Is elitism about being the best?


The term elite was derived from the Latin verb eligere (to choose) or from the French verb élire (to choose). It is used out of focus. Depending on the frame of reference, one speaks of educational, achievement, power, value or functional or political elites. It gained its importance for bourgeois society towards the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century with the endeavor to stand out from the traditional nobility elites (aristocracy, elites by virtue of their origins) through personal achievements, virtues, acquired knowledge and skills Way to justify the legitimation to rule through a "selection of the best" (end of feudalism, strengthening of the performance criterion).

To this day, the term elite has tended to have a negative connotation in the German discussion. The social climate towards elites still seems to be tense. An essential reason for the distance to the term and the phenomenon of elite can be seen not only in the failure of some power elites in the 20th century, but sometimes also in the envy complex of a society. It is not uncommon for the elites to be accused of abusing their influence. Especially in plural media societies, they are exposed to strong social control by the public due to their mostly overriding responsibility.

While training abroad such as in France, Great Britain or the USA has evolved into special elite institutions whose graduates are highly sought-after, such a development has not yet occurred in this form in Germany. In the 1968 movement, the idea of ​​the elite in Germany was rather discredited by democratization, co-determination and equality efforts. To this day, the term is in constant tension with issues of justice and democratization in society. It is important to find a balance here.

Only after the establishment of "elite universities" was again increasing in Germany and the political power elite recognized that every high-performance society needs special elites, has the elite idea again moved more into the focus of public debates. It is about promoting talent and top performance in order to survive in the international knowledge competition. At the same time, the question of how an increased emigration of elite performers from Germany to other countries can be prevented; this shows that elites are scarce factors in macroeconomic terms. When it comes to emigration, the motive for greater opportunities to develop abroad often plays a role.

With the emphasis on technical progress (technical innovations) as the engine of international competitiveness, the scientific-technical elite have gained in importance, but social changes and further developments (social innovations) with lasting effects (such as the spread of liberal thinking) are particularly of the humanities Elites have been influenced.

In market economies, entrepreneurs in particular are among the elites who are jointly responsible for socio-economic progress. A sociological debate is taking place over the question of the origin of this elite. On the basis of empirical studies, sociologists such as Michael Hartmann propose the thesis that criteria of achievement rather than origin, i.e. habitus, still play a role in filling top positions in business and society. After that, many elites reproduce themselves, as it were. As a result, it is criticized that social advancement is only formally open to everyone. It is questionable to what extent a more open access to the respective top positions will be permitted by the respective ruling elites. In a free and open society, the political endeavor is to enable anyone who is able to gain access to elite positions so that elite changes can take place. In politics, this goal should be made possible through democratic elections. A fundamental change in the system should be ruled out as far as possible in democracies.