In my rather obsessive questioning of my own positions, especially those which are controversial, I wonder especially about those which appear on the surface to be wrongheaded, to go against the common wisdom, the obvious. However much I love the Chestertonian (and rabbinic) approach of asking immediately Perhaps the opposite is (also) true, I am aware that this can sometimes go wrong; the cliche is in place for a good reason, and "what everyone thinks" is true, while I am simply being obstinate and contrary.
This arises especially in discussion of The Elites. Shouldn't it be the most natural thing in the world that those who have devoted their life to the study of a subject and earned their daily bread by considering it from a variety of angles in consultation with like-minded others actually be the experts, the people we turn to for answers. Why should we think that some jibroney who's read a couple of articles online is more likely to get economics, or Venezuela, or climate change right? At a minimum, we should see why people who have been listening to those experts find it strange that alternative voices should take priority.
Because I am often on the side of the jibroneys these days I think it wise to consider whether this makes any sense at all or I am just being difficult. In my own field of mental health, for example, I can often see where many of the experts, both historical and current, have gotten things dangerously wrong, but also where the general public is equally stupid or worse. What it often comes down to is listening impatiently to someone lecturing me about my own knowledge and thinking to myself the downfall of your particular point-of-view is that it does not - and sometimes rather spectacularly does not - actually work. James may know to his great frustration the blind spots of modern academic physicists, or JMSmith of geographers, or my half-dozen lawyers, doctors, and engineers the same in their fields. But that doesn't mean they therefore sign on to Worlds In Collision, or Scientology, or QAnon, just because. Those groups may have gone down ridiculous paths with arrogant assurance, but they are seldom dolts. There are things they do know, which you and I do not, and emphatically, those populists who are certain that the Common Man just somehow knows more about these things for no apparent reason also does not know.
If I were to (again) engage in an extended discussion of how it is that the people who know a great deal can go so deeply awry I would start with the assumptions passed down among them. When they are wrong we often have to go very far back into their training, the formation of their bubbles, and even their personalities to figure out how that came to be.
So I doubt, and I wonder. And then I encounter writings entirely by surprise, when reading up on other subjects entirely, which illuminates the issue from another direction. In reading CS Lewis "Lilies That Fester," written in 1955, which could be written today, with only slight changes of vocabulary. He writes from start to finish about how the Refined might be wrong, might not be reliable in matters of literature, but in the midst of that broadens the topic to the influence and even control that such people have over many aspects of British society in his day.
Mr. Forster feels anxious because he dreads Theocracy. Now if he expects to see a Theocracy set up in modern England, I myself believe his expectation to be wholly chimerical. (We now know that Lewis was enbtirely and obviously right in this and Mr. Forster ridiculously wrong, AVI) But I wish to make it very clear that, if I thought the thing in the least probable, I should feel about it exactly as he does. I fully embrace the maxim (which he borrows from a Christian) that ‘all power corrupts.’ I would go further. The loftier the pretensions of the power, the more meddlesome, inhuman, and oppressive it will be. Theocracy is the worst of all possible governments. All political power is at best a necessary evil: but it is least evil when its sanctions are most modest and commonplace, when it claims no more than to be useful or convenient and sets itself strictly limited objectives. Anything transcendental or spiritual, or even anything very strongly ethical, in its pretensions is dangerous and encourages it to meddle with our private lives. Let the shoemaker stick to his last. Thus the Renaissance doctrine of Divine Right is for me a corruption of monarchy; Rousseau’s General Will, of democracy; racial mysticisms, of nationality. And Theocracy, I admit and even insist, is the worst corruption of all.
But then I don't think we are in any danger of it. What I think we are really in danger of is something that would be only one degree less intolerable, and intolerable in almost the same way. I would call it Charientocracy; not the rule of the saints but the rule of the χαρίεντες, the venustiores, the Hotel de Rambouillet, the Wits, the Polite, the "Souls," the "Apostles” the Sensitive, the Cultured, the Integrated, or whatever the latest password may be*. I will explain how I think it could come about.
The old social classes have broken up. Two results follow. On the one hand, since most men, as Aristotle observed, do not like to be merely equal with all other men, we find all sorts of people building themselves into groups within which they can feel superior to the mass; little unofficial, self-appointed aristocracies. The Cultured increasingly form such a group. Notice their tendency to use the social term vulgar of those who disagree with them. Notice that Mr. Allen spoke of rebels against, or deserters from, this group, as denying not that they are "intellectual" but that they are "intellectuals” not hiding a quality but deprecating inclusion in a class. On the other hand, inevitably, there is coming into existence a new, real, ruling class: what has been called the Managerial Class. The coalescence of these two groups, the unofficial, self-appointed aristocracy of the Cultured and the actual Managerial rulers, will bring us to Charientocracy.
But the two groups are already coalescing, because education is increasingly the means of access to the Managerial Class...
I do recommend it all, as it does suddenly expand into issues we are discussing everywhere for the last twenty years and even in 2021. Lewis has foreseen much of it.
*We might now say “The Elites.”