Opinion | The Problem With ‘Elites’ May Not Be What You Think It Is

A more sophisticated and productive critique of elites comes from Fredrik deBoer, known to those who read his popular newsletter as Freddie. DeBoer, a Marxist, activist and the author of the book “The Cult of Smart,” is one of the sharpest and funniest writers on the internet. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he’s always thoughtful and he pushes me to think. I hope his new book, “How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement,” will be read especially by those on the left, because the left is where his heart lies and the failings of the left seem to break his heart most. In this, he and I are fully aligned.

“It’s OK to call nonsense nonsense, even if you feel it’s on your own side,” he writes. “You can defend your values, be a soldier for social justice and be merciless toward conservatives while still admitting when feckless people take liberal ideology to bizarre ends.” As deBoer points out, it’s far better for those of us on the left to clean up our own mess than to hand it over to conservatives as easy fodder for mockery. To that end, he scrutinizes the self-interests of the nonprofit industry, the “elite capture” of the Black Lives Matter movement, the neglect of class as a primary category of political thought and other failures and shortcomings among progressive movers.

What drives deBoer’s argument here is the idea that on the left, elites are undermining progress for the average Joe. Worse, they’re doing it in the name of progress. It’s time, he says, to forcefully question exactly what elites on the left claim is best for everyone else, especially when evidence suggests otherwise.

One of the bravest chapters in his new book examines the elitism of the defund the police movement, which, deBoer argues, hurts the cause of racial justice. Research shows more policing has reduced homicides, which disproportionately affect Black Americans. Black Americans are about 13 percent of the population but make up more than half of homicide victims. As deBoer explains, “police abolition and incremental efforts to reduce policing could easily result in more hardship for the very community that we’re ostensibly fighting for.”

In deBoer’s view, this misplaced enthusiasm for police abolition is largely a result of the economic and cultural gulf between elite activists of all races and the vast majority of Black Americans. What’s easy for radical activists and academics to write on a placard turns out to be hard for many Black Americans to actually live with. Taking police off the streets may minimize the possibility of police violence against Black people, but it will do little to mitigate the far greater problem of all other violence against Black people.