The Liberal Metropolitan Elite
I encounter the bitterness of this three-part phrase with increasing frequency. In the same fashion as many political terms which are intended to be offensive it is, to an extent, merely descriptive. In the same fashion as the occasion when David Cameron called Ed Miliband ‘left wing‘, it is not offensive to the people at whom it is directed, choosing rather to excite the warm comfort of the converted.
Liberal is perhaps the most strange part of the triplet. In Britain, where I encounter the phrase, Liberty is one of the main priorities of the society and, generally speaking the function of authority is to maintain liberty. So, while the term ‘liberal’ is unoffensive to those who wear the term (such as myself, hence the strap-line of this blog), I want to show why liberal should be unoffensive to the writers and activists who attempt use this term as part of an insult — while trying to not use an every schoolboy knows fallacy.
I think that the simplest premise which I will need is that human will is a tenet which is worth protecting. Therefore the action of society should be to enable the individual to exert their will, given that it does not involve the harm of others, and to create a situation in which as many people as possible can act as they wish.
With this premise I move that maximising liberty is ethically commendable, though people who show disdain for liberals are not usually against liberty. For example, a person like Theresa May is not very enamored with the idea of allowing people to be sovereign over their actions with regard to the use of drugs, but is keen to promote the freedom of the individual to engage in economic activity and to make money — the two scenarios are just different expressions of the same premise. Therefore, when people say liberal, they don’t mean someone who wishes to expand and protect the liberty of the individual, as parts of this goal are expressed by diverse people and organisations. I move, therefore, that when someone says liberal in this context, they mean socially liberal. It would appear that we have arrived a back at the fact that for someone who describes theirself as X, being called X is not insulting or undermining. ‘Miliband is left-wing!’ — well thank you very much, Mr Cameron.
Defending social liberals, not pretending that this is anything other than a sprawling subject, they are usually better at not damning people for their nature rather than for their choices. On homosexuality: our liberal friends are proactive in fighting for the entitlement, of people who are born or develop an orientation other than heterosexuality, to the institutions and protections which are allotted to people who engage in quiet heterosexual sex in the missionary position. This, like any other instance of people disinheriting individuals because of a nature rather than a choice, is the in lowest order of cruelty and inequity.
Metropolitan is perhaps the most curious addition, making one wonder what the pundits have against cities. This component could be synonymous with ‘left-wing’ or even with the previous word, but I think that there is just a little more nuance. I can understand the fear that a metropolis evokes in the heats of a detractor; places bristling with new-money, industry, culture and the tangible tension which results from the presence of huge numbers of diverse people in close proximity. Cities are places of varied conversation, of motion — to use the word with scorn gives the impression that the speaker is a little to comfortable with things as they are, and who is perhaps a little scared of the modern ideas and concepts which emerge from a metropolis. This is not to say that cities are perfect, but to say that one should never be so eager to appropriate such a broad concept into such a catch phrase (unless when speaking in jest).
The use of ‘elite’ is the gaping solipsism of the phrase, again betraying a certain jealously or bitterness. The elite is comprised by the the best and most able people, therefore we should listen to their opinions; to fear the greatest or to discount them because of this position is the germ of atavism. The elite, because of their wealth and education, can access wide resources and experiences when they construct their opinion, meaning that it is useful to attend to their ideas — one doesn’t have to submit to their proposals, but pooh-poohing the opinion of an elite figure because of their status would be like, in a game of tennis, refusing to bat an air-born ball because a it had been served by a championship standard player.
The heart of the solipsism is that people should even think about using ‘elite’ as an insult. Mediocrity is not a virtue, membership of the elite isn’t something which people should disparage, but for which all should aspire — that’s why it’s called the elite.
’One must avoid snobbery and misanthropy. But one must also be unafraid to criticise those who reach for the lowest common denominator, and who sometimes succeed in finding it. This criticism would be effortless if there were no “people” waiting for just such an appeal. Any fool can lampoon a king or bishop or billionaire. A trifle more grit is required to face down a mob, or even a studio audience, that has decided it knows what it wants and is entitled to get it. And the fact that kings and bishops and billionaires often have more say than most in forming the appetites ad emotions of the crowd is not irrelevant, either.’ — Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian
So, I hope that speakers and writers choose another phrase, perhaps ‘socially liberal, left-wing snobs’ would be more accurate. However, I admit that there is something of a pull about semi-consciously using the wrong words, a pull which is particularly potent when their meaning is too broad and their value lesser. With that in mind, when this low-horse and masochistic noun-phrase is discarded it will probably be replaced with something in a similar style.
From → Essays