Published:  01:10 AM, 04 January 2019

Elitism versus Snobbery in egalitarian society


Elitism is a term which is in process in human psyche from time immemorial. Born with common biological feature, it is perhaps an inborn human tendency to become elite in a society filled with cross-section of people of different race, color, size and religious divides. If we go back into the 5000 years of known history, we can find elitism was in place in every segments of society or in the region over the ages.

Contrarily, snobbery is an off-shoot of elitism or can be otherwise seen as degenerated form of elitism. Snob is a pejorative term for a person that feels superiority over those from lower social classes, education level or other social areas.

In ancient Greece, elites were the ruling class. In Plato's Republic, we can trace aristocrats as elites and ruling class. Born with a blue blood-line of king Philip of Macedonia, Alexander the Great conquered almost half of the world and knocked the gate of India at the age of only 22. As a pupil of Aristotle, he preferred not to become a man of wisdom or philosopher but an invincible conqueror and died out of exhaustion and disease in the midway of accomplishing his desire to conquer the world.

In Egypt, Pharaohs and their associates were the kings and noblemen while the rest of the population were under the shackle of slavery with the beleaguered souls who erected out of their sweat & toil, the pyramid --- one of the seven wonders of the ancient civilization.

In the Roman Civilization which stretched long 1200 years in time frame occupying almost half the world, took another 300 years to fall out of conspiracy, intrigue and killings from within through a gradual process of history. Roman Emperors, the senators and the commanders of the strong Roman Army were the elites in the Empire with their great sense of feelings in attaining immortality, while the rest of the European population including of Prussia (Germany) were considered by the Romans as the barbarians. Legend has it, the commanders of the Roman Army used to detain a soldier in the battle field to stay in his close proximity to whisper in his ears _ "General, you are mortal":

Racial supremacy and discrimination indulged human race to create an elite class in the society avowed to take other relatively inferior race under the jack-boot of slavery, subjugation and repression in different names and forms. Although slavery is not the antonym of elitism, but it indirectly falls under a category opposite to the spirit of elitism which in its degenerated form--- snobbery, does not recognize the mass as even nearer to their class. Racial upper-hands which give rise to elitism and megalomania, denies freedom, equality and justice to the marginalized people.

'Elitism is the belief or attitude that some individuals, who form an elite-a select group of people with a certain ancestry, intrinsic quality or worth, high intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes-are those whose influence or authority is greater than that of others whose views on a matter are to be taken more seriously or carry more weight; whose views or actions are more likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities, or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.'

Alternatively, 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.'

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.'

No matter how subtly we paint the canvas to denote and justify that the arrangement will ultimately benefit humanity this way or other with the spirit of altruism, but on the other side of the coin, elitism is certainly described as utter discrimination in the society. In the colonial days, to serve their purpose in consolidating their strength a class was created in the society by the rulers of the colonial power in the strange and alien land of the sub-continent that they did not belong to. With the title and accreditation of Raja, Moharaja, Khan Bahadar, Roy Bahadur, Zaminder etc. a class was created from among witty and clever persons by a pick & choose method by the colonial power. Those elite classes were engaged, apart from serving the interest of their foreign masters, in their self aggrandizement with, in some cases, doing good and beneficial for the society.

While creating an water-tied-compartment with an iron curtain, the elites lived to remain secluded from the mainstream population no doubt, but remained meticulous in reaping the harvest flowed from the sweats and toils of the common people engaged particularly in the agricultural sector. Commoners with gullible trait remained in long slumber and apathetic to their repressions and denial of fundamental rights as long as they were not awakened like a sleeping volcano erupting with rage and fury out of natural cataclysm and jolt.

In Russia in 1917 during Bolshevik Revolution, commoners erupted like a sleeping volcano and the Russian Empire under the Czar Nicolas 2 crumbed like a pack of cards, with apparently obliterating elite society and establishing an egalitarian state for the proletariats. During long 70 years of proletariats rule under the red banner of hammer and sickle, another elitist society grew in disguise without being noticed under the shadow of communism which purportedly led to the collapse of the Soviet union under the cover of Perestroika and Glasnost spearheading the self destruction of a mighty Soviet empire, the world have ever witnessed in the contemporary history, thus creating a new elitist society under the warm comfort and luxury of dacha in neo-Russian Empire.

During French Revolution in 1789, French people shook the seat of power of Louis 14 and destroyed the Bastille fort --- a frightening symbol of tyranny and oppression and established the first Republic with an egalitarian society asserting equality of mankind. A new elitist class equally grew there in disguise with a new face and characteristic feature.

It is evident from the record of history that elitism surfaces round and round over the span of time in different names and titles. Elitism took a deep root in the society of this part of the world too with the British rule of long 190 years which created this special class with the motive of consolidating their rule longer and longer.

It is true that certain positive contribution of the British rule in the region is reflected in our education, administration, legal system, civil and military bureaucracy, communication with wide range of Railway networking and in many more other sectors is undoubtedly commendable in deed despite many inherent follies of colonization remained within it. During their long rule, the British Raj promoted the culture of establishing exclusive clubs and societies of the elite class for leisure and pastime.

Primarily those clubs and societies were exclusively meant for the whites, in some cases, with a notice board affixed in the entry with sarcasm reading 'natives and dogs not allowed'. But with the passage of time, with a view to creating an elite class from the local stock, they relaxed the regulations and inducted very selective locals of 'high esteem' from the society as members of the club.

With their frequent and close association with the whites in the given situation, local elites morbidly learned all the intricate and outlandish culture and etiquette and introduced the same in the high class elitists society within them that ultimately transformed them either wholly or partially into the morass of snobbery snob that believes there is a correlation between social status and human worth. 'Behavior patterns of snobbery which show that you think you are better than other people, because you belong to a higher social class or know much more than they do. 'Snobbery appears when elements of culture are perceived as belonging to an elite and snobs feel that the mere adoption of the fashion and tastes of the elite is sufficient to include someone's in the elites, upper classes'.

'A form of snobbery can be adopted by someone not a part of that group; a pseudo-intellectual, a celebrity worshipper, and a poor person idolizing money and the rich are types of snobs who do not base their snobbery on their personal attributes. Such sobs idolize and imitate, if possible, the manners, and lifestyle of a classification of people to which they aspire, but do no belong'. 

In doing so, some local elites turned snob morbidly shift themselves from the local culture that are in-built in their genetic system of varied ethnicity through a deep rooted genealogical tree of heredity that refuses to die-down over the long years of being nurtured and nourished in the elitists turned snobbish culture and mind-set.

It is imperative that the elitists with the developed intellectual and cultured faculty of mind guide the society and the country in the right direction and order for betterment of the society.

Demonstration of over elitism by, in other way indulging in vile snobbery, some section of the people with total disregard to core values of life and with having no other quality or intellectual brushing in their traits other than having absolute dependency on money, muscle and wealth, in many cases, amassing through squandering the public coffer; infests the country with unwanted alien culture thereby blatantly pushing aside the local culture, history, language, national pride and heritage; is suicidal in deed by all measures towards shaping a healthy nation. Adage says "to be a Christian is good but dare we never be a. better Christian than the Pope"

As stated, existence of elitism is as old as civilization itself. With the wind of changes, egalitarianism and pluralism replaced autocracy, aristocracy and oligarchy in the social order and modern state. But the seed of elitism remains implanted in the veins and arteries of the society and remains visible either consciously or sub-consciously in all walks of life no matter how forcefully the civilized world assert the equality of mankind with the brand name of egalitarianism with equal social justice.

Therefore, elite theorists regard egalitarianism and pluralism as a Utopian ideal never to be in place in reality thus leaving a permanent niche for elitism and to some extend symptom of snobbery in all social orders. God help us in doing away seeds of snobbery, at least from the trait of elitism, in an egalitarian society


The writer is a former civil servant

---Mahbubar Rahman

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