Passing Thoughts : The Problem with the new Elite

(2021-2 words)

They are highly mobile, selective, and well trained. The group fundamentally despises customs and identity, but meanwhile, they are an identifiable tribe, the new kid on the block: They are the latest Global Elite.

Becoming part of the Elite used to be a prediction. One probably can remember when, back in 1959,  the prof, the teacher of history, entered the class for some early lesson and after welcoming the students stated boldly: You know, you are the future Elite of this country! One was not awestruck by this prediction, but somehow, it stuck in one’s mind. The teacher said that without any irony. Being young and without experience, it was a statement that was supposed to initiate a desire in the student to make and archive something in life.

Today such elitist statements are less acceptable, and even in elitist schools, one can detect a tendency to be more egalitarian and inclusive. There is an element of self-censorship, and in the USA and some other countries, elitist statements or behavior patterns are quickly and harshly criticized.

If others find you to be elitist, it is likely the social end of you. Your friends, not your enemies, will destroy you. If you dare to separate yourself from the egalitarian masses, you imply that you are better and superior, which is a crime against the fundamental principles of egalitarianism. It calls in the words of the ancient French revolutionaries: The Elite to the gallows! An expression of particular disdain!

The selected ones can only be members of the establishment’s club — the ones who had appointed themselves who favor their own and empower themselves. If the ruling Elite cannot protect the world from global disaster, the world must be freed from that very elite. The idea of an elite has to be overtaken by events and is no longer relevant. The egalitarian masses see it as the Elite consisting only of individuals producing hot air without the ability to achieve something for the benefit of the masses.

Though truthfully, past and existing elites have existed in the most egalitarian societies. For one, there are always human beings that achieve more or make more appropriate and beneficial decisions about their life and other issues than others. The members of these elites are not better human beings, but they are more successful than the rest. The question is never, do we need these elites, but rather which Elite do we need. F.A. Hayek, the social philosopher, pointed out the fundamental rules for the selection of an elite. He established that while in a closed society, the Elite empowers itself, in an open, liberal society, the Elite is selected and empowered by the others, the masses who decide which individuals become a member of that Elite and what powers they have.  

In a democratic society, these others are the citizens or, in economic life, the consumers. Through their elective or consumer decision, the masses decide whom they benefit from having solved the general problems of living better than the other groups themselves. The Elite does not benefit from some inherent privileges but instead has to fight for these benefits daily. Those who do not perform lose their position.

It is, by and large, how it should work. Naturally, there are always the state’s institutions, the administration, the civil servants, the armed forces, the police, and similar areas where this fundamental rule only applies to a limited extent.

In most industrial societies, these rules have, even when the elites have failed to perform correctly, their validity. The new element that has entered the discussion is the focus on egalitarianism and anti-elitism. Their proponents have forgotten that society remains dominated by the economic and intellectual performance aristocracy, the people who create things, turn ideas into products, or run organizations efficiently. Nothing has changed!

Today’s populists, the green parties, and their various disciples do the same as the 18th and 19th century, French revolutionaries. They are complaining against the ruling elites’ institutions to distract from the fact that as the new upcoming Elite, they are ready to make the jump into the existing Elite’s position. They don’t like the swamp (the mix of a professional administration, associated with the current Elite; the institutions they call the deep state!) because they are not part of it, but they are ready to take the plunge and occupy the swamp, hopefully keeping the same rules that had benefited its current occupants!

In some of our hyper egalitarian societies, these coming new elites have already shown the world how to do it. They may not have invaded the swamp yet, because, for that, they are still not professional enough; but they are on the way. The element that might prevent their success is that the aspiring Elite has a brief attention span and wants instant successes.

The elements of the existing ruling Elite, which the new boys want to replace, offer many facets that can be attacked. Every Elite is the product of its time and today’s elite, having slowly established itself during the last twenty-odd years, is a wealthy information elite with little in common with the existing bourgeoisie and even less with the old upper-class aristocracy. The new Elite is intellectually active, but they are not intellectuals. They range from entrepreneurs to medium and high-level employees. One of their primary characteristics is their high level of mobility, professionally and geographically.

The American historian Christophe Lasch was the first to identify this sociological group in his book The Revolt of the Elites and The Betrayal of Democracy. A quarter of a century after its publication in 1995, it reads like an analysis of our current times. The new elites do not live in communities. They live in networks without any local links. Responsibility as citizens, neighbors, or members of a community is alien to them. They decide in isolation which their friends and working colleagues are and then follow the ever-present opportunity wherever it occurs. Identification based on language and geographical origin is alien to them. They are globalists but on their terms. Their globalism does not extend to the inclusion of other cultures. The world is their home, and they live in the trendy cities of this world. They communicate solely in the new Latin, English, the language of the new empire.

The members of this Elite are amazingly tolerant, as long as they move amongst themselves. These Global elites have little contact with the rest of the population and isolate themselves from those. They prefer isolation to confrontation with other views and lifestyles. They view the rest of the world as the suckers, hungry for the consumption of their latest output if they have a view of this at all. 

The observations Lasch made were naturally on the American reality. His new elites were a response against Middle America as they understood it. They perceived the rest of the country as technologically backward, politically reactionary, without any taste, full of self-importance and self-satisfaction, with a regressive sexual moral mixed with secretive sexual fantasies, dulled, blunt, and incredibly shabby. In other words, the new Elite and their wish to bring about a change understood themselves as the vanguard of human progress.

The analysis made at the end of the last century continued to influence more current intellectual explorations that examined new facets. Some academics called the new emerging elite the creative class, while others, especially the economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb, dismissively named them intellectual idiots who lived in their balloon of statistics, think thanks, social media, and pseudo research.

David Goodhart, a British Journalist in his book The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, made the difference between the new Elite and the masses more explicit by differentiating between the “Anywhere” and the “Somewheres.” The former being the one-fifth of the population in industrialized countries, can offer their skills worldwide, while the latter general work and die where they were born.

The Swiss-Israeli psychologist Carlo Strenger in his book The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-first Century, describes the new Elite, Homo Globalis, as individuals who are always out for unique and spectacular achievements based on Heinrich Boell’s principals of ‘es muss etwas geschehen, es wird etwas geschehen’ (it must happen, it will happen!). They need this constant hunt to bolster their self-esteem, lacking permanent active self-acceptance they might have gained through the mix of sustained investment into an open, liberal education with cultural conservatism. 

The new elites have academically mediocre educations because they hop from one eclectic subject or theme to another. They are well versed in the use of the media, in parts of the digital economy, in aspects of the arts, as they understand it, and attractive science features. They are over-represented in some dominant areas such as journalism and literature and become the essential creators of prevailing opinions. Despite their better than average education, they are the opposite of an education bourgeoisie. They are not prisoners of principles and tradition. Instead of their half hazard search for things worth knowing, they blunder through past or present knowledge to find something they can integrate into their lifestyle. However, everything they intellectually acquire and incorporate must conform to their conscience and withstand their critical reasoning.

As winners of globalization, the new elites are only marginally egotistical. Egoism is something that their opponents often put forward as one of the Elites significant characteristics. Instead, their members follow a consequent universalism. They are enthusiastic representatives of human rights and highly motivated advocates of disadvantaged groups of humanity. As a consequence of their global approach, they are less concerned about the individual and more about humanity’s faith. Their goal and the categorical imperative are: You have to contribute to the well-being of humankind and the planet if you don’t waste your life!

Life as a member of this new “damned Elite” faces several dilemmas, well explained and described by Carlo Strenger. As members of the identifiable global Elite, they have accepted rules under which they recognize their brethren: Openness and diversity! That in itself is a limitation of their freedom. Even though they reject small communities based on sets of rules to which they adhere, they form their tribal associations based on rules vital to them: The tribe of the Cosmopolitans.

This tribe, which is well defined and pronounced social conscience, faces a constant international high-level performance competition. It is the most competitive environment that ever existed. Unlike earlier competitive situations, the new Elites world is not bound by territorial aspirations. Instead, it results from a global environment in which every individual is constantly measured and measured against another individual. Every individual of that elite tribe strives to defend its rank in its professional area within the meritocratic hierarchy. At the same time, it profoundly and fundamentally condemns the brutal neoliberal competition as it sees it. Life is full of dilemmas!

Under these circumstances, it is not easy to maintain their self-esteem. The new Elite’s members vacillate between arrogance and complete insecurity and dither between being highly motivated to achieve their goals and complete irrelevance. They look down on the masses, which led them to be seduced and guided by populist demagogues. Simultaneously, these elitists have significant difficulties in maintaining their intuitive nature, which forces them to question every part of their life, from healthy nutrition to their children’s birth and education.

The inevitable question that arises is, can we have a reconciliation between the elitist twenty percent and the anti-elitist eighty percent in our highly developed society? Carlo Strenger thinks the Elite has to go to the masses and listen to them. Like some others, he maintains that this is the Elite’s inevitable job if they want to be taken seriously.

We had fruitless isolation, so we have to come to the point where the Elite had to find a way to a prolific confrontation. As Sprenger states, we have to enter the ring and start to make our hands dirty again, trying to help solve the problems. Then the word Elite will regain its former glory, which without a doubt it once had.

©2019 ajs – Bert Berger (2021-2)

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