The role of social elite within a democratic society is usually resented, because of the republican ideals. It is a problematic concept, as most of those elites in our societies come down from the landed families of the past, except in societies which may have gone through a revolution, like China. The elite is a throwback from the past, a reminder of the past tyrannies and oppression, and worse, their very existence is a symbol of failure of the republican ideals.
However, on the other side, there is this claim, empirically proven through experiences across countries and generations, that an elite class is needed for social order. Even the revolutionary societies in Russia and China had developed their own, replacing the Birth privileges with bureaucratic privileges, but nonetheless maintaining the asymmetry of power and access. In fact, the entire Bolshevik doctrine had, at its heart, a revolutionary elite, that will lead the masses to emancipation.
The American Republicans, despite their worthy ideals, also envisaged anarchy without an elite. They may have detested the European style aristocracy, and anti-Federalists may have rallied against the Federalist plans for the fear that such an elite would emerge, but Jefferson and others were still Gentlemen Planters very aware of their privileged position. Their's would have been an aristocracy of intellect, an aristocracy nonetheless!
The whole conversation about meritocracy is also based on our quest of a new social elite. While we may think privileges by birth and privileges through party rank may be repugnant, we would wish to find a secular criteria that allow us to create an elite in a fairer way. It may enrage the modern day advocates of meritocracy, but that idea very much came from the eugenicists, people who set out to prove the hierarchy of the races. And, while it has fallen out of favour, and such racial prejudices would be politically incorrect today, various measures of meritocracy would perhaps still show a racial asymmetry, though, as we know now, not because of brain sizes or any inherent attributes, but just because a social elite is a reality that already exists.
Having said this, though, the existence of social elites is not a self-evident fact but a social issue that needs to be discussed and debated. While one may see its persistence, the elite may often undermine a Democratic society and subvert the rule of law: For every revolutionary elite, there is a Stalin to follow; there is always a Von Hindenburg to undermine a Republican constitution. Christopher Lasch wrote persuasively about the Revolt of the Elites in America, and, one can see their persistent efforts to undermine democracies all over the world, including in big countries such as India. In fact, the elite everywhere has a new mantra - Development - and the doctrine that bread and work is more important than political and legal rights.
This is the other side of the argument. The elite claims that they are essential for democracy and then say that political rights come in the way of development, which is more important. So, we may want the elite in a democracy, an aristocracy of intellect, but they inevitably look to undermine the democracy as they see it as a challenge to their own privileges.
One way to look at it is that this is a fact of modern life and we can not do anything about it. But, such resigned attitude did not get us here. Progress did not happen on its own, we had to earn the progress. It is historically inaccurate to say that political rights and material progress can not coexist - it is a lie which has been tried and dispelled before. What can not coexist is material progress and an obstructive elite, and this has more historical evidence than the previous claim. So, the chief problematic of the social policy today should be, not what is to be done with the poor, but what needs to be done with the elite.
Indeed, that question was asked, and answered, rather brutally, in Mao's China, and a re-run may not be desirable. But there was a method in Mao's madness: He wanted to re-educate the elite. Indeed, this meant shipping people off to work in farms, but perhaps the message - that an education revolution is the key to integrating elites to a republican society - is valuable.
Now, education systems in our countries, particularly the two- or three-tier education systems of the Anglo-Saxon world, is at the core of this democracy problem. The whole idea of such a system is to manufacture an elite. And, despite claims on the contrary, educating an elite means, as it did for thousands of years, developing an young mind uncorrupted by plebeian values. This model is now being exported, with context and without question, to all those newly democratic countries with fragile roots and rapacious business classes. Right now, education systems around the world are manufacturing a rootless elite and undermining democracies.
So, here is my point: The role of Social Elites in our modern, republican and democratic societies is a crucial and delicate one. We need an aristocracy of intellect, but always guard against perpetuation of privileges and corruption of republican ideals. Education is key for maintenance of this balance, to protecting our values and preserving our democracies. The current, limited and instrumentalist approach to education - that education is for a job and a job alone - is undermining our ways of life irreversibly.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer. So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society. It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excell
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.