The degree that runs Britain

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Oxford University graduates in philosophy, politics and economics make up an astonishing proportion of Britain’s elite:

More than any other course at any other university, more than any revered or resented private school, and in a manner probably unmatched in any other democracy, Oxford PPE pervades British political life. From the right to the left, from the centre ground to the fringes, from analysts to protagonists, consensus-seekers to revolutionary activists, environmentalists to ultra-capitalists, statists to libertarians, elitists to populists, bureaucrats to spin doctors, bullies to charmers, successive networks of PPEists have been at work at all levels of British politics — sometimes prominently, sometimes more quietly — since the degree was established 97 years ago.


But Oxford PPE is more than a factory for politicians and the people who judge them for a living. It also gives many of these public figures a shared outlook: confident, internationalist, intellectually flexible, and above all sure that small groups of supposedly well-educated, rational people, such as themselves, can and should improve Britain and the wider world. The course has also been taken by many foreign leaders-in-the-making, among them Bill Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the Australian prime ministers Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke. An Oxford PPE degree has become a global status symbol of academic achievement and worldly potential.

The Labour peer and thinker Maurice Glasman, who studied modern history at Cambridge, says: “PPE combines the status of an elite university degree — PPE is the ultimate form of being good at school — with the stamp of a vocational course. It is perfect training for cabinet membership, and it gives you a view of life. It is a very profound cultural form.”

Yet in the new age of populism, of revolts against elites and “professional politicians”, Oxford PPE no longer fits into public life as smoothly as it once did. With corporate capitalism misfiring, mainstream politicians blundering, and much of the traditional media seemingly bewildered by the upheavals, PPE, the supplier of supposedly highly trained talent to all three fields, has lost its unquestioned authority. More than that, it has become easier to doubt whether a single university course, and its graduates, should have such influence in the first place. To its proliferating critics, PPE is not a solution to Britain’s problems; it is a cause of them.

There’s much more.


  1. Alrenous says:

    Beats America, where it’s all lawyers.

  2. Grasspunk says:

    France is a bit more explicit with its equivalent, the école nationale d’administration.

  3. Excellent link, I wish I had of had that when I wrote the following:

    “37: What other members of the government, however, does the university (church) usually influence?

    A: Politicians.

    All American Presidents, in the last century, have attended university.

    Obama, for example, was a professor of law and got his degrees from Columbia and Harvard University.

    John Kennedy studied at Harvard.

    Franklin Roosevelt studied at Harvard.

    Woodrow Wilson was President of Princeton and a graduate of Harvard.

    Obama joins list of seven presidents with Harvard degrees

    In England, the key Cabinet members, and Prime Ministers, have all attended university, and many have studied a specially tailored course called Politics, Philosophy and Economics (David Cameron and George Osborne are two such examples); other politicians have often studied law at university (Tony Blair is one such example).

    B: Lawyers and judges are taught at universities by law professors.

    C: Senior civil servants are taught at university.

    D: Political activists, strategists, staffers and spin doctors are taught at university.

    E: Economists, financiers and bankers are taught at universities.

    All the people who govern, or exercise power and influence over the government, were taught at university by unelected professors, paid, of course, by the government.

    How would you feel if all these people were taught at madrassas or the Catholic Church instead?

    38: If a university is a church, and if professors are like theologians, are teachers, journalists, judges, lawyers, civil servants, and politicians not a kind of priest then?

    Priests, however, require a doctrine, an ideology.

    Do the members of the governing, oligarchic class have an ideology, a doctrine, a religion?

    Part 6: Catholicism and Universalism.

    39: Catholic means universal. Roman Catholicism is a universal religion for all humanity because all humans are created equal in the eyes of God. All men, from all cultures, countries and races can be Catholics.”

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