A Few Thoughts on Elitism

That famous socialite Leonore Annenberg had to resign her post as the White House protocol chief after curtsying to visiting Prince Charles. Michelle Obama was praised for breaching the protocol and touching Her Majesty, while her husband was demonized for bowing to the Saudi King. For a country that gained its independence by deposing a king (and crowning many more since: king of rock, of late night shows, poultry production; czar of drugs, intelligence, etc.), small gestures like these spoke shrilly.

I am not titled (no thanks to a morganatic marriage made a century before I was even conceived) and I am entitled…. and that’s probably how most of my friends view me–a naive, harmless simpleton who hid his second-rate intellect and closed mind behind a first-rate fortune. The latter, combined with my parents’ occupation, was enough to send me through an English boarding school and a prestigious American university, two bastions of elitism.

I don’t own a Ferrari, a Bond Street wardrobe or a villa overlooking Lake Como (all, perhaps, telltale signs of extravagance, rather than elitism) but I know people who do. I dined with royalty, presidents, dictators and ambassadors. My family and I were overnight guests of American actors, Greek shipping magnates, and British lords. The Conde Nest executives came to grouse hunts with us, I rode with the professors from Oxbridge, and every year, without fail, comes that coveted invitation to Royal Enclosure at Ascot. It is good to be an elite.

Why am I expounding on this? U.S. Presidential Election. On this side of Atlantic, the political system doesn’t look favorably upon the E-word. During this election season, the word ‘elite’ and ‘elitism’ was so excoriated that it paved the way for the rise of a ditzy, gun-toting, grammar-disrespecting governor. Inside my university–an institution that frequently produced presidents, senators, supreme court justices and other ‘elites’–the word was frowned upon, citing, “All Men are created Equal”. The framers of those lines ironically belonged to those ‘elites’.

‘Elitism’ is the closest the United States has ever come to aristocracy. Those East Coast WASPs who liberalism entails evading taxes and donating to charity organizations. They are elites, but elites also include those like the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the DuPonts, the Vanderbilts, a veritable who’s who of American greats, who asked what they can give to their country. Yet, it is a closed community too. An Ascot invitation had to be endorsed by someone who had been going there for years. A nouveau riche, unlike most French words, is only used with disdain.

But just became someone shops at Whole Foods, or gets a Prius means they are elitist. Sometimes, we have to be proud of our elitism. Sometimes, we have to be grateful that our lineage prevented Europe from the barbarians, fought for morality and decency in the heart of darkness, and produced great philanthropists. Sometimes, we have to be entitled that we went to Eton, Harrow, Oxbridge, the Ivies. Sometimes, we have to acknowledge that we eat healthier, live cozier. We have to be thankful for this (hence adding an ‘P’ to WASP and sending our kids to strict Catholic schools) but we can be thankful for giving back to.

By running for elected office or through charities, there are many ways that we can affect change. We have wherewithal and publicity to do it. Why waste it on some holiday home in Aspen or a $2,000 Max Mara? Be the change.

Meanwhile, the line “All Men are created Equal” remains a cheap punchline to a motivational poster. Perhaps because men are not created by some ethereal being, as much as our elitist prep-school education would like us to believe.

One Response to “A Few Thoughts on Elitism”
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  1. […] In Feelings and Remembrances on August 15, 2009 at 11:08 pm In May, I wrote about elitism. Last week, I wrote about my summer experiences with a bunch of privileged kids. With the following […]

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