A long, long time ago, I had the painful experience of being taken apart (verbally) by a self-important young professor who heard me use the term “elite,” as in “power elite.” She haughtily explained there was no such thing. There might be elites, in the sense of people who might influence the culture in various ways and at various times, but not an elite. Why, for goodness sakes, if you said things like that, you ended up sounding like (shudder) C. Wright Mills, and no one of real learning cites him at all any more.
I toyed with the idea of saying that only an idiot or a hypocrite could look at the history of the world and not see that in every culture there were two groups—those who gave orders, and those who received them…for better and (usually) for worse. And I would have added, “I wonder which you are, the idiot or the hypocrite. Since I know you to be quite frightfully, if self-confessedly, intelligent, I can only assume the latter.” (And she came, by the way, from money.)
However, since at the time I was still trying to get a degree from the university in question, I chose to hold my tongue. Now, particularly since I never got the degree, I would not be so pacific.
Fortunately, Jordan Weissmann, who writes for Slate Magazine, has recently encountered a similar situation, but has felt no need to keep silent. In Actually, the 1 Percent Are Still The Problem, he examines several recent claims—which were promoted in the Atlantic Magazine—that the so-called 1% of Americans are not the problem, and that the real issue is the upper middle classes. In particular, he looks at an article, “The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy,” by Matthew Stewart, which summarizes these claims and says that the villains of our national decline into irrelevance are the just under ten percent of the population which is really genuinely middle class—all those soccer moms and golf dads. Those, says Stewart, are the cause of all our problems. Not the 1%, who are probably mythical anyway.
Weissmann is having none of it. In a thoughtful, well-researched, and well-written article he shows exactly why Stewart is wrong, and why the 1% not only exists, but is draining us dry. In other words, there is an Elite, it does not love us, and, in some ways, it has been at war with us for a very long time.
Definitely give the article a read. It says a lot of important things about where America is, and how it got there…and how the apologists for greed and oligarchy are always and forever going to find new and inventive ways of pretending everything is for the best.
Particularly when everything most certainly isn’t.