So, to recap:
- Liberals have been very effective at excluding incongruent ideas and people from elite institutions.
- As a result, conservatives may still win individual elections but are bad at shaping policy and governing.
- The dominant ideology (ie, political correctness) rightfully cares about preserving its control over ideas and elite institutions more than it cares about winning individual elections or policing non-elite speech.
- Capitalism is more than happy to coopt this ideology, both because it is dominant and because its emphasis on dissolving boundaries and upending received hierarchies allows for greater movement of capital, expansion of demjand.
- Power and wealth are happy to bow before this ideology, even if it inconveniences individual powerful or wealthy people, as long as it doesn’t inconvenience the system as a whole.
But, still everything isn’t yet going to hell, and complaints about “Cultural Marxism” from people like Jonathan Chait are mostly off-base. Colleges may become more boring places, Hollywood movies may become more ideologically uniform, the intellectual flavor of the week may become ever more specious and silly, but between a still huge middle class and a political system that blocks action nationally and delivers a great deal of power locally, the destructive power of ideology remains more limited in the United States than in most places or times.
National and local politics in the US are analogous to Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow; national politics can run riot with our best intentions and our worst fears, and especially when it comes to the military can do great damage for almost no reason at all. Local politics is slow, corrupt, frustrating, and pervasively hypocritical, but it is rational: it advances local interests and local power, step by inexorable step.
Some colleagues and I won a $500,000 grant once to put in a science lab in my school; the school construction authority stole the money to do unnecessary asbestos abatement in the building rather than do almost any improvements at all (really, the same gum wrappers were sitting under the same broken air conditioner, next to the same broken sink in the “science lab” when they were done and the money was gone). That’s local politics for you: corrupt, failing to accomplish its stated goals, but coopted by interests rather than ideology, nine times out of ten. (Which is why Educational Reformism, the dominant ideology seeking to upend local governance, has ultimately run out of steam.)
In times and places when wealth and power were more highly localized and less cosmopolitan, or when local interests were sufficiently identified with a single violent ideology, I’d worry about this more, and be more sympathetic to elite whining about NIMBYism and the cruelties of localized power.
In the meantime, all hail, James Madison, savior of civilization.