In its first sense, an elite* is a group of fine persons who stand out as individuals from the mass of people constituting a community. Isolated individuals unrelated among themselves, do not constitute an elite. Rather, we speak of an elite only when its constituents interrelate with sufficient vitality and diligence so as to create a common primary psychological and intellectual milieu.
An elite, therefore, is not a mere juxtaposition of preeminent persons. It is formed when such persons develop a relationship among themselves in which there is a mutual exchange of values. This relationship gradually constitutes a particular culture synthesizing the intellectual and moral values of all its members.
This distillation is done especially through informal conversation. The persons who constitute an elite need not necessarily be drawn together by a concrete theme, but rather by an admixture of subjects introduced spontaneously through the art of good conversation. The result is a natural conviviality wherein each personality contributes to the development of an elite culture.
This type of conversation broadens horizons in an unfettered atmosphere in which unexpected and unforeseen topics both appear and disappear. Such free mingling of ideas and impressions gives life to the conversation and constitutes the charm and cultural importance of this type of discussion, which is a cherished pastime among elites.
Take, for example, a great diplomat, a renowned financial expert, an eminent writer, a distinguished doctor, and a prominent lawyer. Let us say these men gather once a month to converse for half an hour. This would be a group of eminent persons, but it would not constitute an elite.
This group would constitute a true elite only if its members conversed more frequently and for longer periods of time—and without a fixed schedule. They might discuss various issues, exchanging ideas and values, which would ultimately create a specific atmosphere that gives rise to an elite culture.
This exchange of ideas and values would be more complete and successful if the spouses of these men were to make up an informal social circle in which a similar process could take place. Spontaneity would provide authenticity for this type of relationship, which should be born freely from the natural interplay of human affairs.
From this perspective, one can better understand the innate creativity of an elite. Only when it generates a way of thinking and a culture common to its constituents does it deserve to be called a true elite.
This, then, is a first way to conceive of an elite: a group of people who constitute the best within their locality. They excel in their respective activities, which are also the most important activities, and they generate an elite culture through their informal social interrelations.
A second, more restricted concept is that of an elite composed exclusively of those persons of exceptional importance who transcend the scope of the city’s elect. They are an elite in another sense of the word. Small in number, they do not properly represent the cultural elite of the city, but rather transcend it.
* We use the word elite throughout this work in its social sense as defined by Webster’s Third New International Dictionary: “The choice part or segment: Flower, Cream, Aristocracy; as, a segment or group regarded as socially superior…a minority group or stratum that exerts influence, authority, or decisive power.”
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History (York, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), American Appendix, pp. 183-184.
Nobility.org Editorial Comment: —
Everyone today is railing against elites. One would think that we are on the eve of the French Revolution, with Jacobins running amok with cutlasses and axes to chop off heads.
That liberals in media, academia, and politics would speak like this is neither surprising or new.
That conservatives do this–and they do this loudly–is simply flabbergasting. True, they are often rightly upset with bad and corrupt elites, but since they just attack “elites” and never distinguish between bad and good elites, one is left with the rancid taste of a populist, egalitarian diatribe against ALL elites. (Disclaimer: Nobility.org does talk about bad elites, not just good ones, calling the first “toads,” pseudo-elites or antithetical elites).
Not making these vital distinctions strengthens the hand of liberals, egalitarians, communists and anarchists.
As this post explains, elites are found at very local levels. The “stand out.” They are providing leadership in small towns, cities, and counties. We have other elites that provide leadership at the state and national levels. Many of these elites are not just working hard, but they are sacrificing themselves to promote the common good and the nation’s best interests. They should be recognized, supported, applauded and FOLLOWED in the good they do. And, yes, they need to be defended in the public square against the radical egalitarians who hate them because of their superiority and would like to see them gone from our midst. In the name of equality, these radical egalitarians would eradicate every form of natural leadership we have left here in America. Would that not be the end of our nation?
So let us boldly start making these clarifying distinctions in our speech and writing and explain to our friends why it is so important that they do this as well.