Category Archives: élitism

How the Left destroyed many of England’s finest schools

St Marylebone Grammar School, where Eric Hobsbawm was a pupil (though he rarely alluded to his time there, and it was never mentioned in brief biographical accounts in, say, blurbs for his books). The school was closed in 1981 under the government of Margaret Thatcher who, Dalrymple points out,

St Marylebone Grammar School, where the Marxist historian and Stalin apologist Eric Hobsbawm CH was a pupil (though he rarely alluded to his time there, and it was never mentioned in brief biographical accounts in, say, blurbs for his books). The school was closed down in 1981 under the government of Margaret Thatcher who, Dalrymple points out, did much—perhaps more than anyone else—to forward the destruction of the grammar schools

Modern political thought fails, writes Dalrymple,

to distinguish between élitism and social exclusivity. From this failure stems an enormous, costly, and increasingly intolerant attempt to rectify what is not wrong in the first place. One fights chimeras the better to avoid confrontation with real enemies.

In Britain,

the fanatics of formal equality of opportunity have triumphed over the moderates of at least some real opportunity for all, because in the world of modern democratic politics, a declared aim is more important than an actual effect.

In the pre-reform British state educational system,

attendance at a grammar school in a poor area was a virtual guarantee of its pupils’ social ascent into the middle class. In these schools, the education given was self-consciously not ‘relevant’ to the pupil’s experience. It was often precisely his experience that held him back, that forged the man-made manacles. The learning of French, say, might not be of much use in the slums, but it was not supposed that the pupil would stay in the slums forever; at the very least, learning it would broaden his outlook on the world.

This education

reflected, and required, a cultural and even a mildly ideological confidence on the part of those who transmitted it. The preceptors believed that there were higher intellectual attainments that were worthwhile in themselves, and that assisting the low-born to ascend the social ladder was a worthy and even a noble end.

The system came under attack for two reasons.

(1) The practical reason was

the correct observation that the education offered in the non-grammar schools was often, or usually, of a wretched standard, neither academic nor even properly technical. A large part of the population was left semi-literate and semi-numerate. This left them difficult to train to become skilled workers. A large and increasing bureaucracy such as that which ran and runs the British educational system, faced with a part that functions well and a part that functions badly, will always choose the destruction of the part that functions well as the solution to supposedly improving the whole. It is their equivalent of  Schumpeter’s creative destruction, except that it is destructive destruction. It is easy to destroy (success is almost certain) but difficult to improve. Moreover, all judgment being comparative, the good always throws a lurid light on the bad. Equality of mediocrity assures the peaceful existence of the bureaucrat.

(2) The political attack was from two directions.

(a) It was increasingly denied by intellectuals that there were any higher intellectual attainments that were worthwhile in themselves. The hierarchy of such attainments was based upon a foundation that, being metaphysically assailable, was deemed not to exist. This affected pædagogy profoundly, once the attitude had made its long march through the institutions.

(b) The point was made by the ‘reformers’ that social ascent was undesirable, and positively harmful in so far as it reinforced the structure of an unjust society that was in need of destruction, not amelioration. Offering poor children the opportunity for social ascent was like treating cancer with an anti-depressant. Aspiration in an unfair society preserved the unfairness.

Kesteven and Grantham Girls' School, where Margaret Thatcher was a pupil. Needless to say, her government decided not to close it

Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, where Margaret Thatcher was a pupil. Needless to say, her government decided not to close it

There was, Dalrymple points out,

no demand from below for the amalgamation of good and bad schools. The demand came almost entirely from the intellectual wing of the political class.

The meritocratic system was destroyed

in the name of undermining social exclusivity, the theory of it being so much more important than the practice.

Once the destruction started, resistance crumbled. Margaret Thatcher,

herself a product of the system, did much—perhaps more than anyone else—to forward the destruction.

The result was that

a class society came to look more like a caste society. If the teaching of grammar, for example, were abandoned on the theory that no form of language was superior to any other, an enormous additional advantage was handed, ex officio, to middle-class children for whom Standard English was their native tongue. In addition, the middle classes were able to avoid or evade prevailing low standards.

The British socialist politician Anthony Crosland (Highgate and Trinity College, Oxford) served as education secretary and was one of the architects of the destruction of the grammar schools. He once said: 'If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales. And Northern Ireland.'

The British socialist politician Anthony Crosland (Highgate and Trinity College, Oxford) served as education secretary and was one of the architects of the destruction of the grammar schools. He once said: ‘If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales. And Northern Ireland.’

The grammar schools had cultural as well as educational effects.

They kept aspiration alive where it was so easily lost (all the more so as jobs for an unskilled working class evaporated). They suggested a hierarchy of achievement, in which celebrity and football had little place, let alone the hegemony in the minds of the poor that they now have. (Surveys of British children show that the word ‘talent’ is associated by them with pop music or football, and nothing else.)

Élites tend to reproduce themselves,

which is as it should be when you stop to think about it by comparing it with the alternative: a society in which parents do not care specially about their children and make no efforts to secure them the advantages that they themselves have had or achieved.

But

a class society is not a closed society.

A closed society

is what attempts to bring about a type of equality other than equality under the law eventuate in.

Wanted: egalitarian-élitist with a good sense of humour

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 15.25.19Dalrymple enjoys Paul Hollander’s 2008 work The Only Superpower: Reflections on Strength, Weakness and Anti-Americanism, especially the analysis of the personal advertisements in the Review of Books of New York.

The personal adverts

suggest a degree of social isolation: substantial numbers of people are unable to find partners by the customary routes of work, friendship, community, and so forth.

The self-descriptions of the people who place the personal ads

are revealing of the tastes, worldview, and ideals of a sector of the population that is important well beyond its demographic size.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 16.04.23The ‘personals’

give a powerful impression not so much of hypocrisy as of lack of self-knowledge.

The ads’ authors

claim to be profoundly individual, yet there is an underlying uniformity and conventionality to everything that they say about themselves. Their desire to escape convention is deeply conventional.

Their opinions

are democratic, but their tastes are exclusive. Tuscany and good claret mean more to them than beach resorts and the Boston Red Sox.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 16.10.11They think of themselves as funny

and demand humour in others, but they succeed in conveying only earnestness and the impression of deadening solemnity. (Demanding that someone be funny is a bit like demanding that he be natural for the camera.)

Contented with,

and even complacent about, their position in the world, they somehow see themselves as enemies of the status quo. They are ideologically egalitarian, but psychologically élitist: Lord, make everyone equal, but not just yet.

With their memories of the 60s,

when to be young was very heaven, they still believe that an oppositional stance in pursuit of perfection is virtuous in itself—indeed, is the prime or sole content of virtue. And it is this belief that makes genuine moral reflection about the nature of various governments and policies impossible. It transforms merely personal discontents into matters of supposedly great general importance.

Ghettoised Sweden

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 09.06.25Dalrymple points out that last year, Sweden took in 100,000 migrants and this year it is estimated that it will have taken in 190,000, equivalent to 3 per cent of the population. He says:

If this rate were to continue for very long, Sweden would be irreversibly changed for ever.

On the London Guardian newspaper’s website, Dalrymple comes across a video about the Sverigedemokraterna or Sweden Democrats, a political party opposed to mass immigration. Dalrymple writes:

The Guardian journalist interviewed young members and made them appear arrogant and unattractive. Whether this was the result of editing or a true representation of them, or both, I cannot say. She herself appeared intolerably smug and self-righteous, arrogant in a different way. She asked the young Swedes what was wrong with vibrant multicultural societies such as Britain and France.

Even from the video,

what was shown, no doubt unintentionally, was that Sweden was not multicultural, it was ghettoised, with practically no contact whatever between the refugees and natives.

The Swedes, says Dalrymple,

throw social security to the refugees as zookeepers throw meat to the lions.

One of the questions of the Guardian journalist to the young Swedes was

Why do you dress so smartly?

The question was asked, says Dalrymple,

in an accusatory tone, as if dressing smartly was yet another of their bad qualities, a derogation of their duty to appear casually or scruffily dressed like almost everyone else in modern society.

For the person who asked it,

any kind of formality in dress was symbolic of élitist or exclusivist political sympathies, whereas casual dress, the prevailing any-old-howism of the majority of the population, was symbolic of democratic and egalitarian sympathies, a demonstration of solidarity with the poor of the world. Whether poor people in Africa actually benefit from rich people dressing in expensively-torn jeans and T-shirts is not important: as with presents, it is the thought that counts.

There is another way of looking at it, Dalrymple says.

To dress well is a sign of respect for other people and society, to dress scruffily is a sign of disrespect for them, a sign of the purest egoism. Perhaps it is even possible to express élitism and respect at the same time.

The theory and practice of oligarchical egalitarianism

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 11.48.42Dalrymple Q&A

You have spoken, doctor, of what you call the reversal of the direction of emulation. What do you mean?

Until quite recently, emulators emulated those higher in the social scale than themselves, which meant that there were more emulators than emulated. Now it is persons in or from a higher social class who emulate those in a lower social class.

How do those persons from a higher social class do this?

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 12.02.44They adopt the manner of speaking, dress and cultural tastes of those below them. Intellectuals affect vulgar expressions, and anyone with an avowed uninterest either in sport or in popular music is suspected at once of enmity towards the people.

What is the meaning of this change in the direction of cultural influence and aspiration?

It signifies the complete ideological victory of egalitarianism, from which few dare derogate.

Is not this all quite bogus?

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 12.28.29Of course. There is a vast difference between the pays idéologique and the pays réel. The desire for social and economic advance, to be at the top rather than at the bottom of the social scale, is as acute as ever. The scramble for position and prestige is ferocious.

The pretence must be kept up, must it not?

The desire to stand out from and above one’s fellows cannot be avowed, except perhaps in the context of sport.

Musée du quai Branly, Paris

Masks, Musée du quai Branly, Paris

Granted that the downward cultural aspiration of members of the corrupt élite is purely defensive, how do they maintain the fiction?

If they indulge in egalitarianism in the symbolic field, they hope that their economic inegalitarianism will go, if not unnoticed, at least less noticed. Once they are in private, they can drop their affected egalitarianism for public consumption and become what they are in reality, namely ferocious élitists.

Erzherzogin Maria Antonia am Spinett. Franz Xaver Wagenschön, c. 1769. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Erzherzogin Maria Antonia am Spinett. Franz Xaver Wagenschön, c. 1769. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

So the downward cultural aspiration, or apparent aspiration, is to the élitists vital.

It is the means by which the contradiction between the pays idéologique and the pays réel is reconciled, though only in appearance. And in a society in which what is virtual is as important as, if not more important than, what is real, an apparent reconciliation is as important as a real one.

Is there not a difficulty with this?

The problem is that what starts as affectation becomes habit which becomes character. In the end, the play-acting becomes real. If Marie Antoinette had played shepherdess for long and often enough, that is what eventually she would have been. The coarseness of popular culture triumphs — by degrees, to be sure — over all other forms.

What is the effect of the false egalitarianism on social mobility?

Snakes and ladders, late 19th century. Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Snakes and ladders, India, late 19th century. Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The fact that the higher echelons now ape the lower means that the lower have no need to aspire to anything in order to imagine themselves to be rising in the social scale, for there is nothing higher to emulate. The false egalitarianism serves to conserve the social structure as a fly is conserved in amber. Social mobility falls while culture becomes less refined.

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 13.09.38