The German philosopher Nietzsche was representative of the elitist view. The central line of his thinking led to the concept of a new aristocracy—the “higher man” or Ubermensch.
Nietzsche’s followers insisted that he meant a spiritual aristocracy; the superman would be above the petty materialism and national patriotism of the middle classes. Nietzsche’s opponents held that he was a preacher of Nordic superiority. Whichever, Nietzsche was clearly an enemy of democracy, which he held to be second only to its child, socialism, as a system in which the weak unjustly and unnaturally ruled the strong.
By 1914 the broad lines of the social attitudes of the present time were laid out. One line of argument favored some kind of revolutionary elitism, the seizure of power by a minority that believes itself to have the formula whereby the gifted few can bring order to a society threatened with chaos.
As Lenin developed Marxian socialism (see p. 443-441), its elitist implications came out clearly. The enlightened minority would seize power and rule dictatorially in the name of, and in the true interest of, the masses. Others dreamed of a new elite, such as Nietzche’s superman, to be created by a kind of new religion. Still others looked to eugenics to make possible the breeding of the new elite.
A second line of argument favored a more flexible form of elitism, one that tried to conserve democratic values. The leaders of such movements believed in gradualness. But all of them had doubts about the political capacity of the average man and woman. They hoped they could persuade the millions to listen to the wise planners, who had studied the social sciences and could devise the new institutions that would make human life better.
A third line sought to preserve and protect an existing elite from democratic drives toward equality, especially in the form of state intervention in economic and social life to promote security for all. Followers of this line believed in progress, and most of them prized material plenty, peace, the industrial society. They feared planners and planning, at least in political positions.
They distrusted the state, for they believed that the evolutionary process depended on the struggle for life among competing individuals, fettered as little as possible by government attempts to influence the struggle.