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Welcome to project Worldview's Worldview Watch
periodic commentary and analysis on news items from a worldview perspective

 previous issue                                          issue #3,  posted 1 /23 / 2010                      archive of all  issues

Populism vs. Elitism

in the news:    "...populism and elitism are the same thing.  They are class prejudices..." 
                           David Brooks, as stated on the PBS News Hour, January 22, 2010

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org) 

In a narrow sense this is perhaps true.  This viewpoint links both to something with negative connotations: prejudice.  If one instead connects them to something with a positive connotations--trust--the clear distinction between them, and the worldviews of populists and elitists, emerges.  Populists trust the collective wisdom and resourcefulness of ordinary people.  Elitists think these people are ill-prepared to decide what is best for society--they put their trust elsewhere: in a select group of clear-sighted, capable leaders and experts.  With this fundamental difference in who they trust, populists and elitists divide over preferred forms of government.  Populists favor democracy or a type of democratic socialism which values the labor of working people.  Rather than broad-based democracy, elitists prefer democratic elitism that restricts voting privileges. Tending to value capital more than labor, some elitists would be comfortable with wealth based oligarchy or monarchy.  Some would even tolerate authoritarian regimesó provided they perceive the regime's leadership as capable and competent.  Populists and elitists tend to confront social problems differently:  populists take "bottom up" approaches, whereas elitists opt for "top down" ones.  Given  their divide over wealth, populists typically identify with the struggling, oppressed poor, elitists with those affluent people who "have it made."  If we must bring something negative into this characterization, besides prejudice, consider fear.  Elitists may fear the collective strength of ordinary people--their potential to unite and, given their numbers, seize political power via the electoral process. 

Does society need more populism or more elitism?  No and Yes--I'd say we need neither and both! While we don't need more class prejudice, we need to find solutions that benefit from both populist and elitist perspectives.  As the PBS News Hour discussion eventually pointed out, USA President Barack Obama brings both: he is a former community organizer who was educated at  (among other places) Harvard. 

Worldview Themes often linked to Populism Worldview Themes often linked to Elitism
#21A   Populism  #20A  Elitism
#31   Education for Democracy #20B  Authoritarianism
#35B  Working for Change #2B   I Know What's Best For You
#24   Struggling With A Basic Need: Sustenance #43   Seeking Wealth & Power


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