In response to a new book on the downside of meritocracy, Brooks puts forward a nicely stated defense of the old guard---what he refers to as a "... relatively small network of white Protestant men..." and the way that they maintained and guarded the very institutions that make our society great. Acknowledging that they were not perfect, Brooks makes a nice case for the ethics and morals of the WASP leadership and its superiority over a far more diverse (and potentially more talented) leadership structure of today. Where today's leaders fail (and by extension, where leaders of the past excelled) is named here: "The problem is that today’s meritocratic elites cannot admit to themselves that they are elites.Everybody thinks they are countercultural rebels, insurgents against the true establishment, which is always somewhere else. This attitude prevails in the Ivy League, in the corporate boardrooms and even at television studios where hosts from Harvard, Stanford and Brown rail against the establishment. As a result, today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic old boys’ network did possess."
Looked at another way, Brooks isn't saying that things were better in the past because white, sexist men ran the show. He's saying that things were better because they OWNED the responsibilities of running the show, that they measured themselves by standards of stewardship that policed their conduct, and they while they did not necessarily brag about their status, they did not deny it. Implicit in Brooks' argument is that there is nothing elemental about today's multi-cultural, multi-gendered meritocracy that would keep them from taking on this approach. Nothing except their thoroughgoing denial of their own status.