Thursday, October 22, 2009

Elitism

e·lit·ism or é·lit·ism, n.
1. The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.
2. a. The sense of entitlement enjoyed by such a group or class.
b. Control, rule, or domination by such a group or class.

(From the American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.)

In his interview with Jennifer Burns, Jon Stewart questioned the elitism of Objectivism – implying that while it was great for some, it wouldn’t work for “ordinary” people. This gave me pause. I find it interesting that those who invoke elitism to impeach voluntary interactions among rational people seem to be the same folks who attempt to justify compelling preferential treatment for certain groups. In the case of the compulsion, however, the elitism is based on perceived inferiority of others, rather than on perceived superiority of self.

That ordinary people are too stupid to care for themselves and must be cared for by the government seems to be the standard operating elitism of those in power within both parties. One need look no further than the rash of new consumer protection laws, massive government bailouts, nationalization of businesses, taxes on alcohol, cigarettes, and soda, and the proposed nationalization of health care to see this destructive idea in action. And yet, support for these ideas, we are told, stem from the need to protect “we, the people.”

Are the proponents of choice architecture and government welfare programs impugning the rational faculty of the American people on the one hand while promoting the populace appeal of pure democracy, the omniscient will of the majority, on the other? Is this contradiction an untenable political position to hold? In a constitutional federal republic, it should be. And that’s what we have, a constitutional federal republic… so long as we can keep it.

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