Ross Douthat, “Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the American Ruling Class” (2005) – It’s too goddamned hot and I read this too long ago to do a deep dive on this. We all know what Ross Douthat does, if we’ve made the foolish life choice to know about the sort of people who opine in newspapers for a living. He’s an “intellectual conservative,” big time Catholic, hates Trump, chin-strokingly curious about social policy, etc etc blah blah blah.
He went to Harvard in the nineties and aughts and didn’t like it, or anyway didn’t find the disinterested aura of scholarship and bonhomie that he craved. Instead he found privileged kids who cared about maintaining their privilege and having some kicks with the years they were allowed them. No shit, Sherlock. Was this a surprise in 2005 (or 1905, for that matter)? They’re mostly liberals so uh, checkmate, egalitarians! His anecdotes are exercises in pointlessness, meandering yarns that he clearly thinks make solid points about things like meritocracy and race/gender relations and the like. They don’t, not on their own terms, and you really get the idea that they’re not especially thoroughgoing accounts either, for all their length (helps that this is memoirs, not history or journalism- we only get Ross’s word).
He’s not the worst prose stylist out there, but really all that means is he’s not screamingly painful to read throughout. He does get across the idea that life at Harvard manages to be neither elitist fun or egalitarian goodness but basically the worst of both worlds, and he’s almost admirable in the way he admits his adolescent self was still attracted to it, the insularity and the feeling of eliteness, but again, so what? Maybe this just seems pointless because the sort of conservative anti-elitism Douthat delicately pursued in some dumb Evelyn Waugh way got it’s money took by Trump, so this is at best a time capsule, and not a very informative one. My attitude towards this book now is somewhat worse than the star rating I wrote down. Who knows, who cares. **’