American Elitism

By Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa, (On Twitter) @c_tamirisa

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There is a lot that is common knowledge about elitism in America. That it was founded by the Puritans on the Mayflower manifest who had disembarked on the shores of the New World on November 9, 1620. This religious self-anointed upper crust aboard the ship that was originally meant for the Virginia Colony but had turned north toward what had become Massachusetts has its southern counterpart among the landed, slave-owning gentry to which stock belonged George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who, in their enlightenment liberalism, had tried to stick to the ideals of the American Revolution personally, even though they could not change the society during their life times but had sustainably set the stage for the realization of the soaring idealism in the Declaration of Independence of 1776. This idealism had finally been consummated with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010” on December 22, 2010.

The founding fathers, it is also known, both from the north and the south, had given the country a republic: a revolutionary form of government for the times of 1787, the year the U.S Constitution was ratified on September 17th, and about a millennium after the Rome of Romulus and Remus had conclusively come to an end having lasted for a millennium since its founding in 753 B.C.E.

Republic, an idea detailed by Plato in his book bearing the same name, is about elitism or monarchy of the mind. It is about grooming a ruling class to run the affairs of the state. To do so, Plato went on to found The Academy. His pupil Aristotle’s most famous pupil was Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Macedonia, however, was not a republic. The Roman republic was the first republic, founded on the Platonic premise of producing a ruling class for the Roman Senate and the military through conscious acculturation. The United States of America had taken after Plato and Rome. The first president of the new republic, George Washington had even visited Phillips Academy at Andover in Massachusetts.

In a country with few or no educational standards but for local school boards and independent secondary schools and private colleges, the founding brothers were a curious bunch of self-taught intellectuals led by Benjamin Franklin, though John Adams had gone to Harvard which was founded to educate the children of the Puritans in 1636. The bond among them was more out of the passion for the vision they shared for the new nation, a menschken among enlightened men that was implicit to the point of secrecy because it could not be widely understood even in the revolutionary America of common men and women who were deeply divided but for their desire for separating from the British Empire.

Education, whether autodidactic (Abraham Lincoln was also self-taught) or imparted through formal schooling, they knew was crucial for the political sustainability of the the United States. America was thus conceived truly as a Platonic republic whose affairs were meant to be run by educated men (and women): the American enlightenment was intended to be taught (and in exceptional cases, self-taught) widely, not exclusively, to cultivate the country’s leadership class by merit. The United States was not established as a country to be led by unthinking and untrained minds even though the country’s people both choose its leaders and replace them.

The democratic process of delegation of power by the people to those who can contemplate about and act on the affairs of the American state on the people’s behalf does not, for good reason, grant absolute power to the educated. The educated in America are not an entitled class but the recipients of the responsibility to be faithful proxies of the people’s interest which also becomes their political self-interest.

Education, therefore, at once becomes necessary to both run the affairs of the state as the people’s representatives as well for the state to be run by the people: it becomes the necessary enabler, whether self-taught or formally trained, to self-govern, therefore, requiring unrationed quality in how it is dispensed in academia across the country, from primary school to college, and the highest standards of intellectual integrity in the creation of knowledge (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had established the United States Patent and Trademark Office). It is a voluntary honor code of intellectual honesty and discipline, ploughman or professor, for knowledge is the singular property right that America was founded on.

The American elites are its people, not a class of exclusive meritocrats who believe that they can seek knowledge created by others as uncompensated rent because they feel entitled to it either by their level of American education, status due to power and/or personal wealth or because of some arbitrary and un-American notions of social class.

If the American people mislead themselves to being cowered down by the exclusively educated who run Washington and stake their claim over the world, they would only be losing their rights.


About Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa
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4 Responses to American Elitism

  1. coastcontact says:

    This is an interesting piece that many won’t read because of its length.

    I both agree and disagree with your perception of America. While it is accurate to say there is a ruling class, it is also accurate to say that the founders of the U.S.A. defined a goal. That goal is best expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution.

    America’s history proves that we are still striving to reach that goal. If David McCullough’s “John Adams” is accurate, the goals were established even before there was a Declaration of Independence. Barack Obama’s ascendancy to presidency from rather meager beginnings disproves your theory of the ruling class. The repeal of DADT is just another step in 2010.

    All the immigrants who have come here and continue to come here prove that there is eternal hope.

    • I am also saying what you have said in your comment. However, I am arguing that there is a ruling class that is cultivated by the education system as it is today, which, in my view, is similar to the Eton-Ox-Bridge elites of the United Kingdom.

      It has become worse in the United States since the end of the Cold War (a trend that began with the Cold War and the CIA) in terms of the bias toward the top 10 US News and World Report schools, while Britain has thus far at least maintained a healthy public university system and secondary schooling national standards (IB and A-levels) until the recent budget cuts.

      I am making the point that this establishment has become rent seeking and must be reformed to ensure wider access to education of similar quality through national standards to ensure integrity in both education and research and hence most importantly in providing opportunities to a wider cross-section of the society in governing the affairs the country besides just at the ballot box.

      I will have to disagree with you that Barack Obama’s beginnings were humble. Obama’s life is very mainstream but for his mixed race birth. His father was a Harvard PhD in economics and an African, Kenyan elite. Obama himself had gained entry into Columbia and Harvard because of his parents, albeit separated, network dating back to Hawai’i (Neil Abercrombie who had known his father in graduate school). I would grant your point, however, to Bill Clinton but my point is simple: to have an explicit (keyword) say in Washington and New York the top 10 schools ought not to be a necessary condition.

  2. maryputnam says:

    I dont believe it was the intention of the founders to create a meritocracy based on education. Washington only completed elementary school his classical education came from a brother who had studied in England. I guess you could say he was home schooled. Jefferson on the other hand received much more formal education and did indeed attend William and Mary. Jefferson did promote the idea of “free public education” regardless of birth and a system that gave that education to the brightest minds. Not necessarily the wealthiest brightest minds.

    What we have today is a meritocracy based on obtaining a degree from one of the “elect schools”. What I can say about that is Bill Gates did not receive an Ivy League education. America’s education system has become sort of an inbred culture that functions on group think.

    It is not enough to be “briliant” if you cannot put that brilliance to use in the evolution of consciousness on this planet.

    Chandra your assumption is that Platos Republic is the only vision of a republic held by the founders. Plato was a bit of an elitiest thinking the masses to dumb for self rule. This was not the case in all the Greek Republics.They held the priviledge for “citizens”. Being a citizen was the key, the founders held that all “landed citizens” could vote. Eventually that was eliminated by the overarching ideal “all men are created equal”.

    The reason the republic was chosen and not democracy was to ameliorate the enevitable fall into mob rule that democracies are known for. In a republic we vote for a representative. That representative then must carry the moral burdern of voting to the best interest of the constituents.

    The problem is we allowed that system to be corrupted by campaign contributions.

    • Consciousness will not evolve. Human nature will not change unless it biologically speciates as had happened in the past. I have discussed the sentiment behind this comment in my most recent article Ecce Homo: A Critique of Jesus.

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