Democracy, Elites, & Legitimacy

From The Revolt of the Public by Martin Gurri:

The fate of democracy, I believe, is inextricably bound to the fate of elites in democratic nations. The current elite class, having lost its monopoly over information, has been stripped, probably forever, of the authorizing magic of legitimacy. [...] We need to understand more clearly the conditions of legitimacy under democratic rule. The revolt of the public is out in the open. The focus of analysis must move to a crisis of authority that has infected our sources of information --think "fake news" and "post-truth"– and rattled our political class into postures of panic and paralysis. The question agitating every defender of democracy is: How can this be reversed? A more precise phrasing would be: how are legitimate elites selected in democratic society? (p. 288)

A friend of mine sent me this book this week, and I've been reading it when I get a chance in between other things. Here are a few thoughts/reactions I'm having right now. My mind might change as I read more or mull this stuff over more.

  • I agree that who is considered a member of the "elite" in the liberal and social democracies of the world is going to have a significant impact on the future of democratic processes.
  • I agree that it has become more legitimate to question authority and those with elite status. In fact, I think revolt against elites (those with lots of knowledge or capital) has become fetishized.
  • I don't agree that elites have lost their monopoly over the means of production of information/knowledge. I think the type of "elite people" who control these means of production has changed very quickly.

Right now, I think there is a sort of "old school" kind of elite and a sort of  "it's so hot right now" sort of elite that is elite because it can expose the weaknesses of the old school elites. The question I have is this: How successful with this new sort of elite be in taking down the "old school" elites?

I don't know the answer. However, I think the answer will depend on how quickly or slowly the "old school" elites are at adapting. If the "old school" elites can quickly understand that they need to relinquish some of their power and prestige and be more genuine, I think they have a good chance of surviving the storm. If they try to horde their knowledge, capital, and other forms of power, I think many of them will be taken out...

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