This article identifies three central tenets of democratic elitism as developed by various authors. It then traces the fate of these ideas within democratic theory. Surprisingly, I find almost universal, if unacknowledged, acceptance of democratic elitism's principles in contemporary theories of democracy. In the public, however, there is still a strong yearning for a democracy that is closer to the ideal and more open to public participation. This is reflected in public criticisms of "detached" professional politicians. I argue that a conceptual solution to the tension between the state of democratic theory and the public's expectations may ironically be provided by one strand within the theory of democratic elitism, namely Robert Dahl's theory of polyarchy.