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 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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