Something has happened to the word ‘elite’. My understanding of the word is that it signifies excellence, expertise and skill. If I was having brain surgery I would be delighted if my surgeon belonged to an ‘elite group of brain surgeons.’ Similarly we all would like our children to be educated by ‘elite teachers.’ The word tells us that these teachers are the best at passing on knowledge to their pupils. They have years of experience and we need not worry. They have worked hard to reach this level in their profession.
When we talk about politicians, however, the term elite is often used as a term of abuse. I do this all the time – the liberal elite. I do not mean they are particularly skilled at anything other than seeking and gaining power. What I usually mean is that they are a self-serving bunch of cretins we could do without. As so few have any experience outside politics they are certainly not skilled at anything other than climbing the greasy political pole. They offer society very little. As such, I think it best we stop describing politicians as an elite – in case this term does imbue this bunch with any greater skill than they warrant.
I am not too sure which elite, Emma Duncan was discussing in The Times, when she complained that Meritocracy has bred another smug elite.
She tells us of a friend who on visiting various Ivy League universities felt the students “were the most self-satisfied young people I have ever encountered in my entire life”. Of course they are when they know their future is assured and the prizes are so big.
These students are not just part of the elite- in the skilled sense – but the global elite which means their wealth will be global also; hence the increasing gap between the wealthiest and the middle-class (never mind the working class who have a whole host of problems of their own).
She complained that one way or another this new ‘elite’ spend all of their money on educating their children (for shame), and with “assortative mating” where a clever, well-paid lawyer might have married a secretary 30 years ago, today he is much more likely to marry another clever, well-paid lawyer; this new unfairness is set to continue.
But what, might I ask, is wrong with spending your hard earned money educating your children, whether it is on private school, extra classes or lots of hobbies? Is it better to spend it on flash cars and very fancy holidays? I know which I would and do choose.
Then there is the assortative mating issue. Duncan misses the point here: the privilege for the children is not just that the two parents are clever clogs, but that the two parents get married in the first place. Charles Murray has pointed out for years the advantages marriage confers on all children rich or poor and warned of the growing marriage gap in America. But the liberals rarely listen.
I assume Duncan is not going to take the drastic step of ordering lawyers and doctors to stop mating and instead marry their secretaries (and these days do not assume the lawyer is always male). I suspect that part of the reason for this, is not that just that two lawyers are more likely to meet and have more in common with each other, but that in today’s society status from your profession and filthy hard lucre is all that counts.
Can you image the sniggers around the dinner table of the North London Elite (there I go again) should the brain surgeon introduce his wife that was previously his secretary? Never mind that she might be a person of integrity and dignity who is incredibly kind, loving and beautiful, runs a good home, makes some nice meals and is warm and tender to their children. Sure this counts for nothing now. Today, it is only the power couple that counts.