Equality, You Say?

When I was a senior at Princeton, somebody knocked on my door, peddling a petition. He wanted me to sign my name in support of establishing at Princeton a “Public Interest Research Group,” or PIRG, as they are known. Of course the politics of it made my signing impossible; the PIRG was going to be a hard-left thing, as the young fellow eventually admitted. We talked amicably for a good while, though, when the conversation took an interesting turn.

“Don’t you want,” he asked, “for Princetonians to be able to exert more influence in the world?” And I replied, “No, actually, it’s the last thing in the world that I want. I believe that graduates of the Ivy Leagues exert too much influence and have too much power already.” He seemed genuinely surprised, bless his heart, and asked me why I would say that. Then I began to explain. Even at that age, when nobody really knows a damned thing about the world, and when I was as dumb as everybody else, I sensed that the people in the PIRG, working for the Betterment of This or That, would be far more powerful than anybody I knew back home in the ex-coal mines, and would be disdainful of what those people believed and how they lived their lives. It had never occurred to the kid with the petition to step back from the massive inequalities in power, wealth, and prestige that schools like Princeton confer.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with Old Nassau. I suspect that I’m a kind of Italian Woody Allen; I’d have liked the older moss-and-ivy Gaudeamus Igitur freshman-caning Latin blotching Princeton better than the new glass and steel Money Power Glory let us now save the world Princeton; the Princeton that wouldn’t have had me because I was Italian, instead of the spanking new Princeton today, that would have me but hate my guts and want to tape my mouth shut, because I’m an orthodox Catholic. I find the inequalities of the old order far more bearable than the inequalities of the new, because the inequalities of the old were obvious, and obviously easy to make light of. The gentleman getting his C’s at Princeton knew very well that he was at the school because of his family and not because of “merit.” And that gentleman would likely have gone to chapel, where he would have heard about the world’s real aristocracy, the aristocracy of holiness, suffering, patience, humility, and charity. That is not the ruthless meritocracy of having the right opinions, empathy-signaling, intolerance, resentment, and envy.

High minded people who live in gated communities and want to lecture me about Equality: Come to church with me and then we’ll talk about what to do to bring you up to speed.