With open eyes, Americans have witnessed in the last few decades the contempt the so-called “elite” have for them. It was perhaps most fully on display when Hillary Clinton referred to American voters as “deplorables.” But it is also evident in every action that has been taken by the Obama and Biden administrations, hampering America’s middle classes and poor in the pursuit of environmental and economic goals attractive only to the radical Marxists being minted in the halls of America’s Ivy League institutions. On his website, LewRockwell.com, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. explains the views of Murray Rothbard on the division between the “elite and the masses.” He writes:
The most important principle in Murray’s political action strategy was that there is a division between the elite and the masses. The elite is evil and the masses are the good guys. “I return to a key strategic question: who are the major bad guys, the unwashed masses or the power elite? Very early I concluded that the big danger is the elite, and not the masses, and for the following reasons. First, even granting for a moment that the masses are the worst possible, that they are perpetually Hell-bent on lynching anyone down the block, the mass of people simply don’t have the time for politics or political shenanigans. The average person must spend most of his time on the daily business of life, being with his family, seeing his friends, etc. He can only get interested in politics or engage in it sporadically: The only people who have time for politics are the professionals: the bureaucrats, politicians, and special interest groups dependent on political rule. They make money out of politics, and so they are intensely interested, and lobby and are active twenty-four hours a day: Therefore, these special interest groups will tend to win out over the uninterested masses. This is the basic insight of the Public Choice school of economics. The only other groups interested full-time in politics are ideologists like ourselves. . .
A second crucial point: society is divided into a ruling elite, which is necessarily a minority of the population, which lives off the second group—the rest of the population. Here I point to one of the most brilliant essays on political philosophy ever written, John C. Calhoun’s ‘Disquisition on Government’. Calhoun pointed out that the very fact of government and of taxation creates inherent conflict between two great classes: those who pay taxes, and those who live off them; the net taxpayers vs. the tax-consumers. The bigger government gets, Calhoun noted, the greater and more intense the conflict between those two social classes. By the way, I’ve never thought of Governor Pete Wilson of California as a distinguished political theorist, but the other day he said something, presumably unwittingly, that was remarkably Calhounian. Wilson lamented that the tax-recipients in California were beginning to outnumber the tax-payers. Well, it’s a start.
If a minority of elites rule over, tax, and exploit the majority of the public, then this brings up starkly the main problem of political theory: what I like to call the mystery of civil obedience. Why does the majority of the public obey these turkeys, anyway? This problem, I believe, was solved by three great political theorists, mainly but not all libertarian: Etienne de la Boétie, French libertarian theorist of the mid-sixteenth century; David Hume; and Ludwig von Mises. They pointed out that, precisely because the ruling class is a minority, that in the long run, force per se cannot rule. Even in the most despotic dictatorship, the government can only persist when it is backed by the majority of the population. In the long run, ideas, not force, rule, and any government has to have legitimacy in the minds of the public.
But we still haven’t solved the mystery of civil obedience. If the ruling elite is taxing, looting, and exploiting the public, why does the public put up with this for a single moment? Why does it take them so long to withdraw their consent? Here we come to the solution: the critical role of the intellectuals, the opinion-molding class in society. If the masses knew what was going on, they would withdraw their consent quickly: they would soon perceive that the emperor has no clothes, that they are being ripped off. That is where the intellectuals come in. The ruling elite, whether it be the monarchs of yore or the Communist parties of today, are in desperate need of intellectual elites to weave apologias for state power. The state rules by divine edict; the state insures the common good or the general welfare; the state protects us from the bad guys over the mountain; the state guarantees full employment; the state activates the multiplier effect; the state insures social justice, and on and on. The apologias differ over the centuries; the effect is always the same. As Karl Wittfogel shows in his great work, Oriental Despotism, in Asian empires the intellectuals were able to get away with the theory that the emperor or pharaoh was himself divine. If the ruler is God, few will be induced to disobey or question his commands. We can see what the state rulers get out of their alliance with the intellectuals; but what do the intellectuals get out of it? Intellectuals are the sort of people who believe that, in the free market, they are getting paid far less than their wisdom requires. Now the state is willing to pay them salaries, both for apologizing for state power, and in the modern state, for staffing the myriad jobs in the welfare, regulatory state apparatus. In past centuries, the churches have constituted the exclusive opinion molding classes in the society. Hence the importance to the state and its rulers of an established church, and the importance to libertarians of the concept of separating church and state, which really means not allowing the state to confer upon one group a monopoly of the opinion-molding function. In the twentieth century; of course, the church has been replaced in its opinion-molding role, or, in that lovely phrase, the ‘engineering of consent,’ by a swarm of intellectuals, academics, social scientists, technocrats, policy scientists, social workers, journalists and the media generally; and on and on. Often included, for old times’ sake, so to speak, is a sprinkling of social gospel ministers and counselors from the mainstream churches. So, to sum up: the problem is that the bad guys, the ruling classes, have gathered unto themselves the intellectual and media elites, who are able to bamboozle the masses into consenting to their rule, to indoctrinate them, as the Marxists would say; with ‘false consciousness.’
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