The Small World of Elites

While on the treadmill at the gym this morning, I watched Willie Geist joke about his common high school with his guest, a political science professor with a new book, on MSNBC. I know all about that high school, because that’s where Jonah went and where we live. And my editor at the major magazine that I know well. I tweeted about it and now we’re all friends, too.

It’s a small world of elites.

I’m not quite sure what the main point of Flanagan’s article was, but she has some nice details about the insider culture of elite schools in the 1980s. It was very, very similar to life at my upper class suburb in the 1980s.

Dan Drezner has a post about how elites are rather clueless about the fact that they are elites and, thus, have no qualms about punching down.

It’s a tribal world of elites, where we protect each other and close ranks. My hubby would point out that this is a cave-man instinct. It’s also something that pissed off people who aren’t in the club. We’ve got to open the doors.

20 thoughts on “The Small World of Elites

  1. Depending on how the metaphor of opening the doors is interpreted, I’m not sure I agree. Most people didn’t like school and had no burning desire for more fancy education. I’m not sure about Caitlin Flanagan’s school, but the Manhattan private schools and the New England boarding schools maintain a very rigorous curriculum intended for a small number of people. They release a fair number of students who cannot manage the curriculum. What most people want is not to go to fancy prep schools, but to feel respected, to have jobs where they can consider themselves valued members of society, and to have satisfying relationships with family and friends. Our society has rather failed to deliver those items to most people in recent decades, which has produced the current resentment and unhappiness.


    1. “Valued member of society” is a heavy lift if the candidate has called them ‘deplorable’ or ‘dregs’ (and, Biden was supposed to be one of the few who had maintained the common touch, as the rest of the Dems went for the brie!)


    2. “the Manhattan private schools and the New England boarding schools maintain a very rigorous curriculum intended for a small number of people”

      And the rest of the 320 million Americans should be content that these people, and only these people, control our national political, cultural and financial institutions?

      Yeah, no.


      1. They are not content. That’s why they voted for Trump instead of the elite liberals Laura was watching on MSNBC.


      2. So “they” voted for Trump to get rid of “elite liberals” in government.

        And now, their champion Trump, is trying to put Kavanaugh, an extremely “elite liberal”, on the Supreme Court.

        It seems “they” have been tricked badly.


      3. SOME “the Manhattan private schools and the New England boarding schools maintain a very rigorous curriculum intended for a small number of people.” There, I fixed that for you. I live in N.E., and elites all know that there are schools that you want your kids to get in to if they can, and there are schools you can get your kids into if you can afford it. While my kids are maybe in the “can” category, my husband and I are in the “cannot” afford it category, so public school it is for them.


      4. slnoonanj: Very true. I really just mean five or six schools (Exeter, Andover, etc.). There are plenty of boarding schools for children with behavioral problems–one girl in my daughter’s school was paying boys to have to sex with her–and the education there is not particularly elite.


  2. Oops, dospresent was me, bj, accidentally logged into my blog account (am testing out new blogging platforms for my wordpress blog, which raises the question of what blog host you are using at Apt. 11D?).

    If you can delete the comment, I can repost.


  3. I think it’s an open question what percent of people want to be “contenders” (that is, want the life that leads to being a CEO, president of a company, startup finder, internationally recognized artist, author of major works, investment bankers, . . . . ).

    I also agree that “middle class” has been “thrown under the Benz”:

    In our winner-take-all world (see, also, article about sole worker at a factory in China, because all the other workers are robots), I worry that the only solution the “elite” have is to open doors. But, everyone can’t be a winner in a winner-take-all tournament.

    So, what is the plan for whatever percent of people just want a life where they “feel respected, have jobs of value, and have satisfying relationships with family and friends”, but don’t want or don’t have the skills to compete with the global elite in talent (ala Manhattan private schools)?

    I’ll note as an aside that in no way do I think that all the students at the elite HS are indeed capable of the rigor, and point to the stress, medication, and tutoring as examples of children who survive the environment with significant supports, so that the doors to the elite remain open to them.


  4. Why is “liberal” used to describe elites? Every time I’ve interacted with elites they have been about as mainstream conservative as can be.


    1. Because it’s MSNBC. The people on Fox are elite conservatives, the people on MSNBC are elite liberals. Is that some kind of heresy, that MSNBC is a liberal-leaning network, the counterpart to Fox, and the people who appear on it are generally liberals?


    2. I do agree with you— in the case of Kavanaugh, I think he is definitely a “conservative elite” not a “liberal elite.”

      That was the reason I put the phrase into quotes. But the man they’re trying to put on the court is a member of the Washington, DC elite—a group that does not have working class interests at heart.

      That Kavanugh is an “elite” from a very well-off family and who attended a very expensive, private, all-boys, white, Jesuit Catholic, school in the suburbs of Washington DC., and then went to the very expensive and elite Yale University, is there for all to see.

      I was being flippant and thus inaccurate, my apologies. I was reacting to the idea that if the American people elected Trump because they were not content that “these people” from “private schools” are “controlling our national, political, cultural and financial institutions”, then it is ironic, because that is exactly what they’ve gotten in the form of Kavanaugh.

      I was just trying to point out that Trump-and Kavanaugh— are both part of the rich elite (from private boarding schools!) who are accused of enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of the hard-working country.


      1. Yeah, Trump is not really part of the elite that Laura is describing. His father is a homebuilder, not a lawyer or banker, he went to a military academy, not a prep school, and he only went to a second-tier Ivy as a transfer. What is more and most of all, he lacks couth and refinement, and doesn’t even want to acquire same. In this he contrasts with Clinton and Reagan, neither of whom was to the manor born, and one of whom didn’t even have a spiffy education. But both of them wanted to act like members of the elite, although the coarse streak showed occasionally with Clinton.

        Kavanaugh is a member of the elite, for sure. I think we saw with Harriet Miers that anyone who is not from the elite cannot be confirmed to the Supreme Court.


      2. Of course Trump and his family are members of the elite. There are many members of the elite who are not lawyers or bankers. In fact, they are the one employing the lawyers and bankers.

        Trump attended elite schools including the New York Military Academy, which described itself as a college prep boarding school.

        He also went to Fordham University for two years—a private Catholic Jesuit university. (It has many famous alumni, including politicians like Andrew Cuomo and Geraldine Ferraro, a bunch of Catholic Cardinals, William Casey, the head of the CIA, etc.)

        Also, you are not kicked of the elite club if you “lack couth and refinement”.

        Trump– and Kavanaugh–are still in. Despite Kavanaugh’s uncouth behavior –as it is now being revealed.


      3. “.. member of the Washington, DC elite—a group that does not have working class interests at heart…”
        This is sort of the ‘What’s the Matter With Kansas’ argument. It’s certainly some kind of a match to economic interests (though some working class people are convinced that their economic interests are damaged by too much money flowing to slackers) but not necessarily a match to the people who despair of what they perceive as the moral blindness of the pro-abortion party, or as the resolute failure to notice the ravages of the opium-like drugs. People don’t necessarily perceive their interests in economic terms.


      4. More! Francis Fukuyama writing in Quillette:

        “But as important as material self-interest is, human beings are motivated by other things as well, motives that better explain the disparate events of the present. This might be called the politics of resentment. In a wide variety of cases, a political leader has mobilized followers around the perception that the group’s dignity had been affronted, disparaged, or otherwise disregarded. This resentment engenders demands for public recognition of the dignity of the group in question. A humiliated group seeking restitution of its dignity carries far more emotional weight than people simply pursuing their economic advantage…Modern economic theory is built around the assumption that human beings are rational individuals who all want to maximize their “utility”—that is, their material well-being—and that politics is simply an extension of that maximizing behavior. However, if we are ever to properly interpret the behavior of real human beings in the contemporary world, we have to expand our understanding of human motivation beyond this simple economic model that so dominates much of our discourse. No one contests that human beings are capable of rational behavior, or that they are self-interested individuals who seek greater wealth and resources. But human psychology is much more complex than the rather simpleminded economic model suggests. Before we can understand contemporary identity politics, we need to step back and develop a deeper and richer understanding of human motivation and behavior. We need, in other words, a better theory of the human soul.”


      5. If you’re defining the elite to include homebuilder’s sons at Fordham, then it’s not the small world Laura intimated, and the doors are open quite wide already. I had understood Laura to be thinking of people in the Ivy League/federal judge/white shoe law firm/bulge bracket bank world.


      6. “His father is a homebuilder.”

        Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re trying to make like Fred Trump was Jimmy Carter out there with a hammer in the sunshine.

        Here’s a quick summary from Wiki:

        “The development company was incorporated as Elizabeth Trump & Son in 1927, and grew to build and manage single-family houses in Queens, barracks and garden apartments for U.S. Navy personnel near major shipyards along the East Coast, and more than 27,000 apartments in New York City.”

        For good measure, same source:

        “Trump was investigated by a U.S. Senate committee for profiteering in 1954. He made Donald the president of Trump Management Company in 1971, and they were sued by the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for violating the Civil Rights Act in 1973.”

        How much of a racist sleazebag to you have to be to get sued by Nixon’s Department of Justice? That’s Fred Trump for you.

        How much money did this “homebuilder” leave to his heirs? $200 million to $300 million. Homebuilder, my sweet grandmother’s patootie.


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