The Heterodox Liberal

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Myth of Liberal "Elitism"

I keep hearing, again and again, crap from the right about liberal "elitism." It seems that the right is increasingly desperate to protray themselves as the allies of the "common man," even as they slash taxes on the rich, screw over the economy, gut public education, abandon public health, send the "common man" to die in foreign wars, etc. etc. A fool named John Rosenberg, for example, goes so far as to use the Washington Post Style Section's obsession with clothes as an example of "liberal elitism." Gee, perhaps that's why they call it the "style" section? Because it's dedicated to frivolous crap, that advertisers will perhaps support? You know, this "free market" for which you have such a deep, if not yet actually carnal, love?

The latest phrase du jour, if Rosenberg is any indication, is "cultural elitists." This is, one can imagine, as opposed to general, ordinary, garden-variety elitists. See, general, ordinary, garden-variety elitists do things like favor the rich and powerful over the poor and weak. "Cultural" elitists apparently means writing a vaccuous article about the clothing of the wife of a Supreme Court nominee. (Cattiness is, apparently, a privilege reserved only for the oh-so-common-touched Republicans like Barbara Bush.)

In fact, one look at the Bush family will make it screamingly clear that all the complaints about "liberal elitism" are nothing more than a culture-wars scare tactic to convince the victims of right-wing policies that all the scary liberals will make your children study Andres Serrano instead of Norman Rockwell in art class. It's a more subtle version of the "war on Christmas," although it blatantly appeals to the same fears.

Even liberals are now buying into the Big Myth. This article, for example, goes so far as to defend creationism on grounds of anti-elitism, and implies that evolutionary science is nothing more than a "cultural norm," dissenters to which are entitled to a governmentally supported "expand[ed] the range of personal choice" about. He even puts evolution in a paragraph about "legitimate cultural gripes." Legitimate gripes? It's legitimate to gripe about science? Gee, that's news to me. I never knew that I was right to gripe about the unfortunate facts of physics and biology that prevent me from shooting laser beams out my eyes at will. But apparently I have the legitimate right to gripe at the liberal elitists, with their "science," shattering my cultural worldview of laser-beam-shooting.

Even those rightists who try to make arguments in support of their bald accusations of "elitism" fail horribly. For example, people who think of themselves as economists (and some actual economists) are fond of pushing ideologies like consumer sovereignty and dubious psychological/philosophical notions like the idea that people necessarily know how best to spend their money to make themselves happy. Then, they can a priori define any government program whatsoever as "liberal elitism," because under their ideology, any government spending could be accomplished better by giving it to the beneficiaries and letting them spend on the good at issue or some other, supposedly more utility-maximizing, option. (Hint to the rightist economoids: learn about economies of scale. And collective action problems. And cognitive biases. And, you know, some kind of ethics other than brute utilitarianism. Or get out of the bedroom, pick up the cleanest underwear from the pile, go outside, and meet actual human beings.)

Rich in their hyprocisy, even the Yalies (no center of elitism themselves, noooo) accuse liberals of being elitist. Opposition to hunting? Elitist. Oh, I've gotta quote this last one. It reveals the fundamental equation of the "liberal elitist" argument.
When they think the arch-liberal French are correct and the majority of West Virginians are wrong, the Gazette has a problem. It is called “Liberal Elitism.” In plain English (not French), the Gazette is essentially saying, “I know what is good for you because my liberal thinking transcends the common man’s thought and you do not know what is good for you because you are the uneducated masses.” Do the words “government of the people, by the people, for the people” sound familiar? One fact is for certain, you will not find those words on any French documents.
What this person is saying here is that a newspaper, because it disagrees with a vote, is elitist. Dissent = Elitism! That's the equation! Not only are we required to govern ourselves by majority vote, but, apparently, we're required to conform our opinions to the opinion of our neighbors, as expressed by that same majority vote! And any newspaper that disagrees should be CENSORED! Yes! That kind of thought control is just ooooh so democratic, it makes me squee with emancipated glee. (And of course, the French are necessarily elitist, because they had the blithering condescension to, you know, give us soldiers and arms to fight the Revolution. And obviously, "libertie, egalitie, fraternatie" is such an elitist statement, nowhere near as democratic as "government of the people, by the people, for the people.")

What else is elitist? Well, according to one idiot blogger, disagreeing with the proposition that the New York Times is left-wing immediately (a) makes you an elitist, and (b) makes you a left-winger yourself. Hence, the opinion that the New York Times is left-wing is inherently immune from critique. There's some more lovely anti-elitist thought control for you. According to the same idiot, believing in the existence of propaganda is in and of itself enough to make you an elitist, because a real egalitarian would have absolute faith in the ability of the public to see through any and all lies. (I'll have to remember that one, the next time some right-winger goes after liberal propaganda. The elitist scum!)

The absolute prize, however, goes to a WSJ editorial (approvingly quoted by not-elitist-at-all Steven Bainbridge, the conservative law professor with a terribly non-elitist wine blog -- can you smell the hypocrisy?), which rhetorically asks the following: "And what does a party that is dominated by a loose coalition of the coastal intelligentsia, billionaires with too much spare time, the trial lawyers' association, the Hollywood Actors' Guild, rock stars and unionized labor have in common with what's quaintly known as Middle America?"

Yes, you read that right, labor unions are now lumped in the "cultural elite" with billionares with too much spare time and rock stars. Shit. I must've missed where those bastard liberal intellectual elitist longshoremen were condescending to me because of my failure to read Ovid in Latin. And those damn atheist bus drivers! Why can't they just let us normal Christians live in peace? And lets not forget the Auto Workers, sending their children to private school while demanding that the rest of us prop up a failing public education system.

Can we please cut the crap on liberal elitism? If for no other reason than the simple fact that the people who are levying the accusations of elitism are the ones in power. It's like the Tsar accusing pre-revolution Lenin of being an elitist because he favors the abolition of the popular church. It's absurd for the people in power, who are heaping money on their rich friends, to accuse the minority party of elitism for having the chutzpah to be the minority party!

New Years resolution for liberals: the next time some right-winger calls you a liberal elitist, just beat them down, to the ground. Get on the internet, research their background, find their stock portfolio, find their Skull and Bones membership, and expose them for the plutocrat pigs that they invariably are.


  • This a very interesting and thought provoking blog you have here. Thanks for sharing your views.


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