People have begun to bat the words “egalitarian” and “elite” as if they were conversational shuttlecocks. At some time, perhaps during the 1960s, the emotional meanings of these words overshadowed their earliest meanings.
“The elite” originally referred to the most carefully selected members of a group, and egalitarian doctrines maintained that all humans are equal in fundamental worth and social status. Egalitarianism then began to touch every aspect of society-expanding to include political platforms, philosophy, theology, economics, education-and most regrettably, business.
Since nature does not endow all people equally with beauty, intelligence, talent, or drive, egalitarians eventually tried to abolish the “unfairness” of nature–to establish universal equality in defiance of facts. Since personal attributes or virtues cannot be “redistributed,” egalitarians seek to deprive people of consequences-the rewards, benefits, and achievements created by personal attributes and virtues.
In the late 1960s author and philosopher, Ann Rand, attempted to explain the pernicious nature of this approach: “To understand the meaning and motives of egalitarianism, project it into the field of medicine. Suppose a doctor is called to help a man with a broken leg and, instead of setting it, proceeds to break the legs of ten other men, explaining that this would make the patient feel better; when all these men become crippled for life, the doctor advocates the passage of a law compelling everyone to walk on crutches–in order to make the cripples feel better and equalize the “unfairness” of nature.”
If this is unspeakable, how does it acquire an aura of morality-or even the benefit of a moral doubt–when practiced in regard to man’s mind?
When something other than learning, talent, and achievement serves as a basis for favoritism, the outcome is morally repellent. The elitism I defend does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, gender, wealth, or sexual orientation. Rather, the only differentiators are excellence and superior performance. The kind of elitists I admire and champion seek out and encourage excellence. They don’t grade on the curve, hire the underdeveloped, ensure life-long employment, or suffer fools.
This sort of elitism does not promote envy or enlarge the number of society’s losers. Rather, it provides support for ideas that have shaped past progress and that will aid future advancement so that society as a whole wins–that is, it gets richer, better educated, more productive, and healthier.
Americans have stubbornly clung to the myth of egalitarianism-supremacy of the individual average person. We created an everyone-gets-a-trophy culture among our young that morphed into Cuckoolond, a place where losers who lose on the basis of consequences should be shielded from thinking that their losing is deserved, and winners who win fairly should be barred from feeling comfort and pride.
Our economic recovery, and indeed global resurgence, depend on something better–better, not just different. They depend on a shift back to the notion that self-fulfillment–seductive though it may appear-must march in lockstep with a commitment to achievement.
We need to rediscover the intellectual confidence to sort out and rank competing values. Fairness is not the same as equality, and equal opportunity at the starting gun does not and should not guarantee equality at the finish line. Those who run through the tape at the finish line offer our greatest hope for thriving in the new economy. The battle between egalitarianism and elitism rages on, but now is the time to tip the scales in favor of the latter.
For more information, see “The Age of Envy,” in Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, by Ann Rand and In Defense of Elitism by William Henry.