Benjamin Schwarz in his review of The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett writes that the author describes
…the process of “assortative mating” and elite bunching that Murray previously elucidated, Currid-Halkett explains that “smart people want to be around other smart people…over time that results in highly stratified hyper-educated affluent places.”
The practical social result of this Schwarx says is a growing “cultural divide” in which cities like “London, central Paris, the westside of Los Angeles, the northside of Chicago, Manhattan, Seattle, Northwest D.C., Toronto, and San Francisco” are becoming “increasingly … culturally homogenous echo-chambers” that “resemble each other more than they do their outlying districts and suburbs.”
Given the socially progressive, and frankly anti-free market sentiment (and it is rarely anything more than sentimental), these cities are dependent economically on the “engines of global capitalism.” The wealth generated by the market (and the business and entrepreneurs who the cultural elites often disparage) enable “these cities and their inhabitants” to pull “away with growing momentum from their native countries and cultures.”
As a result, these cities (which include Madison, WI where I live) are
Untethered from their localities, [and] are being transformed into an archipelago of analogous islands. Currid-Halkett is surely right that this process represents a divide between (to somewhat simplify matters) the cosmopolitans and the provincials, but it is hardly an equal struggle. The wealth, dynamism, and consequent self-belief are all on one side; the unorganized, self-defeating resentment is all on the other. The cosmopolitan elite will shape the world as that elite wishes, even if the results ultimately prove disastrous to all.
Historically, the Church–East and West–has often drawn her leadership from the cultural elite. Whether raised to the episcopate, set aside as presbyters, or asked to open their homes for the celebration of the sacraments, the wealthy and socially powerful members of the Church didn’t serve an abstract “common good.” Rather they respond to Christ and the Church’s invitation to offer tangible and immediate service to the whole Church but especially to the poor.
For the Christian tradition, those in the social elite have a moral obligation to serve others. And again, to do so concretely and personally. (In the interest of full-disclosure, I have PhD and my wife a JD, so, yeah, I’m look at us too.)
Unfortunately, Schwarz point out, the “aspiration class” (Currid-Halkett’s term for the social elite) share a “social and political outlook based on self-fulfillment” that “easily lapses into self-indulgence.” Again, I know this from my own experience. The temptation to self-satisfacation is a real one for me.
One of the reasons I am attracted to college campus ministry, is because the Orthodox Church has largely left the university (and especially the secular university) to its own devices. Doing so, however, means that our brightest young people are being formed morally according to the ideals of the aspirational class and not the Gospel.
Thank God for those Orthodox Christians who are well-educated, wealthy and socially powerful! It’s from this group in the Church that God will raise up for our age the new St John Chrysostom, St Basil the Great, St Augustine, St Ambrose, St Helene, St Nina, St Macrina, St Maria of Paris and other leaders (men and women) the Church needs.
But, if we don’t evangelize those Orthodox Christians in the “aspiration class” (to say those who haven’t heard the Gospel), what then? How can I stand before Christ at the Last Judgment and say I failed to answer affirmatively when He called me to help raise up the new fathers and mothers for this age?