Friday, August 05, 2005

"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

--H.L. Mencken (July 26, 1920


Many people have an almost immediate negative reaction when they hear or read the word, or when accused of being an elitist. Well, at least those of us who try and stay humble and grateful and see ourselves in a not to self-important or serious light may have that reaction.

But lately I have been ruminating on the words elite, elitist and elitism. Beyond the obvious connotations of ego, exclusivity, self-centeredness, condescension, and generally being above the majority, I wondered if there are positive aspects to elitism that are not generally discussed in an open way because of decorum issues.

Is elitism a needed and inevitable result of a meritocratic system?

After all, haven't all the great thinkers, artists, craftsmen, actors, models leaders and businesspeople been "elite?"

Think about how perjorative the word "elite" has become. The political right in the US has almost turned it into the equal of "racist." They have won election after election on the anti-intellectual - anti-elitist party line. As in "intellectual/elite democracts."

I am by no means advocating elitism as a way to denigrate, separate, humiliate, and marginalize the majority. But perhaps elitism is rather a way to inspire and elevate the majority. To set high standards for achievement, aesthetics, spirituality (was Mother Theresa not elite in here spirtualism?) and learning. Have not the products of the technology elite elevated society to new paradigms of access and use of information over the last 15 years?

What was once called egalitarianism is now viewed by many as "the rise of mediocrity."

I think that a healthy dose of elitism, its recognition and its emulation are healthy for society. Its dangerous when people or groups allow elitism to become self-centerdeness, self or group centrism, or manifestations of fear, anger and hate.

But absent these negatives, a healthy elitism is good for society, it promotes excellence, achievement and high standards of conduct, commerce, personal interactions, aesthetics, study and expectations. I wonder if Michelangelo, Einstein, FDR, and Bill Gates would agree?