“Elite” is a French word which stands for “the clever ones.” It stands as a reminder that there is always a teacher and a learner, a leader and a subject. But this term doesn’t say how it all happens. In fact to exercise authority and to reward merit are delicate tasks. Without bright individuals there would be no new ideas, nor sound forms of competition. Without the large network of the elite groups our society would plunge into endless mediocrity.
The idea of haughty elites living inside a castle is a silly caricature caused by social envy or bad faith. Social injustice – which remains a huge problem – cannot be mistaken for the elite issue. It would be like saying that killing our teachers would make everyone rich or that you have to kill your father if you want to become an adult. It’s a temptation of which we find horrible examples in the worst totalitarian revolutions. Elites are not counter to the masses. They form part of the masses like yeast, like an enzyme. Society can be compared to an ever-boiling liquid, and the more technological it becomes the more it needs elites capable of identifying what is really important and real. There is need for different skills, especially immaterial and spiritual ones. The expansion of invention should correspond to the invention of increasingly widespread elites.
No great modern nation could have emerged without the commitment and the deliberate sacrifice of large-scale elites, without a bourgeoisie of the people.No culture could ever develop without thousands of people taking on the responsibility of selecting the best ideas. Even inside the Church – where everyone is brother and sister in Christ – there is need for pastors that are not at the helm but among and with the people, and, if necessary, also in the back end, to defend them from the wolves. Since nations, cultures, Churches, are not trivialities, it is clear that the elites that made them great were substantial ones, veritable “mass-elites”, a large middle class that expanded by fighting for individual rights, access to education, competitive exams, public roles, corporate and political positions of responsibility. In our society we all have the potential to be part of an elite group, for the mere fact of having an education, enjoying facilitations, knowing many people and being able to travel. Not everyone has the same opportunities, but this path is nor barred and it must be kept clear from artfully placed obstacles.
The problem of the crisis of the elites thus involves a middle class paralysed by its own delusions. We witnessed the emergence of a spirit of theft that transformed merit into a “meritocratic demand” that drives everyone to leapfrog stages, to seek shortcuts, to demand immediate honour, success and wealth for the mere of fact of having the nerve or being à la mode. But as we know that’s not how things stand. We know that real life is something else. Even though luck plays a big role, nobody will ever mistake a superb job for a sloppy one.
Public opinion is talked into believing that elites are all corrupt and that now it’s the time of the populace. But that populace does not exist, it’s only the shadow of what it once was. Its shadow serves to bring unprepared men and women to take the helm of Countries that suffered the greatest political party crises. The complexity of economic and technological processes has divided society into “individual realms” that wipe out all communal sentiments, every “esprit de corps”, every righteous analysis. As a result, communication is sometimes used to fabricate false social bodies and participation showcases. We are the victims of incessant crusades against whatever carries deep value but has no price: education, the meticulous analysis of the facts, caring for objects and for people. This individualistic fragmentation process involves not only affluent people living off the fat of the land. It also involves the poor who take as an example an apathetic upper class determined to stand aloof.
Contempt for someone else’s material poverty is a horrible feeling of contempt for personal moral misery.
Thus individual unhappiness becomes a deadly weapon to revolt against those who are worse off. How can the false notion of a clash between the elites and the masses be disproved? First of all by showing that many of us already form part of an elite and we cannot pretend that it’s not true. It is also important to intensify direct involvement by creating new tools enabling participation in decision-making processes. Finally, by extending citizenship to those left without it– albeit in an orderly, methodical manner. It’s necessary to expect more from one another in order to revive the engine of an elite of the masses. Only then could the present political crisis usher in the reawakening of civic consciousness of that odd “mass-elite” we belong to, for the recovery of a new European middle class.