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Sneering at the masses is a dangerous game to play


Amongst progressives everywhere there is an epidemic of sneering condescension towards the actions and even existence of the ‘deplorables’.

In Britain, the Brexit vote unleashed a torrent of disdain for ordinary people who didn’t vote the ‘right’ way. Brexiteers are continually referred to as ‘stupid’, ‘uninformed’, ‘low-information’ and ‘gullible’, and these are some of only the more polite terms employed. To open the pages of the Guardian is to volunteer to be insulted.

Certain political and social positions are viewed as irrational and explicable only by ignorance or bigotry. Those who hold them may therefore be dismissed as foolish, morally depraved, or suffering from a phobia. Or all three.

The ultimate political insult in the Leftie lexicon is ‘populist’, which for them is only one small step above being an outright fascist. It’s a weird world in which Left-wingers see reflecting the will of the people as being dangerous to society. But the progressive elites think the people just can’t be trusted to get it right.

Progressives are growing increasingly allergic to ordinary people. During a pre-election interview in the US, comedian and pundit Bill Maher loftily informed Trump’s spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway that Trump was gaining popular support ‘because people are stupid’. In this he echoed a History News Network contributor who cried out ‘Just How Stupid Are We?’ when it appeared Trump was doing well in the Republican primaries.

Even supposedly authoritative outlets can’t resist. In response to the rise of the populist Right in Britain and the US, the award-winning Foreign Policy magazine ran an essay under the headline ‘It’s Time for the Elites to Rise Up Against the Ignorant Masses’. There is little doubt on which side of the barricades they will choose to stand.

This contempt and determination to thwart the ordinary people has probably never been expressed as unambiguously as by Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit. Reacting to the election of Likud’s Bibi Netanyahu in Israel’s 1996 election he wrote: ‘For us, for the enlightened elite, since the morning of May 30, we have been forced to contend with a situation we could not control . . . The mechanism we have developed to work our way out of this tangle is to work up a psychosis of hatred for the elected prime minister.’ Trump should have seen it coming.

Jason Brennan in Against Democracy lamented, ‘Most of my fellow citizens are incompetent, ignorant, irrational, and morally unreasonable about politics. Despite that, they hold political power over me.’ Brennan argues for epistocracy, a ‘rule of the knowers’, in which voting rights would either be limited or diluted by giving more say to those who prove themselves worthy, i.e. people like Brennan.

We shouldn’t consider this a new phenomenon arising from the recent growth in Europe and America of social conservatism and populist politics. Throughout history the self-considered elites have always had contempt for the masses. The 19th century French poet and art critic Baudelaire utterly rejected the newly fashionable photography as a ‘sacrilege’ because it allowed ‘the vile multitude’ to ‘contemplate its own trivial image’.

T S Eliot considered newspaper readers ‘a complacent, prejudiced and unthinking mass’. D H Lawrence had a solution to the problem of the masses entertaining unapproved ideas: ‘Let all schools be closed at once’ since ‘the great mass of humanity should never learn to read and write’. Aldous Huxley wrote that ‘universal education has created an immense class of what I may call the New Stupid’.

Virginia Woolf, never having ridden on the Clapham omnibus, lamented ‘that anonymous monster, the Man in the Street’. Common people constituted, in her scandalised judgment, ‘a vast, featureless, almost shapeless jelly of human stuff . . . occasionally wobbling this way or that as some instinct of hate, revenge, or admiration bubbles up beneath it’.

This attitude had been given philosophical respectability by the post-modernist’s favourite philosopher Frederick Nietzsche. He is best known for seeing the Superman as the incarnation of human perfection. The Übermenschen/Supermen will live by their own values, delight in their superiority, take pity on the weak and perhaps hurt people in the name of achieving great things.

W B Yeats approved of Nietzsche’s warning that ‘a declaration of war on the masses by higher men is needed’ to bring ‘the superfluous’ to heel. Yeats thought the ideas Nietzsche articulated were ‘a counteractive to the spread of democratic vulgarity’.

That pioneer of contraception, Marie Stopes, argued that the ‘hordes of defectives’ be reduced in number to place less of a burden on ‘the fit’. She practised what she preached, disinheriting her son because he married a short-sighted woman, so risking a less-than-perfect grandchild.

William Beveridge, liberal secular saint and draughtsman of the welfare state, argued that those with ‘general defects’ should be denied not only the vote, but ‘civil freedom and fatherhood’. The Nanny state is born not of compassion but of contempt. The masses are unable to look after themselves and require someone wiser to tell them what to do, and to ensure they do it.

Contempt for the ordinary man and woman runs deep amongst the elites. It expresses itself in opposing and wherever possible nullifying the expressed will of the people.

Such disdain for ordinary people has serious consequences. It restricts the possibility of rational debate and criticism, thereby entrenching positions. Even more seriously, by polarising opinion it provokes extreme reactions.

Katie Hopkins recently tweeted: ‘Taking to the streets of the UK this week. My hunch – The British People are sick of the state of this godforsaken country and are ready to fight back. With democracy in tatters, the opposite of leave is not remain. It is anarchy on the streets of Britain.’

Let us pray that the progressives’ chickens don’t come home to roost.

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Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Dr Campbell Campbell-Jack
Campbell is a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Stirlingshire. He blogs at A Grain of Sand.

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