“In Defense of Elitism” by William A Henry III: Anchor Publishing, (August 1, 1995).
“It is scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose.”
-William A Henry III
The most striking feature of Pulitzer Prize winning William A. Henry III’s, “In Defense of Elitism” is its bluntness and, mostly, unapologetic tone. Particularly, throughout his seventh chapter, Henry assails against everything from sensationalistic news coverage to family photo albums and, along the way, spares no pains indicting the American middle and lower classes’ “culture of celebrity” (appropriately named, “star-f***ing”).
Henry could do a bit more to distinguish between the pernicious and the harmless but his general diatribe should enthuse the high-societal conservative in you. (In keeping with true Elitist form, it must be said that, if you are not of the “high-societal conservative” breed, there is certainly no place for you here. You are, in fact, reading the wrong book. Run along now. And don’t return.)
Perhaps, a more fitting title for Henry’s book would be, “In Defense of Merit”. Henry’s main thesis claims that the general mass of people should look up to the successful, seeking to emulate rather than destroy them, and that the aristocracy of talent has an obligation to encourage our better angels.
As Henry points out, it is to current society’s great detriment that this laudable reassertion of the individualist/meritocratic ethos is clouded by an authoritarian impulse more in line with the traditional notion of nobility, rather than a society based on objective rewards and punishments. The problem with misunderstood and wrongly practiced elitism is that, all too often, people appoint themselves as elites and then seek to impose their will on the rest of society. This may work for rank and file narcissist serfs who, enveloped in their delusions of grandeur, wish to live out their Nietzschean superman/woman fantasies via self-defined, and always self-promoted, celebrity status. At what point, though, does one move from being a person to being a myth? Do enough hits on a YouTube video push one into the category of “popular” or even “recognizable”, morphing them into a person of note amongst the now common populations from which they wish to be distinguished? Is there a 1,000 or more Facebook Friends Rule which would guarantee automatic membership to such a club of artificial elites? True elitism, Henry argues, is something which is born not of self-promotion, but of the recognition of the majority of others, which itself is born of genuine interest in the ideas and values postulated by the elite.
However, if one truly believes that their own ideas and values are superior, and thus qualified for elite status, the best way to enforce those ideas and values in a manner consistent with classical forms of democratic society, is to set a rational example. Examples which include pandering to whims posited by anti-war, pro-gay, pro-abortion liberals merely set society back, one protest at a time.
Leaders and powerful persons emerge naturally from the societal mix, just as succulent cream rises to the top of fresh milk. Those persons who serve as society’s leaders remain established in positions of power because the masses concur. That alone is verification of widespread, rational acceptance of, and of the need for, a sub-set (or is it super-set?) of elite persons in any society. Those same elite persons should be encouraged by all to embrace their superior intelligence, talents, et alia, unabashedly utilizing them in the service of leaving the world a better place for generations- of any category- yet to come.