These two attitudes — populism and elitism — seem different, but they’re really mirror images of one another. They both assume a country fundamentally divided. They both describe politics as a class struggle between the enlightened and the corrupt, the pure and the betrayers.
These attitudes appeal to people because they simplify, kind of like conspiracy theories. Life is more complex. But complexity is not viable political platform. Better to attack the villains.
Brooks description of the competing fantasies is very good:
Ever since I started covering politics, the Democratic ruling class has been driven by one fantasy: that voters will get so furious at people with M.B.A.’s that they will hand power to people with Ph.D.’s. The Republican ruling class has been driven by the fantasy that voters will get so furious at people with Ph.D.’s that they will hand power to people with M.B.A.’s. Members of the ruling class love populism because they think it will help their section of the elite gain power.
This is close to an old theory of mine about the attraction of Marxism. I have always thought that adherents view themselves as planners in the socialist commonwealth. No member of the socialist vanguard envisions herself as a worker realizes her self worth through labor in a workers's state. The theory appeals to elite requirements, because what else would intellectuals do in a workers' paradise where there is no need to criticize society? Must have to run society.