No, a society cannot do without the elite. The elite are powerful people in society who control a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege and political power. They are prevalent in all meritocratic societies. They are politicians, successful entrepreneurs and people at the top of their professions.
The elite are the ones who drive the economy. Without them, society would be invariably less wealthy as a whole. Entrepreneurs and business owners are the ones who hire workers. Profit motivated entities strive to innovate to maximise profits. If we did not have people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Larry Page and Sergey Brin who founded Microsoft, Apple and Google respectively, it would be safe to say that our lives would be very much less progressive.
The elites contribute to society through philanthropy. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working to eradicate malaria and polio. The Chan Zuckerburg Initiative focuses on education for children and people like Warren Buffet have donated the significant portion of their wealth to improving society. Governments may turn a blind eye to things like eradicating diseases and decreasing income inequality and improving education. Some governments focus on things that are populist in nature to remain in power. Thus it is up to philanthropy to fill in the gaps in society.
A society must be run on meritocratic values. The elites usually have gone through hard work to be where they are. Countries like Singapore which has one of the highest standards of living and quality of life is an example of this. In stark contrast, countries like North Korea whereby succession is not based on merit have very low standard of living. The most capable must be the ones who make important decisions. If a government is not run by capable people, society will invariably be less prosperous.
The elite as a class in society is what most people aspire to become part of. If society is mobile in terms of a person’s social status, then people will work hard to climb up the social ladder. Students will study hard to try to attain good results, workers will work hard to progress in their corporation. This is good for society as a whole as it incentivises the people to put in more effort in whatever they are doing. Also, to attain more wealth, some people will take to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship changes the society as innovation changes lives. Entrepreneurship and innovation have brought us things like computers and smart phones among a host of other things. Also, some may try to come up with cures for diseases that are plaguing mankind. Medical advances have already eradicated many diseases and currently, there are scientists working on cures for diseases like cancer and the HIV virus. If there were no reward for working on such issues, there would be no one willing to risk hard work and resources to solve these issues.
We need the elite to be in professions like doctors, architects or teachers. We also need them to lead our armies and security forces. The most capable of society should be in such professions. Society needs the most intelligent to work on things like treating patients. A good and capable doctor would be extremely beneficial to society. If a person who is running the army or security forces like the police, then society would be much less safe. This is the reason why people in these positions are remunerated extremely well in most cases.
If a society is not meritocratic, then perhaps the elite may not have gotten to where they are through their own merit. Then in this instance, their position in society may be questioned. They may use their position of power to further solidify their position. This prevents others from climbing the social ladder to become an elite. An example of this would be a country like Rwanda. Their president Robert Mugabe has been blamed for economic mismanagement, widespread corruption, human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. He uses his political position to suppress his political opponents. In this case, the elite is not contributing to the betterment of society and thus should not be part of society.
In conclusion, society cannot do without the elites if the society is run on meritocratic values. Anything less than capable people in positions of power and importance will result in a less socially optimal outcome.