What, Precisely, is the Issue with ‘Elites’? (updated)

Conservatives and libertarians often speak about “elites” in pejorative terms. Why is this? I doubt that many among us would argue in favor of mediocrity (like 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. And people using the E-word rarely make an attempt to clearly defined what category of people they are talking about. (With one major exception that I’ll discuss later in this post)   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 cited 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 implied assumption 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 a good part of it is, I think, 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.

(An interesting 1954 pulp novel, Year of Consent, posited a future America that was in reality run by those manipulators of words and image..a fact that many people in high level positions have failed to recognize…”“Even the biggest wheels only know part of it.  They think the Communications Administrative Department exists to help them–and not the other way around.”)

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 had 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.  (The point about manner of speech also applies to some extent to the extreme hostility directed toward Donald Trump, who of course actually did attend one of those expensive eastern colleges, but comes across as more blue-collar and less Ivy in manner of talking.)

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) In addition to the previously-mentioned overemphasis on educational credentials, it is accurately perceived that there is now a movement toward granting special privileges–in the sense in which that term was applied to the nobility at the time of the French Revolution–to those who are college-educated and especially those who have acquired advanced degrees. Biden’s student-loan ‘forgiveness’ plan would mean that if two people are working side by side doing the same job, the one who did not attend college–or did not get an expensive and debt-funded degree–would be legally required to subsidize the one with the expensive degree and the big loan. This is reminiscent of the French nobility’s exemption from taxation.

11) There has long been a perception that members of one profession–lawyers–play a vastly disproportionate role in our political process, resulting in public policies that benefit that group and that often fail because they reflect an excessively-narrow worldview and set of life experiences.  In recent years, that critique has expended to encompass those in the financial and technology industries.

So, I don’t think the issues being raised are 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 should note one prominent exception to my point about people using the E-word not really defining who they mean: a recent Rasmussen poll on the political and social opinions of ‘elites’, defined as people who have a postgraduate degree, earn at least $150K annually, and live in a high density area.  This rather strange definition of ‘elites’…is someone earning $160K in a high density (and high cost of living) area, albeit with for example a masters in education or sociology,  really automatically an ‘elite’? Does Warren Buffet fail the eliteness test because he lives in Nebraska? Is the governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, a non-elite because her highest degree is a BA in political science?

Seems to me that this definition of ‘elites’ encompasses a lot of people who are not really elite in terms of spending, financial security, and any kind of actual authority…but who believe that they are entitled to such things and are resentful that they have not been granted them.

Interestingly, Rasmussen did not establish their definition of eliteness a priori and then conduct a survey to determine the attitudes of those matching the definition, rather, they observed the existence of a certain set of Americans who were consistently outliers in their attitudes, established a definition based on their demographics, and conducted a survey to find out more about their views.

Your thoughts on elites and elitism?

(This post is an update of this earlier post)

56 thoughts on “What, Precisely, is the Issue with ‘Elites’? (updated)”

  1. I’ve had a stereotype of “elites” being on the East Coast. They project an aura of “superiority” to people from other parts of the country

    Always thought it was funny that John Kerry, who was a graduate of Boston University, called George Bush “stupid” even though he had an MBA from Harvard and as you said learned to fly super sonic fighters

    I think there is a certain arrogance in people who consider themselves elites.

    And of course having a degree from Harvard or Yale puts most in that self described category

  2. Unfortunately (in my opinion) too many people conflate the terms “elite” (someone who is among the best at a certain task), and “elitist” (one who believes in rule by an his or her group). This confuses the whole argument. In Bill’s comment above, I would consider Bush an elite and Kerry an elitist.

  3. One of the problems with the opinion of the concept of “elite” is that in a society that is stratified, and especially is no longer capable of dealing with the problems it encounters is that “elite” status is conferred by that society for anything BUT ability to actually do something, to lead, or to innovate. Indeed in such societies the “elites” are far more often concerned with avoiding doing anything [so that the profitable applecart will not be upset], to not only not lead but to try to prevent anyone else from taking leadership [to avoid responsibility and consequences], and to stomp on innovation [because it might change your current comfortable position]. Historically, human societies in that kind of position are generally on the verge of being taken out by replacements who can do, lead, and innovate.

    I will leave it to others to ponder how that may apply to our country or to modern civilization in general.

    Subotai Bahadur

  4. Thank you for this a well written article. So often the elites really are not.

    My dad was a welder for Navy building nuclear submarines; he got his high school diploma the year after I did. My mother was a house wife with only a GED who was key in establishing our local santiation and flood control district; I remember our mayor coming to our house in 1958 and begging her to run for city council. (She did not suffer fools well and declined.)

    They were members of the behind the scene leaders of our community for many years. Elites – not at all. JUst good people doing good things.

  5. This is a very timely post given what’s going to happen over the next 6 to 10 months

    I think Talnik touched on an important point which is that “elite” lacks a certain precision in the English language and has several definitions; there are “elite” performers in sports who are admired for their performance but we consider “elitist” to be a pejorative because they seem to want to tell everyone else what to do. Try to get someone from the “Masters of the Universe” class to understand the distinction especially if they have had a few drinks in them. At least in the past the lesser members of the aristocracy were aware of the distinction.

    Over the years, being a Westerner that’s spent some time on the coasts, I think one of the prime drivers of politics and society is the quest for status. There’s been a lot of ink spilled lately over how younger folks should forego the financial cesspit of higher ed and go into the trades. While that makes all the financial sense in the world it ignores that higher ed exists not to provide accreditation regarding skills so much as accreditation for status. David’s point regarding the bank clerk is excellent; in many ways it’s similar to 17th Century Europe where a lowly French viscount who was bankrupt had a higher social standing than wealthy merchants

    To David’s educational achievement I would also add the holding of certain beliefs; DEI, Green New Deal, Transgenderism, or just Trump Derangement Syndrome. Anything to set yourself part I found it the hard way a while back that guns fall into that category when I asked someone at a party in No. VA what he thought was better for home defense, large caliber hand gun or a short barreled riot gun. From the way the temperature dropped in the room you would have thought that I claimed membership in NAMBLA (though today that would be more acceptable than owning guns)

    So to Talnik’s point, maybe the problem is that we have too many people, most of them mediocre, who aspire to be elites based on getting a piece of paper so that they can act elitist. Can you really be an elite in 21st Century America unless you can tell people what to do?

    Btw… would Elon Musk be part of the elite given that 1) his wealth is based on making things more than “information economy” trading paper and 2) thumbing his nose with Twitter at the elites’ desire to censor opinion and belief?

  6. Interesting article. Thanks, Mr. F!

    To paraphrase an old judge — It may be difficult to define “elite”, but we know it when we see it.

    In times gone by, “elite” meant something like a Special Forces soldier — someone with well-above-average abilities who went through exhaustive real-world training and met objective measurable high performance standards. However, when we use the word “elite” today, we are mostly thinking about a Daughter of Privilege who was handed Didn’t Earn It opportunities and then messed them up — e.g. Hillary Clinton.

    The meaning of words drift over time. “Elite” had gone from being something admirable to something contemptible. But the “elites” brought that upon themselves through their incompetence and failures.

  7. I think what everyone is discussing is actually “credentialism.” That is a sort of ranking of society by the number of degrees one has, regardless of the quality of education. We have a rather obvious example in “Doctor Jill.” An “Ed D” is a sort of qualification that nursing schools used to upgrade the status of nurses. For 100 years there was no good reason why nurses should seek a bachelors degree. It is expensive and makes sense only for someone going into management, Doctors in Los Angeles were upset when the County Hospital closed their nursing school at the demand of the nursing societies (unions). Most people know that Education majors in college are in the bottom quintile of IQ. The recent plagiarism scandals make an amusing background murmur to academic claims.

  8. Mike…”There’s been a lot of ink spilled lately over how younger folks should forego the financial cesspit of higher ed and go into the trades. While that makes all the financial sense in the world it ignores that higher ed exists not to provide accreditation regarding skills so much as accreditation for status.”

    A black guy who used to comment at blogs..believe his handle was Obsidian..remarked that black women with college degrees would not marry a non-degreed man, even if he was a skilled and well-paid tradesman and her degree was in some fluff subject. (He also said, ‘Watch out, white guys! If this hasn’t happened in your world yet, it will”

  9. Another problem with trades as a career path…it depends on the individual trade, obviously, but in many cases, the work gets more physically difficult and even painful once one gets past 50 or so. This isn’t an argument against the trades, but a caution that the individual needs to be thinking about a career path into management or business ownership or something else entirely.

    Of course there are also degree-requiring jobs that are physically difficult and have the same age-related attribute, but not as many of them in proportion.

  10. I guess you could call it an overclass, who sees themselves as a self styled elite, the work of Lisa Cook at the Fed, Jennifer Homendy at the NTSB. Blinken at Foggy Bottom, Sullivan at NSC don’t really impress,

  11. Like many words “elite” has moved off its original meaning and has taken on new connotations. We still consider an elite tennis player to be one of the best in the world, as we do with cellists, pilots, or mathematicians. But once something has high status attached, people try to hack into it so they can get the glory without the skill or the effort. A lot of people have wrapped themselves in the mantle of eliteness with A-, then B+, then B- desert. Those missing out on the status for poor reasons, or even just disliking being looked down upon, react against the whole concept.

    I think the reaction has included some excesses that are indefensible. In the last ten years I have increasingly heard people, especially conservatives, dismiss legitimate credentials and abilities because they were pouting about not having their strengths praised enough. It’s a mug’s game. This has never been a just world and most people have never received the credit they deserve.

    Get over it, and give others the credit they deserve as well.

  12. I know and have known quite a few people..mostly on the east coast..who could properly be considered elites: successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, well-off investors, highly-educated scientists starting companies..don’t in general find these people any more arrogant than the average, and in a couple of cases, probably more humble than average. However, people who have interacted a lot with the ‘non-profit’ sector report finding extreme levels of ego-drivenness among senior people there, and this fits with my occasional contacts with that sector.

  13. I’ve likewise known a number of elites in the sense of elite accomplishments (mostly in STEM), and they did not seem to have any particular longing for luxury beliefs. Outside of their expertise they relied as much on their trusted media sources as anybody else–probably considering it rational ignorance.

    I wonder if we might parse out “moral elites” from the rest of the elites–those whose beliefs, if not always their lives, represent what we are supposed to honor and obey. It seems a bit as though we are taking as our leaders, priests, or zampolit for a more modern type of priest, or our modern equivalent of the galli. (The latter, like their originals, are supposed to have special insights denied to the rest of us.)

    This “priest class” seems to have outsize influence in HR.

  14. Many good points here. And a good point distinguishing “elite” from “elitist”.

    There is quite a bit of difference between “elitists” and “elites”.

    The latter generally have have a humility to them and would not consider themselves as such. But an “elitist” has an arrogance to them.

    There was a funny meme going around on Facebook the other day. It showed a person with the caption “doctor in education” with the person insisting that you address her as “Doctor”.

    Then you had a picture of a person who was a doctorate in astrophysics and he said to simply call him “Bob”.

    I read in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago how some of the young people now are considering in becoming good trades people.

    I remember years ago when I got out of the army I had a few temporary jobs; some of which were pretty amusing.

    But one of them involved simply counting the ironworkers present at a cost plus contract for a local company that was building the pumping stations for the Alaska pipeline.

    They would ship them up on a barge to Alaska.

    When I learned what was involved in a good welding job I was amazed. They would x-ray the joint and if there were any pockets the whole thing was broken and it started again

    Certainly takes a lot more skill than a white collar worker in many fields.

  15. The son of a friend in Argentina wanted information on astronauts, as he wanted to become one. I knew a mechanical engineering professor at my alma mater who had taught an astronaut, so I requested some information from him about that engineering student become astronaut (with a detour to get a doctorate at MIT).

    One thing the professor said about the future astronaut was that he was that he was one of the best the prof had ever seen at repairing lab equipment. I accordingly included that information in what I sent to Argentina.

    When I told my mother about this, she said that I shouldn’t have included his skill at repairing equipment, because the conclusion would have been that being good at repairing lab equipment told the reader that the future astronaut wasn’t that bright.

    Both my parents had graduate STEM degrees. My father was also a very skilled carpenter who built floors, panels and cabinets in our house. (Not installing ready-made, but building them in his workshop.) I would have hoped that my mother, having seen first hand evidence that tradesman skills didn’t indicate lack of intelligence, would not have said what she said (My father was already deceased.) . But she did.

  16. It’s not who the elites are or how they get to be elites that is the problem. The problem is their willingness to harm the rest of us in order to help themselves. There was a time, it seems to me, that elites were not driven primarily by malice. That time is over.

  17. Gringo: “One thing the professor said about the future astronaut was that he was that he was one of the best the prof had ever seen at repairing lab equipment.”

    Cixin Liu, the author of the “Three Body Problem” has an interesting collection of SciFi short stories, “The Wandering Earth”, one of which is called “Sun of China”.

    In the story, China builds a giant space mirror to increase food production by reflecting additional sunlight onto northern agricultural areas. The issue that arose was maintaining this giant orbiting structure. The builder concluded that PhD astronauts were not the best people for the job; instead, he recruited barely literate window washers who were accustomed to the dangers and hard work of cleaning windows on towering Beijing office blocks. In this fiction, Stephen Hawking moved into the zero gravity regime of the Sun of China for health reasons, and became friends with the window washers. It is an entertaining story, worth reading.

  18. A few other points…

    1) Christopher Lasch’s “Revolt of the Elites” is nearly 30 years old but he was perceptive enough to foresee many of the issues that we face today. I think it’s high time that someone try to bring a 21st Century, post-COVID experience version of it to life.

    2) We Americans have ingrained ant-elitism into our national mythology. Think of the various symbols such as the Pilgrims (who were dissenters against the CoE), our revolt against the King, and the Bill of Rights which placed the protection of “liberty” at the heart of government’s legitimacy in the social contract. I’m not sure there is anything more anti-elite than the 1st or 2nd Amendments. There is also of course the Minute Man, but I think Rick Atkinson does that one better. In his “The British Are Coming,” Atkinson not only describes the British repulse by the Minute Men at Concord but what happened during the British retreat back to Boston when they were harried by ad hoc swarms of yeoman farmers who sniped at them from every rock and fence.

    3) I think Mike K’s comment regarding credentialism is well-taken and I’ll take it one step further. I sat in a presentation by a friend dealing with the “Cargo Cult Culture of Credentialism” with special application to K-12 “professionals.” His point is that people see the special status accorded those with expertise in our society, note that those esteemed experts have advanced degrees, and therefore assume that if they (the unwashed) also get advanced degrees they too will have the expertise needed to be accorded the respect as leaders and enter the realm of the elite

    This cargo cult is abetted by HR and various bureaucracies whose comfort zone is to replace with official rules and procedures what was normally accomplished by prudence, in this case writing the various requirements for hiring and promotion. Everyone is happy and we all rejoice because the workforce becomes better educated and more competent, yet for some reason, as with K-12, the real world actually gets worse. A mystery no?

    A confession. Years ago for complicated professional reasons I had to take a graduate-level course Out of curiosity I decided on a course in Public Administration. I really didn’t take it very seriously, though I attended every class but when it came to the final paper I had more important things to do, like my paying job, to really apply myself, I wrote that paper, start to finish in the latter part of an afternoon. A few days later the prof asked me to meet with her and the dean and I was sure I was going to get railed on for my sloppy work as the last word of the paper was “and” (as my boss said the first example of a hanging conjunction). No they loved the paper so much they wanted me to be in the doctorate program, (it was a DPA, not PhD) I felt like Groucho Marx and clubs, I wouldn’t want to be part of any program that would deem to have me (based on that paper)

    Through that DPA I could have been, like Mike K., a “Dr. Mike” but that’s like saying a Volga and Dodge Charger are the same because they are both cars

  19. To what extent are we talking about “elites” as opposed to “intellectuals”? For a poke at the later, there’s an old Armed And Dangerous post on The Varieties of Anti-Intellectualism

    There’s a nearly extinct political tendency called “clericalism” which held that society should be guided by priests, considered as a disinterested non-hereditary elite with better education and morality than possessed by mere laypeople. The intelligentsia’s political instincts can be best described as a sort of neo-clericalism in which education substitutes for ordination.

  20. re Status and Credentials…Tom Watson Jr, longtime head of IBM, sad in his memoir that when he was a teenager, he was very attracted to a girl in is town..but her mother would not allow her to go out with him. Reason: the Watsons were not an Old Family.

    Now, IBM was not then the behemoth that it late became, but it was already a large, very visible, and highly-respected company, and young Tom was the heir apparent. Apparently the lineage of the family mattered a lot more in the mom’s snobbery metric.

    I suspect that today, there would be a lot more likelihood of parental objection to a match based on individual educational credentials and professional status, rather than on family history.

  21. While that makes all the financial sense in the world it ignores that higher ed exists not to provide accreditation regarding skills so much as accreditation for status.

    Along those lines, I have to wonder what the reception would be to a program that forgave student loan debt but also stripped the student of any degree and forbade them from claiming to be educated.

    I bet a lot of them would decline and continue to demand everyone else pay their debt for them, because they’re just that special.

  22. @G Poulin

    That’s something I muse on from time to time.

    A British subaltern at the Somme in 1916 was probably not any more qualified, and maybe less, in military tactics than any of the men in his platoon but he knew his duty was to provide a good example going over the top, not critiquing their performance from the safety of a dugout.

  23. Christopher B…true at the level of the subaltern and maybe a couple of levels above him, but there was a general feeling, fair or not, that the top generals and their staffs were in luxury chateaus far behind the lines.

  24. Gavin – a real life example of that from the Manhattan Project. The enrichment of uranium was done using devices called calutrons. These were manually controlled, basically by keeping a needle within a band on a dial. A study was done using two worker pools. The first were grad students, the second women just out of high school. As anyone with actual experience with both populations would expect, the women outperformed the grad students by a significant margin, as they could actually focus on the task while the grad students were likely bored out of their minds.

  25. Elitism seeks to impose its values and governing ideals on a free people, as they have the right “credentials.”. Far too often, the so-called elites are simple well-credentialed morons (John Kerry springs to mind.)

  26. morrison was the one that let the ball fall into the nuclear pile, didn’t he (I remember that from one of the films) many of these so called Elites like Fareed Zakaria, got things wrong almost from the getgo, right out of Princeton, he called the Reagan NSC a junta because of the preponderance of Annapolis grads, as if that determines anything, Friedman out of Brandeis and with a little London education made obvious mistakes in his reporting that set the terms of the Lebanese war from the getgo,

    by contrast someone like Robert Malone who is a real expert in RNA was left out of the policy discussion because reasons, and Fauci who didn’t knpw anything except where the bodies were buried was considered an authority,

  27. a chip off the old block, his father married a ,member of the Forbes clan, which had the island, he served briefly in the foreign service, worked for the other Klan senator Walter George, the life of reilly

    we can’t fault him for that, but being a traitor in at least three zones of influence, South East Asia, Central America and the Near East, well that I do hold against him

  28. David Foster
    Gringo…maybe it’s not that *she* thought tradesman skills indicated low IQ, but rather than she believed he average reader would so believe?

    That sounds like a better explanation. Her brother, who graduated from high school at age 15 at the beginning of the Depression, married a schoolteacher whose father was a plumbing contractor. Which with my father, gave additional evidence to my mother that tradesman skills are not negatively correlated with IQ. I can recall my mother schmoozing with the local auto mechanic at our house. He certainly didn’t feel inferior to my better-educated mother, and she didn’t condescend to him. Nor did my father condescend to those of our neighbors who were less educated, which showed by the number of neighbors who came to my father’s memorial service at our home.

  29. All the comments above are very good but I was a little surprised that no one brought up what I believe is the root of the “elite” concept. That lies with the French grande école. The idea that there should be one perfect place to learn civil administration or science, etc. That entry would be by a rigorous and “objective” exam. That graduation rank would establish a military type hierarchy which still exists in many places in the French government. And we all know how wonderfully productive and efficient the French civil service is, or have heard.

    It’s ironic that JFK, a Harvard graduate with no known intellectual distinction, did the most to advance the pretense that Harvard is the American École Normale d’Administration with maybe École Polytechnique thrown in for good measure. How fortunate for his reputation that LBJ, a graduate of a much less exalted institution, ended up with the blame for all the disastrous programs started by the “best and the brightest”.

    The elites in sports are generally a product of advancement through a series of structured competitions that allow a quasi-objective ranking of individuals. This status is subject to constant adjustment and ends abruptly once a competitive career ends. Contrast this with the doctrine of “divine right” that elites like Fauci and Brix, to take two present examples, of once an elite always an elite. When the reality is more like wrong about AIDS, wrong about Covid.

  30. true he had the same advisors as kennedy, that steered in the wrong direction, from 1963 on, as Mark Moyar notes, Halberstam had it entirely wrong, from sources he could gather in Soviet and Chinese archives, Holbrooke relayed this message to Harriman, another son of a magnate, in this case E H Harriman, the railroad baron, and then steps were taken

    the mandate of heaven, might have been pulled by that event, and the successors like Big Minh who was a bookend at the fall of Saigon a dozen years later, Thieu Ky, could not put things back together again, Lansdale who handled Diem probably had the better instinct but he had been given another quixotic exercise, Operation Mongoose, which was similar to camoaigns conducted in the East Bloc and Caucasus with limited success, Operation 5440, was the one that led to the events in the Gulf of Tonkin, and everything that came after,

  31. A thought about universities and access to the elites…

    The reason that Joe Biden is even able technically (legally is another matter) cancel student debt is because in 2010 the feds took over the student loan business from the private sector. Wasn’t much we could do about it give then huge majorities the Democrats had at the time. I don’t seem to recall at the time any discussion of the feds some time in the future just up canceling hundreds of billions of student loans for partisan advantage yet in retrospect it seems pretty inevitable doesn’t it? Predict and plan for based on capability not intent

    So with this relatively new program already being abused by the Left I think it would be naive to assume that it cannot be taken into new and dangerous areas. There always has been talk about restricting the use of student loans for certain for-profit colleges. Why not just extend that a step further and make them available only for “certified” colleges? After all there was talk a few years ago of similar certifications for child care centers in order to be eligible for targeted federal tax credits so the concept has legs

    The trick is of course the actual implementation and definition of “certified”, wanna bet it involves in part some sort of Woke or equity criteria? I mean not all of it, just a small piece of the overall certification and probably something up to later executive branch reinterpretation in the same Title IX. Maybe a certain score that schools need to achieve and could be met with say mandatory equity programs and curriculum. Given that higher ed is the pathway for students to enter the elite….

    Sounds crazy? But so does the idea back in 2010 that Democrats would be canceling all that student debt and as we know the first golden rule is he who has the gold makes the rules; the second golden rule is that it’s the Left that runs the government

    Just a thought

  32. regardless, he doesn’t have the legal authority to do this, the Court determined, but he doesn’t care, because whoever pulls his strings, doesn’t believe in the constitutions,

    yest the Enarques and the Oxbridge set are the bane of the public administration class on each end of the channel,

  33. Old school elites versus new elites: between WWI and WWII my mother worked for a while for an Old Money family in Denver. The kind of people who would entertain aristocrats from Europe who were visiting the US. She commented once that the Old School people were more like other people – you could talk with them, and they would drive you to the train station and help carry your luggage when you were going home to visit your parents. The Newly Rich, on the other hand, were constantly putting on airs and going about with a snobbish attitude. Even back then, the concept of obligations and, dare I call it humbleness, that came with position were being lost. In college I remember some writings from both ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans which mourned the same type of loss.

  34. My only experience with French government administrators–and an indirect one–was driving extensively around France. One thing I noticed was that the road signage seemed far better than in most places in the US.

  35. its kind of relative take the buckley clan three generations they were ranchers in Texas, the next generation became a wildcatter with some success in Venezuela and Mexico, his son gained enough polish to become the erudite pundit, and well his son’ who David Burge painted with a laser beam, was an insufferable bore,

  36. I’m a student of the history of economics. Civilization kicked off in Sumeria, where fertile soil and ample water created agricultural surpluses which allowed the existence of those not engaged in food production. Traders, artists and tradesmen, who gathered in towns. All went well for a while, the usual population pressure wars notwithstanding (that’s what’s happening in Europe and on the USA’s southern border at the moment). Then arose what James the Lesser in the comments above accurately calls the priestly caste. They ordered the commonfolk to do as they said, or things could get considerably hotter for them in the next life. The people were directed to pay taxes and provide labor for the building of ziggurats, the productivity predecessors of today’s wind turbines and solar plants. Life for the typical Sumerian switched from Garden of Eden to Siberian Salt Mine.

    Priestly caste.That’s a fair definition of elites.

  37. The areas of life in which “school-based knowledge generally trumps practical experience” have ALWAYS been extremely rare. No one with even a smidgen of common sense has ever thought otherwise.

  38. The problem is not the existence of achieving people.

    The problem is the extreme deference of ordinary people to them, with trust that makes the hapless Flounder look like a skeptic … especially when ordinary people put them on pedestals because of the surface appearances of a CV, resume, or cultural presence, and not actual, sustained achievement. And it is based as much in our own laziness and lack of confidence in ourselves, as it is in their high-minded hubris.

    This has been brewing in American society since the start of our Industrial Revolution … and is now reinforced from our earliest days in school where we were told to “be nice” and “trust Teacher; Teacher is always right”, but practically never being informed of our responsibility – and authority – to think for ourselves, and that objective reality would hold us to account for our conclusions.

    This lack of confidence in ourselves, and the overconfidence of those we misplace our trust in, feeds into almost every problem we face … government overreach and the resultant deficit spending, our dysfunctional social-services systems, existing as prey for criminals … right down to people blissfully living paycheck-to-paycheck, thinking they have a right to do the same job in the same place in the same ways for a lifetime and that others will secure a prosperous future FOR them as the lights stay on and the supermarket stays open 24/7.

    What it comes down to, is that we devalued respect for our unalienable rights, because we didn’t think we could handle the individual responsibility that comes with individual liberty … and put Flounderian trust in the elite few as though they are omniscient and infallible gods.

    We did this to ourselves. That is a hard thing to hear, when you’ve thought you have played by society’s rules for success and earned the right to a McMansion, two new cars, and a nice retirement. But unless each of us recognizes our level of acceptance of this social technocracy, we will never be rid of it – and it is what stands in the way of a thriving society with its total brainpower fully engaged, where individual liberty is respected and individual responsibility is expected, and ordinary people are far less vulnerable to life’s shocks and the human frailty of a Pedestaled Elite.

    Meet the enemy – he is us.

  39. There are TWO fundamental problems with “elites”:
    1) They think they are entitled to rule over you. This doesn’t have to take the form of political autocracy. It can be simply that they feel like they can scold you for not making the right choices*. Or that they can make different choices from you.
    2) Because they are somehow more enlightened than others, they end up separating themselves from the others, in a fashion that makes them aloof and reinforces their “eliteness”.

    There is a third, that accompanies the first two at some point in the evolution of “eliteness”: Incompetence. As elites begin to develop signifiers – credentials, hereditary relationships, speech patterns (including shibboleths) – that can be faked, then it becomes easy to enter into that class without any real competence for anything. We’ve seen it with aristocracy, the scions of “robber barons”, and Ivy League schools. Money and power are used to achieve the credentials… and voila! Incompetence!

    (* I am not speaking of chiding for truly moral shortcomings. Yes, anyone in a society should circumscribe others when they break the moral codes. This is more of the “/sniff!/ What a gauche use of your money!” or “It will never do for you people to continue enjoying that sort of thing!” It’s the “Well, of course you should ride the bus everywhere” without any consideration that “those people” don’t have a concierge service to deliver their grandmother’s medications to the back entrance.)

  40. An Elite is someone who believes that their opinion is superior and they are in a position of power. That other opinions are inherently inferior. So inferior that those opinions belong to people that are insane or are deliberately trying to subvert the superior opinion of the Elite.

  41. I’m reading again “A Tale of Two Cities” and Chapter 7 – Monseigneur in Town, seems almost to presage our day and time,

    “Monseigneur had been out at a little supper last night, where the Comedy and the Grand Opera were charmingly represented. Monseigneur was out at a little supper most nights, with fascinating company. So polite and so impressible was Monseigneur, that the Comedy and the Grand Opera had far more influence with him in the tiresome articles of state affairs and state secrets, than the needs of all France. A happy circumstance for France, as the like always is for all countries similarly favoured!- always was for England (by way of example), in the regretted days of the merry Stuart who sold it.

    “Monseigneur had one truly noble idea of general public business, which was, to let everything go on in its own way; of particular public business, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea that it must all go his way- tend to his own power and pocket. Of his pleasures, general and particular, Monseigneur had the other truly noble idea, that the world was made for them. The text of his order (altered from the original by only a pronoun, which is not much) ran: ‘The earth and the fulness thereof are mine, saith Monseigneur.'”

  42. Modern pharisees. The parallels are numerous. (Don’t have time to write at moment.)

    They are a cult. They think they are entitled to rule because of their moral superiority. To be members in good standing in the cult, they have to believe all manner of stupid, insane foolishness.

    Hubris is key. Hubris leads to evil.

  43. What does the word “elite” actually mean? Think how a follower or a native of a particular position/ location is an “ite,” as in Luddite, socialite, or Canaanite.

    In the world as currently constituted, one needs to pay respect to satan or lucifer, demiurge of earthly creation or god of illumination, in order to be considered worthy of position, power, and wealth.

    In Hebrew, any god is “el” and, more often, The God is “El.” I believe “el-ite” has come to signify one who worships the little “g” god, as in selling one’s soul, to attain worldly and occult stature.

    Wouldn’t a more apropos and pointed pronunciation of the now much abused and repugnant word “elite” be el-light, and not ee-lete?

  44. I liked reading through the comments, maybe we can just all agree that the word “elite” is an epithet. I get the feeling that even those whose aspire to join the elite class probably don’t like the term. Then again, one man’s elite is probably another man’s “leader.” I will also add that given the vast number of cowardly medicrocrities who wish to be part of the “elite” that one of the defining characteristics is the need for approvals ffrom their peers

    I’ll propose a 2-part questionnaire to distinguish between those who we would trust with the car keys to run our institutions on our behalf and those who are power-seeking elite scum who should marooned on New Guinea to be left to the tender mercies of those cannibals who ate Joe Biden’s uncle.

    My initial test was something along the lines of John Marini’s test, “The proper role of government is a) protection of the citizen’s constitution or as a former president once said b) to do the things that we have decided to do together.” However that allows people to hack the test in favor of the preferred answers so my 2 questions would be.

    1) In 2026 we will be celebrating the United States Semiquincentennial, one of the biggest birthday parties in our national history. The proper way to celebrate it would be….?
    2) Who is better able to provide a better education for a child? Teachers or the parents?

    For question #1 any answer that depicts “balanced” and :”air” should brand (and we should, literally) the respondent as an elite. It’s a birthday party, if you went to a person’s party and gave a “balanced” view of the celebrant’s many human frailties so would be castigated as a cad and tossed out. Save your need for a balanced view of American history for your school board.

    For #2, likewise any equivocation regarding parental primacy in their child’s education marks you as an elite. An similar question could use homeschooling

    The good news is since David’s posted this, we now have a poster child for the elite in the form of NPR CEO Katherine Maher with affiliations at UNICEF, Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, WEF and so one. Not only that but shoe professed the ultimate elite opinion in her regret that the First Amendment “a little bit tricky” to suppress “bad information.”

    So maybe if we want to know whether someone is an elite, we could just compare them to the benchmark that is Ms. Maher

  45. Mike…what if the institution for which the car keys are being given is not a government or media role but running a major corporation? Are there other or additional questions?

  46. David,

    What about “The role of a responsible corporation is to promote equity?”

    I think that would get at the key points. It’s one of those “tribal” trap question because it is rare for anyone to come out against equity (if they even know what it really means) not only for fear of ostracism but because ti allows the assumption of superiority. At the same time, supporting equity as a corporate goal means abandoning the responsibility of protecting the shareholders’ investment.

    So maybe that’s the issue with elites in general, a Principal-Agent problem

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