Ross Douthat has written an essay in praise of George Herbert Walker Bush, and WASP values, and the New York Times published it. No editor stepped in and said, “this is absurd” and refused to taint the opinion pages with more garbage. The publisher didn’t worry about the reputation of the paper, and suggest that maybe something so bigoted shouldn’t be run. Nope. They just went with it. I guess since they already gave ol’ Catholic argle-bargle Douthat a column, they were already wrecked, so let the guy babble.
So they’ve published a column about pinin’ for a White Aristocracy, which was so good and kind and generous and self-sacrificing.
So if some of the elder Bush’s mourners wish we still had a WASP establishment, their desire probably reflects a belated realization that certain of the old establishment’s vices were inherent to any elite, that meritocracy creates its own forms of exclusion — and that the WASPs had virtues that their successors have failed to inherit or revive.
Those virtues included a spirit of noblesse oblige and personal austerity and piety that went beyond the thank-you notes and boat shoes and prep school chapel going — a spirit that trained the most privileged children for service, not just success, that sent men like Bush into combat alongside the sons of farmers and mechanics in the same way that it sent missionaries and diplomats abroad in the service of their churches and their country.
The WASP virtues also included a cosmopolitanism that was often more authentic than our own performative variety — a cosmopolitanism that coexisted with white man’s burden racism but also sometimes transcended it, because for every Brahmin bigot there was an Arabist or China hand or Hispanophile who understood the non-American world better than some of today’s shallow multiculturalists.
And somehow the combination of pious obligation joined to cosmopolitanism gave the old establishment a distinctive competence and effectiveness in statesmanship — one that from the late-19th century through the middle of the 1960s was arguably unmatched among the various imperial elites with whom our establishment contended, and that certainly hasn’t been matched by our feckless leaders in the years since George H.W. Bush went down to political defeat.
Noblesse oblige is unironically presented as a virtue? And enacting laws that oppressed the poor and gave them more tax cuts is called
Oh, my. When was the last time we had a wealthy white man running the country…oh, look, right now. No, he means the last time a True White Old Rich Guy, not this nouveau riche pretender, was in charge and leading us “virtuously”. That was in ancient times, way back in 2008, when the son of the guy he’s eulogizing stepped down from the throne. The last time we had a WASP running the country, not counting the crass toad now in control, was a whole ten years ago, and we’ve been missing them
because we feel, at some level, that their more meritocratic and diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well.
Right. I think he meant to use the singular rather than plural — “successor” — because it was one black (i.e.,
diverse) guy, who actually did a pretty good, if imperfect, job as president, and was definitely superior to either Bush. Yet somehow Douthat wants to imply that Obama “ruled us” neither wisely nor well?
Just the use of the phrase
rule us is rather revealing, don’t you think?
Douthat does have some regrets. He thinks the WASPs should have done a better job of training the next generation, maybe,
If ethnic balance is important to meritocrats, they should engineer it into the system, raising up a few brown people or Jews to follow in their righteous path and preserve the domain of the upper class. But the bottom line is that we need an aristocracy.
If we would learn from their lost successes in our own era of misrule, reconsidering this idea — that a ruling class should acknowledge itself for what it really is, and act accordingly — might be a fruitful place to start.
The only virtue of an aristocracy is that, because they set themselves apart, it makes it easier to tell who deserves to be put in the tumbrel.
P.S. to Ross and the New York Times: You know that WASP is an acronym for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, right? It’s a reference to race, ethnicity, and religion, and that whole column is about saying one race, ethnicity, and religion should be allowed to rule the country. You did notice, didn’t you?