Some days ago I had lunch with an eminent scholar of American history, whom I’d be pleased to call a friend. The conversation turned to the future of our country, and whether one had cause for optimism or pessimism. She was, in fact, agnostic, and gave good reasons for her stand. I said I was optimistic, because I have faith in the fundamental sanity of the American people.
True, we have a perverse intellectual elite – a postmodern version of those Shia celebrants who flog bloody their own backs. But nobody listens to them: that’s part of the great common sense of the American people. In France, an intellectual is a public figure. He commands attention. Here, an intellectual either talks to himself, or to other intellectuals (which is essentially the same thing). We are a nation of pragmatists.
For the same reason, the weakness and silliness of our political class is unimportant. The Founding Fathers severely limited the authority of this class. The Founders were principled pragmatists: they understood that, to get things done, the most effective approach was from the ground up, providing the free spaces for ordinary people to gather in voluntary associations. Such associations have made ordinary Americans, in the aggregate, an extraordinary people.
After the constant shrieking over Katrina’s devastation by the intelligentsia, the mainstream media, and the political class, here is a Gallup poll reflecting the collective calmness of Americans. Who, they were asked, was to blame for the hurricane? A large plurality (38 percent) said “nobody.” Should someone in government, they were asked, get fired because of the response? A considerable majority (63 percent) said “nobody should get fired.” And 62 percent said they thought “progress made in dealing with the situation is satisfactory.”
In a pragmatic spirit, Americans are concentrating on fixing the mess left behind by the hurricane. Most are sublimely disinterested in fixing blame, or in rolling out the guillotine. The chattering classes may panic or rage, but the American people consistently display a nobility of character that justifies my faith in the country’s future.