Jonah Goldberg

The restorationists are neither anti-elitist nor anti-intellectual. William F. Buckley famously said that he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than the Harvard faculty, but few would dispute that the Latin-speaking harpsichord player who used summer and winter as verbs was anything but an elitist. Similarly, the restorationists have any number of hero intellectuals (from Buckley and Thomas Sowell to Hayek and Ayn Rand).

The "elite" the restorationists dislike is better understood as a "new class" (to borrow a phrase from the late Irving Kristol). The legendary economist Joseph Schumpeter predicted in 1942 that capitalism couldn't survive because capitalist prosperity would feed a new intellectual caste that would declare war on the bourgeois values and institutions that generate prosperity in the first place. When you hear that conservatives are anti-elitist, you should think they're really anti-new class. Conservatives see this new class of managers, meddlers, planners and scolds as a kind of would-be secular aristocracy empowered to declare war on traditional arrangements and make other decisions "for your own good."

And that's why Obama backlash is part of the culture war. Defenders of ObamaCare, cap-and-trade and the rest of the Democratic agenda insist that they're merely applying the principles of good governance and the lessons of sound, sober-minded policymaking. No doubt there's some truth to that, at least in terms of their motives. But from a broader perspective, it is obvious that theirs is a cultural agenda as well.

The quest for single-payer health care is not primarily grounded in good economics nor in good politics but in a heartfelt ideological desire for "social justice." The constant debate over whether the "European model" is better than ours often sounds like an empirical debate, but at its core it's a cultural and philosophical argument that stretches back more than a century.

The restorationists reside on one side of that debate, while the Obama administration and the bulk of the progressive establishment reside on the other. And that debate is far from over.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Jonah Goldberg's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.