Monday, February 1, 2010

Bonfire of the Elites


'NOT ALL populism is bad," writes Kimberly A. Strassel in the Jan. 29 Wall Street Journal.
Presumably, the hoi polloi should be grateful for Ms. Strassel's qualified approval.

Apparently, graduating from Princeton in 1994 with a B.A. in public policy and international affairs, as Ms. Strassel did, gives you the intellectual authority to decide which political beliefs of the man on the street are legitimate.

The pronouncement by Lady Strassel is risible. Why an Ivy League education imbues you with a greater degree of righteousness than those who lack such education is not immediately apparent to anyone who doesn't have one.

The four classic Roman virtues of pietas, fides, collegio and gravitas didn't include any mention of an Ivy League degree or being a Rhodes scholar. After all, the most admired ancient Roman, Cincinnatus, was a farmer.

The habit of the intelligentsia, of both left and right, of using the word "populist" as a synonym for an angry lynch mob is wearisome. They do not so much say the word as spit it out. Or do not so much write it as scrawl it angrily.

The idea that the common man is merely a selfish, ignorant, lazy being - and therefore merely politically petulant - is the worst kind of elitism.

When did that average person become so terribly evil? Did it occur when they started acting together to demand honesty, accountability and competence - and possibly even a little empathy - from those who have economic and political power?

WHY DO THE intelligentsia react so negatively to the actions of regular folks when they demand a standard of political behavior that shouldn't have to be demanded at all?

Perhaps the intelligentsia - both left and right - need to be reminded that in this democratic-capitalist system of ours, those with economic and political power have been granted such by the hoi polloi, which Woodrow Wilson characterized as "submitting to authority."

If they don't believe this, all they need to do is go to the next G8 meeting without the security, which protects the elite from the anarchist mobs who, it sometimes seems from their rhetoric, would just as soon kill the wealthy bankers and powerful politicians as they would break a store window.

No, the courts, the police, the very books on which the law is written, are underwritten by the unstated consent provided by the common man. Without their cooperation, there is no private property, no market, no socialization and no education. There is only whatever you can take and keep by force.

Somehow, you can't imagine Wall Street bankers or journalists like Ms. Strassel obtaining or keeping much by force. No, in the absence of the cooperation of the common man, there are only Pol Pots, Stalins, Hitlers, Maos.

In most political systems, it's the strongest and best organized, not necessarily the most talented, most compassionate or most altruistic, who seize power. They are the leaders of the robber tribes.

This is not to say even democracy U.S.-style is a pure meritocracy, rewarding the most deserving. After all, entertainers and professional athletes are among the best-paid in our society.

The current idea that unless you're excessively educated, or wealthy in a certain way, you're probably too stupid to act in your own best interests, is a disgrace. The conservative and liberal elite need to remember that they govern only by consent of the people.

We defer to the elites on certain issues - repeat, certain issues - because of their specific technical qualifications and talents. But education - even a prestigious one - does not make them omniscient, or automatically endow them with common sense. We grant the elite certain powers - and we can take them back at any time.

Unfortunately, the elite keep forgetting this. Once again, Lady Strassel's column illustrates that there's very little difference between the conservative Republican elite and the liberal Democratic one.

Michael P. Tremoglie is the author of the novel "A Sense of Duty," available at and Atlantic Bookstores. He is working on a new book about political correctness in law enforcement

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