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In Defense of Elitism Paperback – August 1, 1995

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (August 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385479433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385479431
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #317,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic Henry debunks ideas of inherent equality, arguing that not all achievements are the same.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The late Henry (he recently died of a heart attack) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critic for Time and a self-described white, Yale-educated, suburban, registered Democrat. One guesses he spent his youth being a liberal but, judging from this book, became another neoconservative in middle age because of the excesses of affirmative action, feminism, multiculturalism, etc. What the United States needs now, argues Henry, is elitism, which he never defines but which seems to mean a social system that rewards only competence, not skin color, gender, disability, etc. Henry never seems to appreciate fully how much talent was going unrewarded before affirmative action, feminism, etc., or that any human activity, no matter how worthy, is liable to silly or dangerous excesses. Unfortunately, this book may attract the attention of reactionaries like Henry, so academic and public libraries should consider it for purchase.
--Jeffrey R. Herold, Bucyrus P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Mr. Henry is, at this point, a proud ACLU card-carrying liberal.
B. Solomon
Henry was a journalist; his writing is therefore jaunty, penetrating and well sourced.
Allen Baird
I first read this book when it came out in 1994 and recently re-read it.
Jeffrey Swystun

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 5, 1999
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.
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59 of 69 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 19, 1999
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.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Dan Turner on May 25, 2000
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.
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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Marcy L. Thompson VINE VOICE on June 30, 2001
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.
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