Progressive Elites and Their Sins

Progressive Elites and Their Sins

Progressive Elites and Their Sins” delves into the shifting dynamics of progressive energy within elite universities and the widening gap between the educated class and the working-class voters. Author David Brooks recounts his journey from a youthful leftist inspired by historical labor struggles to an observer of today's academic progressive strongholds. He highlights the changing landscape where elite institutions incubate increasingly progressive ideologies, contrasting starkly with the values and concerns prevalent in less privileged, working-class environments. This article illuminates the growing ideological divide and its implications for societal and political discourse. Have you ever wondered why elite universities and their progressive communities often make headlines? It seems like every week there's another protest, article, or analysis focusing on the actions and ideologies of students at these prestigious institutions. But what if we took a closer look at the role of the educated elite in shaping our society and their supposed “sins”? Let's dive into this complex topic.

Progressive Elites and Their Sins

A Historical Perspective

When discussing the educated elite, it's essential to understand the historical context. Historically, the progressive movement was characterized by its focus on the working class. As mentioned by David Brooks, early 20th-century progressives were often seen fighting for workers' rights. Figures like John Reed, Clifford Odets, Frances Perkins, and Hubert Humphrey were synonymous with this era.

However, with the advent of the information age, the epicenter of progressive energy shifted. No longer was the fight solely characterized by workers on railways or in industrial settings; it began to find a new home in academic institutions. As Brooks reminisces, personal experiences in the 1980s shaped his understanding of this transformation, a journey from advocating for worker's rights to recognizing the changing landscape dominated by information and academia.

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The Rise of Progressive Thought in Elite Universities

Why have elite universities emerged as beacons of progressive thought? According to a survey conducted in May 2023 at Harvard, 65% of students identified as progressive or very progressive. This statistic is not an isolated phenomenon. Julien Berman's analysis, using Artificial Intelligence, further corroborates this shift. The Harvard Crimson's opinion pieces from 2000 to 2023 have become significantly more progressive.

Berman's findings point to a broader trend: student writers at elite universities have grown considerably more progressive over the years. This surge is visible when contrasted with their non-elite counterparts, whose ideological leanings have not experienced similar magnitude of change.

Progressive Elites And Their Sins

Progressive Elitism: Concerns and Criticisms

Understanding why elite institutions are hotbeds for progressive activism involves looking at broader societal factors. These schools are often expensive and exclusive, employing rigorous admission standards that can inadvertently marginalize lower-income students. Interestingly, many protests and political activities prominently occur at these elite schools. Marc Novicoff and Robert Kelchen's report in The Washington Monthly, “Are Gaza Protests Happening Mostly at Elite Colleges?” supports this. They surveyed 1,421 public and private colleges, concluding that protests were overwhelmingly concentrated at elite institutions.

Below is a concise summary of their findings:

Type of College Nature of Protests Income Level of Students Presence of Protests
Elite Colleges Protests, Encampments High Income, High Tuition High
Non-Elite Colleges Few/No Protests Lower/Moderate Income Low

The Disconnect Between Elites and the Working Class

With the above in mind, it's crucial to recognize the growing cultural and ideological gap between the educated elite and the working class. Historically, progressivism was anchored by the plight of the working class. However, contemporary progressives, often students at elite universities, seem to prioritize issues that may not resonate deeply with the working-class population they once fervently supported.

The Changing Faces of Progressive Concerns

Issues championed by these students today reflect this divide. For instance, campus activism circles predominantly around social justice, climate change, gender equality, and inclusivity. While necessary and noble, these issues can often overshadow the economic struggles of the working class. In many instances, working-class communities may find themselves at odds with the elite on topics like globalism, trade policies, and immigration.

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Progressive Elites And Their Sins

The Role of Universities in Shaping Ideology

Elite universities, with their vast resources and influential platforms, play a massive role in shaping public ideology. They influence not just their students but the broader societal discourse by contributing thought leadership and expert analysis on pressing issues.

Faculty Influence

The role of faculty is paramount. Professors and researchers at elite institutions possess immense power to shape the beliefs and ideas of their students. This power often extends beyond the classroom, influencing public policy, media narratives, and socioeconomic discourse.

Exposure to Diverse Ideas

Interestingly, progressive elitism isn't solely a product of faculty influence. The exposure students receive from interacting with peers from diverse backgrounds, global perspectives, and varying ideologies also shapes their progressive leanings. Such interactions can facilitate a broader understanding of global issues, deepening progressive values.

Criticism and Accountability

Despite their influence, the educated elite and their institutions aren't beyond reproach. Criticisms abound, not from a place of hostility but from a desire for accountability. One primary contention revolves around how some elite institutions may perpetuate inequality even as they champion progressive causes.

Economic Disparities

High tuition fees and associated costs can make these universities inaccessible to many. While scholarships and financial aid are available, they may not bridge the divide entirely. Lower-income students find it harder to access the halls of these prestigious institutions, creating a potential echo chamber of affluence and privilege.

Progressive Elites And Their Sins

The Double Standards in Activism

One prominent critique concerns the perceived double standards in activism. Progressive elitism sometimes appears performative rather than substantive. Critics argue that while there's vocal advocacy for social justice, , and equality, there's less tangible action addressing systemic issues within universities themselves.

Criticisms Description Possible Solutions
Economic Disparities High tuition fees and exclusivity marginalize lower-income students. Increase financial aid, reduce tuition fees, improve access for underrepresented groups.
Performative Activism Vocal advocacy but limited tangible action on systemic issues. Implement institutional changes, ensure actions align with advocacy, genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion.
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Bridging the Divide: Moving Towards Genuine Inclusivity

To address these criticisms, there needs to be an active effort from elite institutions and their students to bridge the divide. This requires moving beyond vocal activism to implement substantive changes.

Inclusive Admissions Policies

Adopting more inclusive admissions policies that ensure diversity not just in terms of ethnicity or gender but also socioeconomic background is crucial. This diversity can enrich the learning and ensure varied perspectives are represented.

Financial Accessibility

While scholarships exist, there's a pressing need for more robust financial systems. Reducing tuition, offering comprehensive scholarships, and ensuring all students have access to necessary resources without financial strain are pivotal steps.

Progressive Elites And Their Sins

Fostering Genuine Dialogue

Open dialogue between the elite and the working class could help bridge the gap. It's essential to understand and empathize with the struggles of various societal segments. Progressive elites should actively seek to include working-class voices in their conversations and activism.

Reevaluating Progressive Priorities

There's also a need to reevaluate what issues are prioritized. Focusing on immediate economic concerns, access, fair wages, and employment opportunities can resonate deeper with the working class. By aligning some of the progressive movement's priorities with the pressing concerns of the working class, the gap can be bridged more effectively.

Progressive Elites And Their Sins


Through a historical lens, it's clear that the epicenter of progressive energy has moved from the working class to elite academic institutions. While this shift has led to significant advancements in various areas, it has also created a disconnect. Bridging this divide calls for elite institutions and their students to adopt more inclusive policies, ensure financial accessibility, foster genuine dialogue, and reevaluate their priorities.

To truly address the “sins” of the educated class, there needs to be a concerted effort towards inclusivity and understanding. By doing so, the progressive movement can realign itself with the broader society, ensuring that it champions not just the concerns of the elite but those of the working class as well.

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