Iestyn Davies, one of the world’s foremost countertenors, described opera (in the Wall Street Journal) as “elitist in a good sense.” He didn’t explain what he meant, but one presumes he was using the word in its old-fashioned sense, as “the group or part of the group selected or regarded as the finest, best, most distinguished, most powerful, etc.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary)
Historically, the elite have always been the ruling class. In early Rome, the control of government was restricted to “patricians,” the “fathers” of “great families”; later, in a burst of democracy, the “plebians” insisted on their own citizenship rights, which eventually were granted. However, “This new concept of citizenship…did not mean full equality.” Patricians remained at the top of the social and legal hierarchy, and over the next two millennia, the elite class, in whatever nation, and whatever they were called, remained “the most distinguished and powerful.”
Suspicion and resentment of the elites, of course, always troubled societies, especially western ones, and, by the nineteenth century– following the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution—Europe saw a burst of anti-elitist sentiment that resulted, most famously, in the irruption of Communism, which identified “the elites” as capitalist warmongering plutocrats. This anti-elitist streak found fertile ground in the new American empire; our Declaration of Independence, with its “All men are created equal” credo, underscored the anti-patrician sentiment upon which this nation was founded (although the irony is that the white, land-owning men who founded it were themselves arch-patricians).
By the post-World War II period, with the triumph of Rooseveltian liberalism, a new cadre of sociologists and political scientists had identified a class of patricians formed and nourished by the new industrial state. The sociologist C. Wright Mills termed this new class “The Power Elite,” in a 1957 book of the same name that was very influential when I was a lad. This elite, Mills wrote, consisted of “political, economic and military circles” who decided national events. The new “plebes”—factory workers, farmers, clerical workers, teachers, nurses, mechanics—had no input into these decisions. Mills’ book not only identified the new elite, but cast a rather sour glance upon them.
Since the 1950s, the “elite” have become the target for populist resentment, both Democratic and Republican; but mainly the latter. Richard Nixon stirred modern anti-elite sentiment when he spoke of “the Silent Majority.” The rise of evangelical Christianity, under Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and the like, capitalized on this resentment to lure poorer, under-educated Americans into their tents; and these Americans voted.
Today, of course, we have the tea party and its affiliated media, such as Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, continuing to stoke anti-elite resentment. This resentment forms the very basis of Trumpism; it is what got him elected; it is what makes his followers stand by him despite the torrent of lies and failures issuing from the president. The “elite” whom the Republican Party despises are said to live on the two Coasts, in the great cities, where they control the media; muckrakers such as Alex Jones routinely attack them, as he did last month when he ranted about the “Hollywood elite” as “a pack of ravenous psychopaths.”
This is funny stuff; I think of people like Jones and Limbaugh as comedians and entertainers, not authentic political commentators; but that they are believed, literally, by millions of their fans does make them a problem. Which brings me back to Iestyn Davies’s comment that opera is “elitist in a good sense.” I believe in the concept of a good elite. Who do I mean? Oddly, the Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib, a conservative, defined elites yesterday in the paper: “upper-scale white voters, millennials, minorities, suburban women and single women.” That’s a pretty good group to run America, it seems to me. “Elitist in a good sense.”
Elite Americans are better-educated, with sounder judgment and greater insight, than under-educated Americans. They also have a compassion and empathy that are non-existent in the white supremacist, xenophobic Republican Party. The elite class in America, is, in the Republican strategist, Steve Schmidt’s, recent words, “a coalition of the decent”: liberally-minded, inclusive, tolerant of others, kind—just as they would want others to be of them. The father of classical Western liberalism, John Locke, put it this way: “Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.” That broad vision lies at the center of American freedom: no matter who you are, you are as valuable as any billionaire, President or four-star general. This vision, indeed, translates directly to, for example, Tuesday’s election victory in Virginia by a transgendered woman. Despite the animosity of the Republican-Christian party towards the LGBTQ community, Americans increasingly are liberal and tolerant of others. This is what makes America great, not a narcissistic pathological liar wearing a MAGA cap.
So, yes, I defend the elite. I would much rather have elite people making important decisions than religious fanatics, neo-nazis, school dropouts, klepto thugs like the Trump family and ignoramuses who don’t believe in science. Elite people are smart, with common sense and sophistication; that is why the non-elite are jealous of them. So, the next time you hear a Bannon or a Trump or any tea party denizen attack “the elite,” know that there’s an agenda there: what passes for “anti-elitism” today is a rightwing, reactionary-fascist movement that is trying to take America backwards, not forward.
Source : http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/steveheimoff/YKZT/~3/k0NnK79RU6k/