This came up as a topic during the recording of an upcoming episode of Ascending the Tower, when we were discussing the recent flailing in American foreign policy compared to other eras.
We have to consider that, while declining standards in American universities have been a major issue for more than a century, that they declined at a far faster rate to accommodate the flood of female and multi-racial students. For modern students, the international makeup of the student body also can’t be ignored — especially at elite schools, foreign born Chinese are often prized for high test scores and paying full freight tuition.
A common experience you’ll see recounted among female baby boomers is that they saw themselves as “challenging the glass ceiling” and needing to show that they were the intellectual equals of men.
In subsequent generations, we tend to see many descriptions of young men as being disengaged from their studies, and shunning the mixed-gender university in ever increasing numbers. Increasing diversity is coincident with declining objective academic standards, despite the pretenses towards meritocracy. In the popular press, men tend to be denigrated as stupid and lazy for, by and large, disliking bureaucratic education.
These students of diminishing knowledge get funneled into the commanding heights of the American bureaucracy and its political machinery. While bureaucracy has some structural defects that tend to make the institutions struggle to reach their goals (and grade inflation is a symptom of bureaucratic decay).
The Ivies and Ivy-like institutions like Georgetown are supposed to be providing gold-quality stamps, with some idiosyncratic quirks for each school. The stamp means less each year, especially with humiliating events like “mattress girl” resulting in hoaxes which reflect poorly on the educational and social standards at these institutions.
What this just means for states and state-like institutions that want to compete with America is that all you have to do is to be more politically effective than the incoming generation of majority-female-and-feminine-presenting American leaders. By and large, we know that they are:
- Indifferent to classical learning
- Are of low moral caliber (in loco parentis was abandoned decades ago)
- Are mostly secular
- Are profoundly ethnically fragmented, sometimes into groups that don’t even speak the same native language
- Have no common culture
- Are attracted to academic fads that tend to be limited to the US
Like anyone in charge of any elite institution will tell you, everything that the institution does flows down from the quality of the people which you admit into that institution. While these schools are picky about who they admit, and many of them tend to be on the higher end of the IQ scale, a high innate intelligence will often go to waste without proper cultivation of character or the enforcement of high standards in terms of academics and moral conduct.
This isn’t a terribly high bar to jump over, despite the enormous endowments which rival the treasuries of many significant nation-states.
So, to trump the US as it exists today, you just need to follow the traditional path to success, which is to raise overall social standards (it helps to start with the leadership) until it’s obviously much better than in the rival countries.
It’s much better to focus on reforming the leadership class than on the lower people (despite Charles Murray’s insistence on prole-shaming), because there are real problems at the top, and there are far fewer of them to convince. Loss aversion is also a powerful motivator, and certainly, America’s contemporary polyglot leadership class has much to lose, and many of them are destined to lose a lot from the developing implosion of America’s international influence — especially in war and finance.