Whether the wasp stings you depends on where you’re standing

I realize that a columnist for the Wall Street Journal defending exclusionary elites is like a Duck Dynasty cast member insulting gays, but Joseph Epstein’s “The Late, Great American WASP” is a remarkable example of the genre.

Epstein admits that “As a class, it was exclusionary and hence tolerant of social prejudice, if not often downright snobbish. Tradition-minded, it tended to be dead to innovation and social change. Imagination wasn’t high on its list of admired qualities.”

Fortunately for WASPs, none of this can be taken as evidence of any lack of character.

What our new meritocrats have failed to evince—and what the older WASP generation prided itself on—is character and the ability to put the well-being of the nation before their own. […] Doing the right thing, especially in the face of temptations to do otherwise, was the WASP test par excellence. Most of our meritocrats, by contrast, seem to be in business for themselves.

Let’s unpack that, shall we?

If you’re excluding people of color, women (for the most part), Jews, Eastern Europeans, and anyone else who doesn’t fit into your narrow slice of society from positions of influence, that can only be considered “the well-being of the nation” if none of those people count as part of the nation. You can only make an argument like this if you start from the premise that some Americans don’t matter.

In this view, “doing the right thing” doesn’t include resisting racism — it doesn’t even include refraining from actively perpetuating it.

I won’t deny that many of the leaders Epstein lionizes put their vision of what was best for the country ahead of their own immediate interests. But to the extent that that vision necessitated the ongoing rule of the WASPocracy, can acting to uphold the power of one’s own social class to the detriment of others really be considered entirely selfless? Self-serving behavior among our leaders may be more crass now and based on characteristics other than “breeding”, but it’s nothing new.