| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
|—Mark Stein on Mustardgate, The Rush Limbaugh Show 5.7.09|
Elitism is the perpetuation of the values of an "elite."
"Elite" can refer to two groups:
- Those who want to maintain a self-perpetuating oligarchy's social/political/economic domination.
- The small group consisting of the best of the best in a given field.
A depressingly large number of people cannot distinguish between the two meanings, probably due to anti-intellectualism.
As the term is most often used, it is a silly misnomer. When somebody calls someone else an "elitist," it means that the accuser views the accused as being "high and mighty," "snobbish," or generally having a holier-than-thou attitude (see also yuppie). It's also often attached to the term "liberal" (i.e. "those liberal elitists want to take away my guns and make my kids gay"). In reality, most people who are termed "elitists" are actually very well-educated and more knowledgeable about the subject in question than an average Joe. In this sense it is also used as a snarl word by anti-intellectuals.
However, some people prefer to act like complete dicks, and have a superiority complex without actually having any formal basis to back it up (see Adolf Hitler). These people are assholes rather than elitists, because being termed an "elitist" in the above context implies that you actually do have a legitimate reason to be part of the elite.
Aside from all that, elitism can also refer to a group of people who consider their aligned cultural leanings to be superior based on subjective preference (leading to such irritating phenomena as fanboyism).
- Many people see doctors as elitists. This is because doctors spent 8-12 years learning what they do; they have a legitimate reason to act as part of the elite in regards to what they do. This is also true of scientists, lawyers, and space explorers.
- Rich people are often seen as elitist. Many people seem to forget that earning all that money sometimes takes some kind of special skill or ingenuity… or at least getting born into the family of someone who had those attributes… or doing bad things.
- Hananoki, Eric, "Dijon Derangement Syndrome: Conservative media attack Obama for burger order", Media Matters (May 7, 2009 4:49 PM EDT).