Justifying Elitism: An Argument Against Hyper-Inclusive Democracy
Human nature is inherently destructive. While many understandably have the optimistic view that our natural and well-intentioned proclivities are the answer to the human struggle, is it those inclinations that lead us to make myopic decisions. People consist of a variety of amoral qualities that surface to the forefront of all moral dichotomies. We experience empathy, aggression, tribalism, altruism, and a multitude of other emotive responses to moral crises that hold the future of civilization hostage. We also happen to experience these moral impulses in localized situations that affect us personally. Humanity, unfortunately, confuses the moral imperatives of situational morality with the macro morality that affects public policy. For instance, the moral inspiration to give a few dollars to a homeless man is orders of magnitude different from voting for a welfare state to replace the need for charity. Yet the moral impulse that inspires both actions is the same. The tragedy of Western Civilization is that it has removed God from the moral structure, and thus, threatened objective standards. We now have confused that which is moral, with that which satisfies our self-affirmative need to feel moral. This transition is literally ripping apart Western values, deteriorating the good family structure, correcting natural inequality with the use of force, cultivating feminism, justifying endless third-world migration, and promoting democracy. From an evolutionary perspective, it is easy to understand our natural sympathy toward populist ideas like economic equality and democracy. And by the same token, it is also easy to understand our contempt for the so-called “elites”. The idea of an obscenely wealthy class of individuals who fraternize with each other and display no concern for the common man is repulsive to most people. Social and anthropological studies confirm what we already know by wisdom: Those who preside over society while enjoying disproportionate access to resources and public influence must have legitimacy in the eyes of the masses. Provided that the people’s negative liberty is institutionally respected, I will attempt to explain why elites are legitimate, necessary, productive, and why they ought to be held to a higher moral standard.
Admittedly, this idea is not new. This political philosophy began as a reaction to the destructive byproducts of democratic liberalism as exemplified by the bloody French Revolution. France’s descent into chaos inspired the forebear of classical conservatism, Edmund Burke, to criticize democracy and radical change. Burke argued that if paradigm-shifting political movements would inevitably happen, they should be guided by a class of people with qualities that were naturally suited to enable careful change. To better understand the foundation of conservative Elitism, I will share the very words of Edmund Burke himself, who coined the phrase “natural aristocracy”. Simply, it’s a realization that people exist in varieties. People are born with various gifts, defects, talents, and flaws; all of which contribute to the incredible disparities we see in nature. From any society, there will emanate a class of individuals who will be burdened with the responsibility of utilizing their societal influence to guide their society toward goodness and excellence. About these individuals, Burke wrote:
“It is formed out of a class of legitimate presumptions, which taken as generalities, must be admitted for actual truths. To be bred in a place of estimation; to see nothing low and sordid from one’s infancy; to be taught to respect one’s self; to be habituated to the censorial inspection of the public eye; to look early to public opinion; to stand upon such elevated ground as to be enabled to take a large view of the widespread and infinitely diversified combinations of men and affairs in a large society; to have leisure to read, to reflect, to converse; to be enabled to draw the court and attention of the wise and learned wherever they are to be found;—to be habituated in armies to command and to obey; to be taught to despise danger in the pursuit of honor and duty; to be formed to the greatest degree of vigilance, foresight and circumspection, in a state of things in which no fault is committed with impunity, and the slightest mistakes draw on the most ruinous consequence—to be led to a guarded and regulated conduct, from a sense that you are considered as an instructor of your fellow-citizens in their highest concerns, and that you act as a reconciler between God and man—to be employed as an administrator of law and justice, and to be thereby amongst the first benefactors to mankind—to be a professor of high science, or of liberal and ingenuous art—to be amongst rich traders, who from their success are presumed to have sharp and vigorous understandings, and to possess the virtues of diligence, order, constancy, and regularity, and to have cultivated an habitual regard to commutative justice—these are the circumstances of men, that form what I should call a natural aristocracy, without which there is no nation.”
During the enlightenment, the authority of the aristocracy was challenged by liberalism, and certainly by the French Revolution. If “aristocracy” was a taboo word in Burke’s time, “elitist” is today’s trigger word. In order to convince people of the necessary structures civilizations must have to prosper, I hope to help normalize elitism, so that our urge to fight disparity is not as overwhelming. Burke was pretty blunt about his pessimistic view of human nature and the need for a corrective natural structure to adjust the misguided passions of the masses. These are two views with which I vehemently agree. I will now happily dispense with the abstractions, apply Burke’s criticism to our modern problems, and attempt to empirically justify Elitism.
There is no better example of this general principle in action than its manifestation in capitalism. Capitalism has recently been dismissed as an inherently cruel system for its apparent exploitation, and its generation of inequality. Inequality is just as much a byproduct of capitalism as kidney disease is a byproduct of asthma. The two are associated, but not necessary for the other. While it is certainly true that the top economic margins grow exponentially more quickly than the lower margins, Capitalism is the only known economic paradigm by which wealth can accumulate toward the poor in the form of higher wages and an outstandingly higher quality of life.
Inequality existed long before capitalism and was qualitatively worse before global markets brought hundreds of millions out of abject poverty. But how can I say that inequality is natural? Simply, by acknowledging the Pareto distribution; a mathematical expression of the disparity in human success. In popular nomenclature, the Pareto distribution is also referred to as the 80/20 rule. According to Pareto, the square root of a given sample will produce half of the value. So out of one-hundred television shows, ten shows will capture half of all the views. Most TV shows will fail to capture any attention whatsoever. This rule applies to every single arena of creative life, including economic income, value produced, and industrial success. Capitalism is doomed to produce an oligopoly of successful businesses, by virtue of allowing the people to compete freely. While this sounds unappealing, the alternative is far worse. Coercive restrictions, regulations that drown out small-business competition, and private property objections, have all served as impediments to capitalism. But those few capitalist elites were successful enough to completely transform the economy for everyone in a drastic way. The capitalist phenomenon itself is absolutely an elitist accomplishment. Who else but Andrew Carnegie would have transformed the steel industry? Who else but Henry Ford would have mass-produced quality automobiles? Even if someone else would have done both of those eventually, it takes nothing away from the miracle of these top producers. Necessity is the mother of innovation, and the elite entrepreneurs of the day responded with obligatory determination to the necessity of a burgeoning and developing population.
What is the byproduct of a massively successful wealthy class of entrepreneurs? An incalculable increase in GDP per capita, improved technology, and a better quality of life. As an example of economic transformation, jobs in agriculture have been declining, and agricultural output is at an all-time high. According to England and Wales Census Records, agriculture employment was 6.6% of the workforce of England and Wales in 1871, compared with 0.2% in 2011. It was the elites in the innovative class that made the technology to improve work conditions. Unions may have given us the lunch break, but Capitalists gave us the lawn mower. Automation has done more to preserve the dignity of labor in the long-run than any union negotiation. England and Wales Census Records also show that “caring” jobs in 1871 were held by 1.1% of people, while 12.2% held “muscle” jobs. In 2011, 23.7% held “caring” jobs, compared to 8.3% of people holding “muscle” jobs. The top economic beneficiaries of the Pareto distribution have radically improved the quality of our work, and the quality of our lives. Commodities like food have been mass-produced into oblivion. According to the Journal of Urban Health in 2012, 32 percent of homeless people were obese compared to 34 percent of the general population. Amazingly, homeless women were actually notably more likely to be obese than women in the general public (46% to 35% respectively). Obese poor people are a capitalist invention. Even if they are malnourished, at least they are not going through the horror of starving to death. And what about the obsolescence of all labor as a result of automation? A Deloitte study of Automation
in the U.K. found that 800,000 low-skilled jobs were eliminated as the result of artificial intelligence and other like technologies. However, this accompanied the creation of 3.5 million new jobs, paying on average nearly $13,000 more per year than the ones that were lost. Although odes to Capitalism have been tired and cliche, our material wealth still ought to serve as a constant reminder of the innovation that few can produce, and that all can enjoy. Even Karl Marx admitted that communism can only really stand on the shoulders of wealth created by capitalism. And even Marx believed that a vanguard of elites needed to exist to lead the proletariat to the promised land. Elitism will always exist. Removing impediments to best allow for top tier innovators to respond to necessity is the best solution to this inevitability.
The argument in favor of elitism through capitalism is self-evident by means of empiricism and human propensity towards efficiency. And although corporate hierarchies are a violation of our collectivist nature, they do not violate our genuinely inescapable collectivist urges. As another product of the French revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that democracies were inevitable, and that they would become increasingly egalitarian over time. This is because egalitarianism is always synonymous with moral progress in a political system wherein increasing numbers of people are given voting privileges. Our political structures are ideally supposed to strive towards “democracy”, and the common discourse conventionally assumes the wisdom and knowledge of the voter. When social democrats or other leftists make an argument in favor of a policy, they will invariably find themselves appealing to the popular consensus. These notions, although founded in the normative belief that political self-determination is a human right, are not founded in evidence and universal truth. Most people do not possess the talent or the time to learn the intricacies of political developments.
A poll released in 2014 by Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that only an abysmal 36% of Americans could name all branches of government, while 35% of respondents being unable to name any of them. Furthermore, over 70% of Americans didn’t know that a two-thirds vote of both legislative bodies is required to override a presidential veto, and 21% of people think a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for a final judicial decision. Even in the unlikely case that these knowledge surveys were practiced misleadingly, basic questions like these should be known by an overwhelming majority of people. One could speculate that this is a purely American phenomenon. These findings concord with reports that the vast majority of American citizens are not interested in politics, along with further data that show the US as a country with a comparatively low voter turnout during elections. But voter turnout is actually not a universal indicator of national political knowledge, since voting is often incentivized or even compulsory in European and Latin American Nations. It actually turns out that while some other countries might understand American politics better than our own citizens, they have no idea what the states of their respective unions are at any given time.
Ipsos MORI’s new global survey of worldwide political knowledge surveyed 14 countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Great Britain and the United States of America. The survey found these staggering misperceptions of society in worldwide democracies.
Teenage birth rates: on average, people across the 14 countries think that 15% of teenagers aged 15-19 give birth each year. This is 12 times higher than the average official estimate of 1.2% across these countries. People in the US guess at a particularly high rate of teenage births, estimating it at 24% of all girls aged 15-19 when it’s actually 3%. But other countries with very low rates of teenage births are further out proportionally: for example, Germans think that 14% of teenage girls give birth each year when it’s actually only 0.4% (35 times the actual figure).
Muslims: people across just about all countries hugely overestimate the proportion of their population that is Muslim: the average guess across the countries is 16% when the actual proportion is 3%. For example, on average people in France think 31% of the population is Muslim when the actual figure is only 8%. In Australia, the average guess is nine times the actual proportion: people estimate it at 18%, when the actual proportion is only 2%. The British think one in five British people are Muslims (21%) when the actual figure is 5% (one in twenty).
Christians: in contrast, majority-Christian countries tend to underestimate how many people count themselves as Christian. In the 12 majority-Christian countries in the survey, the average guess is 51%, when the actual proportion counting themselves as Christians is 61%. This includes countries like the US where people think 56% are Christian when official data shows it is 78%.
Immigration: across the 14 countries, the public think immigration is over twice the actual level – the average guess is that 24% of the population was born abroad when the actual figure is 11%. This includes some massive overestimates: the US public think 32% of the population are immigrants when the actual is 13%; in Italy, the public think 30% are immigrants when it’s actually 7%, and in Belgium, the public think it’s 29% when it’s actually 10%.
Aging population: we think the population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is that 39% of the population are 65+, when only 18% are. Italians are particularly wrong on this – on average, they think nearly half the population (48%) are 65+, when it is actually 21%.
Voting: every country in the study underestimates the proportion of the electorate who voted in their last major election. The average guess is that 58% voted, when in fact 72% did. The French, in particular, are too pessimistic about the extent of democratic engagement: estimating that only 57% of the electorate voted in the Presidential election, when in fact 80% did.
Unemployment:people tend to greatly overestimate the extent of unemployment in their countries. The average guess is 30%, when the actual figure is 9%. This includes some huge overestimates, for example in Italy, where the average guess is that 49% are unemployed, compared with an actual rate of 12%.
Life expectancy:this is one area where on average we have a much better grasp of reality. Across the 14 countries, the average life expectancy for a child born this year is estimated to be 80 years, when across these countries as a whole it’s actually 81 years. However, there is still a wide range between countries: people in South Korea are too optimistic, expecting the average life expectancy to be 89 years, compared with an actual of 80 years; but Hungarians are too pessimistic, only expecting 68 years when the average is predicted to be 75 years.
Murder rates: 49% of people across the countries think that the murder rate is rising and only 27% think it is falling - when in fact in all countries in the study, the murder rate is actually falling. The British are the most likely to have an accurate view of murder rate trends: 49% think it’s falling and only 25% think it’s rising.
Here is a graph from Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter by Ilya Somin:
This is problematic for one simple reason: we need to know empirical realities before coming up with conclusions about the public policies we enact. Can you imagine incentivizing highly ignorant people to vote on issues over which they know very little, or for which they will vote on vague principles that have nothing to do with reality? It is not over contempt that I discuss the political shortcomings of the average voter, but out of genuine concern and skepticism of their ability to help promulgate universally beneficial public policy. Deferral of gratification, fiscal responsibility, and prudent economic plans are highly unpopular in politics for a reason. The vast majority of voters are myopia-afflicted single-issue voters who vote not in the interests of the development of the economy, but rather they vote in the interests of an immediate affair that usually involves coercion. Incidentally, this is why socialized medicine polls extraordinarily high (70 percent approval).
Politicians recognize that they can easily capitalize on the ignorance of voters, and emotionally manipulate them into supporting policies that are ultimately not good for society. While the left continues to stretch the Overton window in Washington, people are starting to give credence to programs like Medicare for all, free college, free housing, a job guarantee, universal basic income, and paid vacation time off. As animals who will stop at nothing to maximize opportunity cost, humans react totally irrationally to the word “free”. Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely has conducted multiple studies on people’s reactions to “free stuff” relative to better bargains that will maximize their opportunity cost, but at the expense of a transaction. He has concluded that even when faced with multiple options of varying value, we overwhelmingly gravitate toward “free stuff” regardless of its economic value.
One survey out of an extensive archive of evidence that proves this point is a recent assessment of consumer preferences regarding Amazon Gift Cards. As seen on the graphic, the respondents were asked if they would rather buy a $10 Gift Card, or a $20 Gift Card based on a restrictive variable cost for each of them. Most people were reasonable in making the necessary arithmetic calculations to arrive to their conclusion. For example, people chose the $20 Gift Card for $12 instead of the $10 Gift Card for $5, because the $20 Gift card provides the most value. But when asked to choose between a $20 Gift Card for $7 and a $10 Gift Card for free, they chose the free card; even if they would have ultimately lost $3 relative to the alternative choice. Another study by Ariely reported similar findings using two different chocolate brands. As CityLab explains: “The study of 398 MIT students measured people’s reaction (and overreaction) to two different products: Hershey’s candies and Lindt truffles. Under normal circumstances, the Hershey’s products are already significantly cheaper than Lindt products—and the latter also have an air of exclusivity or cachet, too. By all measures, the Lindt item has a higher value. Yet, when asked to choose between a free Hershey’s product or a dramatically discounted Lindt candy, the vast majority of students opted for the item that was free, even if it wasn’t objectively the best deal.”
To continue with this example of the political economy, Bryan Caplan used the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy to show that economists and ordinary people disagree heavily on basic economic circumstances concurrent to their time. Experts have been wrong before, but the process by which most people make decisions is severely compromised with their lack of nuance and general knowledge. It turns out that most professions disagree with the public about the real state of their corresponding subfield. This severe decision-making impairment in our lack of knowledge and reasoning should not be entertaining or interesting, but outright disturbing. Why should masses of people in low-status socioeconomic classes have any meaningful say in the economy? If we assume that the economy should be functional, productive, and beneficial in the long run, and if we assume that free-market (elite-guided) capitalism is the best empirical match to the aforementioned description, then we should not accept the premise that more democratic participation will lead to thoughtful and necessarily helpful policy. Moreover, if we assume that political and economic decisions will inherently be geared toward public policy, and that generally righteous and moral policy is that which ultimately provides the most value, then we should accept the conclusion that elites have a morally mandated right to disproportionately influence of political and economic decisions.
It makes no normative sense to expand democracy, or to incentivize the most irrational and ill-informed potential voters to vote. When I voted in the 2018 midterms, the woman who was voting in the booth adjacent to me called the poll workers for help. She could not figure out how to work the ballot, and had no idea what any of the elected offices were. She requested that the poll workers vote in her stead. “Democrat”, she said intently as the worker asked for her gubernatorial choice. As the assistant worker continued to ask her what her choice was for varying political and nonpolitical offices, the woman continued “Democrat, Democrat, put Democrat”. She was a broken record, and openly admitted to not knowing what the House of Representatives was. To my shock, the poll worker took the woman’s ballot, and voted for her. When this excruciating experience was finally over, I almost expected to see remorse and embarrassment on the faces of all who participated in this tragic voting session. My suspicion is that this woman is not the only one of her kind. She should not have voted, and politicians should stop encouraging people like her from ever entering a polling place. I acknowledge the deep problem with asking people to surrender their electoral power, which is why we must radically change the voting structure to allow for fewer voting opportunities, require basic political knowledge tests, and mitigate the effects of irrational impulses by requiring all voters to be net taxpayers. The voting elites in my ideal society who drive our Republic will have been chosen through a selection process that responsibly demonstrates the qualities and standards people ought to have to be agents of political change. I could continue with examples of human stupidity, but I think it’s quite clear where our intuitions and impulses lie, and why they pose a threat to a good and prosperous society if left unchecked.
Without economic elites, we would not have anything resembling our thriving global economy. Without political elites, we would have to rely on swaths of uninformed, irrational, and nearsighted masses of people for political guidance. But the only way for this system to be justified as a means to make good out of our self-destructive nature is by imposing an obligation on elites that is proportional to their access to economic and political control they are granted. Capitalist innovators have an obligation to use their gifts to increase the quality of life for as many possible, while political elites ought to take political initiative to promulgate moral and utilitarian law. The most important step in realizing the necessity of elitism is understanding that the dissolution of natural hierarchy, will necessarily entail the destruction of a good and prosperous civilization.
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