Aasof on the Elites


This week on Facebook: Perhaps the first question raised is, Who are the elites? They have always been a feature of all societies and have always been instrumental in suppressing the will of the people for a universal franchise¹. If Arrow’s impossibility theorem is correct in that it is generally impossible to assess the validity of a common good, then a social elite theory is also valid. But who are these elites² in a secular, urban and industrial modern society?

Although political science borrows heavily from the other social sciences, it is distinguished from them by its focus on power—defined as the ability of one political actor to get another actor to do what it wants—at the international, national, and local levels. Political Science

Does modern society automatically lead to a meritocracy in which success and status in life depend primarily on individual talents, abilities, and effort? The following articles suggest that UK politicians and their acolytes do not subscribe to any merit based system that is altruistic.

But don’t you get the feeling that there is an underlying ‘something’ that is being kept from us all and that the fat cats of our political elite have always had a quite different agenda of their own? Our political elite

Until recent times members of British ruling elites owed their status to the position they occupied outside Westminster. Today, in an important reversal, it is the position they occupy in Westminster that grants them their status in civil society. The Establishment is dead

The problem is that in Britain, the Privy Council has become the vehicle of a stagnant political elite. The shadowy establishment mafia that is the Privy Council 

I think that Arrow is right in presenting the common good as impossible to achieve. The majority of the goods and services consumed in a market economy are private goods and it is difficult to envisage any other sort of economy in the foreseeable future. In the UK (and I suspect elsewhere) the electorate is always split between two opposing political parties — usually with left wing and right wing views — which mitigates against there being a common good. The political aim is for supremacy (by any means) this, and the social media that supports their aims, makes politicians a real danger in any meritocratic government and their (usually) epistocratic electorate³.


1. Elites Against Western Civilisation (2019): With lower levels of cultural literacy and reduced interest in history, the new generation could reprise the intellectual deterioration of the Middle Ages, when, according to Belgian historian Henri Pirenne, “the very mind of man was going through degeneration.” Just as the feudal prelates disdained classical culture, today’s clerisy seeks to unmoor liberal culture and the Western political tradition; nearly 40 percent of young Americans, for example, think that the country lacks “a history to be proud of.” Far smaller numbers than previous generations prize family, religion, or patriotism.

2. Why the elites always rule (2017): In today’s context, the foxes are the forces of globalisation and liberalism – in the positive sense of developing an open, inter­connected and tolerant world; and in the negative sense of neoliberalism and the dehumanising extension of an economic calculus to all aspects of human life. The lions represent the reaction, centring themselves in the community, to which they may be more attentive, but bringing increased xenophobia, intolerance and conservatism. For Pareto, the lions and foxes are two different types of rule, both with strengths and weaknesses. Yet the elite is always composed of the two elements. The question is: which one dominates at any given time?

3. The world has become obsessed with elites (2016): The OED says the English noun is “The choice part or flower (of society, or of any body or class of persons)”. This entry has not yet been updated to include its more recent sense, the pejorative version, often plural, which can be glossed as “people with unearned privileges who keep honest folks from getting a fair shake”. Data from Google Books show the plural word “elites” beginning to be used in about 1940, with the obviously pejorative “elitist” rising from about 1960. The anti-authority cultural changes of the 1960s, it seems, brought with them a rising concern with elites and their apologists.

4. The Elites and Inequality (2018): Viewed in this light, many concerns about ‘rising inequality’ and ‘relative poverty’ are glorified linguistic inversions of upper-middle-class ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’. Why should the concerns of these people over index so dramatically in the public consciousness? It is because these are exactly the people – that is, those who are in the top 10% but not in the top 1% of earners – who write our newspapers, run the civil service, occupy professorships at our universities, and ultimately those who go into politics. Their intuition – no more than a gut feeling, channeled by a mixture of confirmation bias and hubris — is post-hoc rationalised into an ‘urgent’ issue that must be addressed by ‘society’.

5. The Paradox of the New Elite (2011): Other nations seem to face the same challenge: either inclusive, or economically just. Europe has maintained much more economic equality but is struggling greatly with inclusiveness and discrimination, and is far less open to minorities than is the United States. European countries have done a better job of protecting workers’ salaries and rights but have been reluctant to extend the benefits of their generous welfare state to new immigrants who look and act differently from them.


Referenced Articles Books & Definitions:

  • A bold text subscript above and preceding a title below (¹·²·³), refers to a book, pdf, podcast, video, slide show and a download url that is usually free.
  • Brackets containing a number e.g. (1) reference a particular included article (1-5).
  • A link (url), which usually includes the title, are to an included source.
  • The intended context of words, idioms, phrases, have their links in italics.
  • A long read url* (when used below) is followed by a superscript asterisk.
  • Occasionally Open University (OU) free courses are cited.
  • JSTOR lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.

¹The Treason of the Elites(url*): Globalisation is real and the market a powerful force, but utopianism about trade and technology — supposedly driving us toward a borderless world and inevitable progress — has proven as facile and wrong as any other utopianism.

²Why we stopped trusting elites (url*): For hundreds of years, modern societies have depended on something that is so ubiquitous, so ordinary, that we scarcely ever stop to notice it: trust. The fact that millions of people are able to believe the same things about reality is a remarkable achievement, but one that is more fragile than is often recognised.

³On the Compatibility of Epistocracy and Public Reason (pdf): In “epistocratic” forms of government, political power is wielded by those who possess the knowledge relevant to good policymaking. Some democrats—notably, David Estlund—concede that epistocracy might produce better political outcomes than democracy but argue that epistocracy cannot be justified under public reason. These objections to epistocracy are unsound because they violate a viability constraint: They are also fatal to democracy and all other plausible political arrangements. Moreover, there is a problem with the public reason framework itself—a problem which can only be solved by providing a better definition for what makes an objection to a political arrangement a “reasonable” one.

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