Last month, a woman by the name of Susan Patton wrote a letter to the Daily Princetonian advising female undergraduates to use their time at university to find a suitable husband:
- “Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are… you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.”
These are hardly the sentiments of someone who has a low opinion of women, but she was, of course, condemned as a traitor to the feminist cause – as if finding a husband was all that she had recommended that female undergraduates do at university (which she hadn’t).
Writing in the New York Times, Ross Douthat explains the real reason for the outraged reaction:
- “[Patton’s] betrayal consists of being gauche enough to acknowledge publicly a truth that everyone who’s come up through Ivy League culture knows intuitively — that elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.”
As Douthat notes, there’s nothing unusual about an upper class trying to perpetuate itself:
- “Every elite seeks its own perpetuation, of course, but that project is uniquely difficult in a society that’s formally democratic and egalitarian and colorblind. And it’s even more difficult for an elite that prides itself on its progressive politics, its social conscience, its enlightened distance from hierarchies of blood and birth and breeding.”
Yet, for all that liberal distancing, marriage remains an excellent way of concentrating wealth and privilege. Indeed, the best educated Americans (and Britons) are more, not less, likely to marry one another than they were in the past – a process known as assortative mating. Moreover (and despite the fashionable academic talk of diverse family structures) people with higher qualifications are more likely to get married and stay married than people with fewer qualifications.
As old fashioned aristocrats would also recognise, property is another excellent way of keeping the riff-raff at arm’s length:
- “…elite collegians… move to similar cities and neighborhoods, surround themselves with their kinds of people and gradually price everybody else out of the places where social capital is built, influence exerted and great careers made…What Richard Florida called ‘the mass relocation of highly skilled, highly educated and highly paid Americans to a relatively small number of metropolitan regions, and a corresponding exodus of the traditional lower and middle classes from these same places’ is one of the striking social facts of the modern meritocratic era.”
It is, of course, a good thing that deliberate discrimination on the grounds of race or gender is no longer acceptable in polite society. However, the super-sensitivity of the liberal elites to these old evils serves an ulterior purpose – to distract from newer, more slippery, forms of inequality:
- “…the unacknowledged mechanisms that preserve privilege, reward the inside game, and ensure that the advantages enjoyed in one generation can be passed safely onward to the next.”