Rulers of the world unite!

A friend sent me something he was writing on the political prospects for protectionist legislation. I sent him the following response, which I’ve edited a bit and relates to much more than protectionism:

In general, your discussion follows the interest-group, competing political party, voter sovereignty model of political life in a modern democracy.

I sometimes think another view explains more, a sort of quasi-neomarxist view in which the state is a committee acting on behalf of the governing classes.

In the managerial state there’s less democracy than meets the eye. There are too many full-time people doing too much maneuvering and pulling too many strings on too many complicated issues. John Q. Public can’t keep up. That’s especially true when he’s overwhelmed with diversions and he’s diverse and multicultural and doesn’t speak a common language (literally or figuratively).

So we’re ruled by our governing classes, a conglomeration of top businessmen, bureaucrats, lawyers, jurists, experts, and media people. They’re professionals in the business of running things in accordance with professional standards. As such they know better than other people, and they’re properly answerable to each other rather than the ignorant, greedy, and bigoted many. That’s quite apart from questions of self-interest.

Hence, e.g., the EU—the professionals all get together and run everything and the people get cut out of the loop except as a sort of reality check. Representative institutions remain, but at the national level their hands are tied by EU treaties and directives, and for a variety of reasons the tendency in the EU is for national societies to disintegrate anyway. At the EU level, of course, there’s no people to hold the government to account so it can do what it wants.

That’s the best of all possible worlds from the standpoint of people who run things, so they think the world should be like that generally. In order to make it like that inherited and traditional institutions have to be done away with because they get in the way. So you need immigration, affirmative action, feminism, gay rights, and so on. You also need internationalism—transnational bureaucracies and the abolition of trade barriers and other national distinctions. Professionalism, after all, knows no boundaries.

I don’t think your analysis of the political prospects for protectionism takes into account the power of that outlook. A partner in a Wall Street law firm isn’t a special person because he’s American or white or Episcopalian or a New Yorker or even because he’s a man. He’s a special person because he’s a top professional who can look down on all those things and on people who think they matter much. That’s what makes him what he is.

I’d add that the rule of the professional governing classes is not just a matter of policy or personal advantage. It’s required by rationality itself, because professionals govern by virtue of superior intelligence, training, and knowledge. It’s also required of course by peace, prosperity, the fight against racism, sexism and homophobia, and what not else.

So to give up the goal of a rationalized and professionalized global order, our governing classes would have to abandon not just their class interests but their understanding of who they are as human beings, and of the right, rational, and just. They’d also have to give up their understanding of why they’re the best people in the world who deserve to run everything. They’re not going to do that.

It seems to me that’s what the struggle against economic globalization, like the struggle against affirmative action and mass third-world immigration, is up against. The fact a policy is pragmatically disastrous and everybody hates it isn’t nearly enough to defeat it in what passes today for democratic politics. After every defeat it comes back all the stronger, because the people who run things can’t imagine a world without it.

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