Menckens Ghost

More About: Philosophy of Liberty

Self-government by those who can’t govern themselves

By Mencken’s Ghost
Dec. 2, 2012

Harvey Mansfield has said what I’ve been afraid to say for fear of being labeled with one of the “un” adjectives:  undemocratic, un-American, and unkind.

The 80-year-old professor, who has taught at Harvard University for a half-century, doesn’t care about the “un” labels.  Nor does he give a damn about being shunned by his fellow professors of the progressive persuasion, who comprise 90% of not only the Harvard faculty but just about all faculties.

In a commentary in the Dec. 1 -2, 2012 edition of the Wall Street Journal, “The Crisis of American Self-Government,” Professor Mansfield made the courageous point that self-government doesn’t work when most citizens aren’t capable of governing even their own lives. 

After all, how can they make wise decisions for their fellow citizens, or society at large, if they can’t make wise decisions for themselves? 

An additional question:  How can the nation avoid fiscal collapse when most voters can’t manage their own finances? 

It can’t.

The professor went on to say--brace yourself for a shocking revelation--that people aren’t equal in intelligence and abilities, and never will be. 

This fact of human inequality hasn’t stopped the professoriate and other progressives from trying to achieve the impossible goal of equal outcomes, a futile pursuit that has had the opposite effect.  This fetish for equality has led to the absurd notion that everyone has what it takes to go to college, a fallacy that has resulted in many students going deeply in debt to only end up flunking out or graduating with worthless degrees.

Of course, much of the money flooding into universities has flowed to the professoriate in the form of grants, pay, promotions, and lifetime sinecure.  Yet college professors aren’t seen as greedy, selfish and materialistic by most Americans.  That’s because most Americans get their ideas of social justice and fairness from journalists and K-12 teachers, who have been taught by college professors.  It’s a perpetual-motion machine of bad thinking.   

Another absurd notion is that all K-12 students should have proficiency in algebra and other higher-level math, even though all students don’t have the requisite drive, determination, self-discipline, parental discipline, and cognitive skills.  As a result, instead of learning a lucrative trade, those without the requisites either drop out or graduate with little self-confidence or marketable skills. 

A decline in per-capita income is the ultimate result of such nonsense.   Naturally, progressive eggheads blame this Humpty-Dumpty mess on the failure of capitalism.

Coincidentally, directly below Mansfield’s commentary in the Wall Street Journal was a commentary on public education.  Written by a former high school teacher, Caleb Rossiter, it described the horrors of Washington, D.C., public schools, where only 50% of students graduate, and of those who do graduate, most of them “operate at about the fifth-grade level in academics, organization and behavior.”  (How’s that nineteenth century progressive goal of universal education working out?)  This means, to put it bluntly, that the fate of the nation is decided partly by voters with the minds of fifth graders.

Rossiter’s article also described a sham program called Credit Recovery, where failing students are supposed to attend special classes after school (at taxpayer expense, of course) to learn what they didn’t learn in regular classes.  However, they don’t master the coursework in the remedial program but are given credit anyway, including credit for such courses as algebra and trigonometry.  Well, at least they have met the progressive goal of being equal--equal on paper. 

Plato’s answer for the lack of intellectual interest (and the lack of morality) among the masses was rule by philosopher-kings.  He didn’t explain, though, what would keep the philosopher-kings from turning into despots.

The founders of the United States had two different ideas for raising the quality of voters.  One was for senators to be elected by state legislatures, not by the popular vote of the people, so that, unlike members of the House, senators wouldn’t be whipsawed by the fevers, passions and short-term outlook of the masses.  The Seventeenth Amendment ended this good idea.  The second idea was the restriction of voting to property owners.  But even if this requirement hadn’t been overturned, morons eventually would have voted anyway, because government housing policies and easy credit have enabled morons to buy property.

One such moron is Sergei Zhurkov, who sniveled in a recent Wall Street Journal article that Congress might do away with a provision allowing homeowners to avoid paying taxes on financial relief they receive on their underwater mortgages.  The genius owes about $750,000 on two mortgages on a house that is worth $200,000.  He asked, “How am I supposed to pay taxes on this?  It makes no sense.  I am completely broke.”

Zhurkov and his dumm kauf (stupid purchase) prove that he is an ignoramus about financial matters.  Yet his voting influences the fate of the nation regarding such complicated issues as deficits, debt, and economic growth. 

As Professor Mansfield implied in his commentary, the fatal institutional problem facing the USA is that it has been transformed from a constitutional republic to a majority-rule democracy (and empire), with fifth graders and Zhurkovs deciding elections.

You can call Mansfield undemocratic, un-American and unkind, but he’s right.  



Mencken’s Ghost is the nom de plume of an Arizona writer who can be reached at



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