Romney, the last patrician

The decline of the patricians has been occurring slowly for decades as the interests of the wealthiest have diverged from those of ordinary Americans. In the country’s first two centuries, some common ground joined the traditional conservatives who made up the bulk of the moneyed class and who spearheaded the quest for national power and economic expansion with the muscular progressivism epitomized by the two President Roosevelts. The forgers of American preeminence in the business world—Henry Ford and Alfred Sloan, the Rockefellers, Thomas J. Watson of IBM, David Packard and Bill Hewlett—embraced the ideal of growth where enriching themselves meant creating unprecedented opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Americans. These men built and financed things—from oil wells and high-tech instruments to autos and suburban tract houses—essential to the prosperity of the working and middle classes they employed and depended on to purchase their products…

The demise of the patrician class could be more palatable if it signaled the restoration of middle- or working-class political power in America. But the real winners here are not likely to be the largely suburban masses but a new, heavily urban littoral ruling class. Of course, the politically potent liberals who populate these urban areas live amidst far greater income inequality than the non-coastal, red-state “rubes.” Epitomized by Barack Obama, this ascendant force draws its strength largely from high reaches of academia, the media, the environmental lobby and, increasingly, the digital billionaires of Silicon Valley.

Like the old patricians, this new group shares a basic ideology. Indeed they can be seen as something of a clerisy—members of a secular congregation whose shared faith is in a society run by experts such as themselves according to the dictates of accepted science. That those experts would profit from their own advice is seen as merely part of a virtuous circle, scarcely worth the notice of the high-minded citizens scientifically calculating the common good. For the most part, the clerisy believes not so much in economic growth but in enforcing an agenda of ever-increasing urban density, racial redress, cultural experimentation and “green” energy. Obama reigns largely as high priest of this class.