. What happen was that Brazil’s GDP went up, however, income inequality increased drastically to the point where Brazil is one of the most unequal countries in the world today.
    Two points: we are not the economic powerhouse of the world because historically we have lacked strong government rather the opposite and libertarian ideals create enormous inequality that even the Tea Party would oppose.

  • Anonymous on 12.01.2010 at 11:10 am

    The Tea Party is nothing but racists and conservatives. We escaped those people two years ago, and we won’t let them get back again.

  • Anonymous on 12.01.2010 at 12:13 pm

    “Didn’t FDR’s programs giving unemployed people jobs make their lives better?
    It made their lives better at the cost to those from whom the money was being taken. ”

    Clearly we MUST feel pity for all those people who HAVE jobs. It’s almost like he understands the point of taxation.

  • Anonymous on 12.01.2010 at 12:51 pm

    Of course, a WASP. What else is new these days at BU?

  • Anonymous on 12.01.2010 at 10:49 pm

    This is patently absurd: “poverty will always be with us”- well, yes, it will be if you decide to do nothing about it! Maybe some people will always be poor in any society, but it is quite clear that in this day and age, it is not necessary for there to be such drastic income inequality as we have in the United States.

    And the idea of a “Country Class” and a “ruling class”- what data is this based on? Voting trends? analyses of influence in politics? I will not deny there are incredible problems with the role of corporations in politics, but to maintain that there are two fundamentally divided classes of people in the US with one on top- ridiculous. This argument seems to lack all nuance…

  • Anonymous on 12.03.2010 at 9:30 am

    Ignorance IS Curable

    The good news is that he is professor emeritus, presumably no longer teaching anyone, for clearly he is unfathomably ignorant. Now, with your free time Mr. Codevilla, I advise you to take a few courses in economics, government, 20th century history, and current events (and please pay attention this time) to get a grasp on what is actually happening in the real world. If that’s not possible, ask Rush for some medication.

  • WMaher on 01.04.2011 at 7:56 pm

    Who is the biggest, most unaccountable corporation?

    The biggest and most unaccountable corporation in the world is of course the U.S. government. Enron went out of business for running its Ponzi scheme; Bernie Madoff went to prison for running his Ponzi scheme. But, of course, it’s great to see the biggest of all Ponzi schemes(Read: virtually all government programs, i.e., Social Security, Medicare, Fannie Freddie Mac, etc., etc., etc.), galloping litigation-free over the cliff, billions of dollars insolvent, while O’Bama and his career cronies and taxcheats stumble onward pilfering every penny available from its EARNERS. Wasn’t it nice to see O’Bama assign a serial tax cheat(Tim Geitner) to head the IRS. What a man of unflinching integrity you’ve revealed yourself to be, O’Bama. By the way, did you ever find a single Democratic cabinet member who didn’t get caught cheating on his taxes. I lost track, but of course, as the peons in your political chess game, we understand. Only a government could use a term of such dishonesty as “Social Security” to describe such a textbook Ponzi scheme. Yup, people are really feeling “secure” when they think about Social Security. But judging by history, governments are expert at fleecing and bankrupting future generations of children so is there anything to really worry about(Greece, Portugal, Ireland anyone?) Don’t the anonymous 5-year-olds and 6-year-olds OWE me a living and retirement, etc.? Of course they do!(I just wish I could think up a reason) It’s a good thing that abomination known as the public schools is in charge of “educating” the masses, huh? Is everyone ready for the earthshaking fiscal collapse of California, New York, and Illinois? Take a guess whether these states are high tax, pro-welfare/freeloader-friendly anti-business– or low tax states? (I can’t stand the suspense–please answer and enlighten!)

  • Anonymous on 01.18.2011 at 12:50 pm

    Poverty will always be with us

    Poverty has always been with us and will always be with us…The welfare state is one where the lazy pray on the sympathies of the good. There are certain people who need a hand and then there are others who feel they “deserve” to be help because they are not willing to take a job doing manual labor. America does not have an unemployment problem right now, it has a redeployment problem. Certain industries have died out and others have cropped up. But the President and his minions in congress have decided to extend “free” money which doesn’t force anyone to take a job “beneath” their stature. There are plenty of jobs out there. take one and stop feeling you are so entitled to my money.

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