Friday, February 7, 2020

The new ruling class

(First published in The Dominion Post and on, February 6.)

Politics in the 21st century is often characterised as a contest between the elites and the populists.

The elites – often referred to as the metropolitan or inner-city elites – are Leftist idealists who prefer to describe themselves as “progressive”. Leading global figureheads include the two HCs, Hillary Clinton and Helen Clark.

You could almost call the elites the new ruling class, since they have power and influence far beyond their numbers. They predominate in the universities, the media, the arts, schools, the churches, the public service and the not-for-profit sector – that vast and perpetually busy plethora of organisations, mostly taxpayer-subsidised, that lobby for politically correct causes.

The elites also beaver away behind the scenes in local councils, where the elected representatives of the people, the councillors, often seem powerless to control them.

The elites are big on climate change, racism, women’s rights, multiculturalism, gender and sexuality issues and the rights of aggrieved minorities. These are not issues that keep ordinary people awake at night.

They are often described as liberal – a misnomer, as it implies tolerance of other opinions. There is a streak of totalitarianism in the way the elites attempt to suppress dissenting views.

Their supposed liberalism is also selective. They heartily approve of liberalised drug laws, for example, yet they have a decidedly prudish streak when it comes to alcohol and think the state should be far more active in restricting what we can eat.

There’s also a striking inconsistency in the way they champion the rights of vulnerable minorities while simultaneously insisting that women should be free to terminate the lives of the most helpless minority of all.

A central article of faith with the elites is that ordinary people can’t be trusted to make the right decisions for themselves. The path to Utopia requires a supposedly benign interventionist state which knows what’s best for us.

The influence of the elites is all-pervasive. For the past two decades they have largely controlled the public conversation. Even supposedly centre-right governments, terrified of getting offside with the elite commentariat, have fallen into line with their agenda.

The corporate sector has been captured too, with its timid capitulation to codes of corporate social responsibility created by the Left with the aim of emasculating capitalism.

But there are some things the elites can’t control. They can’t dictate what people think or how they vote.

The magic of democracy is that the vote of a shop assistant or farm labourer carries the same weight as that of a university professor or government mandarin. Hence the rise of so-called populism, which can be seen as a pushback against the ideological agenda of the elites.

It was the populist vote that got Donald Trump elected in the US in 2016 and Scott Morrison in Australia last year. Both results came as a profound shock to the elite media commentariats, isolated in their self-absorbed metropolitan bubbles and unable to see past their noses.

An even more devastating blow to the elite agenda came with Boris Johnson’s triumph in the British elections, which emphatically settled the bitter argument over membership of the European Union.

The concept of a European superstate was a project dear to the hearts of the elites, with their dogged belief in the virtues of big government. But after all the rage and agonising political paralysis, no one was left in any doubt that the majority of the British public wanted out – not because they had a racist aversion to immigration, as the elites insisted, but because they had a perfectly rational desire to govern themselves rather than submit to rule from Brussels.

The only way the elites can make sense of such outcomes is by concluding that voters have been manipulated by the dark, malevolent, nationalistic force they call populism. It confirms their suspicion that ordinary people can’t be trusted to vote sensibly.

In the glossary of the elites, the word populist has become a pejorative synonym for the far Right, which is how they classify anyone mildly right of centre. But a populist politician, by definition, is one who seeks the support of, or holds the same views as, ordinary people. Isn’t that what democracy is supposed to be about?

So what about New Zealand? We tend to think of Winston Peters as our own example of a populist politician, but the Great Tuatara won only 7 percent of the vote in the 2017 election and lost his own seat.

It follows that he doesn't represent ordinary people in the way Johnson or even Trump can claim to. He occupies a position of power only through his ability to manipulate a dodgy electoral system to his own advantage.


Odysseus said...

Thank you for a wonderful article Karl. James Bartholomew described perfectly in the Spectator in December 2017 how the the liberal elites see themselves:"They are virtuous. They know best. They are the chosen ones. They have only a token belief in democracy. They expect and intend to prevail."

Bartholomew pointed out how ordinary people rely more on what they see for themselves and experience directly in forming their understanding of the world. The liberal elites however have been educated in the "key beliefs". The seeds of the key beliefs that shape today's elites were in my view sown in the 1960s. They are the leftovers of the Marxist-inspired student movements and their faux "revolution" of 1968, as indeed are many of the academics teaching in the humanities and social "sciences".

And so it comes to pass that a twenty-something who has studied Communications at the local university believes they have a superior understanding of the world to that of a mechanic, and that their political opinions are accordingly authoritative. Go figure. Ridicule is probably the best response, at least while we still enjoy freedom of speech.

khrust said...

Good stuff Karl and also @Odysseus. One of these "progressives" actually told me face-to-face and in all seriousness that he thought democracy has had its day and is now not serving us well. I presume that means autocracy would be a better system to implement the "progress" he envisioned - without the need to bother dealing with contrary opinions of the majority. Hate-speech laws are the leading edge of such assaults on our democratic freedoms.

Mark Wahlberg said...

"The magic of democracy is that the vote of a shop assistant or farm labourer carries the same weight as that of a university professor or government mandarin. Hence the rise of so-called populism, which can be seen as a pushback against the ideological agenda of the elites."

1981 my wife and I with our young children found ourselves living in a remote area of Southern Hawkes Bay. We rented a 100 year old house as we established an alternative lifestyle to that of the close knit farming community. Though we never saw ourselves as such,locals conveniently labeled us Hippies. Because our children went to the small school 8 kilometres down the road, we took an interest in and were involved with school projects. At one community function organised by the school to discuss new initiatives, My wife and I disagreed with some minor issue which had been proposed and we wanted our objection noted. It was to be our first encounter with The Land Of Gentry. A couple of days later a senior member of the school committee approached me and offered some advice. He Said "Mark, you and your family are guests in this community and as such you should remember your place and keep your opinions to yourself." I thanked him for his advice and suggested he should run along home in case he was late for his dinner.

25 years later we were at a local district council meeting listening to councilors discuss elements of the proposed District Plan and who should be sitting behind us but this same gentleman farmer from our past. This time he was complaining about how unfair the recent local body elections had been. He said "its not fair, I farm 1500 acres and employ 3 workers. I have one vote, but collectively they have 3. Its bloody communism when a man can be outvoted by his workers."

Doesn't matter if they be Land Of Gentry, Wokes or Elites, bigotry is the same in any age.

Doug Longmire said...

Well said all of above. I recall a survey which showed that (from memory) about one in two American "millennials" would prefer to live in a communist country than a capitalistic democracy. Another 22% had a favorable view of Marx and Stalin.
Apparently those surveyed did not actually realize that under communism, there is NO private ownership of anything and the snowflakes would have to give up their cellphones to Daddy State.

Hilary Taylor said...

Some good laughs here in the comments. Lots of folk I engage with have a sense that the 'world has gone a bit mad', my words. Things we all mostly agreed on, values, common sense you might say, seem to have been turned upside down. We're walking on egg-shells now. Reasonable people shut up about stuff they might have wryly remarked on not so long ago, for fear of consequences out of all proportion. Really hoping this self-censoring tide is turning...
Best local newspaper piece recently for me was the Mark Reason piece about Margaret Court and the foolish tennis body loathe to celebrate her sporting anniversary...sporting bodies shouldn't have opinions about her views or anyone else's, they're there to govern. I blame this daft 'role model' concept that has got out of hand, overlaid onto the PC straight-jackets we're meant to wear these days. Pffft to all that.

Karl du Fresne said...

I agree with you about that Mark Reason column, Hilary. Sport has been dangerously tainted by wokeism.