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 telegraph.co.uk/ 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?’