What happened to America’s elite?

Ordinary Americans are for the most part still common sense realists, even if they have never heard of the philosophy of common sense realism and especially if they have never been to college. We can turn to Abraham Lincoln for a good example of that. You have probably heard this one before: “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs would a dog have? Four, because, even if you call it a leg, it’s still a tail.” Of course this is only ordinary, garden-variety common sense. But the philosophy of common sense realism taught in American colleges during Lincoln’s time was deeply rooted in the common sense thinking of ordinary Americans.

The powerful affinity between the common sense thinking of ordinary Americans and the thinking of the people who once constituted America’s elite explains why in former times they understood each other in a way that now has been lost. The Founders believed Americans could govern themselves because they had faith in the American people. Here is Thomas Jefferson sounding very different than politicians today who speak of Americans as “bitter clingers” or “deplorables”: “State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.” The enormous gulf that has opened up between the thinking of ordinary citizens and the thinking of our ruling elite once did not exist.