Recently I wrote about some policies advocated by the Swedish anti-immigration party (SD) regarding public funding of the arts. I remarked that the party’s suggestions show that their members do not have much education regarding the arts or public debates in the field during the past decades. “They are after all a party for the blue-eyed, blue-collar, disappointed, rural, jobless man.”
One of the comments to this intrigued me. Said Robert Pearse,
As opposed to the consciously multi-ethnic, university-educated, self-satisfied, city-dwelling, rich?
My, I haven’t seen such a display of elitism in years.
To begin with the factual matter, it appears that the typical voter who helped give the SD 20 seats in Swedish Parliament is not in fact consciously multi-ethnic, university-educated, (self-)satisfied, city-dwelling or rich. With that out of the way, let me examine the charge of elitism.
This word is not common in Swedish political discourse. I know that it’s used a lot in the US, where it seems generally to go hand in hand with distrust of academics, and is a sort of opposite to “populism”. I was really surprised when I learned that the American Left likes to be called populist. In Europe, populist parties offer anti-immigration dissatisfaction tickets on the brown edge of the right wing. If I have to choose between elitism and populism in European terms, I’m an elitist, thank you very much.
Elitism is the belief or attitude that some individuals, who supposedly form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight or those who view their own views as so; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.
To me, this begins to explain Mr. Pearse’s attitude. Note how he bundles “university-educated” with “rich”, and how Wikipedia enumerates “intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience”. In Sweden, where taxes are high, the public sector is large and a lot of things are free, you don’t have to be rich to get a good university education. You just have to be smart enough to study for your degree. Anybody can get a study loan here. And I certainly think that being smart and well-educated renders a person “especially fit to govern”. Who wants stupid people with no education (these two traits are separate) making important policy decisions? But as to wealth, I prefer my politicians comfortably but not extravagantly provided for.
I can really see why people would be angry with their political class, their “elite”, if the only way to join it was to pay huge term fees at Harvard or Princeton. But in Sweden, that is not the case. “Putting your kids through college” is not an issue here. Nobody has a trust fund. We pay a >30% income tax instead.