Daily Archives: March 7, 2011

Frye: “There can be no general elite in a democratic society”

Jon Stewart exposes the hypocrisy of those who begrudge teachers their union-negotiated $50,000 a year plus benefits salaries but also fiercely defend the Bush tax cuts for the top percentile of wage earners and defend the kleptocracy and billion dollar bonuses of Wall Street. Watch the video here.

Frye in The Modern Century captures nicely the sinister forces now openly undermining American democracy, especially a “general elite” employing immediately recognizable agents provocateurs — Ailes, Palin, O’Reilly, Beck, Limbaugh, and so on — who are attempting to consolidate political and economic power while simultaneously instilling confusion, fear and resentment in an already assailed general population through the incessant clanging of tin pot patriotism. Replace “John Birch Society” with “Tea Party,” “nostalgic intellectuals” with “neo-conservatives,” and “those who readily identify themselves as belonging to some kind of elite that a closed myth would produce” with mealy-mouthed white bread demagogues like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, and this passage is fully up to date:

In the democracies there are many who would like to see a closed mythology take over.  Some are hysterical, like the John Birch Society, who want a myth of the American way of life, as they understand it, imposed on everything. . . . Some are nostalgic intellectuals, usually with a strong religious bias, who are bemused by the “unity” of medieval culture and would like to see some kind of “return” to it.  Some are people who can readily imagine themselves as belonging to some kind of elite that a closed myth would produce.  Some are sincere believers in democracy who feel that democracy is at a disadvantage in not have a clear and unquestioned program of its beliefs. . . [T]here can be no general elite in a democratic society: in a democracy everybody belongs to some kind of elite, which derives from its social function a particular knowledge or skill that no other group has. (CW 11, 66-7)

Everybody belongs to an elite — like, say, teachers and nurses and police officers and fire fighters, who represent their common interests by way of labor unions; much the same way corporations have their common interests represented by Republican legislators and the “corporations are people too” Supreme Court of Roberts/Scalia/Thomas/Alito.