Far from being classless, Britain is inceasingly ruled by oligarchies of professional egalitarians. By exploiting popular sentiment and taste, the privileged and opportunistic can earn fortunes and occupy positions of authority, while all the time protesting that they are only giving the public what they want. In this text, Gerge Walden unmasks the new elites, a class whose ambitions for social control rival their aristocratic forbears and whose populum is in its own way as damaging to democracy.
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George Walden's The New Elites begins with a number of assumptions; first, that elites are defensible and desirable provided they are open; second, that Britain is a country where populist elites have never been more powerful or ubiquitous; and finally, that these new elites are more difficult to spot because our thinking about elites and masses remains congealed in Left/Right configurations. As befits a polymath and Cambridge scholar, Walden demonstrates his wide reading but, for a former Conservative Member of Parliament, he draws on some surprising sources for his sparkling political and cultural analysis: perhaps less incongruously from the Machiavellians Vilfredo Pareto, Robert Michels and Gaetano Mosca, but the self-confessed "anti-politician" who was not afraid to tell Tory grandees to bugger off also loses a few more friends at the Reform Club by employing those sainted elders of left-thinking intellectuals Antonio Gramsci and Hannah Arendt to hold a looking-glass up to Britannia.
Inevitably, one of the shortcomings of this ambitious book is that it covers too much ground too quickly. If the emergence of this new class is a genuine phenomenon--and Walden's argument certainly feels right in many ways--then it needs more than anecdotal support to bring it into convincing focus. But the real gold to be mined in Walden's slice through British cultural life is the searching and piquant questions he brings out into the open and the suggestiveness of the answers. If each age creates its own distinctive elites, in a populist democracy, what will ours look like? Does it make sense to think of "the masses" in terms of the social underdog? Ultimately, although intellectuals will no doubt tut at its breezy polemic, The New Elites is an educated, persuasive critique of the outworn political and sociological categorisations with which we think about "democracy", and "culture". This is a short, sharp, invigorating read , pithy, wise and irreverent in all the right places. Supporters of the Dome, Brit-art and Princess Diana prepare to be offended. --Larry BrownReview:
-- John Tulsa, Independent
'You have to read it.' -- Andrew Marr, Telegraph
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