Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class

Today’s book review concerns “Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class” by Ross Gregory Douthat.

Despite entitling his book ‘Privilege’, a word meaning “special laws or rights granted by a dispensing authority”, Douthat does a remarkably poor job of showing that Harvard students are privileged in any particular sense. It’s an entertaining memoir of one student’s life at Harvard and the absurdity of its social and academic climate. In a few places it’s even a thought-provoking inquiry into what the nature of a successful ‘liberal education’ should be and whether Harvard even attempts to accomplish that in any rational way.

But as a coherent picture of what’s wrong, “Privilege” fails. Far more of the book is taken up by assertions that Harvard is this and that, while there is little evidence-based argumentation – just vivid anecdotes and emotionally-charged claims. I was particularly struck by Douthat’s lack of insight into the nature of conservatism – while disparaging “parlor liberals” of the ’60’s who grew up and became “The Man”, he fails to acknowledge that their nostalgia for the past and denial that their roles have changed is a inherently conservative trait.

Worth reading, but for entertainment only.

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