“Liberalism is elitism”


Lisa Kramer

Lisa Kramer is a contributing contributor at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.

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31 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    Some random late night thoughts:

    The problem with the kind of history is that you can prove any point you want depending on your anecdote. I could point to Will Rogers, staunch Dem, tremedsoudly popular and deeply populist in tone and attitude. Certainly during the depression years there was a pretty stark divide between rich, educated people ( elites by most definitions) and most of the rest of damn country.

    This is all about definitions and how much straw is used in making them. For example defining populism as less concerned with meritocracy and liberalism more focused on formal education is, as Kazin did, is at best deeply confused. First it suggests populists don’t care about formal education and such. The obvious come back is that everybody wants their doctor or pilot to be really well trained and educated, they just like to complain about educated people saying things they don’t like. But also public education for all was something liberals fought for, but not to help freaking rich people who could get all the education they wanted. Public ed. was for poor, rural, African Am’s and middle class people. In what conception of populist were liberals and populist not on the same side.

    I would certainly agree populism is not tied to any specific belief on the spectrum. I would add that strong populist movements come out in hard times so i don’t think you can separate the movement from the times. I’m not really seeing why its reasonable to say todays populists are opposed to liberalism. Can someone go to Netroots and be a populist? Why are some people populist and some not? A lot of young people jumped into politics on the Dem side in the last 2-4 years, are they populists? Elite is just another word for I don’t like you.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:


      The thing is that the whole point of public education seems to be that the elites know that if the rubes would only know what they (the elites) knew, they would be more liberal. In order to work within the democratic framework, you have to get the votes and the only way to get a liberal electorate (a good thing) is to educate them en mass.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        @Murali, Meh. General public education was something a lot of “the rubes” desperately wanted. For a good example see former slaves after the Civil War. Plenty of Elitist Northerners went to south to build school the Af-Am’s heavily attended to the chagrin of the good ol murican southerners. Also plenty of Elites fought against general public education. Southerners certainly fought against education for Af-Am’s, but plenty of rich folk never saw the point of it. Why do you bother to teach history to some kid who is just going to work in your mine or factory.

        Education has been a road to the middle class and , of course, knowledge is power.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          Actually, southern blacks at first preferred to educate themselves — in black-run private schools. Often they avoided the schools run by white northerners.

          During the brief window of Reconstruction when blacks had significant political power in the South, they set up public schools for former slaves. These were not general schools at all — they were schools for former slaves. They were not integrated.

          When whites violently seized political power in the South, they kept the blacks-only public schools. And made sure that they were always unequal to the whites’ schools. Rather than the classical or liberal arts programs that blacks themselves wanted, the schools began teaching only the manual trades, and that in an inferior manner.Report

          • Avatar gregiank says:

            @Jason Kuznicki, There were both kinds of schools,, those taught by blacks and white. No the schools were not integrated for pretty obvious reasons.

            I raised this as an example of an elite trying to keep non-elites uneducated to minimize their power and the People wanting education to help raise themselves up.Report

  2. Avatar Lisa Kramer says:

    Very late-night thought in response:

    First, I do love Will Rogers. Wish we had someone like him today – “staunchly Dem” and “populist in tone and attitude.”

    Other than that, there’s a difference between reflexive anti-intellectualism and what Hogeland describes – namely that populists are skeptical of advanced formal education because it does keep “ordinary people” out of power. Truman was the last President to not attend college. Think that could happen today? Not since Reagan have we even had a non-Harvard or Yale President. I don’t think there are too many extremist populists who would cheer on the idea of an untrained pilot or doctor, but there’s a good argument to be made that accumulating college degrees shouldn’t be the only avenue for success and happiness. Right now, the absolute belief in formal education is so strong that anyone who is lacking – no matter how decent or hard-working a person – is seen as having fallen short.

    To answer your question about what makes a populist, obviously it’s pretty subjective. But for the term to have any meaning, it has to actually be defined, which means including or excluding some claims to populism. Can the netroots be populist? I suppose in theory, but only if the tool is used to support populist goals. To me (little p) populist goals are at least in part derived from the original (big P) Populist movement, which I think Hogeland does a pretty good job of describing. Not everyone agrees that populism is limited in that way, and that leads to almost anything popular being labeled populist – a TV show, a beer, you name it.

    Alright – it’s ten to 3, I’m exhausted, and I have no idea if what I just wrote is even coherent. If not, I apologize.Report

  3. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    I dunno, I always thought ‘populism’ referred to a movement peopled by good, old regular folks, with the caveat that by definition the ‘elites’ were excluded. And, that intellectually speaking, not to mention, spiritually, that was a good thing.
    While people tend to annoy me (actually, people annoy me a great deal), predicated on their inadequate public edumacation, sloth, and lack of desire in developing their natural autodidactical impulses, I have always been appalled by those ‘elites’ who take advantage of their power, position, or wealth. And, concerning the ‘eltites’ in question, it is the hypocricital ones on the Left that really knot my shorts with their bs about being for the ‘little man.’ Nothing threatens the jobs of the working class more than the Union boss/thug.
    Greg is right, ‘populism’ can originate across the political spectrum. As long as the Tea Party rejects the GOP, in terms of leadership/influence, and the commie-Dems continue to resist it’s republican, anti-socialist message, it will continue to be, to one degree or another, a viable political force.
    I do love the rich irony that what may be the most significant ‘populist’ movement in American history may bring down the first African-American regime. And, the fact that the TPers have for all intents and purposes told the fey Left to take their ‘political correctness’ and shove it!Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      @Robert Cheeks,

      Mr Cheeks, the union thiugs are populists. They are the result of the clamouring of the uneducated workers; workers who lack economic knowledge (something that could only be learned either in an elite institution like the university (like university of chicago) or picked up autodidactically by those with an elite sensibility of valuing knowledge) and take actions that are genuinely against their best interests.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

        @Murali, NOOOOOO, the union gun thugs are the hirelings of the Union Bosses who are, themselves, elitists, in conjunction with the bankers, politicians, academic, Bildeburgers, and Aliens.Report

        • Avatar Murali says:

          @Robert Cheeks,

          If union bosses were either a) morally upright
          and or b) had an ounce of economic knowledge, they wouldn’t be union bosses. i.e. they are only union bosses because they either ignorantly think that they are helping the workers or they know they are harming them and want to just bilk the workers. i.e. they are populists. They appeal to popular sentiment and ignorance.Report

  4. Avatar MFarmer says:

    We also need to distinguish between faux-elites and real elite achievement. The idea that the “populist”, usually associated with the common and ordinary, is insecure and reactionary in the face of the superior elite control is something the aux-elite take pleasure in imagining — “But, after all, we are using our superiority to help the little people!” — however, most people are sick of the faux-elite using political means to protect their power, when in reality they are neither elite, in the true sense of the word, nor superior, and would be lost without political power.Report

  5. I am thinking of this one through the lens of the current election season. Both sides are trying a populist approach to the economy. Republicans say that Washington is the problem and we need fiscal responsibility to encourage job creation and continued tax cuts to boost investment. Democrats say we need to get rid of the tax cuts for the top because the rich are just geting richer.

    I have my suspicions on which side is more correct but regardless it’s interesting to see the two-sided debate.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

      @Mike at The Big Stick, “I have my suspicions on which side is more correct but regardless it’s interesting to see the two-sided debate.”

      Hey, Mikie when did commie-Keysian economics work? Common sense tells us that Imam Barry’s econ policies are for the purpose of Mau-Mauing the stupid American voters who elected him.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        @Robert Cheeks,

        Hell Mr Cheeks, even being true to Keynesian economics would set your market in a freer direction than it currently is.

        It seems that in Singapore (which is where I’m at) they only teach the keynesian stuff in the university. Yet, we’ve got the freest economy in the world. That’s because we’ve got experts, honest to God genuine experts having a heavy say in economic policy.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer says:

          And how’s that working out?Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

            @MFarmer, Farmer…dude!

            Murali: Well, are you saying the ‘experts’ are responsible for the econ collapse or gummint policy or aliens? I’m all eyes!Report

            • Avatar Murali says:

              @Robert Cheeks,

              american economic collapse is caused by politicians who are basely populist. They craft poliies that appeal to ignorant rubes. i.e. even though they might be elites, they are populist elites. The policies that the educated elite would prefer is likely to result in a freer market. Read Bryan Caplan’s Myth of the rational voterReport

          • Avatar Murali says:


            Its working out great. Liertarian policies work and educated technocrats would know this. Therefore they are more likely to prefer libertarian policies especially when their pay is pegged to the health of the economy (even if they are keynesians). Why do you think the singaporean economy has recovered while the american one is still in the doldrumsReport

            • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

              @Murali, Singapore has conservatives running things? America has libruls?Report

            • Avatar Murali says:


              I suppose you could call the PAP conservative. They are definitely socially conservative and tend to talk a lot of family values stuff. Economically, they tend to talk a lot of commie talk but generally do the opposite except when election time draws near, when they throw a few bones to the people.

              But you realise that the conservative/libertarian/classical liberal position on the economy is not the populist one. People demand more welfare than the PAP is either willing to give or should give. Holding the correct position on almost any controversial issue is going to put you on the side of a minority of well informed (i.e. educated) elite. i.e. they are elite precisely because they are educated.Report

            • Avatar Murali says:


              Also, singaporean politicians are fairly non-ideological. i.e. they have an ideology but may not necessarily be concious of it. With de-facto on party rule (The opposition has a handful of seats in an 80 seat parliament)Report

  6. Avatar gregiank says:

    @robertcheeks- What a heartwarming slave owner.Report