I’ve found re-reading texts to be an interesting and intellectually expanding experience. Two years ago, I was on something of an elitism bender, if you will. One of the books I found most engaging, and the one I filled most assiduously with marginalia, was William A. Henry III’s In Defense of Elitism.
For me, he took the guilt out of being elitist. He reframes the elitist argument not as the racist, male-chauvinist one its made out to be by the warm-fuzzy GreenPeace crowd, but, rather as one simply against egalitarianism. Essentially: We aren’t all equal, get over it. Judgement of worth is made based on merit, not discounted “because we are fundamentally equal.” A review will be posted eventually, but in the meantime I copied the publisher’s blurb on the back of the book. Also included is a link to it on Amazon.
Americans have always stubbornly clung to the myth of egalitarianism, of the supremacy of the individual average man. But here, at long last, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic William A. Henry III takes on, and debunks, some basic, fundamentally ingrained ideas: that everyone is pretty much alike (and should be); that self-fulfillment is more important than objective achievement; that everyone has something significant to contribute; that all cultures offer something equally worthwhile; that a truly just society would automatically produce equal success results across lines of race, class, and gender; and that the common man is almost always right. Henry makes clear, in a book full of vivid examples and unflinching opinions, that while these notions are seductively democratic, they are also hopelessly wrong.
See also, in this same vein of curmudgeonly cultural criticism, Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World by Barbara Erenreich, and a collection of personal essays, Half Empty, on pessimism by David Rakoff.
As I form a program that hopes to save the world through the power of optimism implicit within “the power of entrepreneurship,” I’ve determined it might be good to snuggle close to at least one wet blanket.