Thursday, October 23, 2008

Noonan: A Separate Peace

Re-post time!
This link to a Peggy Noonan column three years ago is prescient in light of the current global financial train wreck..
First appeared October 28, 2005.

See from the Apocrypha, Wisdom 14:23 "...even though they live in a great war of ignorance, they call such evils peace."


Peggy Noonan's column is a litany of angst. It is titled A Separate Peace, but she might well have named it A Separate Piece.

The special prosecutors, the scandals, the spin for the scandals, nuclear proliferation, wars and natural disasters, Iraq, stem cells, earthquakes, the background of the Supreme Court backup pick, how best to handle the security problems at the port of Newark, how to increase production of vaccines, tort reform, did Justice bungle the anthrax case, how is Cipro production going, did you see this morning's Raw Threat File? Our public schools don't work, and there's little refuge to be had in private schools, however pricey, in part because teachers there are embarrassed not to be working in the slums and make up for it by putting pictures of Frida Kalho where Abe Lincoln used to be. Where is Osama? What's up with trademark infringement and intellectual capital? We need an answer on an amendment on homosexual marriage! We face a revolt on immigration.

...Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it. [ed. She left out the most important elites of all: those whom we trust to handle our money. No further comment from me.]

I suspect that history, including great historical novelists of the future, will look back and see that many of our elites simply decided to enjoy their lives while they waited for the next chapter of trouble. And that they consciously, or unconsciously, took grim comfort in this thought: I got mine. Which is what the separate peace comes down to, "I got mine, you get yours."

America is navel-gazing from the top down. Ms. Noonan's column shows only the tip of the iceberg. It stands in sharp contrast, by the way, with the vision of the future I am getting from Virginia Postrel's The Future and Its Enemies which I am plowing through at a leisurely pace. Ms. Noonan comes across as a proto-stasist as she looks to leadership to organize everything better, clean up the mess, and put the trolly back on the track (her image, not mine).

1 comment:

Kobayashi Maru said...

Nice catch. As a longtime fan of Noonan and Postrel (and particularly 'TFAIE'), I don't see the two as irreconcilable. Noonan is not proposing a statist vision so much as commenting on a political culture gripped by self-centeredness and ennui - individuals disillusioned (finally!) by the impossibility of organizing society from the top down. I've added a few tangential observations in another post here.