Heaven knows I have my disagreements with Ross Douthat, but he's the one opinion columnist at The New York Times who is regularly willing to step outside the paper's ideological comfort zone—that tiny distance, if it is a distance at all, that separates the white-man's-burden liberalism of Nicholas Kristof from the big-government conservatism of David Brooks. In today's column, Douthat discusses "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." More specifically, Douthat describes some of the ways this is done "in a society that's formally democratic and egalitarian and colorblind" and with "an elite that prides itself on its progressive politics, its social conscience, its enlightened distance from hierarchies of blood and birth and breeding."
It is possible to imagine another Times writer discussing higher education's role as a class sorting machine. But the liberals would end the op-ed with a call for admitting more people to college, and Brooks would trail off into nostalgia for the alleged era when Ivy graduates had more noblesse oblige and the rest of the country reciprocated by respecting their authority. And maybe someone would try to argue for a "national service" program, the better to get the elite out into the world for a bit before they run it. Douthat, who has a healthy decentralist streak, seems to suggest there's something wrong with the whole setup to begin with. Better still, he's doing it in the paper that serves as the class in question's community bulletin board.