"In the very years of forced egalitarianism--when we believe that every child must go to college, every person own his home, and every traditional institution topple--the most brutal elitism is permitted and praised if only it is committed in the context of a physical challenge. Yes, in elementary school every player gets a trophy, but soon the superiority of the best athletes is not hidden but celebrated. ...
"Could we achieve the same sort of social cohesion through some other, less brutal, means? Yes and no. In theory we could have a nation devoted to literature and the debates of public intellectuals. ... Reader's Digest responded to and encouraged an attempt by a generation of Americans to acquire the education that time and circumstance would otherwise make impossible. The intellectuals have always disdained these efforts of the striving middle classes . ... More recently, Oprah's book club tried to make some movements in this direction, but it was also derided as a little déclassé. This is always the problem when people try to pull themselves up and improve. Egalitarianism is always easier to achieve through reaching down than reaching up.
"Sports achieve just such an egalitarianism of interest by reaching down. The achievement of the sports culture in America is that it permits a clear recognition that some people are better than others--elitism--without producing a cultural divide between those who can truly appreciate it and those who cannot."
- Geoffrey Vaughan, political scientist writing about "Our Egalitarian Elitism" at First Things
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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