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Twenty-three years ago, David Brooks published in The Atlantic a long essay based on interviews with Princeton undergraduates. He found the students busy: overscheduled, achievement-oriented models of meritocratic success. They were “extraordinarily bright, morally earnest, and incredibly industrious . . . responsible, safety-conscious, and mature.” Alluding to The Organization Man, William H. Whyte’s 1956 book about the new postwar class of corporate managers, Brooks dubbed the Princeton students “Organization Kids.”

The products of an upper-middle-class ethos, with parents who cared about “brain development,” scheduled “play dates,” and might have been too compliant about Ritalin prescriptions, this generation of elite students took for granted the goods of safety and stimulation. They were conditioned to be productive. Consulting firms and investment banks courted them as “Strategists, Quick Thinkers, Team Players, Achievers.”

With a touch of romanticism, Brooks lamented that “the code of the meritocrat” at Princeton in 2001 lacked the “moral gravity and . . . sense of duty” that characterized earlier generations. The old Princeton had subscribed to a “chivalric code” that emphasized “courage”; Ivy League organization kids were used to being protected. Still, Brooks clearly was not blaming them. “When it comes to character and virtue, these young people have been left on their own.” They had been formed by “adult institutions” that “no longer try to talk about character and virtue,” which had been replaced by the goals of security and success.

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