One of the defining characteristics of the age is the slow, seemingly inexorable extrusion of elites and establishments from the societies they purportedly represent and 'serve' - if so quaint and republican a term can even be applied to their work in office. While it is fashionable among conservatives to ridicule John Edward's declarations that we are becoming two Americas, and while Edward's understanding of the emerging divisions among us is surely simplistic, conservatives are mistaken to make such quick resort to mockery and scorn. Disdain may be a sign of unassailable loftiness, of a position that cannot be challenged; it can also be a sign of exhaustion and intellectual torpor, a failure to see beyond the poverty of an expression to the reality to which, however inadequately, it points.
Patrick Deneen is one who is able to look beyond the superficial rhetorical exchanges of mainstream politics in order to see the seamy underside of our politics; sometimes, what is uncovered is fascinating, not in itself, but because of what it signifies. So it is with recent news concerning the disposition of Vice President Dick Cheney's considerable investments, to which Deneen devoted a few paragraphs of contextualization. Noting that Cheney and his investment advisers are concerned about an unsustainable global wealth bubble, he observes that
Cheney has invested heavily in "a fund that specializes in short-term municipal bonds, a tax-exempt money market fund and an inflation protected securities fund. The first two hold up if interest rates rise with inflation. The third is protected against inflation."
Even more interesting: Cheney has dumped another (estimated) $10 to $25 million in a European bond fund, suggesting that he is counting on a steadily weakening dollar. I guess "Old Europe" isn't all bad after all - at least not their currency. As Blackburn wryly notes, "Not all bad news is bad for everybody."
I must apologize for being so impolitic, but this is no mere matter of what a man does with his own money. The man in question is a powerful public figure, a figure who, in his private capacities in industry and his public capacities as Vice President under Bush the Younger and Defense Secretary under Bush the Elder, has been instrumental in the formulation and application of that strategy of openness which has issued in the accelerating integration of American economic structures into an emerging global architecture. This process of globalization, of 'free trade' neoliberalism, has entailed the hollowing out of American industry and the increasing prominence of, not production, but consumption as the foundation of American 'prosperity'. It has, by facilitating that hollowing out, that reduction of many American industries to little more than glorified middleman functions, thereby increased the importance of the financial services sector to the economy as a whole - which is to say, has increased the importance of debt and the instruments of debt to the functioning of the economy. This, in turn, entails inflation, the devaluation of the dollar, and the increasing financial leverage of creditor nations over the American economy and nation.
And from this process, Cheney waxed fat. And now that this process hurtles onward to the inevitable correction of its contradictions, Cheney seeks to secure himself against the consequences of the very economic logic which not only made him wealthy, but which he has advocated.
This is scarcely a matter of private financial prudence, therefore; it is something more telling, something indicative of the tenor of the times. The elites have purposed to make a separate peace:
Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.
I suspect that history, including great historical novelists of the future, will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy their lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble. And that they consciously, or unconsciously, took grim comfort in this thought: I got mine. Which is what the separate peace comes down to, "I got mine, you get yours."
This is not mere hypocrisy, no simple "let them eat cake" moment. This is how nations, nay, entire civilizations perish. The best and brightest no longer serve the nation - they are not among those seeking the separate peace, for those seeking that peace are never the best and brightest, but merely the most ambitious. The best and brightest, like the wise men of Platonic myth, eschew the politics of such a nation, for they corrupt, deprave, and are altogether too likely to send one to perdition; the possibilities of power are like the One Ring, and the wise man knows that he must flee from that. We have needed no revolution to liquidate the best part of the nation, only a system which excludes them as a black hole extinguishes even light. Our leaders not only create dissolution and decay, they profit from it coming and going, and the rest are left to seek what shelter they may find from the relentless buffeting of a system that answers not to them.
"Money talks; patriots walk." And for leaders, statesmen, who will actually shoulder the burdens of history with those they would lead, showing true nobility - for this the Republic waits in vain.