Motivated by intense curiosity I pursued better explanations of how the world actually works. This allowed me to see beyond the statist assumptions that were so big a part of elite non-thinking. I didn't even know the word statism back then. My sense was that there were gains to be had in greater centralization but only up to a point.
In a recent post by my coblogger about resilience and collapse, I made a somewhat glib comment about how there were forces running counter to the trends of centralization that seem so irresistibly powerful.
In an article by Walter Russell Mead, The Crisis of the American Intellectual he expresses concern over having reached that point. Because of his views he gives more credit to the Mandarins regarding past progress than I would, but here is some of his take on the matter:
Since the late nineteenth century most intellectuals have identified progress with the advance of the bureaucratic, redistributionist and administrative state. The government, guided by credentialed intellectuals with scientific training and values, would lead society through the economic and political perils of the day. An ever more powerful state would play an ever larger role in achieving ever greater degrees of affluence and stability for the population at large, redistributing wealth to provide basic sustenance and justice to the poor. The social mission of intellectuals was to build political support for the development of the new order, to provide enlightened guidance based on rational and scientific thought to policymakers, to administer the state through a merit based civil service, and to train new generations of managers and administrators.
Most American intellectuals today are still shaped by this worldview and genuinely cannot imagine an alternative vision of progress. It is extremely difficult for such people to understand the economic forces that are making this model unsustainable and to see why so many Americans are in rebellion against this kind of state and society – but if our society is going to develop we have to move beyond the ideas and the institutions of twentieth century progressivism. The promises of the administrative state can no longer be kept and its premises no longer hold. The bureaucratic state is too inefficient to provide the needed services at a sustainable cost – and bureaucratic, administrative governments are by nature committed to maintain the status quo at a time when change is needed. For America to move forward, power is going to have to shift from bureaucrats to entrepreneurs, from the state to society and from qualified experts and licensed professionals to the population at large.
So there you have it. The foundational assumptions of American intellectuals as a group are firmly based on the assumptions of the progressive state and the Blue Social Model. Those who run our government agencies, our universities, our foundations, our mainstream media outlets and other key institutions cannot at this point look the future in the face. The world is moving in ways so opposed to their most hallowed assumptions that they simply cannot make sense of it. They resist blindly and uncreatively and, unable to appreciate the extraordinary prospects for human liberation that this change can bring, they are incapable of creative and innovative response.
None of this is a great surprise to anyone who bothered to work things out rather than blindly parroting the ideas of the intellectuals.