In more than one progressive-inspired publication I have run into the adjective, “elitist,” needless to say employed in a strongly pejorative sense. Indeed, it makes sense because from the psychological standpoint, the progressive philosophy is a fusion of all kinds of mediocrity, triviality and even vulgarity. Thus, it is viscerally contrary to any form of refinement or kind of elite.
By using that adjective—so questionable from a linguistic perspective—the more common progressives insinuate that every member of an elite is by definition a selfish, unproductive and mediocre snob full of vanity and only capable of joining with other “elitist” persons into parasitic cliques that conspire with one another on how best to extract the fruits of their neighbors’ labor.
In light of this concept (what light!), the “elitists” supposedly gather in small groups and victimize the public at large.
Who can deny the existence of “elites” just like those described by the progressives? Shouldn’t every sensible man reject them? However, are these “elites” really elites?
These “elites” have abandoned everything that they should believe, forsaken their mission, and allowed themselves to be infected with gangrene and putrefaction.
In seeking to define a star, can anyone give an example of a dark celestial body that gives off no light? It would be like presenting a rotting cadaver as an example of a man.
This is precisely what progressives do with elites. Starting from their pejorative concept of “elite,” they perform some kind of magic trick in which all true elites end up as “elitists.” In so doing, they managed to label all privileged groupings as genuine bloodsuckers of the great majority of authentic hard workers.
Thus, in the eyes of the public, a perfectly shocking overall picture comes together that incites class struggle. It fits perfectly the needs of communist propaganda. On the one hand, are the great masses of the workers and, on the other, several select minority groupings who (maliciously fused together with the vain, lazy, mediocre and feckless “elitists” mentioned above) legitimately stand out for their excellence in cultural achievements, talent, education, selflessness in serving the nation or charitable work, etc.
The outcome of the clash between these groupings and the incited masses can only be the gobbling up of the “elitist” mouse by the communist cat…
Needless to say, the “anti-elitist” panorama that progressives present to foster this communistic perspective is false in nearly all its aspects. Two false aspects stand out at first sight. The first falsity is that every elite is necessarily an “elitist” in the pejorative sense of the word. We have already seen how arbitrary and unjust this statement is. The other is to claim that there are no elites in the public at large and particularly among the great masses of workers.
It is a blatant error to think that elites are made up only by privileged groupings disconnected from ordinary people. Such a classification would consign most people, by definition, to be a kind of huge gathering of mediocre people, some of which would be intellectually, culturally or morally handicapped. Thus, this classification would necessarily divide a nation into two categories separated by an abyss: the paradigmatic and the erroneous—the supermen and the sub-men.
At this point, it seems to me indispensable to recall a truth that not all historians and sociologists properly affirm as they should.
It is generally admitted that each people has the government it deserves. The corollary is that each people also has the elites (in the authentic sense, not the pejorative one) it deserves. What needs to be affirmed about true elites is that the appearance of elites, the good image they need to project, and the full diffusion of their beneficial action is largely made possible by their connection with the population as a whole. Elites do not remain intact and vibrant without often being enriched with values from the general population.
Because the crowds provide a proper interpretation and the communicative consensus inside a culture, they can contribute greatly to an elite assuming entirely the image and role it should. Conversely, elites only influence a people who are receptive to their message.
There is more. When there is a proper elite-people relationship, the people very often provide the inspiration for elites to develop something greater. To give only one example from a thousand, it would suffice to recall musical masterpieces by brilliant composers that are often inspired by simple folk songs.
Indeed, in a certain sense, popular classes are conservative par excellence, more so than the upper classes. Thus, in Europe, for example, the old garb, dances, songs and ways of being—in short, typical regional customs—were maintained much more by the “country folk” than by the leading classes in large cities. In Brazil, the traditional poor black lady from the state of Bahia, the baiana, preserves tasty dishes and folklore, and more closely resembles the Brazil of old than many descendants of empire captains, baron counselors or colonels of the national guard.
If elites decay, it is hard for them not to drag the people down with them. If the people decay, it seems to me impossible that they not drag the elites down with them.
It is appropriate that we make distinctions between peoples. There can be an average people, a great people, an ascending people, a people reaching its apogee, and people in stagnation or decadence. It would not be too farfetched to say that the word elite can apply to everyone in a people on the rise or at its zenith. They would be an enormous elite from within which would arise, almost by distillation, smaller and more quintessential elites. This is because in an excellent people, there comes a general grandeur that is born from the harmonious joining together of the population that become an elite-people (or elite-majority) with the elite-minority.
I once wrote an article about Winston Churchill and his wife. Perhaps England would not have won the war without the leadership of this great man whose feminine version was his illustrious wife. However, the United Kingdom would have lost the war if it did not have a true legion of elite figures placed from top to bottom in its political, social, economic and military hierarchy, that took up the commands of the armed effort and civil resistance. Isn’t it true that the whole constellation of high, medium and small elites could only have done the good they did because the English people were a great people? In other words, is it not true that they were a people with a necessarily high number of average and even below average people, but few mediocre ones? Many were heroes in the battlefield. Yet more were “mini-heroes” in civilian life ready to sacrifice themselves in the rearguard, keeping their neighbors in high spirits both in the somber moments in bomb shelters from which they could hear the Luftwaffe destroying their cities, or in the gloomy hours when they saw their household budgets mercilessly eaten away by war rationing.
If instead of all those elites and heroes of so many differing ranks and profiles Britain had had, from Buckingham Palace down to the bottom of her coal mines, not great nor average but mediocre men, not heroic but spineless men, today she would be no more than an historic memory.
In the final analysis, progressives seek to pound into the minds of the public the idea of a conflict between elites and people. They do this by painting a false picture of reality that places a dark and yawning chasm between them. Such a portrayal is a sham. Such a gap only exists when both people and elites are more or less agonizing and separate from each other with small, artificial, select groups on the one side, and large anonymous masses on the other.
These considerations are becoming too lengthy. Let me close them by quoting a brilliant text on people and masses by Pius XII:
“The State does not contain in itself and does not mechanically bring together in a given territory a shapeless mass of individuals. It is, and should in practice be, the organic and organizing unity of a real people.
“The people, and a shapeless multitude (or, as it is called, “the masses”) are two distinct concepts. The people lives and moves by its own life energy; the masses are inert of themselves and can only be moved from outside. The people lives by the fullness of life in the men that compose it, each of whom—at his proper place and in his own way—is a person conscious of his own responsibility and of his own views. The masses, on the contrary, wait for the impulse from outside, an easy plaything in the hands of anyone who exploits their instincts and impressions; ready to follow in turn, today this flag, tomorrow another. From the exuberant life of a true people, an abundant rich life is diffused in the State and all its organs, instilling into them, with a vigor that is always renewing itself, the consciousness of their own responsibility, the true instinct for the common good.
“The elementary power of the masses, deftly managed and employed, the State also can utilize: in the ambitious hands of one or of several who have been artificially brought together for selfish aims, the State itself, with the support of the masses, reduced to the minimum status of a mere machine, can impose its whims on the better part of the real people: the common interest remains seriously, and for a long time, injured by this process, and the injury is very often hard to heal” (Radio message of Christmas 1944, in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di Sua Santità Pio XII, Vol. VI, pp. 238-239).
Let the reader attentively consider what the much missed Pontiff says about a true people. He will see that, from top to bottom, a people is nothing but a healthy and magnificent interlocking of elites, the highest shining in gold and silver, the more modest in beautiful and noble bronze.
The antagonistic elite-people conflict, contained in the painful “elitist” adjective used by progressives is thus destroyed.
The preceding article was originally published in the Folha de S.Paulo, on December 28, 1977. It has been translated and adapted for publication without the author’s revision. –Ed.