By Ross Douthat, Opinion Columnist
Dec. 19, 2018, 341c
President Emmanuel Macron presides over a country roiled by populist protests.CreditCreditPool photo by Benoit Tessier
“In France, where the extraordinarily unpopular Emmanuel Macron presides over a country roiled by populist protests, a leading politician of Macron’s centrist party was asked in a televised interview what policy mistakes his peers had made: “We were probably too intelligent, too subtle,” he told the interviewer, whose eyebrows danced with disbelief.
Around the same time a Hungarian newspaper ran an interview with Radek Sikorski, the former foreign minister of Poland and a member of a centrist party that has been swept aside by the populists who currently rule in Warsaw. Asked to explain the chaotic European situation, he cited a recent Atlantic essay by his wife, the Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, which portrayed populism as, in part, a revolt by the resentfully unsuccessful against “meritocracy and competition.” The centrist alternative to populism, he suggested, was embodied by Macron, who won the French presidency on “positive ideas” rather than “what is worst in us.”
“Macron’s poll numbers are breaking negative records,” the interviewer dryly noted.
While I read both of these exchanges, my Kindle was open to “The Rise of the Meritocracy,” written in 1958 by the British civil servant Michael Young. The book coined the term in its title, and Young’s neologism was soon adopted as a compliment, a term of praise for a system of elite formation that relied on SAT tests and resumes and promised rule by the most intelligent rather than the well-bred.”
David Lindsay: Ross, well done. You kept me till the end, when you wrote:
“In theory the impasse can be overcome. That’s what statesmanship is for — to bridge gaps between complacent winners and angry losers, to weld populism’s motley grievances into a new agenda suited for the times, to manifest an elitism that is magnanimous instead of arrogant.
But can the system we have really produce such a statesman? The next one we find will be the first.”
What a silly way to end. Think Barak Obama, John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin D Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt. And that doesn’t include the great Europeans such as Winston Churchill.
You write brilliantly. Perhaps you should consider controlling your right wing, Catholic litmus tests.
David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth-century Vietnam,” and blogs at TheTaySonRebellion.com and InconvenientNews.wordpress.com
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