It would be tasteless to suggest that for all the bluster and hectoring phrase-makeing of his famous book, what really appealed to Allan Bloom about his perfect fantasy university was that it consisted of lush young men lying about in bed sheets, drinking wine from bowls, respitefully free of female troubles. (Quite unlike my own fantasy university, which consists of a blast crater.) Bloom's conservative adopters focus on his defense of the canon, which they've heard features several prominent People Not of Color, and ignore the seminaryish air with its soupçon of priestly ephebophilia wafting over the carrel walls. Anyway, Bloom was always honest about the elite-making charter of the academe. He openly urged his students to abandon their families and religion. To join the higher ranks of the illuminati, a man should de-class and deracinate; the baggage of prior prejudices must be left before the jetway.
I thought fondly of old old Bloom when reading Ross Douthat's latest contribution to the alumni magazine, in which he laments the failure of Harvard to admit more "aspiring farmers." What? Really. Within narrow--very narrow--limits, Douthat does make the reasonable point that 4-H is just as good as the debate team, and I am sure that it's true that poor and rural whites are the most underrepresented population in the Cambridge cosmopolis. However:
If such universities are trying to create an elite as diverse as the nation it inhabits, they should remember that there’s more to diversity than skin color — and that both their school and their country might be better off if they admitted a few more R.O.T.C. cadets, and a few more aspiring farmers."An elite as diverse as the nation it inhabits." Oh my. Now quite plainly the process whereby one transforms from affirmative action student to elite meritocrat involves sloughing off one's class and race, forgoing solidarity (except where strategically useful, cf. "Yes We Can"), and renovating oneself as a member of a new class. That is the nature of the elite, and that is the nature of the meritocracy. The emperor need not be born in Rome, and all that. Look at Barack Obama, or better yet, look at Bill Clinton, the man from Hope, y'all.
In any case, within the social circles of the American ruling class, there is plenty of comparative status anxiety, and I am sure that Pat Buchanan, who merely went to Georgetown, really does believe that Middle America suffers deep psychic wounds as a result of the Ivy League's failure to actively recruit more Cletuses and Lurlenes. (This Buchananian thesis is the ostensible jumping-off point for Douthat's column.) Douthat takes this spoonful of sugar and spins it into an airy pink cloud of cotton candy. Underrepresentation at Harvard is actually the proximate cause of race paranoia in the white middle- and underclass. I know the Ivies work hard to instill their culture of institutional narcicism in undergrads, but even from a guy like Douthat, this is a bit much.
White anxiety results from the economic pressures of post-industrial America, from the perception that changing demographics are reducing the relative importance of whites. The stagnation of real wages, the end of lifetime employment, the economic devastation of small cities and towns, and so on all contribute to the feeling that they are besieged. Racism and cultural resentment are whipped and manipulated by political and media elites--there is that word again--in order to forestall and undermine class solidarity. I mean, not to get too conspiratorial on you, but Martin Luther King didn't get shot when he was talking about Negroes; he got shot when he started talking about the poor. Cultural resentment is an institutional mechanism, perhaps the institutional mechanism, through which Douthat's elites maintain their status and refocus the energies of a restive public, who might otherwise be inclined to blow up the G-20 or what have you.