30 June 2008

Elitism, moral and intellectual

How a person responds to an intelligent, confident, sensitive character that they encounter speaks volumes of their own bent of mind. If they react with feelings of inadequacy, envy or resentment they confess a lack of respect for such virtues as intelligence, confidence and sensitivity. If however they should feel admiration and even joy at having the opportunity to learn valuable lessons from such a great mind, they themselves possess a degree of that greatness, that nobility, of character. A virtuous person is quick to recognise the good in another, and will encourage that good to flourish or emulate it to their own betterment.

Thomas Mann, the German novelist, wrote that "in a democracy that does not respect intellectual life and is not guided by it, demagogy has free rein, and the level of the national life is lowered to that of the ignorant and uncultivated." The same observation can be made of the individual; a person who holds scant regard for intellectual, reflective endeavour lowers his character to the detriment of his potential for fulfilment and happiness. Thus degraded in mind, he becomes a source of life-negating forces that act on those he comes into contact with, on society at large and on the global community.

There is a pervasive aversion to any form of elitism, which is a symptom of egalitarianism gone amok. This climate of often unwarranted hostility towards the best and brightest minds contributes to a widespread dumbing down of culture as ever growing numbers of philistines sneer at any display of intelligence and hold the educated mind in contempt. Mann wrote that "this cannot happen if the principle of education is allowed to dominate and if the tendencies prevail to raise the lower classes to an appreciation of culture and to accept the leadership of the better elements." This last line must be qualified; such leadership should only be accepted if it is worthy of respect and admiration, if it is a leadership based on virtue and a dedication to the highest humanistic principles as determined by the nature of humanity itself. To discover what these principles are that any leadership must uphold, Alexander Pope gives us a nudge in the right direction in his 'An Essay on Man':

Know then thyself,

presume not God to scan;

The proper study of Mankind

is Man.


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