The Sunday Telegraph

Worms be­gin to turn on an ar­ro­gant elite caste that ab­hors their ex­is­tence

For­get kind­ness and un­der­stand­ing, to­day’s rul­ing class be­lieves it­self un­ques­tion­ably right­eous


You can scarcely have missed the out­cry over the pow­er­ful me­dia elite. Don­ald Trump, in his Goebbels-like rants against the press, con­demns it for ly­ing about him. In Bri­tain, tele­vi­sion news pre­sen­ters ad­mit that their mem­ber­ship of an en­closed metropoli­tan cir­cle puts them out of touch with the wider pop­u­la­tion. You might think that this phe­nom­e­non – a priv­i­leged so­cial caste which dominates es­tab­lished opin­ion and has lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of how most peo­ple live – was new and his­tor­i­cally un­prece­dented. It is thought to be the com­mon fac­tor in the var­i­ous electoral sur­prises that the pop­u­la­tions of the West have sprung on their gov­ern­ments over the past year. But of course, it isn’t new at all. It has been pretty much the ac­cepted or­der since time be­gan.

The ques­tion is not: how has this great rift come about? It is more: why has it sud­denly be­come such an ur­gent and po­lit­i­cally in­cen­di­ary is­sue? The an­swer, I think, is that what is hap­pen­ing now is gen­uinely dif­fer­ent and far more dis­turb­ing than the old-fashioned snob­bery and con­de­scen­sion in which previous elites en­gaged with­out qualms. The at­ti­tude of the priv­i­leged ed­u­cated classes, who have al­ways dom­i­nated the mass me­dia, was once a kind of be­nign ar­ro­gance which may have been pro­foundly ig­no­rant about the con­di­tions and con­cerns of most or­di­nary peo­ple, but was aware (at least of­fi­cially) of its duty to show con­sid­er­a­tion for those they saw as be­ing be­low them in so­cial pres­tige.

In Bri­tain, par­tic­u­larly, this took the form of an al­most feu­dal pa­ter­nal­ism that de­manded courtesy and re­spect: one did not mock or tra­duce the dis­ad­van­taged. Those whose up­bring­ing and ed­u­ca­tion had not pro­vided the so­phis­ti­cated tastes or the higher lit­er­acy into which you had been ini­ti­ated were not to be ridiculed and de­spised: your good for­tune came with an au­to­matic obli­ga­tion to show kind­ness and un­der­stand­ing to those who had been born into less en­light­ened cir­cum­stances.

Well, that’s all over. For­get kind­ness and any at­tempt at be­nign un­der­stand­ing. What is be­ing blared out shame­lessly from a good many me­dia out­lets now is be­yond ar­ro­gant dis­dain: it is full-on loathing. I have never known a time when pub­lic in­tel­lec­tu­als – com­men­ta­tors and aca­demics – have stated, with­out equiv­o­ca­tion, that they were wait­ing ea­gerly for those swathes of the pop­u­la­tion that hold un­ac­cept­able views (on Brexit, say, or im­mi­gra­tion) to go away and die. One speaker at a re­cent con­fer­ence stated that pro­gres­sive ideas would have to be in­stalled in so­ci­ety “one fu­neral at a time”. This is not ar­gu­ment. It does not at­tempt to con­vert or per­suade or to en­lighten the sup­pos­edly be­nighted. It is a ven­detta: a bald, un­am­bigu­ous as­ser­tion that peo­ple with whom you dis­agree barely have a right to live, let alone to be heard.

On the re­ceiv­ing end of this pal­pa­ble dis­gust are peo­ple who still dis­con­cert­ingly have a voice and a vote – both of which they are us­ing in what should have been seen as pre­dictably de­fi­ant ways. They may have grown used to be­ing ig­nored but they were not ac­cus­tomed to be­ing de­lib­er­ately in­sulted. What made it more pro­vok­ing was that they were under at­tack for what they con­sider to be virtues: pa­tri­o­tism, com­mu­nity loy­alty and lo­cal tra­di­tion. In a US news­pa­per ar­ti­cle last week, an apol­o­gist for the new metropoli­tan con­sen­sus de­scribed the ac­cept­able world view as “in­ter­na­tion­al­ist, sec­u­lar, cos­mopoli­tan, mul­ti­cul­tural lib­er­al­ism”. This seems to make it ex­plic­itly op­posed to na­tional pride, re­li­gious faith, cul­tural iden­tity, com­mu­nal co­he­sion and any form of so­cial con­ser­vatism.

And that pre­sum­ably means that it ex­cludes much of the world – espe­cially those “un­spoilt” bits that metropoli­tan elit­ists love to visit: the pro­vin­cial back­wa­ters of Europe where the same fam­i­lies have lived for gen­er­a­tions and the cui­sine is na­tive to the re­gion. Yes in­deed, what a de­light it is to see a lo­cal cul­ture with its own in­tegrity and in­her­ited rit­u­als in­tact.

In truth, ag­gres­sive cos­mopoli­tans would not be able to en­dure (or even sur­vive) a world which con­sisted en­tirely of peo­ple like them­selves. Their free­wheel­ing, globe-trot­ting life­style is par­a­sit­i­cal on the sta­ble in­fra­struc­ture pro­vided by all those stolid, cir­cum­scribed com­mu­ni­ties that they de­ride.

So how have we got here? There is one el­e­ment to this ugly im­passe

at tele­ opin­ion which leaps out: to­day’s priv­i­leged elite clearly be­lieves it­self and its core be­liefs to be un­ques­tion­ably morally right­eous. (This is a di­rect con­se­quence of its be­ing ex­plic­itly Left-wing.) Un­like previous es­tab­lish­ments, most of the ex­po­nents of the Metropoli­tan Ethic see them­selves as in­de­pen­dent thinkers who have reached their own con­clu­sions, even if their views are re­mark­ably con­form­ist. They are not op­er­at­ing on in­her­ited as­sump­tions of class su­pe­ri­or­ity but on per­sonal con­science. By def­i­ni­tion, then, these are moral pre­cepts which any­one – from any back­ground – could freely adopt. Metropoli­tan lib­er­al­ism is a kind of moral mer­i­toc­racy so there is no need for a con­cept of no­blesse oblige. From this it fol­lows that those who do not adopt the cor­rect views are choos­ing to be wil­fully im­moral and thus de­serve no for­give­ness or un­der­stand­ing.

What hap­pens when or­di­nary peo­ple are openly hated by the pow­er­ful? They are li­censed to hate right back – and to act on their hurt and frus­tra­tion. So they vote for a Don­ald Trump who clev­erly plays on the loathing that the “elites” shower on his sup­port­ers. (At a rally last week, he told his ec­static fol­low­ers: “They don’t like me – and they don’t like you.”) Red­neck Amer­ica was pretty used to that treat­ment but now they are be­ing led by a dem­a­gogue who makes de­lib­er­ate use of it. And not long ago in Bri­tain, any­body who ex­pressed con­cern about the coun­try’s loss of na­tional char­ac­ter was sub­jected to what a US writer called “point and laugh lib­er­al­ism” – or worse. There was al­ways go­ing to be a price to be paid for this. The reck­on­ing has arrived.

‘What hap­pens when or­di­nary peo­ple are openly hated by the pow­er­ful?’

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