Elitism is the belief or attitude that individuals who form an elite—a select group of people with an intrinsic quality, high intellect, wealth, special skills, or experience—are more likely to be constructive to society as a whole, and therefore deserve influence or authority greater than that of others. The term elitism may be used to describe a situation in which power is concentrated in the hands of a limited number of people. Oppositions of elitism include anti-elitism, egalitarianism, populism, and political theory of pluralism.
Elite theory is the sociological or political science analysis of elite influence in society: elite theorists regard pluralism as a utopian ideal.
Elitism is closely related to social class and what sociologists call social stratification, which in the Anglo Saxon tradition have long been anchored in the "blue blood" claims of hereditary nobility. Members of the upper classes are sometimes known as the social elite.
The term elitism is also sometimes used to denote situations in which a group of people claiming to possess high abilities or simply an in-group or cadre grant themselves extra privileges at the expense of others. This form of elitism may be described as discrimination.
Some synonyms for "elite" might be "upper-class" or "aristocratic", indicating that the individual in question has a relatively large degree of control over a society's means of production. This includes those who gain this position due to socioeconomic means and not personal achievement. However, these terms are misleading when discussing elitism as a political theory, because they are often associated with negative "class" connotations and fail to appreciate a more unbiased exploration of the philosophy.
Attributes that identify an elite vary; personal achievement may not be essential. Elitist status can be based on personal achievement, such as degrees from top-rate universities or impressive internships and job offers, it can (in archaic societies) be based on lineage or passed-on fame from parents or grandparents.
As a term, "elite" usually describes a person or group of people who are members of the uppermost class of society, and wealth can contribute to that class determination. Personal attributes commonly purported by elitist theorists to be characteristic of the elite include: rigorous study of, or great accomplishment within, a particular field; a long track record of competence in a demanding field; an extensive history of dedication and effort in service to a specific discipline (e.g., medicine or law) or a high degree of accomplishment, training or wisdom within a given field; a high degree of physical discipline, such as for administration of public service, maintaining and improving infrastructure, addressing extreme poverty, adherence to, individual or on a group level, the commonly used techniques which have tangible and/or spiritual benefits which improves the well-being of many of a societies members or contributes to the common good.
Elitists tend to favor social systems such as meritocracy, technocracy and plutocracy as opposed to political egalitarianism and populism. Elitists believe only a few "shakers and movers" truly change society, rather than the majority of people who only vote and elect the elites into power.
- "elitist | Definition of elitist in English by Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries | English. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
- Field, G. Lowell; Higley, John (October 14, 2013). Elitism (Routledge Revivals). Routledge. ISBN 9781135092214.
- "ELITIST | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary". dictionary.cambridge.org. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
- "Elite (elitist) theory". auburn.edu. Auburn University. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
- The dictionary definition of elitism at Wiktionary
- Deresiewicz, William (June 2008). The Disadvantages of an Elite Education. "Our best universities have forgotten that the reason they exist is to make minds, not careers." The American Scholar. Review of William Deresiewicz’s book Excellent Sheep (April 2015), Foreign Affairs