Liberal elite, also referred to as the metropolitan elite or progressive elite, is a stereotype of politically liberal people whose education had traditionally opened the doors to affluence and power and who form a managerial elite. It is commonly invoked pejoratively, with the implication that the people who claim to support the rights of the working class are themselves members of the ruling classes and are therefore out of touch with the real needs of the people they claim to support and protect.
Because the label is a rhetorical device, it carries flexible meaning depending on the circumstances in which it is used. The concept arose in the United States, but has spread to other English-speaking countries, where the term metropolitan elite is more common because liberal can have the opposite meaning, depending on country.
Canadian news outlet CBC reported on an event for supporters of Doug Ford (the premier of Ontario). A supporter described elites as "Those that think they're better than me". Doug Ford also described elites as "people who look down on the average, common folk, thinking they’re smarter and that they know better to tell us how to live our lives". Alex Marland of the Memorial University of Newfoundland commented on Justin Trudeau's popularity with "liberal elites in metropolitan cities" in an article published on ResearchGate entitled "The brand image of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in international context".
In India, the term 'liberal elite' is used to describe the English speaking, left-leaning establishment, aligned to Nehruvian socialism and Marxism, who have formed much of the mainstream intelligentsia and the ruling political class of India, since its independence in 1947. Indian National Congress, often referred to as the 'Grand Old Party' of India, is a left-liberal party, which has dominated the Indian politics for much of its independent history.
The pejorative dilawan has been used since the 1980s to attack Liberal Party loyalists and politically aligned groups or individuals, often associated with the genteel, English-speaking professional–managerial class (PMC). Dilawan in the plural means Yellows (cf., Reds) in the national language, yellow being the color of the 1986 People Power Revolution (EDSA I), which detractors in turn dismiss as a "revolution of mere elites rather than a revolution of the whole people", and one which "ignor[ed] the existence of the toiling masses and peasants in agrarian Philippines". The term gained renewed currency during the 2016 Philippine presidential election among hardline supporters of Rodrigo Duterte.[a] In the country's English-language political-economic discourse, liberal elite is the term employed.
More than a decade prior to Duterte's election, in January 2001, the EDSA II protests, which have since been recognized as unrepresentative and elitist, culminated in the resignation under pressure of then-president Joseph Estrada and the installation of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as his successor. Arroyo, educated abroad and fluent in multiple colonial languages, was highly regarded by the PMC in contrast to Estrada, a university dropout whose proficiency in English was wanting. Populist protests against Arroyo would erupt three months later in what came to be known as EDSA III.
Duterte, while fluent in English, has similarly run afoul of the PMC, which repeatedly draws attention not only to his questionable antics—deplored by no less than his daughter Sara—but also to his frequent use of gutter language. This aversion, in turn, to gutter language has been criticized as indicative of a socioeconomically privileged upbringing. Such attitudes have been described as a desire on the part of members of the PMC to "want to humiliate their adversaries by attributing to them a desperate lack of intelligence, empathy, and virtue", from which the former are also "uniquely able" to save them.
Estrada has since come out as a supporter of Duterte, expressing concern that the latter, like himself, might be driven out of office by whom he had referred to years earlier as the "rich and perfumed". Ultimately, Duterte's rise to power has come to be seen as the "people's verdict", a long time coming, on both the failures of the liberal order and what has been felt as the glibness of its domestic elites.
The Liberal elite is referred to by various terms in British political discourse. Hampstead Socialist and Hampstead liberal have been used, referring to the North London area of Hampstead. Although the Conservatives represent all the council wards of the area, the wider constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn has often elected Labour MPs, including the 2015 incumbent, and the seats in Hampstead Town ward have previously been won by the Liberal Democrats.
The term Hampstead Socialist was regularly used by Nick Griffin, the former leader of the British National Party and the phrase "North London metropolitan liberal elite" has been used by Home Secretary Priti Patel. Due to the high Jewish population of this area, references to "North London" elites have been accused by some, such as the Jewish Labour Movement, as a form of coded antisemitism.
Another term that has gained currency is Islington set. Emily Thornberry, Labour Party MP for Islington South and Finsbury, resigned as a member of the Shadow Cabinet on 20 November 2014 during the Rochester and Strood by-election, in which she tweeted a picture of a house draped with England flags and a white van parked outside with the caption 'Image from Rochester', thought by many to be a snobby jibe. Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, commented that Thornberry's tweet furthers the perception that the Labour Party "has been hijacked by the north London liberal elite".
In the United States, the apocryphal lifestyle of the liberal elite is often referenced in popular culture. Columnist Dave Barry drew attention to these stereotypes when he commented, "Do we truly believe that ALL red-state residents are ignorant racist fascist knuckle-dragging NASCAR-obsessed cousin-marrying roadkill-eating tobacco-juice-dribbling gun-fondling religious fanatic rednecks; or that ALL blue-state residents are godless unpatriotic pierced-nose Volvo-driving France-loving left-wing communist latte-sucking tofu-chomping holistic-wacko neurotic vegan weenie perverts?"
A 2004 political advertisement from the right-wing organization Club for Growth attacked the Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean by portraying him as part of the liberal elite: "Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs."
Those Americans who equate intellectual pursuits and careers with elitism often point out American intellectuals, most of whom are upper-middle-class not upper-class, are primarily liberal. As of 2005[update], approximately 72% of professors identify themselves as liberals. At Ivy League universities, an even larger majority, 87% of professors identified themselves as liberals. People with post-graduate degrees are increasingly Democratic.
In Thomas Frank's 2004 book What's the Matter with Kansas?, the idea of a liberal elite is compared to George Orwell's character Emmanuel Goldstein in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, the fictional hated enemy of the people. Frank argues that anger directed towards this perceived enemy is what keeps the conservative coalition together.
- Aggravation of class struggle under socialism
- Bobos in Paradise
- Bourgeois socialism
- Cancel culture
- Champagne socialist
- Chattering classes
- Gauche caviar
- Left Coast
- Limousine liberal
- Massachusetts liberal
- New class
- New Democrats
- New Labour
- Radical chic
- Regressive left
- Useful idiot
- Safe space
- San Francisco values
- Social justice warrior
- Virtue signalling
- Duterte's own party, PDP–Laban, had nevertheless itself been at "the forefront of many of those [EDSA I] demonstrations carrying yellow flags with the word LABAN and faced water cannons, police batons and threats of arrests". Sara Duterte Carpio has argued that, despite claims to the contrary by high-ranking members of the Catholic Church hierarchy—in particular, Archbishop Sócrates Villegas—her father had indeed appreciated the significance of the 1986 revolution right from the beginning. Duterte Carpio recounted, "On the evening of Feb[ruary] 25, 1986, I was playing in dreamland when my father interrupted my slumber and told me to get dressed because we ha[d] to go downtown [to the metropolitan cathedral]," adding that, "While we were huddled in the car, he told us, 'Remember this night. Do not forget it.'"
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