These are the people Megan McArdle calls the Mandarins, due to their similarity to the Chinese ruling class scholars.

Passing the tests and becoming a “scholar official” was a ticket to a very good, very secure life.  And there is something to like about a system like this . . . especially if you happen to be good at exams.   Of course, once you gave the imperial bureaucracy a lot of power, and made entrance into said bureaucracy conditional on passing a tough exam, what you have is . . . a country run by people who think that being good at exams is the most important thing on earth.  Sound familiar?

The people who pass these sorts of admissions tests are very clever.  But they’re also, as time goes on, increasingly narrow.  The way to pass a series of highly competitive exams is to focus every fiber of your being on learning what the authorities want, and giving it to them.  To the extent that the “Tiger Mom” phenomenon is actually real, it’s arguably the cultural legacy of the Mandarin system.

That system produced many benefits, but some of those benefits were also costs.  A single elite taking a single exam means a single way of thinking….


…many of the mandarins have never worked for a business at all, except for a think tank, the government, a media organization, or a school–places that more or less deliberately shield their content producers from the money side of things.  There is nothing wrong with any of these places, but culturally and operationally they’re very different from pretty much any other sort of institution.  I don’t myself claim to understand how most businesses work, but having switched from business to media, I’m aware of how different they can be.

In fact, I think that to some extent, the current political wars are a culture war not between social liberals and social conservatives, but between the values of the mandarin system, and the values of those who compete in the very different culture of ordinary businesses–ones outside glamor industries like tech or design.

I think she is absolutely right. People who work with their hands or who have to work in the real world, and small business people — almost none of these become Mandarins. Yet the latter see it as their divine right and duty to tell the former what to do and how to live their lives.

As I tried to make clear in an online discussion earlier, Mandarin is by no means a synonym for liberalism. While Mandarins may be 99% liberal, liberals include ordinary people who live in the real world, and not that of academe, government, or think tanks.

And while I am always uneasy generalizing about any group, if what I have seen living among Mandarins in Philadelphia, Berkeley, and Ann Arbor is any indication, being personally, morally opposed to guns is one of their articles of faith.  They simply do not own them, have never fired them, and for the most part do not know any gun owners. And because they are surrounded only by each other, and know that they are the brightest and the best and therefore entitled to rule, supporting things like gun control is a no-brainer. Disagreement with them — on the gun issue as well as a host of issues — is seen as either stupid or insane.

I’m reminded of a argument I had with a typical Mandarin. He dismissed “gun nuts” out of hand as wild and crazy people, and when I told him that I was a libertarian who believed in our constitutional freedoms including the right to bear arms in self defense, he rolled his eyes in a manner suggesting that I was a hopeless idiot, and he dismissed libertarianism outright as a laughably discredited philosophy that would never ever work.

No doubt the Chinese Mandarins would have been equally dismissive of freedom had someone proposed the idea. Freedom simply does not work.

Hell, I’m 100% certain that serious Fascist and Communist intellectuals have proved that scientifically.

Does that make me an idiot for supporting it?

I guess I should be more tolerant of diversity. After all, it takes idiots to run small businesses, and geniuses to ruin them.