WHY ELITES TEND LEFT
"One's initial surprise at finding that intelligent people tend to be socialists diminishes when one realises that, of course, intelligent people will tend to overvalue intelligence, and to suppose that we owe all the advantages and opportunities that our civilisation offers to deliberate design rather than to following traditional rules...This leads one to be favourably disposed to the central economic planning and control that lie at the heart of socialism." - F.A. Hayek
Or perhaps another way of putting it: Marxism is the opium of the intellectuals
By J. J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.)
Elite psychology generally
Why is a man as privileged as former U.S. Presidential candidate John Kerry on the Left of politics? Why are people who are rich, well-organized, well-paid and successful in life often Left-leaning? Surely they should be thankful for the system that gave them their success instead of wanting to tear it down? The answer is really quite simple. If your life had made you feel superior to most people wouldn't you want to be treated in a superior way too? More importantly, wouldn't you feel that your inferiors should be got out of your way and told what to do? Wouldn't you feel that they should be herded onto public transport and thus leave the roads free for you to drive where you want without being held up by traffic jams? That is EXACTLY how elite Leftists think. Only they cannot say that out loud of course. To say it out loud would not only be obnoxious but it would also achieve nothing. So our elites are smarter than that. They know they have to cloak their oppression in the mantle of a claim that "It's all for your own good". And knowing how rich, clever and well-organized they themselves are, they are confident that they will be able to escape the limits and confines that they put on other people. Even high taxes are no worry to them when they already have most things that money can buy. So regulate, regulate, regulate is their cry. And regulating and controlling others is what Leftists have always got 1,001 reasons for -- with the most extreme form of control being exercised in Communist regimes.
A classic example of Leftist elitism was pre-Thatcher Britain in the 60s. The British Labour party had nationalized practically all the hospitals leaving only a very small and expensive private sector. And the nationalized hospitals were of course overcrowded and gave inferior service in various ways. Britain's "Red Queen" at the time was Barbara Castle, a minister in Harold Wilson's Labour government. She was famous for saying that it was "obscene" for anybody to "carve their way to a hospital bed with a chequebook": Good propaganda. But what did she do when her son got sick? Being very well-paid as a government minister, she got him admitted to a private hospital, of course, under a false name. When the press got wind of it, were any on the Left upset by her actions? Not really. They understood what she was doing and why. Harold Wilson ended up making the obscene one a Baroness, in fact. Leftist elites WANT one law for the rich and another law for the poor. That is why the British Labour party always let a small private medicine sector survive in Britain. They knew that they might need it one day: No grotty public hospitals for them. Public hospitals are only for "the people".
And not much has changed since then. Below are some excerpts from The Spectator of 6th. December 2003 about Britain's latter-day Leftist elite not practicing what they preach. Like the Soviets, what they give the worker is apparently not good enough for them:
"It has become obvious that, in progressive circles, there has been one law for the political elite and another for the people. The most glaring recent example has been Hackney MP Diane Abbott's decision to send her son to a fee-paying school, after a lifetime campaigning for the abolition of private education....
For decades, Labour activists campaigned against the evils of apartheid in South Africa, but when Robert Mugabe embarked on a murderous policy against white landowners, barely a squeak was heard from these supposed crusaders against racial injustice....
Environment minister, Michael Meacher fulminated that 'housing is not, and should not be a status symbol, an object of conspicuous consumption or a source of market power and wealth. Too many people have second homes or too large homes for their needs, while too many others are homeless or over-crowded.' Meacher's words might have carried more weight if he had not been the owner of no fewer than eight homes himself.....
But the hypocrisy works on an even deeper level. For when leftists go private or offshore, they are trying to avoid the very problems they have created through their own socialist policies. They wilfully advocate measures that lower standards or destroy wealth, then run away from the consequences... For a socialist to complain about our shambolic education system is like an arsonist complaining that a building which he set alight has burnt down. Wealthy left-wing parents cannot tolerate the schools they have created, so they .. turn to the private sector they despise"
And Leftist elitism even explains the current Leftist war on "obesity":
"Medical and public health authorities have determined a BMI of 25 or above is hazardous to a person's health. This belief, however, is not supported by the available evidence... In almost all large-scale epidemiological studies, little or no correlation between weight and health can be found for a large majority of the population... "overweight" people actually had a lower overall cancer mortality rate than "ideal weight" individuals.. Even massively obese men and women do not appear to be more prone to vascular disease than average... deaths from heart disease have been plunging at precisely the same time that obesity rates have been skyrocketing... on average, poor people in America are fat and rich people are thin. The disgust the thin upper classes feel for the fat lower classes has nothing to do with mortality statistics and everything to do with feelings of moral superiority"
What I have just described are Leftist elitists and most people who occupy elite positions in society do appear to lean Left in at least some important ways. But there are some people in elite positions who are NOT Leftist, of course. People in elite positions are not all the same. Different people can respond differently to the same situation. Not all elite people respond to their circumstances as dismally as the elite people I have described so far. The the division of society into strata has only ever been approximate and is rarely strongly predictive of anything. There are different types of working people, different types of middle class people and different types of elite people. The most reliably Leftist elite group is of course the teaching profession and the most reliably non-Leftist elite group is the self-made businesspeople.
As David Brooks says:
"It's been said that every society has two aristocracies. The members of the aristocracy of mind produce ideas, and pass along knowledge. The members of the aristocracy of money produce products and manage organizations. In our society, these two groups happen to be engaged in a bitter conflict about everything from SUVs to presidents. You can't understand the current bitter political polarization without appreciating how it is inflamed or even driven by the civil war within the educated class. The percentage of voters with college degrees has doubled in the past 30 years. As the educated class has grown, it has segmented. The economy has produced a large class of affluent knowledge workers -- teachers, lawyers, architects, academics, journalists, therapists, decorators and so on -- who live and vote differently than their equally well-educated but more business-oriented peers."
Peter Berger takes up a similar theme at great length so it would be superrogatory to go into great detail about it here. Very briefly, Berger sees that a powerful and numerous university-educated "knowledge class" (teachers, bureaucrats, social workers and "experts" of all kinds) emerged in the latter half of the 20th century which largely superseded the old production- and commerce-based middle class. He says:
"Within the service sector, there is a sub-sector that provides services of a very particular kind; that is, non-material services based upon knowledge: "human resources," "corporate image," "social justice," "quality of life," and so on. The persons employed in this sector constitute an immense army present in all levels of education, in bureaucracies, in the communications media, and in the therapy industry: from professors of psychiatry to sex counselors for the elderly. They all have in common the rather vague criteria on the basis of which their competence and performance are evaluated. The most important criterion is the certification of an officially recognized scholastic career. Higher education thus becomes the main way of access to this world.....
A very large percentage of the "knowledge class" is directly hired or subsidized by the government; it thus has an interest in the expansion of those public functions that furnish it with employment and subsidies, and also with power and status. The "knowledge class," therefore, is favorable toward the reinforcement of public programs. It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that its constitutive interests push it toward leftist politics.... there is a clash between those whose principal interest is production and those whose principal interest is redistribution; the latter common interest is deep enough to sustain within a professor of English a sense of affinity with the young people of the lower classes."
(From "A Far Glory. The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity", New York, The Free Press, 1992. Some excerpts here)
But even that generalization does not of course explain all the cases. There are in particular many wealthy people who are Leftist and who do not rely on a livelihood as "knowledge" workers. And there are of course conservatives among knowledge workers too. Many conservative bloggers, for instance, would appear to work in knowledge industries -- particularly programming and other work to do with computers.
So why would some elite people NOT be leftist? The most surprising reason, perhaps, is genetics. As has now repeatedly been shown, political orientation is to a large extent (around 50%) genetic rather than being the result of any event or events in your life. There is a genetic disposition to be Leftist or conservative that environment will sometimes modify and sometimes not. Being in an elite position is one of those environmental influences but it will not always be decisive. Some elite people are just BORN conservative (cautious etc.) and stay that way regardless. It must be stressed, however, that genetics can only provide a predisposition. If the predisposition one way or another is weak, what the person believes will mainly be a function of the influences and arguments that he/she has been exposed to. If the predisposition is strong, however, argument will be largely irrelevant to what the person believes. In the case of the Stalinist Left (who are still numerous on university campuses) reality as a whole will not matter to them.
Clearly, however, psychological and genetic factors operate only within a historical context. Factors external to the person will often influence a person's views as well. And something that must be turned to at this stage is the apparent fact that elites have not ALWAYS been Leftist. Were not elites once conservative? As this writer notes:
"The Democrats are the party of the elite. Consider Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In a 1948 student poll Thomas E. Dewey [R] beat Harry Truman [D] by 2 to 1. In 2000 Al Gore [D] beat Bush [R], an Andover alumnus, by nearly the same margin, reflecting the Democrats' historic capture in 2000 of "professionals," a group well-represented among the parents of Andover students. Next to African-Americans, the most reliable Democrats in the electorate are women with post-graduate degrees".
This small slice of history is of course far from decisive. Although the conversion of the U.S. Democrats to a wholly Leftist party was almost complete at the time of writing in 2005, it was not always so. For most of the 20th century, there was substantial conservatism in the Democratic party -- particularly in the South. So the Truman/Dewey contest was far from being a purely Left/Right contest. So it is not as easy as it may at first seem to identify historic changes in elite political loyalties. Certainly the Cambridge spies (Kim Philby etc.) of the 1930s and the Fabian Webbs of roughly 100 years ago were earlier examples of clearly elite people who were far to the Left both by the standards of their own day and by the standards of the present day.
Nonetheless, it is certainly a common impression that the elites of yesteryear were more conservative than they are today. And it is not hard to see why most of them were at least anti-Communist. Both in the late 19th century and most of the 20th century everybody lived under the threat of Marxist class war. And the hostility of Marxism/Leninism to existing elites was undoubtedly ferocious. So elites were under clear threat from a very influential form of Leftism at that time. It is therefore no wonder that many elite-group members were anti-Communist!
But anti-Communism may have been the only major way in which the elites of yesteryear were "Rightist". One cannot hop into a time machine and give out questionnaires to people in (say) the 1920s so assessing the degree of conservatism among elites of the past is not something one can do with total certainty. There are some rather large hints available to us, however. What could be more "establishment" than Oxbridge (the universities of Oxford and Cambridge) -- the place to which the British aristocracy (and wealthy British people generally) sent their sons and daughters to finish their education? Yet this ultimate bastion of the British establishment is absolutely famous for being far to the Left of British society generally. And it was in fact far enough Left to be perhaps the major breeding-ground of support for Soviet communism in Britain. The Cambridge spies have already been mentioned. Most of Oxbridge was obviously not far enough Left to be as actively pro-Communist as the Cambridge spies were but there can be little doubt that the milieu was supportive of Leftism generally. And THAT is what has always been the bastion of the British establishment -- making it hard to dispute that the establishment itself was as far Left as their self-interest would allow.
And there are other indications of Leftist elitism in the early 20th century. As Flew notes in his review of Watson's history of Leftist ideas:
"Watson distinguishes three periods in the history of this socialist idea. The first, the Age of Conception, runs from the 1840s to the Bolshevik coup of 1917; the second, the Age of Fulfilment, continues until the Communist seizure of power in China in 1949; the third, the Age of Decline, continues until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
During the Age of Conception, many were attracted to socialism precisely because they already saw it as what Watson calls a "Tory project," a project necessarily involving rule by an irresponsible elite. Some of these elitists, such as the science fiction writer H.G. Wells and the dramatist Bernard Shaw, lived long enough into the Age of Fulfilment to welcome this aspect of the realization in the USSR of the socialist vision. Before World War I, other socialists, such as the novelist Jack London and the psychologist Havelock Ellis, saw socialism as leading both fortunately and necessarily to the triumph of the white races over the black and the brown.
And this little bit of hyperbole from the 1950s undoubtedly had a considerable element of truth in it too:
"You don't understand the class structure of American society," said Smetana, "or you would not ask such a question. In the United States, the working class are Democrats. The middle class are Republicans. The upper class are Communists." (from Witness by ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers, p. 616)
With the implosion of the U.S.S.R., however, Marxism is essentially dead outside the universities and the Leftist program of today has much more in common with Mussolini's Fascism than with Communism, so elites now have essentially nothing to fear from the Left and are free to do and say what their instincts tell them without fear of becoming subject to expropriation and attack.
One very important elite group
I have written a whole monograph on the various other influences that push people towards the Left so I will not repeat any of that here. I will instead in the remainder of this article concentrate on just one elite group in particular: Teachers, particularly teachers at the college and university level. For some details of just how Leftist academics tend to be see here and here.
People who are born with leftist proclivities (weak egos etc) tend to find certain occupations more attractive than others and teaching is very definitely one of those. Anybody who doubts the overwhelming presence of the Left in the high schools and universities will have any such doubts rapidly set at rest if they read through the many reports of Leftist bias and tyranny in the schools and colleges that are frequently recorded on Education Watch and Political Correctness Watch.
So why are teachers -- particularly at the university and college level -- so overwhelmingly Leftist? It is pretty simple. Whether or not they are very good at it, Leftists would like to be dominant and to boss other people around -- and that is very much the teacher's role. It is an elite role. Even a social misfit can get to rule the roost in teaching (and I don't think many people who know the universities well will have any trouble naming a lot of oddballs and misfits there). So teaching will tend to attract Leftists in the first place. As this writer put it:
"As I said, liberalism is a psychology, not an ideology. And as such, it's unreasonable to expect it to be limited to a person's politics; it should show through to many different aspects of a person's life, and it does. Liberals tend to dominate fields like academia, the news and entertainment media, and the legal professions, and they populate the elite social circles, all because they're so concerned with their egos.
In academia, teachers and professors are revered as wise and accomplished, and they exercise almost absolute power over dozens to hundreds of students. People in the media are famous and seen as powerful, intelligent, charismatic, and accomplished. Lawyers have enormous power over people's lives, and like celebrities are seen as intelligent, charismatic, and accomplished, and are also generally seen as moral people (by people who substitute law for morality). Judges are esteemed and seen as a source of wisdom and knowledge, and they too hold enormous power over people's lives and are seen as moral in the same way lawyers are. I won't even get into liberal politicians (yet).
There's a trend here. Liberal professions offer many benefits to the ego. Liberals want to be society's elite and powerful, much more than they want to be wealthy (although they often go hand in hand). They want to feel good about themselves, and that of course depends partially on how other people feel about them. The same thing that motivates their politics motivates many aspects of their personal lives".
But that is not the end of the story. As well as Leftists being drawn to teaching, the experience of becoming a teacher is itself Left-making. Even if not much in the way of social skills is required for one to become a teacher, intellectual ability is still pretty heavily selected for (among university teachers at least) so professors will normally have considerable realistic grounds for feeling that they are an intellectual elite and will tend to feel that they should therefore ride high in the world and tell others what to do. And that expectation is NOT normally fulfilled. Teachers are a FRUSTRATED elite. The people who get the big monetary rewards are the businessmen (and do academics hate THAT! As Thomas Sowell says: "Profits are certainly without honor among the intelligentsia. The very word produces negative reactions, even from people who cannot give you a single reason why money carrying that label is worse than money called by other names") and the people with the power are the politicians and top bureaucrats. So it is no wonder that academics are so keen to overturn such an "unjust" (unjust to them in their view) system! And wanting to overturn the system by hook or by crook is Leftism. Leftism becomes just a gut-feeling for most professors. They feel that the world is stupid and that they are superior to it. Robert Nozick has more on that and the much acclaimed Eric Hoffer of course drew similar conclusions long ago. As the "Wikipedia" article on Hoffer says:
"Academics, he believed, most of all craved power; but they were denied it in the democratic countries of the West (though they were not in totalitarian countries, which Hoffer saw as an intellectual's dream). So instead, he believed, they chose to bite the hand that fed them in their quest to feel important".
And it is of course the professors who teach (and indoctrinate) the teachers lower down in the hierarchy (i.e. the Grade school and High school teachers) so Leftist values are passed down right throughout the educational system. So even those lower-level teachers who were not initially inclined towards Leftism will tend to become Leftist (unless, of course, there is some other strong influence at work on them -- such as a genetic predisposition to caution or Christian beliefs -- that keeps them conservative). Thus the whole educational system is geared to promote Leftism and those who spend most time in the educational system (i.e. the professionals and bureaucrats generally) are therefore most likely to be pushed Left in their views. So any elite that depends on education for its elite postion (i.e. most elites) will tend Left.
In summary, then, academe both attracts people who want to be in an elite position and gives people in it the feeling that they ARE an elite -- but a frustrated and therefore potentially revolutionary elite who pass on their jaundiced thinking far and wide.
But surely jaundiced thinking would not be very persuasive? Can personal dissatisfaction be easily transmitted to others?
Of course it can -- particularly where alternative thinking and information is suppressed. There is much to criticize in our society and a person who for his own reasons is dissatisfied with it will have no shortage of unsatisfactory things to point to and denounce. Add to that some false but superficially plausible explanations of why society is that way plus a deliberate suppression of deeper and more accurate explanations and you have contemporary Leftism. Again, you will not have to read much of what is reported on Education Watch and Political Correctness Watch to see how zealously conservative thought and the alternative account of the world that it offers is excluded from contemporary academe. Leftist explanations (e.g. their characteristic denial of the importance of genetics) just cannot stand the light of day so students have to be prevented from hearing such alternative explanations.
In other words, Leftist academics abuse their position of authority to pass on as gospel their own miserable, jealousy-motivated perspective.
Once people leave academe and go out to make a living in the real world, of course, they find that the theories they have been taught don't mirror reality -- which is a major reason for the way many people's views drift rightwards as they get older.
My discussion above should not of course be seen as making the simplistic claim that there is only one reason why an academic might tend Left. I think I have identified the basic reason but other reasons undoubtedly play a part too. Edward Feser lists several of them. One quote:
"For if the great minds of the Middle Ages saw their mission as upholding a religious view of the world, so too, would I argue, do the intellectuals of the modern world. Here Rothbard was, in his own somewhat crude way, the closest to the truth: the modern professoriate is best understood as a kind of priesthood, and its religion is Leftism".
One extra reason that Feser misses, however, is in my view fairly significant: From my observations, Leftist academics are basically second-rate thinkers. Originality is the Holy Grail of academe but most academics in fact have nothing new to say at all -- so they say silly things just in order to appear different. They use perversity to create a false impression of profundity. Leftism is their substitute for originality. It was precisely because I DID have something different to say during my academic career that I got so many articles published in the academic journals. Even though my articles generally undermined Leftist views, their having that all-important originality got them published. And how my fellow academics hated me for it! In most years I got more articles published than the rest of my university department put together. That I could do easily what they found so hard to do was real heartburn for them.
So feeling superior and being indoctrinated by the educational system are both major influences in causing people to have Leftist views. And since a prolonged education and success in life are strongly associated with one-another in our society, the two influences tend to reinforce one-another. Elites both incline naturally towards Leftism and tend to get more indoctrination into Leftism.
1). Although Cambridge appears to have been the chief nest of spies-to-be in Britain of the 30s, Oxford was also very Leftist. In 1933 (9th Feb.) the Oxford Union debated the motion: "This House will in no circumstances fight for King and Country". The motion was overwhelmingly carried (275 to 153).
2). I have received the following communication from an historian with a close family connection to the Cambridge spies affair: "The Communist spies were indeed Cambridge, mostly Kings, if that counts. They were in all probability recruited by Maynard Keynes, a life member of the Apostles, out of influence (because Neville Chamberlain thought he was a charlatan) losing money because he no longer had any inside information, fond of left wing young gays, on whom he had enormous influence, a friend of Maclean's father and a sympathiser with Communism throughout the decade. The liberal establishment being the liberal establishment, this was never disclosed, even in the 1980s. I believe it to be true, however, as did my father, who was in that business for 40 years including the period when the various spies were "outed.""
Clickable index to the above:
Other influences: Genetics
Other influences: History
Teachers as an elite
Jaundiced thinking persuasive when a monopoly
Unoriginality as a problem
Index page for this site
DETAILS OF REGULARLY UPDATED BLOGS BY JOHN RAY:
"Dissecting Leftism" (Backup here)
"Education Watch International"
"Political Correctness Watch"
BLOGS OCCASIONALLY UPDATED:
"Marx & Engels in their own words"
"A scripture blog"
To be continued ....
Coral reef compendium.
Australian Police News
BLOGS NO LONGER BEING UPDATED
"Food & Health Skeptic"
"Eye on Britain"
"Immigration Watch International".
"Leftists as Elitists"
OF INTEREST (2)
QANTAS -- A dying octopus
BRIAN LEITER (Ladderman)
Obama Watch (2)
Dissecting Leftism -- Large font site
AGL -- A bumbling monster
Bank of Queensland blues
There are also two blogspot blogs which record what I think are my main recent articles here and here. Similar content can be more conveniently accessed via my subject-indexed list of short articles here or here (I rarely write long articles these days)
Main academic menu
Menu of recent writings
basic home page
Pictorial Home Page
Selected pictures from blogs (Backup here)
Another picture page (Best with broadband. Rarely updated)
Note: If the link to one of my articles is not working, the article concerned can generally be viewed by prefixing to the filename the following: