Freedom From Solutions
“I have often been quoted as saying I would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand people on the faculty of Harvard University.” – William F. Buckley, Jr.
The election of Donald Trump has led to a debate, particularly on the Right, of the proper role of elites, or “experts,” in American society. More to the point, the debate is over the proper role of experts in a freely elected Constitutional Republic when said experts are, by and large, either unelected bureaucrats or members of academia.
The William F. Buckley quote above may be the most famous example of the conservative distrust of the academic class. Buckley, a member of the elite by any definition, recognized in the American vox populi a wisdom he seemed to view as a restraint on the more adventuresome authoritarian strains in both the political class and intellectuals. In a way, this collective instinctual wisdom itself served as the thing standing athwart history, yelling stop.
There is an argument to be made that the wisdom of the American people has been somewhat diminished since Buckley made that statement, as evidenced by our national politics. In fact, the more people who vote for someone, the less qualified they actually seem to be in respect to making decisions over other people’s lives (see: the presidential candidates and a large chunk of the Senate). But the current argument doesn’t even seem to be expressly over politicians (most of whom are experts at little more than running for office), but rather over the class of government minions who are unelected but nonetheless have a disturbingly large impact on how our government operates.
As Pope said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain/And drinking largely sobers us again.” The genius there is that this quote applies both ways: both to the inexpert layman in any given field, but also to the expert when he veers out of his lane, and into the world of national social or economic policy.
Experts, and the narrowing of their fields of expertise, are essential to modern life. To use one popular recent example, it is true that somewhere around 100 percent of air travelers want their pilot to be an expert. Most people recognize perfectly well that their heart surgeons and nuclear technicians are experts who possess knowledge and skill that they themselves don’t possess. Most people also recognize that these particular experts, unlike those in bureaucratic fields, offer a marketable service and are willing to compensate them for it. The problem that we are faced with, and what the American people seem to be rebelling against, are the “experts” who seek to influence government policy in ways voters are either opposed to or at the very least find ineffective and expensive.
To put it bluntly: those experts have screwed a lot of shit up. Obamacare, American foreign policy, the war on drugs, domestic environmental policy, the economy...the list of issues is seemingly endless. The American people were told for at least the last eight years that the smart set was in charge, and things would be just dandy if only we allowed the “experts” free rein. The problem is that there are a lot of things that may seem smart on paper but which just won’t work when forcibly applied to the citizens of 50 separate states, with 50 separate economies, and 50 distinct voting bases, and this assessment assumes that those implementing policy actually have America’s best interests as a free republic at heart.
This leads us to the real heart of the matter: liberty. The Washington political and bureaucratic classes have no Constitutional right to force the “solutions” to any of these problems on their fellow citizens. The health insurance “problem” is not a national problem insofar as there is no Constitutional right to health insurance (or even healthcare), and the answer to what problems there are in healthcare in Texas are very probably not the same as the answer for New Hampshire or Oregon. The federal government institutes regulations constantly affecting the economy that have no Constitutional basis. There is no Constitutional basis whatsoever for banning or regulating any drug at the Federal level, and yet we’re told we have a national “opioid epidemic” that demands a federal solution. Foreign policy experts are undoubtedly necessary, but our foreign policy, when any logic or reason can be discerned in it at all, certainly doesn’t seem to be guided by any experts in the field. There is even a very good possibility that actually fixing any “problem” at the federal level is viewed as bad for business, because without the problem to solve there would be a lot of unemployable experts.
In short, the American people don’t have a problem with experts or intellectuals. What they have a problem with is incompetence, and it is just a fact of life that the larger and more remote the government and bureaucracy become, the more incompetent and unaccountable they will be. It is highly unlikely that a Trump administration will work toward devolving power from Washington and back to the states, so unfortunately nothing is likely to improve. Fortunately for experts, intellectuals, and the voting public alike there is another famous line from the above quoted Alexander Pope work, An Essay on Criticism: “To err is human, to forgive divine.”
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