Paradoxically, those people who advocate for elitism are often to be found among those who celebrate “the people” or even “democracy”—perhaps most accurately rightists celebrate “the little man”. This situation comes about due to the way democracy evolves. At the most local level, the Swiss town hall or the once powerful New England town assembly, democracy is almost always rightist in nature, by which I mean it encourages responsible action in accord with reality. This is because at this scale—the same scale as the Greek city-states, roughly—when all the men in a town or village get together to make a decision about their locality everyone has a pretty good idea as to what is what. Nobody is about to grant a generous annual stipend to the town drunk; they know he will drink it away and end up in the gutter, just as his father did before him—“We all know what you’re like, you Johnsons!” He can depend on occasional charity, scraps from the housewives, and the church; and so long as he mostly sleeps it off in the haystacks and is no nuisance we will ignore him.
Problems emerge when democracy is implemented at a large scale. At this point, democratic elites—basically liberals—form an intermediate stratum between the voters and decisions; and this is justified because it is no longer possible for a man in Manchester to know who is the town drunk in Pontypridd—let alone how the country should relate to Russia. The intermediary elite is effectively an oligarchy—overlapping oligarchies—with interests autonomous from the voters; interests that usually become intertwined with the bureaucracies that form around the democratic state and its tax revenue. It is all done for “the people”—and the myth of the people, the nation, the Party, social justice, or the struggle for socialism serves to legitimatise the oligarchy. Western liberals love to call Russia a “managed democracy”, but, as usual, this is projection: they say this because the West is a managed democracy—and, in fact, at a certain scale, all democracy is a managed democracy by default.
The idea that a polity should be limited in number goes back to Plato’s Republic, in which Socrates suggests an ideal number—an esoteric number probably in conformity with Pythagorean ideas—for a city-state; however, there is some disagreement, due to ambiguity in the text, as to the number; it was probably no more than 480,000—in other words, very far short of today’s vast megalopolitan societies. Small has always been beautiful—or realistic, anyway.
It is this phenomenon that leads rightists—overt elitists—to support direct democratic manifestations insofar as they contradict the oligarchy’s managed democracy, and this is what we call populism. The democratic elites become enmeshed in arcane status competitions—often quite detached from reality, but rational for status purposes in their sheltered environment—and attempt to impose these boutique values on the masses; so in our day we see open borders and transsexualism as peculiar beliefs—mad or self-harming—that are trumpeted as high status for those cosmopolitan elitists who manage the democracy. Since the democracy also funds various academic institutions and media outlets it effectively self-produces new high-status values from “the experts” that people within the oligarchy can compete over; and these will seem intellectually sophisticated, at least on superficial examination.
This process explains the long-remarked phenomenon of rustic wisdom. “Wow, I met this old geezer on a ranch in Montana; he was spiritual, man. He said things that were so deep. Just fucking deep and profound,” says the urbanite just back from his road trip, lazily scrolling for sushi on Uber Eats. This has gone on since the Roman Empire, and the rural folk seem so wise—even though on average they are less intelligent than city dwellers—because they are unplugged from the frenetic status competition in the democratic cosmopolis. With nobody to impress, except the birds, the rustic just states obvious facts that the city dweller has long suppressed so as to look cool, although at some level they know these are true. To actually hear the obvious unspoken thought articulated seems like a profound revelation to the status-addled urbanite.
Hence, if the oligarchy grants the masses a voice, particularly in referenda, their intentions often go awry. The masses are mostly not engaged in the elite status competition, many actually despise it. So they punish the democratic elite with events such as Brexit or Trump. The latter’s election was really a referendum on the American system itself: Trump was posed against a complete system creature, Hillary Clinton. This is why democratic elitists get very concerned about referenda and mumble darkly about these events as “the tools of dictators”; they fear referenda because these replicate the direct democracy found at the village level and so challenge irresponsible action and peculiar status competitions. The situation is such that democratic elitists present themselves as not being an elite, simply as benevolent servants of the people, whereas people who actually desire a responsible elite, the rightists, support “the peasants” against the elites in their rhetoric. Thus the oligarchical elites tends to have a great affection for procedures, laws, lawyers, state education, and the accoutrements of democracy—partly to look high status and partly because these can be covertly manipulated—but they have little love for unimpeded democratic action itself.
For a while, libertarians hoped that technology would bridge this problem. The Internet would allow for a national direct democracy, the public could vote on every bill in parliament. However, even if the oligarchy allowed this—and it would not—the system would not work. Direct democracy produces favourable results because it is local; the participants know their fellow citizens, know the area, and have a stake in it. However, the man who votes on the Internet in Pontypridd still has no idea what the situation on the ground is in Manchester—and perhaps the bill he votes on only really affects Manchester—nor does he have a stake in Manchester. So the positive aspects contained in real direct democracy are still lost at scale, even if technological abridgement were possible.
In an analogous situation to the political process itself, elitist rightists—usually defenders of high culture, Wagner and the like—end up allied with people who have almost no aesthetic sensibility whatsoever but who retain a naïve idea of beauty because they are outside the sophisticated cosmopolitan status game and so are liable to make naïve comments along the lines, “Wow! That castle is sooo preetttyy!!! Xxx ox (smiley with heart eyes).” The person involved in the oligarchy’s status game, being aware what “smart” people think, will affirm that Brutalism is marvellous and castles represent white supremacy and phallocentrism and should be suitably modified with vulva-shaped glass observation decks by that super new Pakistani architect Zabia Habibi, with funds from English Heritage—naturally.
Hence the self-conscious elitist, the rightist who reads his Ortega y Gasset on the masses, will actually find himself in agreement and allied with people whose last song on their playlist was “Bubblegum Bitch” and whose visual taste runs to oversaturated photorealistic shots of desert islands and purple-hazed kitsch cottages. These people are not the most tasteful nor the most intelligent, but they are the least indoctrinated and status-conscious and so they will successfully identify a pretty castle, whereas the clever cosmopolitan will forever pretend that they “just don’t get it.” This actually contradicts the view taken by men like Nietzsche, Wyndham Lewis, and Gasset that the masses are always to be disdained and seen as the dregs; when the masses are outside a delusional elite bubble they are more perceptive as to genuine beauty than the oligarchy, although their own positive sense of taste is still usually awful.
The debate between the populist faction and the oligarchy is incoherent because the left, the democratic elite, does not really want democracy, though they claim they do. The right also does not really want democracy—except at a very local level—but claim they do nonetheless. The oligarchs act as an elite but say they are not, whereas the populists act democratically but really desire a more elite structure. This is why the oligarchy’s accusations that their opponents are “fascists” or “authoritarians” always rings somewhat true, despite denial, because if you broke down to direct democracy you would create organic elite structures—in which said oligarchs would not flourish, being mainly skilled at milking the state.
Similarly, when populists say they are against the “snobby elites” or the “overeducated” this is not quite true; the oligarchs genuinely favour mass democracy insofar as they can manipulate the mob, the envious, and the gullible—and they genuinely disdain local high culture and high artistic achievements, since they wish to differentiate themselves from the locality to advertise how special they are. So they counter-signal what is commonly regarded as tasteful; and they also often envy genuine achievement and wish to see it diminished. Yet people with a real commitment to art or science, with a real elitist outlook, a real appreciation for, say, Wagner or 18th-century architecture or the discipline of classical music, are seen as unsophisticated—despite their elitist predisposition. The danger in populism is that it degenerates into a philistine movement that would enviously attack all manifestations of higher art or beauty, since these are associated with the pretentious oligarchy.
The overall result is two sides in a slanging match to demonstrate who is more for “democracy” and the “oppressed”—and this gives the tenor of debate an incoherent nature. The two sides speak about slightly different things, direct and representative democracy. The populist really says: “I am for direct democracy; and, in fact, this is ultimately elitist because it empowers the most responsible people in a polity, of which there are a limited number.” The oligarch says: “I am for representative democracy; and I recognise that at this level it requires elite management, and I will manage it best so the maximum number of people can participate in the democracy—indeed, my legitimacy as an elite actor partly derives from my role as protector, with the state’s coffers, of the marginalised.”
To put the position correctly: the best government is by a responsible and reality-adjusted elite; it is possible to achieve this at a local scale with direct democracy, but on a large scale democracy is inevitably corrupted. Therefore, we should either organise ourselves in small-scale communities, such as old Venice or the Greek city-states, or, if we want a larger unit, we should abandon democracy and aim for a self-conscious and overt elite so as to avoid a secretive “democratic elite” from forming to distort the process in the guise of defending democracy, the people, and, particularly, “the oppressed”.