Our Betters Aren’t Better Anymore

At The American Interest, Walter Russel Mead takes an extended look at why our leaders–cultural, financial, and political–suck so bad. Naturally, this part caught my eye:

The religion gap between the elite and the rest of the country is a big part of the problem — and in more ways than one.  I can’t help but notice that the abandonment of serious religion by most of the American elite has coincided with a massive collapse in both the public and private morality of the American establishment.  Kids who weren’t raised in church or synagogue or mosque, who were taught that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ were simplistic categories in a complex moral world of shades of gray, who were told that their highest moral duty was to be true to their inner passions, who were the first generation in American history to be raised in a Scripture-free educational medium, turn into self-indulgent, corner-cutting, self-centered adults.

What a surprise!  We raised a generation of bright kids without a foundation in religion, and they’ve grown up and gone to Wall Street.  We never told them that the virtuous life was both necessary and hard, that character was something that had to be built step by step from youth, that moral weakness was both contemptible and natural: and we are shocked, shocked! when, placed in proximity to large sums of loose cash, they grab all they can. 

Religion is no guarantee of righteousness; Elmer Gantry is not the only sticky-fingered preacher in the history of the world.  But at least in western history when the culture and habits of mind of an entire social milieu have lost touch with their cultural foundations in ethical monotheism, trouble is usually on the way. 

I still have a lot of faith in the ability and the morality of the typical American, but the people in our leadership classes leave a lot to be desired.

It’s not like nobody could see this coming, though.  C.S. Lewis’s almost-70-year-old book The Abolition of Man looks more an more current every day.

We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

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