Book Review: In Defense Of Elitism

In Defense Of Elitism:  Why I’m Better Than You And You Are Better Than Someone Who Didn’t Buy This Book, by Joel Stein

This book is meant as a humorous defense of the contemporary kleptocracy of the political elite, but it is really a sad book about an insecure Jewish schlubb striving to get into the inner ring and find a secure place as an elite in a world that is growing increasingly hostile to such elites.  It is easy to see why a wannabe Jewish intellectual who worked for such not-corrupt individuals as Martha Stewart and has found himself downsized by the failures of the maintream leftist press would want to avoid the tribalism of the populist right, but his attempt to praise the sort of elites he wishes to join even as they have proven themselves increasingly rejected by both the right and left ends up looking tragicomical instead of glorious.  When trying to insult Lee Strobel’s case for faith by making the claim that “sacred history isn’t history” and praising people like Bill Kristol as being examples to follow, the author shows himself to be unsympathetic as well as clueless, and one only pities him because one sees how this movie is going to end for the author and it will end in grief and tears and immense suffering.

This book is about 300 pages long and is divided into five parts and 22 chapters where the author mostly attempts and fails to view contemporary politics through a comic perspective.  The author begins with eight chapters that find him traveling to rural Texas and trying to figure out how it is that contemporary populists live, finding community and faith and a desire to be left alone in the face of drastic and unpleasant cultural change in the people he meets and talks with (I).  After that the author discusses his own love of the elite (II), including shrill leftist resistance parties (9), the loop (10) that connects these elites together, and Puppet pig (11).  The author then shows a bit of his self-contradictory side by pointing out that populists have elites too, just of a different kind (III), in talking to the creator of Dilbert (12), looking at the care actors who try to portray the mistrust of contemporary doctors (13), and deal with issues like meme lords (14), and the contrast between the author’s preferred elites and populist boat elites (17) as well as Tucker Carlson (18).   After this the author discusses elite populists like those who were once content to be middlebrow, a category which would likely include people like myself (IV, 19), before ending with some chapters that purport to save the elite (V) through nonviolent cooperation between establishment Republicans and Democrats (20) and the justification of elites whose existence and power has become increasingly problematic.

Ultimately, the argument of this book is so transparently self-serving and self-contradictory that it is not even worthwhile to get angry about it.  The author notes correctly that there are always going to be elites–it is simply that the author has chosen the wrong elites to support in a dangerous world where tougher leaders are needed and where the author cannot even justify the power that the contemporary corrupt elites have in our political and cultural system.  And I say this as someone who is by no means enamored of the contemporary populism that can be found on both sides of our political spectrum [1].  The author is certainly praiseworthy in his desire to defend the value of civility and restraint and intellectual curiosity and indeed intellectualism in general, as these are all things I find to be generally worthy of commendation.  That said, the author fails to deal with the real problem or come up with a solution to it, if it is indeed possible, and that is justifying the existence and the power of the corrupt elite which he wishes to join and which will simply exploit him for everything that he is worth and then abandon him to his fate when it becomes convenient for them to do so in the face of rising hostility to corrupt elites that is frequently tinged, as if it often is, with the foul odor of anti-Semitism.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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