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Elite vs. Elitist

A comment I posted on Fred Wilson's blog:

People need to learn the difference between elitist and elite. Elite means "the choice or best of anything". We should demand that only the elite lead us. We celebrate the elite in almost every walk of life -- sports, business, entertainment. But, somehow, we seem to be skeptical of the elite in leading us because we think that they aren't like us.

Elitist means someone who believes "certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority". Elitists feel a sense of entitlement, perhaps because of their intelligence. I agree that someone who believes they are so entitled may not make a good leader, but you can't spot them because they have a large vocabulary or prefer to eat nicer foods.


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I actually think that none of McCain, Palin, Obama, or Biden are truly elitists. Each of them has faced real challenges in their lives that I am sure they have not forgotten. McCain is certainly the wealthiest, if you want to use that as a proxy for elitist, but I don't. I'm going to guess that Palin is the least wealthy, while Biden is often cited as the least wealthy US Senator. Each of them have plenty of experiences which keeps them in touch and appreciative of 'the rest of us'.

My overall point is that people are using intelligence (well educated, large vocabulary, etc.) and wealth as proxies for elitism. Instead, I think you need to look at the policies proposed and their impact on the broad population. Those who care the most about the people at the bottom are least likely to be elitist, in my opinion.

Fred -- one can be an elite and elitist. We call those elite elitists, and I think a lot of people regard Obama as precisely one of those.


you made an excellent point. May I suggest to add another differentiation: Elite in one field does not mean elite in general. Sports elite doesn't qualify for entertainment elite, business elite does not qualify for sports elite, entertainment elite does not qualify for business elite, and so on.

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