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In Defense of Elitism Paperback – 1 Apr 1997

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Product details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group; Anchor Books ed edition (1 April 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385479433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385479431
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 758,904 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
SOMEWHERE along Bill Clinton's path to the White House it dawned on me that the term "elitist," which I had matter-of-factly applied to myself and most of my fellow liberal Democratic friends for decades, has come to rival if not outstrip "racist" as the foremost catchall pejorative of our times. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. T. Chelmowski on 28 Sept. 2006
Format: Paperback
Henry's book succesfully, debunks most myths surrounding such myths as inclusion, affirmative action, educational 'elitism' and relativism. It is written from the perspective of a liberal (something that he makes more than clear in his book) who is bothered by his ideals degenerating into a counter-productive caricature of themselves.

In essence this book is a call to once again embrace outstanding performance, excellence and individuality as virtues. It is a call to return to an educational system that not only pulls pupils through but that actually challenges and stimulates our youngsters.

All in all a must read.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not what I expected it to be, the book was a real eye opener and as a result being one of the few honest, straight to the point books in its field. I found myself draw to every page and dreaded its conclusion. Almost like reading a fantasy novel, although emotions may vary this book changed my way of viewing the world just like 'Dice man' changed my opinion of the US publishing industry as a refutable industry.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Allen Baird on 3 July 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've been on the hunt for a book like this for some time. A book that defends cultural elitism, consistently meritocratic principles, and individual achievement is not going to be easy to acquire, one would think, outside the confines of the esoteric (Julius Evola), the economic (F. A. Hayek) or the entertaining (Ayn Rand). But this author, William A Henry III, was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, a social liberal, a Democrat Party member. Not a 'usual suspect' then.

His thesis here is radical: some things (cultures, ideas, works of art, achievements, contributions, people) are better (more enduring, more sophisticated, more universally beneficial, less dispensable) than others. This is an objective judgement, reflecting a state of values in the world. The subsequent production of rank and hierarchy among these things is unavoidable and in fact to be embraced. Let's have a taste of what this means from the opening chapter.

For Henry, real-world result and attainments are everything. "Talent, achievement, practice and learning" (12) are what makes winners, and a society that encourages "its winners to achieve more" will "benefit everyone." For one person to be better than another means "smarter, harder working, more learned, more productive, harder to replace" (14). Elitists cheer "victory and conquest" (16), and superior cultures expand by "trade or cultural imperialism or conquest or all of the above" (30).

Henry opposes this 'elitism' with post-modern versions of egalitarianism, which holds that it is unethical to talk in terms of superiority and inferiority at all. For these egalitarians, every value judgment is relative, subjective, and based on power plays rather than reason.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 Jun. 1999
Format: Paperback
Mr. Henry is admired for saying in this book what others have apparently wanted to say for some time. That is, unfortunately, all he does. The book makes broad generalizations with very little evidentiary support. It is fluent ranting, but far from an intellectual pursuit. Mr. Henry set up straw men in those he opposed, making even his most resonant points questionable empirically. He uses the language well, but has difficulty with the evidence.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 45 reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
A call-to-arms if there ever was one........ 5 Nov. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In two sittings, I became familiar with one of the least appreciated and most forthright books of the decade. I do hope it is one day revisited, for William Henry has written what can only be described as a blistering attack on the self-righteousness and intellectual bankruptcy of the contemporary American scene. Inflicting his venomous attacks on both the Left and Right, Henry demonstrates that what threatens America is not a lack of "morality," but rather an unhealthy obsession with mediocrity. He sees Americans for the fat, complacent, utterly jaded people that they are; childishly cynical, self-promoting, and appallingly ignorant of anything even remotely resembling enlightened thought. Henry rightly indicts our leanings toward softness and the elevation of a "bottom up" philosophy; a process which uses a perverted populism to attack achievement, distinction, and the very idea of quality. Postmodernism certainly leads the pack in terms of blame for this mess, but there are enough failing grades to go around.
59 of 69 people found the following review helpful
Worthy but incomplete 19 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The best thing about "In Defense of Elitism" is its bluntness and mostly unapologetic tone (I don't know why Henry feels compelled to trot out his liberal credentials). The greatest flaw of the book is that Henry sorely overlooks a glaring irony: most of the tenets of cultural illiberalism and "identity politics" that he rightly assails were formulated and propagated by the elite. What Henry is really attacking is not egalitarianism but a self-insulated elite that panders to a misguided notion of egalitarianism. It is not the "elite" but the majority of middle-class America that has held most steadfastly to the individualist ethos that Henry praises, and it is only now that the "elite" is beginning to "rediscover" values that they have long dismissed as products of the sexist, racist, ignorant, and philistine masses.
Interestingly, Henry has something in common with the liberal "elite" he despises, which is a contempt for the middle-class aesthetic. He reveals this in the seventh chapter, easily the worst of the book. He includes both sensationalistic news coverage and family photo albums in his indictment of our culture of celebrity (often appropriately called "star-f***ing") without distinguishing between the pernicious and the harmless. His tirade against karaoke is just plain weird--does he object to having fun?
Perhaps Henry's book should have been titled "In Defense of Merit" instead. His main thesis seems to be that people should look up to the successful and seek to emulate them, not destroy them, and that the aristocracy of talent has an obligation to encourage our better angels.
Unfortunately, this laudable reassertion of the individualist/meritocratic ethos is clouded by an authoritarian impulse that is more in line with the traditional notion of nobility rather than a society based on objective rewards and punishments. The problem of elitism is that all too often people appoint themselves as elites and then seek to impose their will on the rest of society like some Niezstchean superman. If you truly believe that you have ideas and values that are superior, the best way to enforce these ideas and values in a manner consistent with a (classical) liberal society is to SET AN EXAMPLE. Instead of sitting back and whining about how the masses are "uncultured" or turning yourself into a social hermit, get out there and DO SOMETHING about it. If your ideas and values are truly the best, the great filtering process of time will serve you and people will come to you. Henry never provides a call to action in a clear and forceful way, and by this failing his book merely adds to the cacophony of complaint.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A Defense for the Defiant 25 May 2000
By Dr. Dan Turner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Henry pursuasively demythologizes the sacred creed of the American Left. By setting his sights on affirmative action, Afrocentrism, multiculturalism, and other ideological myths, and examining them from a liberal's perspective--he calls himself a "card-carrying" member of the ACLU, among other things--Henry faces correctness with power and wit. Short on scholarly citation, but long on anecdotal insights, it is a challenging, even encouraging, book to those of us who defy the mediocre uniformity of Liberal America's education, politics and art. It is a call to defy crudeness, ignorance, and the perpetuation of lies and mythologies that trap people in the culture of dependance. The greatness of America was the promise of rewarding the spirit of excellence. In many ways, this is what Henry demands from us. This book will become suggested reading for all my graduate education students.
31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Elitism and egalitarianism 1 July 2001
By Marcy L. Thompson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As far as I can tell, Henry's thesis is that in order to achieve true egalitarianism, you must have a form of elitism. By elitism, he means the making of distinctions and then, sometimes, ranking the things you have distinguished. I expect this book is infuriating to just about everyone who reads it. Progrssives will cringe at some of his social policy suggestions. Conservatives will hate his laissez-faire attitude towards things like gay rights. And most readers will feel flayed by his discussion about how to label himself, since some portion of his views appear to be repugnant to everyone.
And yet, it is an enormously thought-provoking work. Henry was passionate about his ideas, and the prose is driven by this passion into readable, urgent passages. As fas as I can tell, Henry was a moderate, and an old-fashioned liberal. And yet he believed some things which are generally believed by modern-day conservatives. So what was he? His confusion about that seems to have been more due to how the word "Liberal" has evolved its meaning over the last 150 years than to anything else. This confusion lead him to sit down and write this book, where he tries to work out (in front of his readers) just what he believes and how that fits with his other beliefs and activities.
The question of how to make egalitarianism work is one of the great open questions of the 21st century -- it is not even clear that egalitarianism *can* be made to work. This book provides one man's answer to the question of what a working egalitarianism might look like.
I sure don't agree with all his conclusions. He has latched onto at least one serious insight, and articulated it clearly. Where the book loses focus is in his floundering around to justify some of his political positions. Nevertheless, this book is a smoothly written path into the heart of some of the critical dilemmas of the modern world. And I don't have to agree with all his answers to value Henry's framing of the questions.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Gets more relevant day by day 5 Sept. 2006
By Hans Kuder - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is harsh, caustic, terse, and at times unbearably nostalgic. I love it. I've read it a few times, and with each successive re-reading it seems to grow in relevance. If ever a work was to be called a "diatribe", this is it.

My only complaint is that it's too short. The book reads like an essay or long editorial. Henry seems like the kind of guy who gets a lot of his ideas straight out of the Enlightenment, and it's unfortunate that he didn't spend more space fleshing his ideas out and really elaborating on the connections between the current state of intellectualism and its roots in humanism and the Enlightenment. That said, it's certainly understandable that Elitism's brevity makes it more accessible. It's a shame Henry isn't around to write a follow-up.
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