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The Treason of the Elites

PARIS: Elites are insecure everywhere nowadays. Some, if not most, politicians are suspected of corruption. Corporate managers are blamed for seeking short-term and personal profit, not social prosperity. Union bosses are derided for backwardness, intellectuals for seeking fame instead of truth, journalists for pandering. These jibes, paradoxically, go hand-in-hand with efforts to appeal to and rely upon those very same elites.

Democracies seem to need elites but find the idea of them offensive. France is a case study in this political schizophrenia. The old elitist French system is widely seen as the cause of a stunted economy, educational system, even democracy. Because a society does not become “blocked” on its own a small, isolated group that perceives all change as an attack on itself, is blamed.

Examples of paralysis abound: the absence of serious external evaluations at universities; Parliament’s blind spots regarding Government oversight; overlapping local power brokers; insufficient supervisory bodies in big companies. Some call this “Parisianism” – rule by an intellectual elite closed to the world outside itself. Much of the press fawns over the power of this cramped intelligentsia, which of course undermines efforts to change it.

An uninspiring (but successful) recent book entitled The French Omerta reflects society’s voyeurism and impotent anger; many people feel that empty and sterile political games are being played for the purpose of making certain that nothing changes. In the face of such helplessness, populism on the extreme right is now matched by protest from the extreme left, both signs of a general feeling of entrapment.