The college bribery scandal and elites’ behavior

Yuval Levin offers National Review Online readers an interesting take on the college bribery scandal.

The fact that the fraud and misbehavior here involved college admissions might be misleading us a little about just what is scandalous about the scandal, and about what it might tell us about the public’s attitude toward the meritocracy. Simply put, I don’t think this scandal is really about how people get into elite colleges; it’s about how elites behave in our society.

There are, very broadly speaking, two ways to think about why elites tend to aggravate the broader public in democratic societies: We might call them the sin of exclusivity, and the sin of unaccountability. The first is a function of the fact that it is very hard to enter the elite strata of our society (and any society), and the second is a function of the fact that the people who occupy those elite strata think they can do whatever they want without regard to the consequences for others. Our elites tend to obsess about the first a lot more, but it is the second that really drives populist resentment. And in our time, we have been trying to address the first in ways that have only worsened the second. …

… This new aristocracy is in some important respects less reticent about its own legitimacy than the old. Because each of its members must work to prove his merit—to pass the key tests, and clear the key hurdles—today’s elite is more likely to believe it has earned its power, and possesses it by right more than privilege. Because our elite as a whole has inclined to this view, it tends to impose fewer restraints on its own uses of power, and generally doesn’t subscribe to the kind of code of conduct that sometimes characterized past aristocracies.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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