Friedman and Mandelbaum’s That Used to be Us seems to be a cautionary tale about America’s diminished future (sort of like Super Sad True Love Story without the laughs?). But I found the closing of David Frum’s New York Times review to be intriguing.
Friedman and Mandelbaum at one point praise the beauty of solutions that rise from the bottom up as opposed to the top down. This praise is not consciously insincere, but pretty plainly it does not accurately represent their operational plan. Friedman and Mandelbaum are men of the American elite, and they write to salute those members of the American elite who behave public-spiritedly and to scourge those who do not. They are winners, writing to urge other winners to have more of a care for their fellow citizens who are not winners.
And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that! Societies inescapably generate elites. Those elites can be public-spirited and responsible or they can be selfish and shortsighted. An elite can have concern and care for the less advantaged or it can callously disregard them. Maybe not surprisingly, the language of anti-elitism has often been a useful tool of the most rapacious and merciless among the elite.
American society has had a big serving of that ugly anti-elitist spirit in the recent past. It could use more of the generous responsible spirit Friedman and Mandelbaum recommend. They say less than might be wished about what a more public-spirited American elite might do. But they have eloquently described what such an elite should want to do.
my only hope of prosperity for England, or any other country, in whatever life they lead, is in their discovering and obeying men capable of Kinghood.