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Civility is the ability to disagree with others while respecting their sincerity and decency. Civility begins with understanding. We can best understand our political differences by first understanding the moral foundations upon which political views are built. This site features research, resources, and commentary related to the pursuit of Civility through understanding.
 

ELITISM

Huffingpost.com once featured an article by Raymond J. Learsy (a successful oil trader turned analyst).   He makes an argument that if we could only be more like France , well, everything would be better.  Why?  Because France is  ruled by elites.

Mr. Learsy seems to follow in the footsteps first laid down by Walter Lippman in Public Opinion.  Published in 1922 (when the author was 33 years old), it is one of the earliest and most explicit calls for elitism.  Lippman  believed the common man lacked sufficient understanding to enable him to participate meaningfully in public decisions.  From Wikipedia

Early on Lippmann said the herd of citizens must be governed by “a specialized class whose interests reach beyond the locality.”  This class is composed of experts, specialists and bureaucrats. The experts, who often are referred to as “elites,” were to be a machinery of knowledge that circumvents the primary defect of democracy, the impossible ideal of the “omnicompetent citizen”.

The clarion call from the 1920′s is taking up by Mr. Learsy, who seems to be channeling Mr. Lippman when he writes

France’s governance emanates from an elite corp of public servants, graduates of the “grands ecoles” who run the sinews of the Ministries of State. It has given France a government whose dedication and commitment to the general weal is keenly suited to a fiercely competitive world…France has a government with vision, having the welfare of the general public foremost in its sights.

Successful rule by elite is not limited to France, he continues

…consider China. Here is a society with an elite corps of public servants. Only the best and the brightest from the very top schools gain access to what is today the almost ludicrously misnamed the “Communist Party.”

Curiously, Mr. Learsy goes on to quote an article by David Brooks, which was plainly intended to poke fun at elitism.  From Brooks…

The top 1 percent will go to the elite universities. Some of the others will go to second-tier schools, at best. These unfortunates will find that, while their career prospects aren’t permanently foreclosed, the odds of great success are diminished. Suicide rates at these schools are high, as students come to feel they have failed their parents…  You are truly a golden child, because you succeed in university as well. You have a number of opportunities… you decide to enter government service, which is less risky and gives you chances to get rich (under the table) and serve the nation.

But Brooks concludes:

Perhaps it’s simply impossible for a top-down memorization-based elite to organize a flexible, innovative information economy, no matter how brilliant its members are.

Mr. Lippman made innumerable contributions to public discourse during his career.  Often cited as the father of American political commentary, he won two Pulitzers during his ensuing 30 year career.  However, elitism is such a charged term that a google search of Mr. Lippman today inevitably references his contributions to elitism, rarely approvingly.

It’s possible that elitism defines an interesting distinction between the proclivities of liberals and non-liberals.  Liberals are comfortable with, even welcome, the idea of an informed elite making decisions for them.   Non-liberals,  probably disinclined to believe the benevolent  and public spirited assumptions, are disinclined to trust such an elite.

  2 Responses to “Liberals for Elitism”

  1. There are too many examples of elitisim gone bad-liberal and conservative-to name. Let’s briefly mention two: Kennedy’s “best and brightest” who led us into Vietnam and Bush’s “dream team”
    foreign policy crew plunging us into the Iraq/Afghanistan imbroglio, trashing the Constitution
    along the way. Both examples flowed largely from a monumental arrogance refusing to admit
    even the possibility of error or mistake.

    That is the regrettable core of elitism. The elitist through education or other avenues comes
    to believe that human frailties, biases, and limits to understanding don’t really apply to him
    or her. Again, I don’t believe that either liberals or conservatives have cornered the market
    on this particularly dangerous habit of mind, although as a liberal I think the conservative
    variety of elitism has generally been more iniquitious in recent years, but that is another
    subject.

    So when anyone advocates government by elites, alarm bells should be going off.

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