For many people the explanation of much of the negativity in the world involves the interests of a group of elites who are self serving and whose actions generally exploit the interests of other people.
It is easy to see why this idea is criticised as both paranoid and wrong. To share in the idea is to be misled: to be jealous of what others, who have worked hard, have. This is a clever argument because at first glance it seems a sensible one.
So who are these elites? Where do they come from? Why do they do what they do? Isn’t it that they are just better than me?
The first thing to note is that the suggestion there are elites is one which is as old as man kind itself. Certain folk, in the early days simply through physical strength, chose to dominate others. Power, and all its trappings, is appealing. And power is infinite. Some people both enjoy it and aspire to increase it. The more power one has, the more one wants. As Lord Acton put it ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’
Power passes from father to son, or daughter; a pattern repeated century after century. Class and caste systems rise. The most obvious example of this is a monarchy but the most dangerous are those hidden elites, who wield their power secretly, usually within areas of society fully accommodated and perceived as typical.
In 1950s America the sociologist C. Wright Mills introduced the term ‘power elite’ in his exploration of class alliances and influences. He identified small groups who wielded huge amounts of power, far out of proportion to their small number and their place in a society which proudly proclaimed ‘equality’ for all.
But the ‘power elite’ are not restricted to the United States alone. They exist is every nation and they are recognisable, even nameable. Numerous studies have suggested the ‘power elite’ in the states numbers about 3-400 people. This figure worldwide is not huge, just one or two thousand who have huge influence over the lives of billions: So ingrained in our societies we accept them without question. In the so called democratic nations they are merely citizens, usually with a degree of economic success. They are not seen as villains but as something to aspire to, and thats the real concern. The idea that democracy is a social contract by which the exercise of power is kept responsible is misleading. It is a very rare thing to see power wielded for the positive and for advancement. It is usually practiced with harm as the outcome. Harm has become the entropic tendency of power.
To use power gently, and for the good of others, is a heroic virtue; which is why examples of it are so rare. It is no coincidence that the defence of the elite (get on with it, power is up for grabs: I earnt it) is the same defence as economic competition (you too can earn your share, come have some power). Conservatism is the ideology of the elite, and for those who are fooled by its false promises.