E. Digby Baltzell, the late sociologist of the WASP Establishment and a personal influence on my thinking, said that the crucial difference between the elite and the establishment (or an aristocracy in the true sense of that word) is that an elite is made of individuals, but an establishment is made of families. In well-functioning societies, the leadership class continuously replenishes itself and the leadership of society by absorbing rising individuals from the various power pyramids of society. The danger that the establishment always faces is that it will become a closed caste. It is easier and more comfortable for established ruling families to only marry their own kind. But a closed caste is bad for society. The talented individuals from outsider groups are excluded from power and status, the establishment becomes rigid and then sclerotic, and society's leadership class falls to fighting with itself.
I see in the work of the Posse Foundation, which I wrote about yesterday, a powerful lubricant for diversifying the leadership class by the very mechanism Baltzell identifies. Promising individuals, usually from outsider groups, are educated together with the children of the establishment. The Posse schools are, for the most part, elite liberal arts colleges. The Posse scholars are standout young people from families outside – often way outside – the establishment, usually from a different region of the country. Centre College, for example, has long mixed the children of the already powerful with outstanding kids from the sticks, the hollers, and the working classes of Kentucky and surrounding states. Now to this mix we will add some very promising young people from Boston.
I have no data on Posse marriages, and it is not the sort of thing the Foundation would collect. I believe, though, that one of the long-term effects of the Posse program will be to diversify the families that run America, as a by-product of diversifying elite colleges.