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Alternate meaning: Elite (computer game)

In sociology as in general usage, the elite ("the elect") refers to a relatively small dominant group within a larger society, which enjoys privileged status and, almost invariantly, exploits individuals of lower social status. When applied to an individual, as in the phrase "many elites come to this restaurant," the usage quite economically both refers to an individual within that class and establishes the speaker as non-elite.

In religion the Latin form "elect" is preferred over the French form "elite" in discussing Cathar or Calvinist theology, for examples, and the social structure that is theologically driven. Other religious groups may use expressions like "the saints" to describe the elect.

Some elites speak a language that is not shared by the commonality: in Tsarist Russia the elite spoke French; in Plantagenet England the elite spoke Norman French; in Ptolemaic Egypt the elite spoke koine Greek. (See linguistic imperialism.) Elites establish correct usage for the language when they share one with the commonality. Elite usage is reflected in "prescriptive" dictionaries; common usage is reflected in "descriptive" dictionaries. Elites establish cultural canons, which are more widely agreed-upon within the elite and more generally ignored or resented among the non-elite.

Elite advantages are the usual ones of a dominant social class: easier access to capital and political power, more rigorous education largely free of indoctrination, resulting in cultural influence, and leadership.

Elites may justify their existence based on claims of inherited position, among insecure elites sometimes given pseudoscientific justifications of genetic or racial superiority. American conservatives, usually of the elite, often claim that the American system is a meritocracy, its elite consisting of America's hardest-working and most talented individuals (who are, therefore, deserving of their privilege). While hard-working and talented individuals do enjoy an advantage in American society (as in all societies) this theory has been, for the most part, repeatedly debunked. Elites are both envied and resented.

Elites are educated to govern. Elite education is skeptical and inquiring, hard-headed, intolerant of sham, demanding and unsentimental. Common education is designed to produce large numbers of useful and loyal citizens at low cost. Publicly financed elite education is a symptom of a successful and confident society that is prepared for self-criticism.

Wealth is not a sure sign of elite status. Neither does an elite necessarily show a sense of public obligation.

Aristocracy and oligarchy are social systems which feature an elite. An elite group, ranged round the alpha male, is a distinct feature of other closely-related social primates.

See also: elitism, mandarin, Brahmin, patrician, snob, snobbery

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