Meritocracy and the Protestant Establishment

David Brooks comments.

He says that Christopher Hayes’ argument in “Twilight of the Elites” is wrong, which I agree with. He makes a better argument than one of fundamental corruption:

I’d say today’s meritocratic elites achieve and preserve their status not mainly by being corrupt but mainly by being ambitious and disciplined. They raise their kids in organized families. They spend enormous amounts of money and time on enrichment. They work much longer hours than people down the income scale, driving their kids to piano lessons and then taking part in conference calls from the waiting room.

Brooks goes on to argue that one of the problems facing us is that

today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic old boys’ network did possess. If you went to Groton a century ago, you knew you were privileged. You were taught how morally precarious privilege was and how much responsibility it entailed. You were housed in a spartan 6-foot-by-9-foot cubicle to prepare you for the rigors of leadership. The best of the WASP elites had a stewardship mentality, that they were temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations. They cruelly ostracized people who did not live up to their codes of gentlemanly conduct and scrupulosity. They were insular and struggled with intimacy, but they did believe in restraint, reticence and service.

It’s an argument similar to the one Digby Baltzell made in “Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia,” that a society is best governed by systems where the elite recognizes rewards other than monetary ones. The authoritarian (rather than democratic populist) system drove people to achieve lasting results rather than simply earning a pile because it was capable of recognizing worth outside of the size of one’s bank account.

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