Sieger-Essays des St. Gallen Symposiums Welche Eliten wollen wir eigentlich?
In einem weltweiten Essay-Wettbewerb hat das St. Gallen Symposium die drei besten Texte ausgezeichnet. Wir veröffentlichen hier den drittplatzierten Essay des diesjährigen Wettbewerbs, "Beyond Influence: Rethinking Elites in the Brave New World", im englischen Original.
Aldous Huxley was fascinated with elites. In his novel, Brave New World (1931), he creates a society of Alphas ruling over Betas, Deltas, Gammas and Epsilons in a caste system state order. The rules of society are simple. 1. Stability is valued over anything else - particularly anything that could engender fractures to the citizens' superficial sense of happiness. 2. The state religion is Fordism, modelled after the principles of Henry Ford: History is bunk, what counts is efficiency. 3. Truth and science are re-placed by Soma, a drug for emotional emergencies to alleviate feelings like guilt and shame. 4. No guilt - no responsibility.
Some would say "perfect system, isn't it?" and others that it is a grim fore-shadowing of the zeitgeist of the 21st century. And maybe in some ways today is even worse. In stark contrast we have no Soma to create stability and forget what is going on. 39 million people have died from AIDS, 65 million girls are out of school, 87 percent of global fish species are overexploited and the geopolitical conflict between Russia and the Ukraine is still simmering. Britain is the fifth richest country in the world, yet one out of four British children grows up in poverty, not even to speak of the situation in developing countries. Terrorist attacks in Paris reignite the religious debate and management of big data is tied to both great fear and great expectation. In a few years, there will be more bits of data in the digital cosmos than stars in the actual universe.
Beyond doubt, the challenges have shifted, but the general idea of what role elites assume in light of such developments might still hold. Against this background, we must ask if the characteristics depicted by Huxley are a reflection of this idea today.
The optimum population is modelled on the iceberg
Oxford dictionary defines elite in two ways. First, as a select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society, second as a group or class of people seen as having the most power and influence in a society, especially on account of wealth and privilege. Yet, the second definition seems to be dominant. Reuters forecasts that by the end of 2016, the wealthiest 1 percent will own more than the rest of the world population. Why is that the case?
- St. Gallen Symposium
God in the safe and Ford on the shelves
Concentration of power among elites is favourable if elites act as dutiful agents for society as their principal. Conversely, social theorist Robert Michels sensitises about oligarchic structures, alerting that "the leaders, who were at first no more than the executive organs of the collective, will soon emancipate themselves from the mass and become independent of its control." In market economies, regulators put a halt to the blossoming of such scenarios and the call for governance let supervisory committees and internal auditors sprout in the organisational landscape. In a societal or political context, however, regulating oligarchic power is challenging not only from an administrative point of view; in the way stands also the idealistic belief that elites use their ability to do good, not bad. This assumption is fundamentally flawed.
We like to think of Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King but forget that in different times, societies saw elites in Hitler, Zedong and Hussein. Clearly, this unearths not only an uncongenial tendency to switch off our memory and to black out jeopardies in hindsight; it also sheds light upon how we send misguided signals to subsequent generations that favour non-consequentialism and power abuse by minorities.
- 1. Teil: Welche Eliten wollen wir eigentlich?
- 2. Teil: We fell down a rabbit hole and landed in no man's land
- 3. Teil: Towards a new global elite
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