What, Precisely, is the Issue with ‘Elites’?

 

Conservatives/libertarians and especially Trump supporters often speak about “elites” in pejorative terms. Why is this? I doubt that many among these groups would argue in favor of mediocrity (a la the senator who famously argued that mediocre people also deserve representation on the Supreme Court) and/or of extreme egalitarianism and social leveling. Indeed, quite a few outspoken conservatives and libertarians could themselves be considered to have elite status in view of their professional, economic, and/or scholarly accomplishments. So what is the critique of elitism all about?

Several factors seem to me to be at work…

1)There is a perception that the multiple ladders of success which have existed in American society are increasingly being collapsed into a single ladder, with access tightly controlled via educational credentials

2)It is increasingly observed that these credentials actually have fairly low predictive power concerning an individual’s actual ability to perform important tasks and make wise judgments about institutional or national issues. The assumption that school-based knowledge generally trumps practical experience seems increasingly questionable as the sphere of activity for which this assertion is made has expanded, and is indeed increasingly viewed with suspicion or with outright disdain.

3)It is observed that people working in certain fields arrogate to themselves an assumed elite status despite the fact that their jobs actually require relatively little in terms of skill and judgment. Ace of Spades cites a history writer on class distinctions in Victorian England:

She noted, for example, that a Bank of England clerk would be a member of the middle/professional class, despite the fact that what he did all day was hand-write numbers into ledgers and do simple arithmetic and some filing work and the like, whereas, say, a carpenter actually did real thinking, real planning, at his job, with elements of real creativity. And yet it was the Bank of England clerk who was considered a “mind” worker and the carpenter merely a hand-laborer.

Ace suggests that “that distinction has obviously persisted, even in America, with the ingrained sort of idea that a low-level associate producer making crap money and rote choices on an MSNBC daytime talk show was somehow ‘above’ someone making real command decisions in his occupation, like a plumber. And this sort of idea is very important to that low-level producer at MSNBC, because by thinking this way, he puts himself in the league of doctors and engineers.”

(The same prejudice can be seen in terminology currently used in discussions of community colleges and technical schools: that these institutions are needed to train people for “mid-skill” jobs, with the implication being that people with 4-year degrees automatically have higher-skilled jobs than people with fewer years of seat time. Really? An undergraduate sociology major performing some rote job at a “non-profit” is doing something requiring higher skills than a toolmaker or an air traffic controller?)

4)Marriage, and even serious dating, seem increasingly to follow class boundaries, with “class” being defined very largely by educational credentials. Part of this is due to expanded educational and career opportunities for women—the doctor who once would have married his receptionist may now marry a female doctor—but I think a good part of this is due to the very high valuation placed on educational credentials. This phenomenon, of course, tends to lead to the solidification and perpetuation of class barriers.

5)People who have achieved success in one field too often assume a faux expertise in unrelated fields, as with the actor or singer who is credited with having something worthwhile to say about foreign policy or economics, irrespective of lack of study/experience in those fields.

6)People who have achieved success via the manipulation of words and images have increasingly tended to discount all other forms of intelligence…for those who attacked George W Bush as “stupid”, for example. The fact that he learned to fly a supersonic fighter (the F-102, not the most pilot-friendly airplane ever designed) was a totally irrelevant piece of data.

Increasingly, many of these word-and-image-people seem to feel that they should have control over the government and its policies, or at least have veto power over which candidates are acceptable to be offered to the voters for their tightly constrained choice.  See my posts Living in the Hate of the Common People and Hate of the Common People, continued for examples of the kind of arrogance that I’m talking about.

7)Markers that have played a role in assessing class status in many societies—accent and manner of speech, in particular—seem to be becoming increasingly important. This factor has a lot to do with the hostility directed toward Sarah Palin as well as that directed toward George W Bush. Had these two individuals spoken in the manner expected of one who has attended boarding schools and expensive eastern colleges—regardless of the academic quality of those schools and colleges—their critics would still have probably disliked them, but the hostility would have lost much of its hysterical edge.

8)There is concern that those providing direction to institutions increasingly bear little of the burden for their own failures. This is especially true of government—particularly the legislature and the courts, where a bad decision will generally have no negative consequences whatsoever for the individuals making it and of those who run the K-12 government schools—but also to a disturbing extent in the business world, especially with regard to those corporations with close ties with government and those in the financial sector.

9)There is concern that the people directing institutions increasingly have life experiences totally different from their employees and customers. Many of the “robber barons” of yore had actually started as low-level workers, and regardless of how much they exploited their own workers, they could understand and identify with them in a manner that is very difficult for someone whose path has involved 6 years of college followed by a series of fast-track corporate assignments.

10) There is a perception that members of one profession—lawyers—play a vastly disproportionate role in our political process, resulting in public policies which benefit that group and often fail because they reflect an excessively narrow worldview and set of life experiences.

11) It is increasingly recognized that people in some fields claim levels of expertise that are not really justified by the actual state and results of those fields.  The predictive power of sociology, for example, is not equivalent to that of physics.

12) Many institutions have lost respect because the criteria for entering those institutions are unrelated to merit, and/or there is significant fraud going on in the process of getting in and gaining promotions…  Consider those parents who were caught creating fake records of sports accomplishments for their children to improve their chances for the Ivy League.

13) There is a sense that too many Americans in prominent positions have little identification with their fellow citizens, identifying primarily with their peers in other countries.  And an increasing proportion of them get their incomes directly or indirectly from government, and hence have little sympathy for people who operate without such subsidies and security blankets.

14) People observe that individuals in positions of power often impose restrictions on other people which they have no intention of abiding themselves—the case of the French Laundry restaurant-going during Covid lockdown in California being a case in point.

So, I don’t think that what upsets people is really about the existence of elites so much as they are about the current structure of many elite and faux-elite groups and the characteristics and performance of those who currently inhabit them.  I do hear more than I like, though, from some conservative commentators in the way of attacks on ‘the rich’ without distinguishing from the rich who have earned their money versus those who have simply manipulated the system.  Conservatives would do better to not sound like socialists or Jacobins.

Thoughts?

(I published an earlier version of this post at Chicago Boyz many years ago; many thoughtful comments at the thread there)

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  1. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    David Foster: Increasingly, many of the word and image people seem to feel that they should have control over the government and its policies, or at least have veto power over which candidates are acceptable to be offered to the voters for their (very highly constrained) choice.

    There’s another place with some “word and image people” who seem to think that gives them extra-special insight and wisdom.

    It starts with an R, ends with a t, sounds kinda like “machete…”

    • #1
  2. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    David Foster: Thoughts?

    I prefer others terms, such as “ruling class,” which doesn’t necessarily mean the people who give out orders.  In another society I would say it includes not only the king, but the king’s butler, who lords it over the other butlers.  

    There is also a synonym I sometimes use, if the audience warrants it:  Oppressor Class.  

    Another is deep state (and those adjacent to it).  

    If I were to use the term “elite,” it might be better to say “self-styled elites.”  

    • #2
  3. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    If I were to use the term “elite,” it might be better to say “self-styled elites.” 

    I think that is at the crux of it.  Americans still admire those who are highly successful, intelligent, skilled or insightful, but the designation of “elite” is earned not self-bestowed or conferred through some academic credential.  

    Nice essay!

    • #3
  4. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    If I were to use the term “elite,” it might be better to say “self-styled elites.”

    I think that is at the crux of it. Americans still admire those who are highly successful, intelligent, skilled or insightful, but the designation of “elite” is earned not self-bestowed or conferred through some academic credential.

    Nice essay!

    Seconded. Elites are necessary. A technocratic managerial class that thinks a  PhD  – achieved by reheating some one else’s jargon-laden onanistic boilerplate   – is a marker of achievement, intellect, and wisdom, is the problem. 

    • #4
  5. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    How did a person get to be an “elite” ??

    That is one of the necessary questions.

    Asserting powers above & beyond what should be legal, to redesign our system of governance plus the use of “fixers” who handle the necessary wet works, like the July 2016  murder of Seth Rich, the DNC data base handler, plus blackmail as well as being handled by foreign entities and their spy operations.

    Take William Jefferson Clinton as an example. As a young man, he was a Rhodes scholar, and went off to Oxford.

    On the surface, he looked to many as a very bright individual who using his charisma and intellect managed to go from a middle class background off to the ivory towers of Oxford and not too much time later he captured  the gubinatorial spot in Arkansas.

    But somewhere along the way, he had a mentor who suggested that a necessary strategy for holding onto political power was to see to it that the state of Arkansas’ judiciary system was rigged by Clinton and his associates, such that he and his wife could get away with whatever they needed to get away with.

    That same template, once only operating in Chicago Illinois and Arkansas,  is now operative across the nation in terms of our federal judiciary system. It is now so flawlessly designed  such that the “system” can go after one man, Donald Trump,  using flagrantly inflated charges and then Trump ends up being  forced to endure a kangaroo court system with kangaroo court system rulings.

    This system is also responsible for the many J6 prisoners who are guilty of absolutely nothing other than being hammered by the same system.

    Then you have another “elite” – one Jeffrey Epstein, whose connection to William Barr’s father in the 1970’s allowed him a teaching position at an exclusive boys’ school in Manhattan NYC.

    After being dismissed from there, and because while there he had tutored the son of Bear Stearns Ace Greenberg, Epstein ends up at Bear Stearn.

    He works at that company from 1976 thru 1981. By the time he left the firm, he had with the help of James Cayne, then the CEO of Bear Stearns, become a limited partner.

    In 1981, Epstein founds Intercontinental Assets Group Inc.

    Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in Cambridge, MA on 9/8/04. Epstein is connected with several prominent people including politicians, actors and academics. Epstein was convicted of having sex with an underaged woman. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Rick Friedman PhotGetty | Rick Friedman / Patrick McMullan

    In 1987, Epstein began consulting for Hoffenberg, who was the chairman of Towers Financial Corporation, a debt collection agency. According to Vanity Fair, however, “Hoffenberg began using company funds to pay off earlier investors and service a lavish lifestyle that included a mansion on Long Island, homes on Manhattan’s Sutton Place and in Florida, and a fleet of cars and planes.” Hoffenberg would later be convicted of running a Ponzi scheme and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He also had to pay massive fines of hundreds of millions of dollars.

    My comment: Epstein was in this mess just as badly as Hoffenberg was. However he apparently paid off the Fed investigators who were writing up their assessment of this business arrangement, as Epstein did no prison time & several years before his death in 2019, two of those investigators were named as executors of his estate.

    From this website’s page: https://www.popsugar.com/entertainment/jeffrey-epstein-life-crimes-timeline-47492106

    • Late 1980s: Epstein meets Leslie Wexner. Sometime in the late 1980s, Epstein linked up with Wexner, the founder of L Brands, which includes Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The two quickly became close, and Wexner handed over a large amount of financial control to Epstein. A source told Vanity Fair in 2003, “Wexner trusts Epstein so completely that he has assigned him the power of fiduciary over all of his private trusts and foundations.” My comment – was it strictly trust and friendship between them, or a tawdry business association, such that Wexner created a sex trafficking ring much like Epstein’s? Or was Epstein following Wexner’s lead?
    • 1989: Epstein gives deposition on leaving Bear Stearns. A tip suggesting a case of insider trading led to an SEC investigation of Bear Stearns. According to Vanity Fair, Epstein told the SEC he left Bear Stearns because he didn’t like the way the firm withheld his promotion to partner after finding out he had loaned money to a friend to buy stock.
    • 1991: Hoffenberg is sued. After Epstein orchestrated massive schemes to manipulate stocks, Hoffenberg took the fall and was sued in 1991. My comment: Epstein somehow managed to  face no charges.
    • Early 1990s: Epstein meets Ghislaine Maxwell. Epstein met British socialite Maxwell, who would later be accused of facilitating Epstein’s sex-trafficking of underage girls, in the early 1990s. The two dated for awhile, and she remained loyal to him for about 20 years through multiple lawsuits. My comment: it is widely known that Maxwell’s father was an asset for Mossad.
    • 2003: Vanity Fair publishes lengthy profile but leaves out assault allegations. Journalist Vicky Ward wrote a profile on Epstein for Vanity Fair describing his personal life and going into great detail about his financial manipulation. Ward said years later that she wanted to expose Epstein’s sexual assault allegations in greater detail, as she had multiple accusers on record, but the magazine blocked her from doing so. Former Editor in Chief Graydon Carter told The New York Times that that was inaccurate.

    Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in Cambridge, MA on 9/8/04. Epstein is connected with several prominent people including politicians, actors and academics. Epstein was convicted of having sex with an underaged woman. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Rick Friedman Phot

    My additional comment: It should be noted that Leon Black, the owner of the Apollo firm, had Epstein do some work for him. Initially Epstein was to be paid some 2 million dollars, but then he raised the price to 20 million. In the end, according to emails that have been retrieved, Epstein was able to twist Black into paying him 120 million, because, according to how Epstein put it, “the personal confidences you have shared with me need to be kept quiet.” (I’m paraphrasing, but it seems like Epstein had used his wall to wall camera system in either his Florida, NY, New Mexico or in his Virgin Island  resort to gain some damning photographs and vids of Mr Black.)

    This is how it’s done – you have to ignore most of the Ten Commandments & dozens of laws to arrive at the position of an  elite.

    • #5
  6. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    It’s simple:  Our current self-styled “elites” are incredibly mediocre, but think they are superior.

     

     

    • #6
  7. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    It’s simple: Our current self-styled “elites” are incredibly mediocre, but think they are superior.

    Yes.  I was always amazed at how people (especially himself) regarded BHO as an intellectual and accomplished person.  In the military there were always guys like this; glib smooth talkers who looked great in the uniform but couldn’t command their way out of a wet cardboard box.  They used to be put in staff jobs where they couldn’t do too much damage.  But nowadays they lead major commands, universities and corporations and can’t figure out why they fail. 

    • #7
  8. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    David Foster: It is increasingly observed that these credentials actually have fairly low predictive power concerning an individual’s actual ability to perform important tasks and make wise judgments about institutional or national issues.

    Bingo!

     

    • #8
  9. Chris O Coolidge
    Chris O
    @ChrisO

    We had a bit of a tussle here in the first days of Ricochet over what an elite education is/does. If I recall, one side argued it deserved no particular consideration that might affect perception or status of an individual. The other side believed the(ir) education was a notch above and, it seemed, were surprised to have it questioned.

    Fast forward to 2023 and we see students and graduates of elite institutions unable to accept evidence–globally-broadcast evidence–one might expect to alter perspectives on a certain conflict. Quite to the contrary, the many students and faculty of perhaps our most august institution justified the crimes, equivocated the moral responsibility, or flat out denied it happened the way cameras and witnesses said it did.

    This is what the elite institution taught them to do. I suspect some part of why they reject what they have to believe or doubt the foundation of their own sense of self, likely tied to their enrollment at said school. To accept conflicting information means blowing up the fragile mirage of distinction.

    We have a pipeline of graduates of this place and select others into high levels of government, finance, publishing, and media. We have a very small population constantly presenting a very narrow point of view, and they’re unable/unwilling to alter their mindset. I get frustrated with this because people in my life and some around here believe this perspective is Main Street thought in all of America.

    Anyhow, how does it go from this to the U.S. State Department coordinating censorship of political views? It’s that same questioning/conflicting evidence which threatens the status of the people involved. Status is the important thing, power is the means they use to defend it. Why does socialism appeal? Because they get to choose the winners and the losers, and they certainly see themselves as the only ones qualified to do so.

    The funny thing is that voice is losing its influence, ironically (I suspect) because the mindset is too fearful to train independent thinkers–their people simply can’t prop up this system. The shrieks of protest as it happens, well, you need look no further than the increasingly indecipherable left and some of its more recent adherents who we once thought of as conservative.

    Excellent post, @davidfoster , thanks for stirring the brain cells this morning.

    • #9
  10. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    David Foster: I doubt that many among these groups would argue in favor of mediocrity (a la the senator who famously argued that mediocre people also deserve representation on the Supreme Court) and/or of extreme egalitarianism and social leveling.

    I have no recall regarding the senator in question, but I would say the words in italics but without any meaning that the representative of the mediocre should be mediocre. Every Supreme Court Justice should represent all American people.

    Some individuals perform some actions with better outcomes than other individuals. Some of those actions’ outcomes will have different values in exchanges with other individuals and they may end in simple physical performances or tangible material products. “That’s just the way life is.” That was my granddaughter’s response to her siblings and cousins when they complained starting when she was a young child. Drove all crazy but she had it right very early.

    • #10
  11. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    David Foster: It is increasingly observed that these credentials actually have fairly low predictive power concerning an individual’s actual ability to perform important tasks and make wise judgments about institutional or national issues. The assumption that school-based knowledge generally trumps practical experience seems increasingly questionable as the sphere of activity for which this assertion is made has expanded, and is indeed increasingly viewed with suspicion or with outright disdain.

    Employers share a lot of blame for this.  A brand new employee with zero experience in the job or industry may be paid more than someone who has been doing the job for years — and doing it very well — because the new employee has a Masters Degree, even though the subject of the degree has absolutely nothing to do with the job or industry.

    • #11
  12. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    David Foster: Thoughts?

    Yes. 

    To all of it. 

    Let me add, the modern day elites feel like French Aristocracy in 1788.

    • #12
  13. GlennAmurgis Coolidge
    GlennAmurgis
    @GlennAmurgis

    our modern elites gave believe the following:

    • Modern Monetary theory
    • a man can become a woman (and vice/versa)
    • the Steele dossier
    • Questioned the Wuhan lab leak.
    • Covington Catholic Kids picked on a Native American
    • Jussie Smollet was attacked by Maga
    • Open borders 
    • Outsourcing the supply chain to the CCP lead to a more democratic China.
    • Mostly peaceful protests
    • California is run well and FL is not

     

    • #13
  14. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Very thoughtful piece.  Thank you.

    I think that a major part of the problem is a drift toward entitlement by an emerging self-conscious class and a strong drift away from accountability.  The fans don’t resent a star who makes millions if he delivers championships but will express hatred if his output is merely average.

    And the fans (normals) are increasingly pissed with good reason.

    In the COVID fiasco, the “elite” were overwhelmingly wrong about vaccines, masks, schools, closures, the silly “6-foot” rule, surface cleaning, and even the origin of the virus.  But they are almost entirely unrepentant because (a) their intentions and sensibilities were still superior to those of the lower classes and (b) lower orders without (easy-A) elite college degrees have no standing to criticize.

    A few million overpaid people guided by class “sensibilities” rather than actual reason, science, or the Ten Commandments are effing up the entire world.

    And because we have drifted into the administrative state, democratic stimuli and market pressures do not correct the drift.  And because we have lost much of our moral compass, not even guilt or a sense of public duty matters anymore.

    • #14
  15. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    Every Supreme Court Justice should represent all American people.

    But the role of the Supreme Court is *not* to represent the people in the way that Congress is supposed to represent the American people.  The role of the Court is to interpret the Constitution.

    • #15
  16. GlennAmurgis Coolidge
    GlennAmurgis
    @GlennAmurgis

    here is another “elite”

    More Fauci: Social Distancing Likely Not Based on Data – HotAir

     

    • #16
  17. GlennAmurgis Coolidge
    GlennAmurgis
    @GlennAmurgis

    Our elites in the media tell us that Bidenomics is wonderful.  Who you going to believe, the experts or your wallet?

     

    Joe Scarborough Asks Nancy Pelosi Why Voters Don’t Get That Biden’s Economy Is the Envy of the World – Twitchy

    • #17
  18. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    This is very good. You mined my brain and put to words what I cannot. You nailed it on higher ed elite institutions of the modern era: a degree from one of the Ivy League schools looks more like a Golden Ticket bought by parents — sort of a Dr. Suess Sneeches star on one’s belly that they belong rather than any warranted holder of knowledge, let alone wisdom. And it starts in grade school or earlier to get in the pipeline. And there seems to be so a lot of people who go through life without any life experience outside school, internships, then employment with the same socioeconomic circle or belief system. They never have contact with people unlike themselves. This wasn’t the case for generations where military service brought a lot of unlike people together to work and learn for a common cause.

    • #18
  19. Roderic Coolidge
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    During my career I found out what it’s like when someone like me, from a small town in the middle of nowhere, steps into “elite” circles.  They don’t appreciate it. 

    It was a deeply weird experience.  I got out of it as soon as I could and went back to a situation that was more in line with my social background.

    Gramps was right: You won’t be happy if you try to live too far above your raising.

    Of that “elite” crowd I can say that they thought they were the best and often said so, but that did not always translate to actual competence in anything.  But, to be fair, some of them were brilliant.

    But that was 45 years ago, and things might be very different now, the victim Olympics being the order of the day.

    • #19
  20. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    Every Supreme Court Justice should represent all American people.

    But the role of the Supreme Court is *not* to represent the people in the way that Congress is supposed to represent the American people. The role of the Court is to interpret the Constitution.

    I agree. I should have said every Supreme Court Justice must understand that the Constitution applies equally to all Americans.   

    • #20
  21. Chris O Coolidge
    Chris O
    @ChrisO

    Roderic (View Comment):
    Of that “elite” crowd I can say that they thought they were the best and often said so, but that did not always translate to actual competence in anything.  But, to be fair, some of them were brilliant.

    This nails down the dissonance, really. I’ve met people with a sense of superiority based on where they were they lived, where they were from, where they went to high school, where they got a degree from, where they worked, where they vacationed (“summered”), and, of course, what political views they promoted. It’s not limited to particular schools or any region, it’s just a matter of people placing value on things rather themselves.

    It doesn’t mean they can’t achieve, it doesn’t mean they aren’t conservative, it just means they are sometimes or often limited in what they accept and what they do not. If you have a higher regard for this thing or the other, you have a lower regard for people or things that do not match, and are therefore closed to certain inputs. I often wonder where my limitations are in this regard. Most of us are terrible at spotting it within ourselves.

    • #21
  22. BastiatJunior Member
    BastiatJunior
    @BastiatJunior

    GlennAmurgis (View Comment):

    our modern elites gave believe the following:

    • Modern Monetary theory
    • a man can become a woman (and vice/versa)
    • the Steele dossier
    • Questioned the Wuhan lab leak.
    • Covington Catholic Kids picked on a Native American
    • Jussie Smollet was attacked by Maga
    • Open borders
    • Outsourcing the supply chain to the CCP lead to a more democratic China.
    • Mostly peaceful protests
    • California is run well and FL is not

     

     

    This exactly right.  It seems stupidity is a requirement for elite status.

    • #22
  23. Jim Kearney Member
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    A thought-provoking essay, David.

    My first thought — as a big Tom Wolfe fan — was look at “elitism” through the lens of status.

    (Ironically, these two words now combine into the term “elite status”, a fake mileage currency devised by the air travel industry.)

    MW defines elitism as (1) leadership or rule by an elite; (2) the selectivity of an elite, esp. snobbery; (3) consciousness of being or belonging to an elite.

    The more neutral notion of an elite connotes “the best part”, best of a class, social superiority, or “group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence.” The example for the last meaning is “members of the ruling elite,” the most directly political usage.

    Social consensus, selection, and position define elites as much as education. Different people confer status different ways. The meaning of status is (a) position of rank in relation to others; and (b) relative rank in a hierarchy of prestige. 

    I think we can learn a great deal about a person by learning who they respect, rank high in status, and for what reasons. As Wolfe and others demonstrate, we learn a great deal about our society and its foibles by observing how we seek status, where we find it, who confers it, and why.

    We recently finished watching the second season of The Gilded Age on HBO/MAX. Old money vs. new money in 1883 Manhattan. Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) explores the manners and mores of elites gone by, one being succeeded by another, each with its own opera subscriptions to ration and fill. 

    I’m looking forward to seeing Maestro. A top composer and symphony conductor is a very high status individual, right? (I’m no expert, but I do enjoy Jay Nordlinger’s take on classical music.)

    Unfortunately, I hear Maestro doesn’t delve into Leonard Bernstein’s party for the Black Panthers, which Wolfe found such a fascinating juxtaposition. Wolfe also wrote of social subcultures where the high status individuals were test pilots and astronauts, race car drivers, automobile customizers, and psychedelic early adopters.

    As the decline in higher ed finally becomes manifest to the media “elites”, it’s fair to ask how much social status our elite colleges deserve. Does an advanced liberal arts education fall short compared with what one can pick up online from Prager or Hillsdale? Or is some future Wolfe-ian skeptic readying a piece on the mirror world where Sarah Palin is Joan of Arc, and Harvard Med School grads aren’t trusted to draw blood or recommend vaccines?

    There’s a funny moment in Seinfeld where George Costanza, a newly minted TV pilot co-writer, mentions this credential to a woman in a bar. She mocks him to her friends, ridiculing sitcoms in general, and George’s use of the status. The series, remember, was set on the Upper West Side of New York, where serious writers and editors in the publishing industry live. If the show were set in L.A., George would subsequently be “pleasuring her.”

    I think it’s the “ruling” aspect that worries us about the “ruling elite.” And all the deciders, influencers, award panelists, admissions officers, HR creeps, and other wielders of social power and discernment whose criteria differ from our own. 

     

    • #23
  24. Ray Gunner Coolidge
    Ray Gunner
    @RayGunner

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    I think that a major part of the problem is a drift toward entitlement by an emerging self-conscious class and a strong drift away from accountability. 

    Well said and exactly right!  And you can probably graph this out, with Anthony Fauci being an example of “high entitlement/low accountability” on one end, and some non-elite, J6 grandma being “no entitlement/high accountability” on the other. 

    • #24
  25. DrewInWisconsin, Lower Order Oaf 🚫 Banned
    DrewInWisconsin, Lower Order Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    I don’t get it. You just listed 14 very good points about why people have issues with the elites, and then at the end you kind of scold those people for sounding like socialists or Jacobins. Do you not believe your own points?

    Perhaps you believe we need elites, but just need better ones. But that only continues to promote classism.

    • #25
  26. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Having a vague recollection that British sports car maker Lotus once made a car called “Elite” I thought I would find a picture of one and say, “Not all Elites are bad.”  But then I found a picture.

    Except for the front end, it looks like a stretched-out AMC Gremlin, so rather fails to deliver.

    • #26
  27. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    If I were to use the term “elite,” it might be better to say “self-styled elites.”

    I think that is at the crux of it. Americans still admire those who are highly successful, intelligent, skilled or insightful, but the designation of “elite” is earned not self-bestowed or conferred through some academic credential.

    Nice essay!

    Seconded. Elites are necessary. A technocratic managerial class that thinks a PhD – achieved by reheating some one else’s jargon-laden onanistic boilerplate – is a marker of achievement, intellect, and wisdom, is the problem.

    You now, by your reference to the Harvard plagiarist who has now resigned, seem to think “elite” refers to university presidents.

    That definition for an elite was appropriate perhaps up to the mid-1980’s or so.

    But these days, almost anyone occupying a position of power in universities and colleges, or who wears the black robes of a judge, or who has been elected to Congress, state and county positions are where they are because of being promoted by the WEF outfit and other nefarious entities. The people at the head of the WEF and other entities eat university presidents for a snack.

    In 2016, some 120 district attorneys for large cities and tiny counties like mine here in Northern Calif actually were supported during their election campaigns by George Soros’ “Open Society” donations.

    Numerous recordings exist  of Klaus Schwab spouting off about how he has maneuvered the people that he approves of into extremely important positions – including the spot that Canadian PM Justin Trudeau now occupies. Dozens of other national leaders across Western societies are where they are now due to Schwab.

    So when you speak of “elites” you are thinking in terms of people who are autonomously sitting in positions like that of being a university president, and yes they have influence. (Except these days these people are not autonomously occupying  their spots of influence, but are there through being promoted by outside forces.)

    But when I speak of an “elite” I am referring to someone who is part of the small team of the ultimate global puppet masters, which includes the Rothschild family,  the Vatican, the people heading up our Dept of Defense, the UN, which happens to hold a lot of influence over the other diabolical entities: the WEF and the WHO.

    So in terms of your definition I guess your statements make sense. But if my template is applied, your statements ignore the looming totalitarian control of the global puppet masters.

    • #27
  28. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    BastiatJunior (View Comment):

    GlennAmurgis (View Comment):

    our modern elites gave believe the following:

    • Modern Monetary theory
    • a man can become a woman (and vice/versa)
    • the Steele dossier
    • Questioned the Wuhan lab leak.
    • Covington Catholic Kids picked on a Native American
    • Jussie Smollet was attacked by Maga
    • Open borders
    • Outsourcing the supply chain to the CCP lead to a more democratic China.
    • Mostly peaceful protests
    • California is run well and FL is not

     

     

    This exactly right. It seems stupidity is a requirement for elite status.

    The real, top notch elites do not believe these things at all.

    But what they do believe is that it is a necessity to bring about a totalitarian one world government.

    They want to bring about a new world order and what better way of doing that than to destroy all Western societies? Their plan to do this involves implementing ridiculous notions of social justice, such that any and all statues, works of literature and art that were brought about while Western Societies reigned should now be ignored or destroyed, as well as by dictating that  the most important civil rights are those civil right needs of the 0.05% of humanity who are experiencing gender dysphoria.

    Civil rights are important for all of us, but some people’s civil rights are more important.

    “Four legs good, two legs bad” was the metaphor Orwell used in “Animal Farm”

    It is important to remember that classic work today, as Clown World descends across Western civ.

    • #28
  29. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    It’s simple: Our current self-styled “elites” are incredibly mediocre, but think they are superior.

    Yes. I was always amazed at how people (especially himself) regarded BHO as an intellectual and accomplished person. In the military there were always guys like this; glib smooth talkers who looked great in the uniform but couldn’t command their way out of a wet cardboard box. They used to be put in staff jobs where they couldn’t do too much damage. But nowadays they lead major commands, universities and corporations and can’t figure out why they fail.

    No, they figured it out: They failed because of racist white Trump voters.

    • #29
  30. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Jim Kearney (View Comment):
    I think it’s the “ruling” aspect that worries us about the “ruling elite.” And all the deciders, influencers, award panelists, admissions officers, HR creeps, and other wielders of social power and discernment whose criteria differ from our own.

    Yes!  When I (among a crowd of others) got to say my 3-minutes worth at one of the hearings on Michigan congressional redistricting in summer 2022, I never used the word “elite.”  But I made the point that our county didn’t belong in the same congressional district as  Kalamazoo, which is a university town.

    One of the reasons others in the delegation from our county Republican party opposed this was that the university has a lot of transient students who get to vote but who are not long-time members of the local community  who will have to live with the congressional representatives they choose for us. Being lumped with them has long been a goal of Democrats, who’d like to eliminate the electoral influence of our relatively conservative county.

    That’s a good point that needed to be made, but for my part I told how I had spent most of my life in a university environment and nearly 40 years of my life working with university researchers, some of them among the best in the world in their specialties. I enjoyed working with them. Those are my people and we need those people.  But we should not be governed by them.

    At least one of the commission members on the panel laughed at that last sentence, which showed he had been listening.

    Unfortunately, our county is now split up between two congressional districts, and my part of the county is lumped together with Kalamazoo.  The good part is that we are now represented by a Trump-endorsed Republican.

    • #30
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