Whatever lies at the end of this surprise-filled electoral season, most observers would agree that it has already exposed a widespread distrust of those whom we selectively call our elites. Even before this election season, the word elites had become one of the nastier epithets hurled back and forth across America’s cultural and political divides, each side having its own catalog of particularly loathsome nabobs.
Today’s leadership class inspires remarkably little confidence. Explanations for this abound, from the anecdotal to the systemic. Elites are distant, aloof, and increasingly selfish. They are deracinated. Their orientation is global, not local. They have no loyalty to their nation or their fellow citizens. In a winner-take-all economy, they are grossly overcompensated for the questionable services they perform. They are condescending toward, even contemptuous of, the poor, the working stiff, the small-town provincial, or anyone else who lives outside their narrowly circumscribed socio-economic ambit. Seeing themselves as winners in the meritocratic contest, they lack the humility to acknowledge the advantages or good fortune that helped paved the way to their success and exalted station.
How, then, have elites and the system that selects and forms them fallen into such disrepute—or at least become the objects of widespread calumny? That is the question that lies at the heart of our thematic essays in our summer issue, Meritocracy and Its Discontents.
Traditionally, we've released ten articles from each issue for free and then held back the rest of this issue. This is great for browsing, but means that a few articles tend to eat up all the attention. This time, we are trying something slightly different—rolling out the articles a few at a time so that they have a chance to stand on their own.
To that end, enjoy our two launch articles:
- “The New Ruling Class,” by Helen Andrews
- “Better Living Through Bibliotherapy," by Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon
For subscribers, of course, the whole issue is available right now, whether in print or ePub form. In addition to the above, they'll get to read the contributions of Robert Frank and Wilfred McClay, and great free-standing essays like John J. Lennon's "The Murderer's Mother." They can dive straight into our special symposium on Richard Rorty, in which Susan Haack, Matthew Crawford, and Robert Pippin discuss a previously unpublished lecture that Rorty delivered at the University of Virginia in 2004.
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