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(77 Posts)
thatbags Wed 24-Sep-14 21:01:52

Is elitism always a bad thing if we accept (for the sake of argument on this thread, where argument means discussion*) that an elite is defined as "a chosen part or group, the pick or best of anything".

*the trouble with philosophy is that you have to define all your terms! wink

GrannyTwice Wed 24-Sep-14 21:08:14

I think there's a difference in meaning between the elite and elitism which is fundemental to the discussion.

grumppa Wed 24-Sep-14 21:25:13

Would you like to define the difference?

GrannyTwice Wed 24-Sep-14 21:34:40

I've been thinking about it - I think elitism has negative conatations whereas the elite is an objective description of a particular group of people.

thatbags Wed 24-Sep-14 21:39:49

I wonder why elitism has negative connotations. Could it have anything to do with the word's meaning having been abused because misunderstood? I wonder if elitism is seen as something people do or engage in, like racism or socialsim or conservatism? And yet, it needn't be because if someone is the best at something, it's usually other people who recognise this and value it, is it not?

absent Wed 24-Sep-14 21:40:38

I think you are Granny Twice. An elite is a group that is the best in some way e.g. Olympic gold medallists are an athletic elite. Elitism is either a kind of snobbery on the part of the elite or a belief that society should be run by an elite. Who decides who is a member of the elite for running any sort of society, including the country, is another matter all together. It bears a noticeable similarity to Tony Blair's hijacking of the term meritocracy - we are at the top because we deserve to be.

thatbags Wed 24-Sep-14 21:46:19

Surely countries should, ideally, be run by an elite? Elite politicians or economists or whatever "best-ats" countries need to run them.

jinglbellsfrocks Wed 24-Sep-14 21:46:26

Isn't eliteism an idea? A category people put others into? Whereas being elite is descriptive of what a person actually is.

thatbags Wed 24-Sep-14 21:48:40

And meritocracy needn't be an insult either. If people have earned merit for something, what have they to be ashamed of for doing so?

Boasting about having earned merit is just boasting.

thatbags Wed 24-Sep-14 21:49:48

I think I will go and sleep on the idea of "being elite". Fat lot of good it'll do me, I dare say. wink moon

jinglbellsfrocks Wed 24-Sep-14 21:50:01

In answer to the original question, yes, elitism is always bad.

Being elite isn't.

Lilygran Wed 24-Sep-14 22:12:55

Why do we find it easy to accept the existence of an elite group in, say, athletics or ballet or even human beauty but find it uncomfortable in some other areas of life? There is an elite in every country in terms of wealth, for example.

durhamjen Wed 24-Sep-14 22:15:02

The elite must be subjective. Who chooses?

jinglbellsfrocks Wed 24-Sep-14 22:31:12

Athletic, ballet, etc - they've shown themselves to be elite. And they've worked hard for it. The wealthy elite - depends on how they got the wealth. If it was through having a good brain and using it well, then I can accept that. Whether I respect them depends on other aspects of their character.

GrannyTwice Wed 24-Sep-14 23:05:14

Yes jings - my thoughts are going in that direction. I think there's a difference between elite athletes etc where there can be an objective measure of success such as winning a race or running a particular distance in a certain time and the elite who have power and influence in the country and therefore affect our lives. And many of them have gained power and influence not because they are the best but because of unfair advantages they have been born with or married into or whatever. They then become the elite and become elitist. If I really thought that those wth power and influence were the best, I could accept it and maybe respect them but how many of them are really the best?

jinglbellsfrocks Wed 24-Sep-14 23:14:54

"many of them have gained power and influence not because they are the best but because of unfair advantages they have been born with or married into or whatever"

Are you sure? In this day and age of working class kids making good? And ok, Cameron was Eton educated, but intelligence and aptitude has to come into it too. And Maggie T was grammar school.

jinglbellsfrocks Wed 24-Sep-14 23:15:32


Night night.

GrannyTwice Wed 24-Sep-14 23:26:27

Oh jings- come back - this was getting good. There's a huge difference between being the best and doing the job. I'm sure we don't have the best running the country - just those who are running the country iyswim

grumppa Thu 25-Sep-14 00:36:10

I agree that "the best" aren't running the country, but would they, whoever they are, run it any better than those who actually do? Running a country well is a very difficult job, perhaps one of quiet desperation as one constantly tries to balance competing forces in delivering promises made while remaining true to a consistent political philosophy.

Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, Hollande, Obama, Merkel: they're all doing their best, however depressing that may seem.

Eloethan Thu 25-Sep-14 00:58:40

jingle Recent research has shown that working class kids are increasingly less likely to "make good" as the odds are stacked against them. Elitism - in the sense of certain occupations and positions being largely reserved for an "elite" selection of the population - is a growing trend in the UK and there are fewer opportunities for those who don't have the "right" connections.

absent Thu 25-Sep-14 03:37:19

The problem with the idea of the best people running the country is the definition of best. Most altruistic, most highly educated, most intelligent, most politically astute, most successful, most industrious, most willing...?

absent Thu 25-Sep-14 03:46:14

thatbags When Michael Young coined "meritocracy" in the 1950s, he was referring to a self-selected elite who considered that they deserved power because of their intellectual and educational attainment. Quite apart from the likelihood that these qualities are not necessarily the best or only ones for running the country, the other side of the coin is that those who don't have power deserve to be powerless. Tony Blair, as he so often did, hijacked the word and, like Humpty Dumpty, made it mean whatever he wanted it to mean. Certainly Michael Young didn't view meritocracy as a good thing.

thatbags Thu 25-Sep-14 06:59:34

"the definition of best" — yes. This is why democracy is the imperfect but as yet best way to fair government. The people to be governed have some choice about what is defined as best. Doesn't always feel very effective but it's better than all the alternatives.

thatbags Thu 25-Sep-14 07:06:21

I like jing's take on the subject too. But I'm wondering if we actually need to use the word elite with an athlete or a ballet dancer (ballet is athletic too). Doesn't "athlete" imply better at athletics than most people?

baubles Thu 25-Sep-14 07:25:56

Isn't 'athlete' just the word for anyone who takes part in athletics on a professional basis?