Australia has a new monarch, whose favourite non-fiction book is – so she says – Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree.
Say what you will about past PMs, but they at least would have known how to feign good taste and aesthetic judgement, when they did not actually have it. But, where once they might have read Cicero or Gibbon, nowadays state elites choose the verbal swagger of late-imperial bozo journalism. And every elite gets the culture it deserves. Friedman’s combination of schmaltz and bombast is a perfect fit for today’s international lawlessness, repeal of constitutional rights, and cabinet supremacy over parliament. This is the rule of a parasitic social layer.
Of course, in every society, rule is based not on merit or learning but on money (what Adam Smith called “the power to command labour”) and force. But whereas, say, the senatorial elite of 5th- and 19th-century Europe were also men of letters, and in other times and places they were fierce men of arms, it’s no accident that today has called forth this crop of bumptious philistines, no longer concerned to present themselves as “the best part of the human race”.
Obviously overstated, in that no PM since Menzies would have quoted Cicero, still less read him, and not that many before; Hughes, Scullin, Curtin, Lyons, Page, Fadden, none of them Gibbon men. But still, a liking for Friedman is ceetainly a black mark, to go with others.