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In Praise of Elites

Being a lifelong elitist myself, I have long had a sneaking sympathy for a Trollope character, Sir Timothy Beeswax. In The Dune's Children (1880), Beeswax is a dignified old politician who lives not for power but, quite unashamedly, for the trappings of office. Parliament, he believed, was a club so eligible that any Englishman would want to belong to it; it was "the cream of the land." To be in the cabinet was still creamier; and as for the prime minister himself, who could create dukes and appoint bishops, he had achieved "an Elysium of creaminess not to be found in any other position on the earth's surface."

The portrait is satirical, but we all have some Beeswax in us. Everybody, or nearly everybody, wants to join an elite and enjoy the cream. Once such simple needs as food and shelter are satisfied, status is the next thing to want, and it is hard to live without wanting something. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, a friend was asked why Kennedy had wanted to be President at all, and the answer was, "He had money and women already—what else is there?" John Pierpont Morgan, when he and his friends were refused admission in the 1890's to New York clubs, raised the principle of an open elite to its ultimate and majestic conclusion by founding one for himself. If you can't join them, lick them. And so on down the scale. In the armed services men fight harder, any commander...

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