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A Call to the Elite

May 8, 2019 by

Noblesse oblige. That is the call to the elite that is central in the Dutch book Elite gezocht (2019), written by Ruben van Zwieten, a vicar, and Sander Schimmelpenninck, a journalist. The elite has the responsibility, they argue, to act honorably and generously to others.

The book is quite critical, sometimes even cynical, about the elite. In the first place, the authors blame the elite for self-denial: nobody wants to be part of the elite anymore. Because the elite are denying their own authority, the underclass is strengthened in its belief that something is wrong with them, they write.

Secondly, they accuse the elite of a structural mental and spiritual poverty. The elite, especially the business elite, attribute their sheer luck to their personal merits, often injustified. Furthermore, they lack imagination, are only able to think linear and are always working towards the next logical step. Quite an accusation.

Thirdly, they argue that the elite has too strong a focus on self-preservation; they are afraid to lose their privileged position. This is reinforced by the large gap between elite and underclass, which hardly mix anymore but have their own bubbles. The elite is hardly aware of what is really going on in lower classes and is even afraid of ‘the people’.

Fourthly, the authors signal a similarity between the business elite and organized crime: both have an omerta; they are closed systems, averse of transparency, overly sensitive. The dont’s for the elite include calling a spade a spade, revealing inside-information, going against the current; do it and you are out.

Van Zwieten and Schimmelpenninck advocate higher taxes on wealth and succession. They are surprised about the obsession within large parts of the population with high salaries for top executives, while inheritances and wealth are much more important as drivers of inequality.

This is a welcome book in the global discussion about the division in society. The elite are in the docks in all of the Western world, as this book demonstrates for the Netherlands. It is their own responsibility to reclaim their position.