Support for the Tea Party from an Academic
Angelo Codevilla’s new book: the anger is legitimate
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?
Codevilla: 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 email@example.com Comments