Elena Kagan’s parents’ generation experienced anti-Semitism in seeking position, but her generation experienced no such discrimination. We exploded on to the scene in the 1970s, in the age of the “meritocracy,” when test scores increasingly determined precedence.
We had certain cultural advantages for the globalized meritocracy. Jewish culture favors scholarship, close families, and abstention from alcohol. The traditional basis of advancement, attachment to the land, meant little in the new age of American professionalism. Kagan’s parents were both bookish, her mother a teacher, her father a lawyer. She said today that her brothers are also public school teachers.
“Theirs was a religion oriented to continuous contact with texts: a culture of handling books, reding them, and reflecting on their messages.,” Jerry Muller writes in Capitalism and the Jews. “Jews came from a culture that favored the nonviolent resolution of conflict, and that valued intellectual over physical prowess. All this was a recipe for what economists call ‘cultural capital.'”
Muller also says that as an afflicted minority, Jews learned to look out for one another.