Monday, December 31, 2018


In the right relationship between elites and the public, the former acts as exemplars to the latter.  They embody and live out the master narratives.  We can think of George Washington returning to his farm after the Revolution as a striking example.  Abe Lincoln in his childhood log cabin and Tom Edison chasing the perfect filament also fit the type.  It almost didn't matter what these historic figures were like in person:  whether they were lovable or jerks.  The outline of their lives had displayed magnificently admirable traits, and previous generations of Americans agreed with Ortega on the power of exemplarity to raise human life to a higher plane.

The quality that sets the true elites apart -- that bestow authority on their actions and expressions -- isn't power, or wealth, or education, or even persuasiveness.  It's integrity in life and work.  A healthy society is on in which such exemplary types draw the public toward them purely by the force of their example.  Without compulsion, ordinary persons aspire to resemble the extraordinary, not superficially but fundamentally, because they will to partake of superior models of being or doing.  The good society, Ortega concluded, was an "engine of perfection."

-Martin Gurri, The Revolt of the Public

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