Growing up during the 1960’s in the People’s Republic of Berzerkeley, I was, more often than desired, treated to statements criticizing “the establishment.” As I grew older I found opportunity to ask exactly what this “establishment” was, and found that the only answers I received were nebulous, blaming “the established order” or a bit more direct, referencing the “military-industrial complex” or “big business and the Republican Party.”
During the intervening years references to “the establishment” have declined until now we rarely see them, unless they occur in a new context, coming, not from the campus protestors, but from conservatives and libertarians. As we see, the former “hippie” Hillary Clinton becomes wealthy, powerful, and like the character in a Mad Magazine cartoon, I saw many years ago, she is, if possible, going to “take over.” The 1960’s left has become what they professed to hate.
Meanwhile, with the events of the disputed Thad Cochran Republican runoff victory in Mississippi we see that the Republicans and Democrats are not above working together to preserve their positions of power, influence and moneyed status. This, combined with the failure of the old guard Republicans to confront the present, corrupt, Democrat dominated administration, shows that what the campus revolutionaries and their fellow travelers in the 1960’s and 1970’s were so willing to fight is, in fact, the combination of big government and big money; particularly Wall Street and entrenched organizations such as General Electric and the United Auto Workers.
When the Constitution was written all those many years ago the authors, many of them aware of the potential for misuse of government, deliberately attempted to prevent this sort of thing from happening. The foundational idea was that if government does not possess significant power then that power cannot be misused or abused. Since then, interested parties have done their best to circumvent the limitation on government power so that they could use it to their advantage; in many cases to their personal advantage, taking indirect routes to do so. Much of what happens is purportedly in the public interest, although behind the scenes it brings about other results that benefit advocates of such actions in ways that are not often recognized up front. A recent example was General Electric’s agreement to ban the incandescent light bulb when they stood to gain significant licensing fees from new technology, but none from the old. It was a simple, profit driven move, supposedly to prevent “global warming.”
With increased government power the various interests have worked to put it to their own uses. In the end what has happened is that the public interest has been sacrificed on the altar of power and the status quo. As Lord Acton wrote, power corrupts. What he did not note is that power also tends to accumulate, and over time the combination of corruption and accumulation becomes deadly to the legitimate purposes of any system based on popular sovereignty. This is precisely the position in which the United States of America finds itself as it celebrates Independence Day, 2014.
The so called “establishment” that on one could define in 1970 has revealed itself completely now. However, altogether too many people still do not understand what the nation is dealing with. They still believe that they best interests of society are served by the creation of a social welfare state, rather than by individual liberty. They have forgotten the lessons of history, which dictate that there is a tradeoff between liberty and security, eventually ending in an absence of both, as government takes on the characteristics of George Orwell’s 1984.
The old adolescent student rebellion, which was a major characteristic of the decade beginning roughly in 1965, was, at least, in the public eye, one of civil liberties. People should not be forced into military service; free love, and decriminalization of “recreational” drugs; and then the problematic aspect; no one should have to work to support their pleasure seeking. It was nonsensical, but perhaps one of those things that crop up out of the idealistic minds of the inexperienced, and fed by those who would use these inexperienced idealists to further their own ends. Thus, the establishment was likely taking advantage of the student rebellion to its own ends way back in its earliest days.
What impressed this writer significantly was the fact that when other idealistic movements took hold in Europe and Asia during the first half of the 20th century, the leadership rapidly turned their backs on the idealisms and turned their followers into “useful idiots.” It was this observation that led to a conclusion that the people who created these revolutions in the name of “the people” of some other such populist seeming concept were, in fact, doing so for their own personal benefit from the start, with no intention of anything else. The oft-touted public benefit, or public interest was a ruse to help smooth the way to power that had nothing to do with the idealisms that were spouted during the campaign. It was, and is, the same as the Obama mantra that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” The intent, all along was to take it, and every other plan away from the gullible, and everyone else as well.
During the last several decades the subject of dumbing down of education has been an occasional front burner topic, with little action, except in certain states where populist conservatism has taken sufficient hold. With a generation or two of poorly educated people, distracted by an overdose of entertainment media that substitutes excitement and glamour for substance it becomes easy for the politically skilled to trick them into supporting fake idealism. Taming the public thirst for cheap thrills is difficult. It can be done, possibly by substituting for them with constructive thrills that will lead to better information and subsequently, better informed choices.
Ultimately, the best informed person understands that they are their own best arbiters of what is right for themselves. Understanding that big talk is just that is something that rarely comes outside of experience. Perhaps the experience of the last 6 or so years will suffice. At least we can hope so.