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In Defense of Elitism

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  290 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critic for Time magazine comes the tremendously controversial, yet highly persuasive, argument that our devotion to the largely unexamined myth of egalitarianism lies at the heart of the ongoing "dumbing of America."

Americans have always stubbornly clung to the myth of egalitarianism, of the supremacy of the individual average man. B
Paperback, 224 pages
Published August 1st 1995 by Anchor (first published August 1st 1994)
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(showing 1-30 of 631)
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Aug 15, 2013 James rated it really liked it
Henry's is a cautious, rational anti-egalitarianism that seems eerily prescient in light of today's tepid Tea Party/Occupy 'populism' and the sad irony that is the right mounting increasingly rabid anti-intellectual attacks against a left that is itself more anti-intellectual than ever before. Subjects on which he compellingly argues a point that I happen to agree with: cultural relativism, affirmative action, the role of education. His intellectual rigor, sadly, takes a bit of a break when wome ...more
Amy Cousins
Dec 27, 2013 Amy Cousins rated it really liked it
Have some fun: read this book in public...people will scold you. Complete strangers will come up to you and tell you what a terrible person you are for reading this book. Which is sad, because it is likely that every last one of them would enjoy it. William Henry writes his book to defend elitism of ability, and is absolutely against elitism of wealth, class, birth, or any other such unearned status. He does argue that promising equality of opportunity is not the same as promosing equality of ou ...more
Sep 24, 2009 C.S. rated it liked it
I certainly didn't agree with everything in this book. I doubt most people would. But I didn't disagree with everything, either, and that's the point, to make the reader reexamine the traditional ideas of democracy, equality, and egalitarianism, and the sometimes fanatical lengths to which we pursue them. It made me think of the political climate of the last few years; in our zeal to protect and promote our ideas and values, we have just as often betrayed them. We have been so blinded by our goa ...more
Nov 02, 2015 E rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What is the basic premise of this book? Allow me to quote from page 14: "Some people are better than others--smarter, harder working, more learned, more productive, harder to replace. Some ideas are better than others, some values more enduring, some works of art more universal. Some cultures, though we dare not say it, are more accomplished than others and therefore more worthy of study. Every corner of the human race may have something to contribute. That does not mean that all contributions a ...more
Jun 30, 2013 Anthony rated it really liked it
William A. Henry III is a liberal's liberal. Among his other works is an apologia on how the Democrats saw the 1984 election in which they lost in a landslide to Ronald Reagan. Mr. Henry is many things. One thing he isn't is a cultural fatalist. This book is a full throat defense of western culture and an exploration of why it is so maligned in higher education and government. A surprising worthwhile read for anyone looking to escape relativist thought in the academy.
Jan 24, 2016 Mark rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Imad Ahmed
Jul 17, 2016 Imad Ahmed rated it did not like it
Post-Brexit, I picked this book from a friend’s shelf in the hope that it would offer a therapeutic read about the tyranny of the stupid. How sorely I was disappointed.

No evidence of research behind the glaringly wrong, bigoted and self-entitled sweeping statements that the author makes. A piss poor effort in showcasing elitism for a book ostensibly defending it.

William Henry III must have mentioned ‘my alma mater Yale’ at least 20 times throughout this book, perhaps to emphasize to readers wha
John Grange
This is a quick and edifying read if you're looking for something somewhat philosophical. One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was how prescient Mr. Henry was in his analysis of the trajectory of American culture. Were he alive today he'd be thoroughly upset with the state of affairs in the US, but he'd also have to pat himself on the back for he was correct! He definitely has that "get off my lawn" sensibility of an old man who time had passed but his critique of American culture ...more
Lisa Pletz
Aug 16, 2008 Lisa Pletz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This author poses a very interesting idea: equality of opportunity does not equate to equality of outcomes. His arguments are cogent, and may go a long way toward explaining the issues facing American society today. You may not agree with him, but you sure will think long and hard about what he has to say.
Martin Michalek
Jun 30, 2016 Martin Michalek rated it did not like it
William A. Henry III is so naïf that he approaches the shores of stupidity.

From the beginning, it should be abundantly clear that this fist-shaking antiquarian is blinded by his own agenda; in fact, his rage gives him such severe tunnel vision that his rants on “elitism” essentially become philippics against minorities and women.

E.g.: While discussing affirmative action, Henry III says his “black professionals…continue to defend affirmative action—‘Without it, we wouldn’t be here at all,’ say a
Feb 05, 2011 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"Talent, achievement, practice, and learning no longer command deference. Everybody is a star. Andy Warhol said everyone would have fifteen minutes of fame, and nonachievers by the millions have come to expect it as a birthright." -William Henry
Jul 01, 2008 Exrex rated it it was amazing
A very angry liberal, who is dying, writes about what is wrong with modern liberalism, and why equality of opportunity and equality of outcome are two different things.

I have actually read this book more than once. Very thought provoking.
Jun 19, 2007 Damien rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone who's ever dumped me
The kind of book I can only fantasize about writing--THE CAREER-ENDER
Kyle Yeversky
May 08, 2011 Kyle Yeversky rated it liked it
Definitely food for thought, even (especially?) 18 years after its publication. I think a lot of Henry's points are valid, though I admit he sometimes takes a harder line than I would prefer. There's a lot to be said for meritocracy as he views it, but he leaves lots of unanswered questions about what happens to those who can't make the grade in an entirely merit-based system. Still, I was able to identify with his frustrations and can see the appeal in a political and educational system where " ...more
May 18, 2013 JP rated it liked it
I agree with this rational but crotchety elitist. He's right without being "right" and opinionated without being only opinionated. Much of what he says is said in other works (Objectivist, Libertarian, or economics), but he makes the point well that all of this is necessary because we fail to admit that some people are going to be more able or more successful than others. Also worth noting are his 7 signs of a superior culture (quoting each item verbatim): preserves the liberty of its citizens; ...more
Dec 02, 2008 Tony rated it it was ok
Henry is an old-school (read: pre-1990's grievance-mongering) liberal who doesn't like how, in our rush to make everyone feel good about himself, we have thrown standards of excellence out the door. A thoroughgoing meritocrat, Henry despises the notion of privilege attached to any characteristic other than "learning and achivement."

It's a fairly straightforward argument, and this book could easily have been a pamphlet, crammed as it is with Rush Limbaughesque stories of politically correct outra
Aaron Gray
Mar 19, 2015 Aaron Gray rated it really liked it
I read this book just after college and it surprised me. I don't own the book anymore but I just ordered it so I can read it again. I have a hunch that the book will resonate even more the second time around given the growing anti-intellectualism of both the American left and the American right.
Sep 13, 2015 Rohan rated it liked it
Was hoping for a philosophical argument which refuted the supposed first principle that equality is of paramount importance, but nevertheless, it was a well written collection of anecdotes that should provoke many of those who believe in the principles of meritocracy and fairness.
Jan 01, 2013 Elisian rated it it was ok
Read the first half; skimmed the end. I couldn't make it through this book otherwise. It's important to know that these arguments exist, I'm sure, even and especially for those of us who are not Henry - who are not white, for example - it's helpful to understand the resentment against what might to us seem like reasonable requests for thoughtfulness, decorum, and humanity.

Henry's privileged worldview is transparent throughout. He's a man of his time, and of his upbringing; expect no more than th
Sep 03, 2007 Jonathan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who aren't too easily offended
Shelves: genericpolitics
good book about an important topic. but it's very blunt in its analysis so be warned a head of time or it may piss you off. henry, generally, makes a convincing argument about the battle between egalitarian and meritocratic influences in the american system. specifically, he argues that the egalitarian side has won far more than is warranted and that we (as a society/polity) abandon the meritocratic influence at our own peril.

yet some of his examples are off base and detract from the larger argu
Jun 01, 2015 Jessica rated it really liked it
I don't entirely agree with everything written in this book, but there are some very compelling points that the author brought up.
Mar 30, 2015 christine rated it really liked it
Thought provoking. Irritating. Push back against the ideal of the leveled playing field.
Jul 08, 2016 Donna rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The author argues for elitism rather than egalitarianism.

Good thing: The idea that most stuck with me was that fairness in opportunity does not equal fairness in outcome - not everyone will do equally well at everything.

Bad thing: There were definitely times when I cringed and went - um, NO!

This book made me agree at parts, disagree at parts, and succeeded in making me think and dig down to why I had a (sometimes) unconscious opinion. If the author wrote another book that covered the last twenty
Mar 10, 2010 Katrin rated it it was amazing
I read this book some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. We often say that all people, ideas,and cultures have equal worth. The author states unyieldingly that some ideas and attainments are better than others - for instance, that the study of mechanical engineering might be harder and more worthwhile to society than the study of aromatherapy (my examples,not his!).

Jan 21, 2011 Blake rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite, non-fiction
It is an excellent reflection on the social and political climate of America, and acts as a call back to reason and rationality. William A. Henry promotes the equality of opportunity over the equality of outcomes, stressing that they are worlds apart in definition. He takes a few of his points to the extreme, however the overall content and pros makes up for these.
Feb 29, 2008 John rated it really liked it
Henry occasionally conflates pedigree with achievement and thus finds himself defending pretension. That said, the book provides invaluable insights into the hierarchies intrinsic to human nature and why they are actually desirable.
Nov 09, 2014 Robert rated it liked it
An excellent case for rewarding competency, not special interests.

My mother suggested I read this book. I purchased it and got right down to it.
Renee Hawkins
Mar 31, 2012 Renee Hawkins rated it liked it
I still love the comment from the author's mother that she was relieved she would be dead before the book was published given the title.
Michael Tuggle
Mar 28, 2012 Michael Tuggle rated it it was amazing
Great read based on the premise that while all men are created equal, we don't all make equal contributions to the world.
Mar 09, 2012 LP rated it really liked it
Published 18 years ago, this book is still relevant. Recommended reading.
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“The dominant mood of contemporary American culture is the self-celebration of the peasantry.” 2 likes
“A brand of anti-intellectual populism is running amok, eerily reminiscent of the nineteenth-century Know-Nothing movement, albeit a mirror image of it in political terms.” 1 likes
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