A Farce or a Tragedy

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This is a follow-up to my last post, about selective schools and the need for an elite trained for leadership. I just read an article on populism by Yascha Mounk (Harvard lecturer on government) in the Guardian Weekly, and my attention was seized by the following passage:

What, George Washington asked in his Eighth Annual Address, could be more important than to pass civic values down to “the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

“A people who mean to be their own Governors,” James Madison echoed a few years later, “must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives.” His fears about what would happen to America if it neglected this crucial task sound oddly apposite today: “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both.”

Of course, it would be ideal to have the entire population ‘armed with the power that knowledge gives,’ not just a meritocratic class That lofty goal has eluded us so far, in America and elsewhere.

Yascha Mounk

George Washington

James Madison

 

Selective Schools

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This is a very short post. I just want to give you a link to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. The author is Yan Zhai, a Year 12 student, pictured alongside. She writes with elegance and clarity, and persuasively I think.

I confess to being a fan of selective education. Comprehensive schools are wonderful and egalitarian, and I know that Finland has them and always tops the rankings in educational achievement. But we need an elite trained for leadership. That requires a superior moral as well as technical education.

Anyone disagree . . . ?

 

 

Elitism

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We used to own a Mitsubishi Magna Elite. It was a very comfortable car, but from the day we bought it (second-hand) it gave us trouble: too many bells and whistles that could go wrong. But who would label a car ‘Elite’ now? Elite, with or without an acute accent, is a dirty word. Elitism is even worse.

Tory Shepherd, one of my favourite News Corp journalists (pictures below), condemned the condemnation of the elite in a well-written article today. Here’s a brief quote from it:

“… the meaning of “elite” has been expanded by angry populists. It is being commonly used to describe (derogatorily) anyone with any power or influence. Or education, or knowledge, or expertise. Elite is all bad, and the Common People are the new superior beings in this new world.”

toryshepherd nshute

You may wonder why Nevil Shute’s picture is alongside Tory’s. He wrote a book in 1953 – coronation year – called ‘In the Wet’, which was largely a diatribe against socialism. Most of the story was set in a future where Australia would have an electoral system in which the better educated and higher achievers had multiple votes. The maximum number of votes was seven, and the seventh vote could be awarded only by the sovereign. The ultimate formalisation of elitism. Perhaps no more then a recognition that people who are smart and successful always have more influence over decision-making than thick losers.

Or do they?

I look back on my own upbringing and education, which was undeniably elitist. I went to the best public school on Merseyside and then to Cambridge University where I joined the Officers’ Training Corps. And at every step I was made aware that I was privileged, and that with privilege came responsibility. I was being trained to serve society, and to see leadership as a form of service.

My original idea of being Prime Minister didn’t come to much, but I think I can claim to have tried to be of service to mankind, or at least to feel guilty about not trying hard enough.

Anyway, I am now firmly of the view that every society needs an elite, which should be selected early enough to be imbued with the ideal of service. This is exactly what happens to every member of the Royal Family of course. (And don’t say, “Which royal family?”!) I refer you to Plato’s Republic, if you haven’t already read it.