Matt Zeitlin reminds us that Princeton was once “an intellectual playground for entitled male WASPs,” and Adam Serwer is defending multiculturalism’s efforts to make Princeton less so. Our own James is wondering how America’s “quantitatively superqualified” can be “so credential-clogged yet so colossally casual.” Something about Sonia Sotomayor’s credentials have turned all eyes towards the Ivied elite.
More importantly, all three posts talk about elite universities as institutions of cultural as much as academic education, a shift in focus for which we can all be grateful. Leon Kass may be the only man in America still afraid of deconstructionists under his bed . Never mind what the Ivy League does to academia; what matters to the rest of us is the kind of social, political, and economic heavy hitters they’re handing to the rest of America.
I wrote my own take-down of Ivy League culture right after graduation, and have just posted it over at the same old place . I think I stand by the points, if not the writing; certainly I still believe that meritocracy is dangerously overrated.
The older generations feeling of inherited entitlement is gone, but a sense of earned entitlement has taken its place. Yale students are persuaded from the moment of their acceptance that their hard work and natural gifts mean that they deserve their success, or, at least, are worthy of it.And the organ played a minor chord!
An elite convinced of its own merit is unlikely to be skeptical about its decisions and prejudices. If Ivy League graduates share certain cosmopolitan assumptions, they are taken less as class markers and more as evidence that great minds think alike. Noblesse oblige depends upon a suspicion that one’s own success is not entirely deserved. Without this suspicion, an overconfident feeling of superiority will flourish. And has.