From the editors of n + 1:
According to many on the American left, the “elitist” is a right-wing bogeyman sustained by the mendacious organs of the actual elite — the moneyed one — and by the reactionary reflexes of an anti-intellectual public. Working-class whites, we’re told, vote in the interests of billionaires on the mistaken assumption that culture, not economics, is the main political battlefield, and that godless eggheads, not greedy businessmen, are their true class enemies. The 1-percenters bankrolling the Tea Party thereby deflect the attention of “bitter clingers” away from the wealthy and toward the clubby arrogance of the other 1 percent — the fraction of American students who graduate each year from the top tier of colleges.
The eggheads make sensible targets. Over the last thirty years, the university has replaced the labor union as the most important institution, after the corporation, in American political and economic life. As union jobs have disappeared, participation in the labor force, the political system, and cultural affairs is increasingly regulated by professional guilds that require their members to spend the best years of life paying exorbitant tolls and kissing patrician rings. Whatever modest benefits accreditation offers in signaling attainment of skills, as a ranking mechanism it’s zero-sum: the result is to enrich the accreditors and to discredit those who lack equivalent credentials.