For Our Future’s Sake, We Must Transform Our System of Elitism To a System of Democracy

Stan Hirtle said recently, “That sounds as much like elitism, or even dictatorship, as democracy.” His comment made me think. A system of elitism is quite opposite from a system of democracy. Elitism asserts that the wisdom of common people cannot be trusted, and that the system must be structured so that only those most deserving can have power in the system. Dictatorship, I guess, is simply an extreme expression of elitism.

Elitism has been an operational philosophy in American life since our revolution. Not allowing slaves, women or those devoid of property to vote is a manifestation of elitism. Not allowing the direct election of senators came from a philosophy of elitism.

Unfortunately the elitism of a former day — that empowered kings and princes with a “right” to rule — is still very much with us today. The presidency of George W. Bush is stunning evidence. Today’s elitism says that those with the most money have the right to have the most influence.

The whole suppression of our democracy that we suffer from today is not accidental or happenstance, but is best explained as part of a bigger movement that seeks more and more the advancement of a system of elitism. If big money and big corporations thought that the vitalization of democracy was in their interest, we can be sure that our democracy would be transformed. Our system of public education advances our system of elitism. Gerrymandering and the influence of big money advance the power of a system of elitism.

The problem is, our system of elitism does not advance the best and the wisest. History shows it again and again as a failed system. Our system of elitism does not advance our best or wisest leaders and it does not advance the best and wisest ideas. The presidency of George W. Bush should be a stunning example to anyone who doubts the truth of what I am saying. Our system of elitism does not seem much concerned about generating and promoting ideas to create more freedom and more justice within our own country.

Where is the outrage at what is happening to our country?How can we find comfort in the cherished belief that our nation acts as a democracy when, before our eyes, our government again and again acts to mock that belief? Is it through democratic action that those at the top one percent of income receive the biggest government tax reductions? Is it through democratic action that under George W., our national debt has increased by over $3 trillion? Is it through democratic action that we invaded Iraq?

The idea that is projected is that, yes, these unwise actions happened as a result of our system of democracy, because, these actions were all validated by a congress that was democratically elected. B-O-L-O-G-N-A! Remember, 90% of U.S. House districts are “safe” districts. These unwise actions happened because we have allowed a system of elitism to overwhelm what should be our system of democracy. These unwise actions happened because our system of democracy is broken.

In Our Democracy Must Be Revived — If We Hope To Achieve The Dreams of Our Wisest and Best, the article I wrote that Hirtle responded to, I quoted John Dewey as saying that our schools should provide for all students what the best and the wisest among us want for their own children. Dewey’s standard for schools is the same standard we should have for our government. If our democracy was working effectively, as it should be working, the wisest of us would have political power and the best ideas would be the basis for our government’s actions.

The fact is obvious and plain to see: our system of elitism has failed us. And, if our system of elitism is not checked, we can expect, in short order, even greater disasters to befall us.

Let’s give a system of democracy a chance. The requirement for a system of democracy to work effectively is that there be open information, open communication and that there be an active community whose members seek an understanding of the common good. Our opportunity is to develop DaytonOS into a meaningful source of information and an effective means for citizen communication. Our opportunity is to make DaytonOSan effective community that will help transform our failed system of elitism.

This entry was posted in M Bock. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to For Our Future’s Sake, We Must Transform Our System of Elitism To a System of Democracy

  1. Joe C. says:

    I fear that you are serious. Here’s T. Ruddick on charter schools:

    “Moreover, the entire concept of “school choice” is a flawed one. We cannot count on every parent to be informed or concerned enough to make an intelligent choice; those that are will have children who generally are succeeding already in the public schools, those that aren’t will choose schools for reasons other than academics.”

    My outrage at the elitist arrogance was described as “Thyestian hyperbole.”

    The whole Democratic Party and “leftism” in general is based solely on the same elitism you neurotically project; and it requires the ignorance of the governed that has been institutionalized over decades. It is the rise of conservatism that prompted a return of government to the governed. It was the leftward lurch by George “LBJ” Bush and an overthrow by Republican “moderates” (i.e. liberals) that reverted to the elitism to which you refer. This started a new citizen overthrow by conservatives in ’06.

    By a courageous act of democracy, step one was voting them out. We were secure in the knowledge that Democrats couldn’t advance any significant leftist agenda in 2 years – if for no other reason but sheer incompetence – which has proven out. Step 2 is “The Purge” of RINOs in the House and Senate by conservatives, hence the rash of Republicans “retiring.” Step 3 will occur in Nov. ’08; defeating Hillary, Obama, or Edwards is the easy part – essentially killing the baby-boom leftists – since they have no chance of winning (unless Ron Paul runs as a third-party candidate). Step 4 is regaining a “working majority” in the House and preventing a filibuster-proof Senate. Then it takes off from there. This is a 6-10 year strategy

    You are right that a return to democracy is necessary, but empowering moderates and leftists is historically a step in the wrong direction. Supporting blue-blood Republicans (i.e. “moderates”) and “conservative” Democrats (i.e. liberals) and the radical leftism of “mainstream” Democrats is paradoxical to an aversion for elitism. The antithesis of elitism is conservatism – empowering the individual.

  2. T. Ruddick says:

    Joe, it’s clear that you don’t understand what “thyestian hyperbole” means, or else you chose intentionally to smear me with it despite its clear fairness in response to the parts of your response that you did not cite here.

    Saying that people are not competent to make choices is not considered unwise when we choose to regulate medicine, law, or even automobile driving. Why, then, do you choose to call it “elitism” when it’s a simple fact? Parents, by and large, are not educators. They have no access to reliable information about their own childrens’ learning styles, about any specific school or teachers’ pedagogy, about the real successes or failures of any school.

    That’s not saying that parents are insignificant; their attitudes toward education, their ability to provide support and opportunity, is more important than anything that happens in the schools. But saying that parents may choose a school for their children based on the information they current have–hint, it’s in the form of postcards from schools that read rather like used car dealer’s ads–is an Alice in Wonderland kind of concept.

    The facts support my conclusions. As I’ve said before, there’s no reason to be angry with me just because you find the truth a trifle obnoxious. Education is too important to be left in the hands of amateurs.

  3. Mike Bock says:

    Joe C. writes, “The antithesis of elitism is conservatism – empowering the individual.” Interesting thought.

    But conservatism is about much more than empowering the individual. It is about conserving what is essential and what is important. An American conservative, it seems to me, should have a dedication to preserving what is essentially American — like the constitution, and the radical ideas it represents. Conservatives should have a huge dedication to preserving a system that advances freedom and justice for all. And if it is a system for all, then it is a system that puts limits on the individual. A system for all means it is a system that should work for the common good.

    We would not think it a good system where a Joe Stalin gains personal power to the expense of everyone else in the system. And it is not a good system when capitalism — particularly expressed in large corporations — is allowed to run amuck to the profit of a few and the ruin of many. Conservatism is not just concerned about empowering an individual, it is also concerned about empowering and giving stability to a system in which an individual can be empowered. No person stands outside of the system of which he or she is a part. Conservatives should be alarmed that our American system that should be preserving individual rights has become utterly corrupted by a system of elitism. Conservatives should be concerned the very system that should protect and advance the opportunities of the individual is working ineffectively because of the increasing dominance of a system of elitism.

    And yes, I feel that our current system of public schools contributes to the increasing dominance of our system of elitism and that, therefore, our system of public schools must be reformed.

  4. Jeffrey says:

    I’d take issue with the belief that leftist=elitism.

    In the US experience that has not been the case. This was especially so in the 19th and early 20th century, were one saw the demand for leftist things like economic regulation, government intervention in banking, and workers control of industry, surfaced from grass roots movements of poor farmers and the industrial working class. Three examples of this were the Granger movement, the Populists, and the Industrial Workers of the World.

    Here in Dayton, in the first two decades of the 20th century, the Socialists, who were true, no-kidding Marxist leftists (not Democrats who the right likes to label leftist) , came from the skilled trades, which I guess is sort of an elite among the working class. But they were not academics or middle class professionals by any means.

    I think what the conservatives see as left/liberal elitism is more a heritage of the Progressive movement. This reform movement did have a sort of patronizing, moralizing tone, and it was a movement of middle class professionals to some degree, who advocated more professionalism and expertise in government.

    One really saw this in the municiple reform movement, and later, at the Federal level, with the New Deal. Probably the worst case example of this “Expert knows best, Public get out of the way” way of thinking was Robert Moses in NYC.

    It was this excessive emphasis on professionalism and expertise, that is read as elitism nowadays.

    Or it could be the sometimes moralizing and patronizing causes that reformers adopt. Back in the Progressive era it was prohibition. In our time it is the anti-smoking movmeent.

  5. Stan Hirtle says:

    Joe C. said, “The antithesis of elitism is conservatism – empowering the individual.” I wish there was less namecalling in the post and found it somewhat hard to get through the mix of political labels, where conservatives, liberals, moderates and radicals all become interchanged, to get to his point. An angry attack style is a distracting part of the debate in our partisan times. I am guessing that he hopes for a “two steps forward one step back” movement by conservatives who share his views, purging the Republican party of “liberals” like George Bush. Did he mean HW or W? The present President’s veto of children’s health insurance expansion and today’s rejection of Ohio’s proposed expansion of Medicaid to cover more children does not seem much like LBJ.

    Is conservatism in America the antithesis of elitism, returning government to the governed and empowering the individual? Which individuals? I would say that conservatism in America is an alliance of various interest groups, with the most powerful being the wealthy business owners and managers, with the support of those who share their culture and aspire to their position, many of whom are small business owners or consultants. Mostly they want government to support them and certainly not regulate them on behalf of less powerful groups like workers or consumers. They work well with social conservatives who are primarily interested in issues of sexuality, gender roles, and religious authority. These look to or idealize the past as a way of dealing with the scary uncertainties of a fast changing present and future. Also involved is the military industrial complex, ranging from the Halliburtons to young people who enlist for patriotism or opportunity, to the Blackwater mercenaries, to our neighbors who serve at Wright Patterson, which is a huge influence on Dayton as its traditional industrial work declines. Since war is a force that gives us meaning, the military industrial complex provides intense social values to its adherents that showed themselves among the supporters of the Iraq war. Look at today’s DDN cartoon by Rodriguez to the extent that Democrats in Congress are equivalent to al Qaeda.

    There are also conservative intellectuals of various sorts, anti-tax people, libertarians, free market ideologues, legal federalists, even some isolationists. Many conservatives support or seek a vision of secure white middle class life, which sometimes gets mixed up with racist or nativist views. Immigration has thus become the values issue of the moment for those who feel the meaning of their lives is threatened. Many conservatives also seem to share an emotional bond, either perceived personal grievances against liberals, commitment to a view that the strongest prevail in a world of conflict where rules must be broken, a feeling of being under attack, sometimes in an apocalyptic setting, and perhaps a joy of attacking others typified by pundits like Limbaugh and Coulter. While conservatives can argue among themselves, they have been the most cohesive force in politics as well as the best funded. In general their interests do not conflict as much as do those of their opposition. To the extent that the interests of conservatives conflict, the business elites prevail and occasionally the social conservatives feel they are being ignored or patronized.

    So I would say that American conservatism, whatever the term means in other contexts, is not about individuals nor about preservation, but about authority and the meaning that it provides.

  6. America is a Republic not a democracy. One of the reasons that our political system has become skewed is that so much is at stake. The government has grown so big and controls so much and can confer so much wealth that it is only natural that big money, including from those on the left and right, seek to influence government.

  7. Jeffrey says:

    “America is a Republic not a democracy.”

    This is such a cliche’

  8. bmiller says:

    America isn’t a democracy. Elected officials, via electoral college and not popular vote, decide how the government is run, it is not run by “the people.” There hasn’t been a true democracy for hundreds of years, and the founding fathers didn’t want a democracy. I thought everyone knew that. They wanted very limited government, and for the people to have as much freedom as possible. Wilson damaged that idea and FDR really screwed it up.

  9. A true democracy doesn’t really work – it scales poorly (Imagine holding something on the scale of the presidential election for every single bill), and its subject to the tyrany of the majority (The majority doesn’t have the best respect for rights – for example, right now would could probably get more than half the population of some states to vote for a measure banning criticism of churches, or owning a koran).

    America works (Well enough, at least) because it solves those two problems – the former by a system of representation, and the latter by constitutionally guarenteed rights and courts required to protect them no matter what the majority or the legislature wants to do.

    I think that there are some areas where a little elitism can be a good thing… for one, I would like to see science cirriculums set by boards of people with scientific qualifications, rather than by elected officials and schoolboards who have no specialised education in the field. This would hopefully reduce the level of political manipulation that currently plagues the teaching of science.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *