In political theory, the ‘elite’ are a small group of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege and political power or skill in a society1.
I first noticed the term ‘elites’ (plural) being used in a derogatory way by the dog-whistling then Prime Minister, John Howard. He used it as a way of separating ‘others’ from what he wanted to cast as ‘mainstream Australia’. However, Howard didn’t mean it in the same sense as it is used in political theory. He was simply referring to people who disagreed with his policies who, by his definition, were out of touch. This disdain for the ‘elite’ was shared by the political right and they, like Howard, targeted it mostly at those with whom they disagreed.
One of the most obvious and silly examples of this disparagement was in an article by Janet Albrechtsen, who complained that the ‘Fairfax media elites…just don’t get John Winston Howard”. Apart from the fact that Fairfax do ‘get’ Howard and his profligacy; the fact that Albrechtsen refers to Fairfax media elites, and seemingly does not include herself among the ‘media elites’, because she works for Murdoch, is ludicrous. It demonstrates how idiotic is the conservative mind-set and their usage of the term.
The broad definition of the term (see above) covers those with wealth and power, as well as those with expertise. There are elites and there are elites. Elite expertise is something to be welcomed, whether it be in climate science, thoracic surgery or football. I wouldn’t want someone from up the road removing my appendix; I’d want the most ‘elite’ surgeon available. Similarly, I am relieved that John Howard never played cricket for Australia3; or that Janet Albrechtsen wasn’t in charge of Treasury when the GFC hit4; or that Tony Abbott was not an army unit commander in Afghanistan or Iraq5. Those of the elites who have buckets of expertise are those we need to cope with the problems we face as a nation, not these pretend intellectuals like Howard, Albrechtsen or Abbott.
The ‘elites’ we do not need are those who are wealthy, and are simply involved in the game of politics, just because they can, or because they wish to feather their own nest. They know little if anything and seem to believe that, despite their ignorance, their opinion is as valuable as others’ knowledge. This is exemplified by the climate change deniers in parliament; they believe they know that climate change is not a problem despite thousands of experienced scientists publishing many thousands of research papers each of which is often based on years of research. Yet, many of the idiots in parliament call climate scientists ‘elites’ in a derogatory way.
Howard was and is part of the elite he seemed to disparage; a wealthy man with wealthy connections. Malcolm Turnbull, is part of the elite, capable of buying an election with his personal donation of $1.75 million6. Murdoch is part of the elite, trying to destroy governments and Prime Ministers through his newspapers and other media outlets7. Gina Rinehart is part of the elite, trying ham-fistedly to bribe Barnaby Joyce with a $40,000 ‘prize’8. This demonstrates two things. Firstly, that the people who disparagingly use the term ‘elites’ are simply using the technique of accusing their enemies of that which they are themselves guilty. Secondly, that the people who believe Howard and his ilk are fighting against ‘elites’ for ‘mainstream Australia’ are mind-numbingly gullible.