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THE DIVINE SPARK
AMONG THE RICH
Pretty much ignored by the public relations artists, who usuallyhave more specific fish to fry, some of the American rich at least have individuallyperformed in ways commendable from strictly critical points of view and in ways thatat least occasionally draw indulgent, even maudlin, commendation from outside theirclass. They have by no means, contrary to leftist propaganda, all been grabbers,wastrels and self-aggrandizers. In what ways they have been brushed by the divineand semi-divine afflatus, as far as they are visible to mortal man, it is the purposeof this chapter to indicate.
Commendations of the rich are by no means rare, especially inthe many media subject to their own control or influence. The task, however, is toevaluate them in the light of criteria more widely shared. Results then become somewhatmodified.
The public relations fraternity argues that the founding, buildingup, assembling, directing and managing of any one of the large corporations or banksrepresent prima facie an important creative contribution to something called TheAmerican Economy, a contribution which in the aggregate is taken as comparable tothe genetic labors of the Hebraic Jehovah over six prodigious days. While this maybe so in some degree (the element of time to one side) there are a few obstaclesto accepting this somewhat florid view--as, for example, whether the economy hasbeen added to or subtracted from, accelerated or delayed. As far as that is concerned,many ingredients happily blended by economists into the potpourri of Gross NationalProduct are pronounced by spoilsports as deleterious: whisky, cigarettes, gaseousindustrial fumes, comic books, cheap films, ugly billboards, the traffic complex,misleading advertising, crumbling shelters, shoddy merchandise, slums and industrialwastes conscientiously dumped into natural waterways.
The public relations wizard points to corporation C and asksone to kowtow at least mentally to founder F for what is palpably a creative achievement,giving employment to X thousands of good and prayerfully parental souls of the GreatSociety who would, presumably, otherwise be living in trees and eaves. This prettymuch accords with the foolish popular view of the corporation: a job-giving, life-sustainingentity. Ordinarily left out of such considerations is the fact that corporation Cin its majestic rise, by various ruses (some possibly adjudicated illegal), may haveblocked the rise of other laudably life-sustaining entities. Until pressured by aslow-moving government to relinquish its absolute monopoly, Aluminum Company of America,for example, certainly stood in the way of the emergence of aluminum-making jobsnow provided by Kaiser Aluminum, Reynolds Metals, Olin Mathieson and various others.Corporate managers have not always or solely been concerned about all-out productionand full employment. Right now by means of automation they are eliminating jobs rightand left. They have been at least occasionally interested in making money for themselves,at times by restricting production and jobs, at times by nonproductive but profitablemanipulation at the top. job creation has been quite incidental to the whole process,really has nothing to do with it.
The inimitable Beethoven, writing symphonies, did not have agentsin the field impeding other symphonic writers, attempting to trip them up or causethem to write down sour notes. Like most creators he did his stuff and allowed othersto do theirs. He did not hold patents on all possible combinations of musical notes,ready to direct his lawyers against other note jugglers. Much of corporate achievement,so-called, has involved sheer frustration of others, hardly creative. The sculptor,too, it is sometimes the riposte of nimble pro-corporate dialecticians here, destroysin order to create; he destroys pristine stone, reshaping its contours. But the sculptordoes not destroy other sculptors! If he did he would indeed be the greatest livingsculptor; but hardly on grounds of his own creativity.
The merging of companies, too, is usually hailed by the massmedia as a stupendous creative act, a titanic generative copulation, which indeedit may in some cases be. It is, however, hardly creative in every single case oreven in a majority of cases. What was created when a collection of existing steelcompanies were merged into the United States Steel Corporation by the elder J. P.Morgan other than a profitable opportunity to issue a vast quantity of watered stock?The constituent companies marched on under the triumphal arch of the new stock issue.The same is true of General Motors and many others.
While admitting there is creativity on the corporate circuitin peculiarly corporate matters (human creativity being hard to quell), I merelysuggest that it should be specifically shown rather than uncritically assumed withrespect to the panorama of corporations. Despite public relations puffery there aregrounds to doubt there is much creativity in this quarter and instead much sedulouscopying and overreaching (as shown by widespread corporate espionage), and I simplywant to leave this phase out of consideration as a clear-cut social contribution.Most of what is remarkable about corporations, as I noted earlier, is specificallynoncorporate, technological, and derives from science and engineering rather thanthe business and financial offices. What is alone generally impressive about corporations,despite the glamour of the executive washroom and the keys thereunto pertaining,is their purely engineering aspect.
It is, therefore, of some interest to notice that when corporationsput themselves on display in their best party clothes at world's fairs and in conductedtours of their premises they provide, no doubt in all innocence, only an engineeringdisplay. The ordinary visitor innocently thinks, as he is innocently expected tothink, "This is a marvel of Big Business. Wall Street is really great."The sophisticated observer, however, thinks, "What a marvelous exhibit of engineeringskill! M.I.T. and Cal Tech are certainly great schools." To the latter observerthe business side of it all is comparatively dull and uninteresting, heavy-handedand simple-minded.
In the case of the foundations the situation is much the same.Concrete contributions may indeed have been made by mobilizing funds at strategicpoints and times, as in the case of the Rockefeller foundations; but far from allfoundations have made parallel contributions. Most have as their end financial manipulationbehind a sentimental screen.
Corporations manufacture, distribute and sell lifesaving penicillin,at a profit. But no corporation discovered penicillin. Corporations never discover,invent or create anything--are never any more than tools, as often for ill as forgood.
The Philosophers on Wealth and Power
While public relations virtuosi busily confect their tales tolull the broad public in its belief that everything is for the best in the best ofall possible deliriously free worlds, it may be of some interest to take note ofthe powerful cultural undertow these virtuosi, apparently unaware, are working against.
The rich, thanks in major degree to press agentry and the intellectualsinuosities of the mass media, currently appear to enjoy high status in the UnitedStates that will not diminish, presumably, as long as there is almost full generalemployment, the retention of which is a basic aim of national policy. As long asgeneral employment keeps the populace moderately content, only a scattering of deviantand no doubt justly uncelebrated mentalities will be inclined to dissent from theimage of the rich as public saviors and heroes. Hardly anyone except an obvious outcastor deviant presumes to venture doubts. From what quarter, if any, do these patheticnay-sayers get their wrongheaded cues? What warrant have they for their nonadmiringand surely nonadmirable attitude? Have they indeed strayed from a nice, clean, healthyand wholesome disinfected Americanism owing to the insidious lucubrations of a tele-hypnotic,despicably fiendish Karl Marx sending aberrant messages from the documentary depthsof the British Museum?
The simple fact is that the most reflective minds of westerncivilization, practically from inception, have looked with jaundiced eyes at therich and the powerful. So to look is quite in harmony with the culture; to thinkotherwise is to step outside the intellectual boundaries of western civilization.All slick-paper public relations palaver in obeisance to the rich, indeed, is aliento the deepest currents of this civilization and represents nothing other than misbegottenideological perversity, wrongheadedness of the nth degree.
Concededly one of the greatest minds of western civilization,teacher of Alexander the Great and still casting a broad shadow over us all, notablyin his single-handed invention of logic, was Aristotle (384-322 B.C.). On the subjectsof the wealthy and the powerful the great Aristotle resolutely put it into writingas follows (Rhetoric, Book II, Ch. 16, W. D. Ross trans.):
The type of character produced by wealth lies on the surface for all to see. Wealthy men are insolent and arrogant; their possession of wealth affects their understanding; they feel as if they had every good thing that exists; wealth becomes a sort of standard of value for everything else, and therefore they imagine there is nothing it cannot buy. They are luxurious and ostentatious; luxurious, because of the luxury in which they live and the prosperity which they display; ostentatious and vulgar, because, like other people's, their minds are regularly occupied with the object of their love and admiration, and also because they think that other people's idea of happiness is the same as their own. It is indeed quite natural that they should be affected thus; for if you have money, there are always plenty of people who come begging from you. Hence the saying of Simonides about wise men and rich men, in answer to Hiero's Wife, who asked him whether it was better to grow rich or wise. "Why, rich," he said; "for I see the wise men spending their days at the rich men's doors." Rich men also consider themselves worthy to hold public office; for they consider they already have the things that give a claim to office. In a word, the type of character produced by wealth is that of a prosperous fool.
There is indeed one difference between the type of the newly-enriched and those who have long been rich: the newly enriched have all the bad qualities mentioned in an exaggerated and worse form--to be newly-enriched means, so to speak, no education in riches. The wrongs they do others are not meant to injure their victims, but spring from insolence or self indulgence, e.g., those that end in assault or in adultery.
As to Power: here too it may fairly be said that the type of character it produces is mostly obvious enough. Some elements in this type it shares with the wealthy type, others are better. Those in power are more ambitious and more manly in character than the wealthy, because they aspire to do the great deeds that their power permits them to do. Responsibility makes them more serious: they have to keep paying attention to the duties their position involves. They are dignified rather than arrogant, for the respect in which they are held inspires them with dignity and therefore with moderation--dignity being a mild and becoming form of arrogance. If they wrong others, they wrong them not on a small but on a great scale.
Good fortune in certain of its branches produces the types of character belonging to the conditions just described, since these conditions are in fact more or less the kinds of good fortune that are regarded as most important. It may be added that good fortune leads us to gain all we can in the way of family happiness and bodily advantages. It does indeed make men more supercilious and more reckless; but there is one excellent quality that goes with it--piety, and respect for the divine power, in which they believe because of events which are really the result of chance.
This account of the types of character that correspond to differences of age or fortune may end here; for to arrive at the opposite types to those described, namely, those of the poor, the unfortunate, and the powerless, we have only to ask what the opposite qualities are.
Nor is the earnest inquirer given a less severe view if he turnsto Plato, the other great cultural legislator whose shadow is imbedded integrallyin western civilization. All European philosophy, said Alfred North Whitehead (noradical), is but a footnote to Plato. The "divine Plato" took an extremelydim view of wealthy people and personal wealth. Dipping into the excellent Hamilton-Cairnsone-volume edition published by the Bollingen Foundation, a Paul Mellon enterprise,we find the following nuggets:
"So, when wealth is honored in a state, and the wealthy,virtue and the good are less honored. . . . Thus, finally, from being lovers of victoryand lovers of honor they become lovers of gain getting and of money, and they commendand admire the rich man and put him in office but despise the man who is poor."(Republic, 8.551b.)
As to democracy, "the insatiate lust for wealth and theneglect of everything else for the sake of money-making were the cause of its undoing."(Ibid., 8.562b.)
The arts and crafts are corrupted by the co-presence of greatwealth and poverty. (Ibid., 4.421d.)
"Wealth and poverty" should be kept out of the goodsociety "since the one brings luxury, idleness, and innovation, and the otherilliberality and the evil of bad workmanship. . . ." (Ibid., 4.422a.)
Those most successful in the pursuit of wealth become the targetsof the drones, become "the pastures of the drones." (Ibid., 8.564e.)
". . . it is the evil life commonly led by the sons ofautocrats and men of extraordinary wealth. Such a training will never, never leadto outstanding goodness in boy, or man, or graybeard." (Laws, 3.695e.)
"But to be at once exceedingly wealthy and good is impossible,if we mean by the wealthy those who are accounted so by the vulgar, that is, theexceptional few who own property of great pecuniary value--the very thing a bad manwould be likely to own. Now since this is so, I can never concede to them that arich man is truly happy unless he is also a good man, but that one who is exceptionallygood should be exceptionally wealthy too is a mere impossibility." (Ibid.,5.742e.)
"One arises from the passion for wealth which leaves aman not a moment of leisure to attend to anything beyond his personal fortunes. Solong as a citizen's whole soul is wrapped up in these, he cannot give a thought toanything but the day's takings. Any study or pursuit which tends to that result everyonesets himself eagerly to learn and practice; all others are laughed to scorn. Here,then, we may say, is one reason in particular why society declines to take this orany other wholly admirable pursuit seriously, though everyone in it is ready enough,in his furious thirst for gold and silver, to stoop to any trade and any shift, honorableor dishonorable, which holds out a prospect of wealth, ready to scruple at no actwhatsoever--innocent, sinful, or utterly shameful--so long as it promises to satehim, like some brute beast, with a perfect glut of eating, drinking, and sexual sport."(Ibid., 8.831c,d.)
A soul stung to savagery by unsatisfied lusts "is chieflyfound concerned with that on which most men's longing is most permanently and sharplyset--wealth, with the power wealth gets alike from native bias and pernicious wrongeducation to breed countless cravings for insatiate and unbounded possession of itself.And the source of this perverse education is the credit given to false praise ofriches alike by Greek and non-Greek; they promote wealth to the first place amonggood things, whereas in truth it holds but the third, and thus they deprive not onlythemselves but their posterity." (Ibid., 9.870a.)
Plato has a great deal more to say about the wealthy, most ofit disparaging. His remarks, indeed, foreshadow the Aristotelian position that thebest society is one dominated by a middle class of the moderately affluent, withneither extremely rich nor extremely poor. In both the Platonic and Aristotelianperspectives the United States is a monstrously lopsided entity, a veritable Gorgon,a chamber of horrors.
What is perhaps of paramount interest is that no subsequentmajor thinker has departed essentially from the script as laid down by these giantpundits. It may be that thinkers in following Plato and Aristotle here merely feltrivalrous toward those with a claim to power other than intellectual, as Plato indeedunquestionably felt rivalrous toward the poets. Yet intellectuals in general havenot felt so uniformly against nonintellectual power rivals like soldiers, politicians,explorers, religious leaders or artists as they have against the rich, a feelingthat by no means reached its apogee, as commonly supposed, in the writings of KarlMarx.
Marx has clearly been topped in the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre,the stylish French metaphysician, who refers to the wealthy and the respectable ingeneral as salauds (filthy beasts) because he believes they have it in theirpower to produce alterations for the better but instead work assiduously to perpetuateancient swindles while professing humane goals.
Sartre, like Aristotle and Plato, is rather remote from mostAmericans. Nearer home, a recent expression of the attitude, deeply etched into Americanradical and dissenting literature, can be sampled in the summary by the Marxist,Herbert Aptheker, of the non-Marxist C. Wright Mills's The Power Elite as"filled also with burning attacks--as passionate but not as muted as that ofhis mentor Veblen--upon the social and personal immorality of the rich, their coarseness,cruelty, hypocrisy, greed, and lustfulness." 1
One could, it is true, assemble examples of the rich from theAmerican scene who apparently fit different items of these characterizations. But,straying outside the circle of the rich, one could unquestionably find proportionatelyas many cases for each count in the indictment at all except the most refined levelsof society. And seeking examples of virtuosic cruelty, one would find it impossibleto discover any rival among the American rich to such a Marxist redeemer as JosefStalin, to say nothing of Lavrenti Beria and a swarm of power-crazed leftist midgetsfrom the lower depths. "Practical" Marxists like Dr. Aptheker, while launchingtheir shafts of criticism, seem blissfully unaware of what their own affiliationsand loyalties commit them to defend.
The Aptheker-Mills indictment of "the rich," as formulatedabove, is clearly far too broad and obviously loaded. It reveals and perhaps prescribesan attitude rather than describes.
But if one turns to the influential Alexander Hamilton amongthe Founding Fathers, one finds, contrary to Plato, Aristotle and almost every otherconsiderable political thinker in western history, that government should belongto "the wealthy, the good and the wise." As to the last two, Plato andAristotle would have agreed; as to the first, we know what they thought.
Social thinkers down through the centuries have all had favoriteclasses, which they took to be the instruments of deliverance. With Plato it wasthe intellectuals, with Aristotle the middle classes, with Jefferson the small farmers,with Marx the factory workers, with Hamilton the wealthy and so on. In this boxingof the class compass, one contemporary writer, Nelson Algren, has oddly found hisfavorite social group among what Marx called the lumpenproletariat --thieves,pimps, prostitutes and down-and-outers.
But, in his admiration of the wealthy, Hamilton, political fatherof the American plutocracy, virtually represented an historical minority of one amongpolitical thinkers.
The Problematic Rich
Who, in the first place, are "the rich"?
Included in the designation are trust-fund infants who at themoment of birth are incalculably rich (and presumably no more offensive than anyother infants), trust-fund children of various ages, women young and old of mixedcapabilities and outlooks and men ranging from inane idlers and wastrels throughroutine performers to the intensely but not always laudably active. Whatever elseone can say about most of the rich, one cannot reasonably say they are especiallycoarse, cruel, greedy or more than commonly hypocritical or lustful. Money in a specialplace of high honor to one side, a person of ordinary sensibilities would much preferto associate with many, perhaps most of them, than with the average run-of-the-millpolitician, labor leader, advertising impresario or gospel-monger.
What Mills focused his attention on was the active rich, particularlythe policy setters, and among these one could not deny the presence of the immoral(tax manipulators, for example), the coarse, the cruel, the hypocritical, the greedyand the lustful; but even among these, that all or most are of the order indicatedcan be easily shown to be fictional.
What is problematic about the rich is more as follows: The possessionof wealth, inherited or acquired, itself informs the possessor that he is special,that he holds winning cards over most people in most social situations. He can, forone thing, finance a greater number of amorous episodes--a big advantage in the estimationof the simple-minded. He holds a social advantage over most others which, unluckilyfor him, may so turn his head as to give him delusions of inherent superiority, asis often the case in the possession of anything rare and desired. One hugs one'sadvantages--health, strength, intelligence, learning or wealth--and tends to takethem as marks of invidious excellence: snobbism. In some rich families, the Rockefellernotably, the children are carefully reared in as middle class a way as possible toprevent their developing such common delusions; yet the fact cannot be concealedfor long that they are special, that they hold a fistful of aces in worldly goods,and that others surely define them as different. They are different; they are rich--ineffect, noble--in a society replete with poverty and degradation, Their wealth makesit possible for them to mobilize more effective power than most people at particularpoints, at times to their own undoing. Money is like a spirited horse in at leastthis respect: One must know how to ride it, which few really do.
Like anyone else, the rich person may experience frustrationsand a sense of being unduly limited; but he does not usually feel it in as many waysnor as frequently or humiliatingly as the nonrich. He feels that he has, in general,more elbow room, a wider range of choice. And he has indeed more elbow room, geographicand psychological.
As to the active policy-making rich and their agents of thepower elite (for these latter are mostly agents): Like nearly all people they areusually heedless of whatever is not before their eyes, either lack sufficient imagination(like reckless motorists) or have their attention fully absorbed (like nearly everyoneelse) by their personal problems and projects. The doers of the world all have projects,and one is either a doer or nondoer. And doers all derive an intense feeling of satisfactionfrom any project carried to success, whether it consists of writing a book, leadinga revolution, creating or managing a corporation or winning an election. Absorptionin one's own project, whether it is building a corporation or writing a poem, leavesone unable to play one's attention over other aspects of reality. Probably the greatestharm in the world comes of the simple fact that nobody is able to pay full attentionto everything at once. One really should, yet it is impossible. Although this isso, it does not follow that attention cannot be focused on a wider horizon than immediate,specialized interests--a marked tendency of the rising rich at least. The basic offenseof most of the active rich, if it is an offense, is that they usually pursue theirown visions, skillfully or crudely, not only to the neglect of the rest of the world(as does the poet) but, at times, because they have power, against or indifferentto the needs and wishes of the rest of the world. Not only do they have power but,like most people, they are thoroughly egocentric.
Although now woven by means of large enterprises into the warpand woof of all society, the rich, like nearly everyone else, put their own enterprisesfirst in the narrowly reasonable effort to preserve their social advantage, by meansfair or seemingly questionable. Without that social advantage they would, like thecommon people, be at the beck and call of almost any self-appointed messiah presentinghimself as the latest in the line of the Apostolic Succession or, perhaps, a spiritualrepresentative of a freely prescribing Karl Marx or even, like Adolf Hitler, as theoffspring of Wotan. Being rich is basically defensive in a rough world, althoughthe defensive position has its own hazards.
What is perhaps most irksome about the rich to the intelligentnonrich, particularly to those with some other vision of how society should be arranged,is not actually what any rich individual may or may not do. True, by behaving outwardlylike a gentleman the rich man may temper animosity; but he cannot, even by gentlemanlybehavior, mollify persons like Plato, Aristotle, Marx, Sartre and others acutelyaware of his necessary role, which is much like that of a character in a Greek dramaenacting the capricious will of the gods.
The rich, the plain fact is, confront the rest of society asa solid, semicorporate phalanx, buttressed by law and public policy. By law theyhold their positions legitimately and hence can feel complete rectitude. When thenational anthem is being sung they can feel it is being sung in celebration of thelegal system that supports them, for the aggrandizement of which every man, the poorerespecially, may be called upon to offer his very life simply by presidential order,without any declaration of war by Congress. Beyond this, existing policies underthe law favor them; they have been adopted largely by their agents with their corporatepermission.
The existence of this solid phalanx is sharply noticeable onlyto those who have some proposal to make with a view to adjusting policy in orderto accommodate some large number of people who are, in one way or the other, supposedlybeing unduly inconvenienced by any number of things. Whenever any public proposalis made for any change (however slight), it is bound to encounter opposition. Uponinquiry it turns out that the opposition ordinarily stems from one or more affluentor rich people, usually referred to euphemistically as Interests. While there areindeed many interests in a society, the most assertive is surely the property interest.
Even a case about a trivial question, adversely affecting onlyone propertied person, may have wide implications for many or all propertied becauseit may set a precedent upon which further more extensive similar actions may be taken.The entire phalanx of the propertied becomes agitated and makes its displeasure knownto legislators, judges and other officials. After all, one cannot have unsound decisionsapproved. Again, the entire phalanx of the propertied may be committed by simplyone among the propertied, who presses deviously for and obtains some tax concession.This concession thereafter applies to all, whether they asked for it or not.
Thus it happens that even minor, purely common-sense proposalsfor reforms often precipitate fierce political dogfights.
In a relevant case, early in 1966 C. Wright Patman, the powerfulchairman of the powerful House Banking and Currency Committee, decided on the basisof a committee vote to investigate the entire question of how trust funds are usedin corporate and bank control. When subpoenas began to go out to banks requestinginformation there was suddenly called on June 7 a meeting by 17 of 33 committee members,who required the recall of many subpoenas; on a showdown, however, the rightof the chairman to issue subpoenas was upheld.
This checking of a committee chairman was a very unusual action,which obviously had its source in some of the entities being investigated. Not manycitizens, it is true, are alert to this situation or probably care very much.
What the final outcome of the investigation will be, whetherit will be muted or not, is not yet known. Whether light will be thrown on what ChairmanPatman claims are some $215 billion of trust fund holdings one cannot yet tell; allthis is terra incognita right now.
By the end of the year, at any rate, Chairman Patman on thebasis of subpoenas already returned was able to announce that three-quartersof the banks of the country had at least 5 per cent of their stock held by otherbanks through trust funds managed for beneficiaries and that this percentage of stockownership represented a long step toward control. The very largest banks, he said,operated under this sort of interlocking ownership, were all more or less in thesame ownership bed--one big happy incestuous family. 2
The information needed in this area is as follows: identificationsof trust-fund holdings, book values and current market values, nature of trusts andlength of time they run, beneficiaries of a multiplicity of trusts (reducing incometaxes), cost of operation of trusts, validity of investment selections for trusts,etc. Whether the named beneficiaries or the managers benefit most is an undeterminedquestion.
The propertied, for one thing, are mostly especially sensitiveto anything about taxes--how much shall be the total levy and, more important, howshall the collection be proportioned? In general, the propertied interest in theUnited States, sheltered behind technician-spokesmen, has been opposed (whateversome individual property owners felt) to government levies for the sake of the domesticcomfort, convenience and necessity of the broad public (its own comfort and conveniencebeing apparently assured) but has been generously unstinting in any military or semi-militaryexpenditures that gave government a strong argument abroad in assuring access tomarkets, raw materials and trade routes. At present, with military and space explorationbudgets inflated to record proportions, the cities internally are literally fallingapart. It has been estimated by insiders that 75 per cent of the military budgetis rationally unjustifiable.
Beyond the desire to keep down tax totals (hence the fiscallysound objection to "reckless government spending") there is the collectivedesire of the propertied to shove a disproportionate part of the tax burden overonto the lower labor force which, imbued with patriotic ardor, is presumably happyto support a democratic paradise that freely allows them to go and listen to happytidings of the afterworld from the likes of Billy Graham and Fulton J. Sheen andto rub elbows with the rich at Coney Island. As we have already seen how deftly thistax burden is shouldered onto the pious, patriotic and not-too-bright lower laborforce, the point need engage our fascinated interest no longer.
Whatever the call may be for social adjustment will either costtax money or intrude more or less adversely on some propertied interest--that is,upon the revenues of some collection of rich persons. More public housing will treadon the toes of private landlords. And as this call for adjustment is fought by the"interests," some proponents are irked. The purely commonsense proposal,for example, to place effective health warnings on cigarette packages was foughtto a standstill and defeated in Congress, with the result that the tobacco industrythrough intensified advertising is selling more cigarettes than ever before in theteeth of repeated formal government findings that they are a clear menace to health.Similarly there was fought tooth and nail suggested mandatory automobile safety equipmentand there have been fights in the state legislatures against attempts to limit inany way the free resale of unroadworthy second-hand cars. One could cite thousandsof similar cases.
To be sure, when it is said that an "industry" opposessomething, the source of the opposition is kept sufficiently abstract and remote.An industry is not something subject to sense experience. One cannot see it or feelit. "Industry" here boils down to no more than several boards of directorsperhapsfifty to a hundred men--who represent stockholders, mainly large stockholders--inbrief, rich people. These latter are, somewhat poetically, as adversely affectedby automobile air pollution as the poor although they can resort to air conditioningor retreat to remote fresh-air estates and ranches.
It is this consistent opposition to proposals for reasonableas well as unreasonable change that the propertied have offered down through history,opposition more effective than argument, that has caused the rich to be looked uponas problematic ever since Plato. It is not that they are necessarily vicious, asthe Marxists often postulate; it is just that they are blandly or uncomprehendinglyselfish, and not always very intelligently. The unpropertied person may be just asselfish but he has no telltale instrument such as property with which to reveal hisselfishness so completely.
Like the small band of Greeks in the pass at Thermopylae theselfish rich hold back by their skill of maneuver in an entrenched position (alwaysin the name of sound policy) huge disorganized armies of sansculottes anddescamisados (among which, thoughtfully, they have their own friends haranguingon all manner of irrelevancies dear to the same sansculottes and descamisados).It is all much like a disciplined Roman legion against a barbarian rabble.
Because virtually everything has an economic aspect and becausethe rich, as we have seen, own and control the foundation and prime stages of theeconomic system, practically anything that anyone is likely to propose in the wayof a new arrangement is going to strike some among the propertied and the rich adversely,and hence lead them to invoke the law defensively or work for a new self-servingpublic ordinance. Often the mere attempt to reroute traffic by local ordinance causesmerchants to spring into tigerish opposition, presumably in defense of property rights.
Again, many individuals who engage in entrepreneurial action,hoping to become rich, find that the way is barred by persons, propertied or rich,already in established positions. As Henry J. Kaiser discovered, there is no roomfor another automobile manufacturer. True, there are interstices into which newcomersmay insert themselves with success, particularly the area of new technology but,in the main, the road is blocked to all except the very clever--and lucky--amongnewcomers.
The rich, then, come to seem to those who have encountered theirresistance like part of a single corporate entity, a special class, or, as the Marxistssay, a class interest. Because they are each part of this class interest,embalmed like a fly in plastic, there is not much they can do to earn credit in theeyes of critics. Owing to the saying of Jesus in Matthew, XIX, 24, that "Itis easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enterinto the kingdom of God," there was no way out for a rich man for hundreds ofyears except to give his property to the church. The result was that in the latemedieval period the churchpols in the name of the church held tightly morethan half the land of Europe; the latecoming kings were far less gullible than theearlier gentry. In the eyes of the Marxists there is nothing a rich man can do except,like Frederick Engels, devote his wealth to the promotion of Marxism; anything lesswill fail to gain credit. The rich could, to be sure, turn all their wealth overto the government where it would at the present time fall under the benign jurisdictionof Lyndon B. Johnson, in which circumstances few judicious moralists would see anyparticular gain for mankind.
Castigation of the rich, however, arises less from envy, ascommonly supposed, than from people who have in some way been blocked or frustratedby the massed class interest of the rich. The rich man may be a really niceguy; but his very interests, indeed his whole being, force him to present himselfin a certain stylized way. Most of the critics of the rich have themselves been powerclaimants, who know the rich and powerful can readily trump their cards. Plato, Aristotleand a long line of independent intellectuals have known that their carefully reasonedarguments are subject to political defeat less by sound counter-arguments than bythe power of inertia, money and entrenched position. As any practical politicianknows, in going before Congress on any question it is better to be backed by lucrethan by a bullet-proof argument. Money will win almost every time on crucial questions,such as intruding from afar into World War I, and the only way apparently to defeatit is by some other brute power. Hence, as the Marxists say, revolution. The profferedcure here, though, except in cases of complete war-induced social collapse as inRussia in 1917 and China in the 1940's, is clearly worse than the disease becauseserviceable institutional restraints are swept away in the uproar and a clean slateis open to an unrestrained set of new power seekers, not at all squeamish (as historyhas shown) about how they apply their power. Leninist Communism is clearly a modernreceivership in political bankruptcy.
Where those counts in the Aptheker indictment are best sustainedis with respect to certain uneducated men of the poorer classes who have by bookor crook made themselves rich: the original grabbers. In this country these are the"Robber Barons" of the nineteenth century and later replicas. The recordon these is by now fairly well known. While many of the established rich, normallylacking imagination and perhaps sufficient sapience, have been normally heedless,the clear-cut depredations of the rich have in most cases been carried out by founders,newcomers, in panicky flight from poverty. It is the ex-poor among the rich who havebeen the most active social offenders. This was the crowd Veblen largely wrote aboutin all their vulgarity.
All of which is not to say that there is nothing of an overbearinglyobjectionable nature about the general policies since World War II contrived by Mills'sinsidiously bland power elite on behalf of remote principals. Those policies havebeen, on the whole, immediately self-serving, broadly neglectful of visible internalsocial decay and in that sense actually inimical over the long term to basic upper-classinterests. What there really is to the idea of a power elite consists of people--upper-crustlawyers, politicians, officials, journalists, public relations men and idea men--whoin various ways recommend themselves to the rich and well positioned by formulatingdefensive stopgaps for immediate problems. A way to remunerative position in theUnited States is to get the nod from some one of the wealthy or their adjutants,and those who get this nod are invariably from lower levels of society, usually chimpanzee-brightmen who have developed know-how and can-do for poulticing over difficult situationsin the interests of established arrangements. This is the level where "urbanrenewal" and roadbuilding become new ways of generating windfall profits. Nobody,it is pertinent to notice, gets the nod who is in any way seriously opposed to theestablished order. Indeed, nobody gets the nod who is merely reflectively doubtfuland hesitant. Such persons would only generate dissension or uncertainty in highplaces and impede a smooth-smooth administrative operation.
As nobody to my knowledge has attempted to pinpoint collectivelythe possibly laudable achievements of rich people, quite apart from their class interests,I here set myself this heretical task with a view both to rounding out the pictureand to seeing concretely just what the achievements may amount to. How undeniablyconstructive and creative have the wealthy, more particularly the American wealthy,really been?
The Sacred Group
In seeking to isolate the achievements of the wealthy, it seemsdesirable to indicate the broad area within which one looks. Who, shall we say, arethe wealthy?
Fortunately the Federal Reserve Board and Census Bureau, asnoticed earlier, have come up with recent figures, the most precise on official record,to the effect that there were an estimated 200,000 nuclear families averaging threepersons in the country as of December 31, 1962, in possession of net assets of $500,000or more. 3 So, for these purposes, we shall take this last as the maximumfigure representing a proto-wealthy family, although a person worth a few thousandsless could hardly be considered impoverished. Naturally, the indicated small groupincludes everybody in possession of up to a heady billion dollars by value and beyond.
But even a group of this reduced size is cumbersome to inquireinto and includes more than the definitively wealthy. This group of 200,000 nuclearfamilies can be narrowed down somewhat, however. U.S. News and World Report,October 11, 1965, estimated on the basis of more recent Treasury figures that: "Todaythere are about 90,000 millionaires," by which it alluded to persons owningassets worth at least $1 million. 4 Some of these were in extended familyclusters, and some families as we know (Du Ponts, Fords, Rockefellers, Vanderbiltset al. ) contain many millionaires and millionaire nuclear families. Totalholdings of the group were estimated in excess of $250 billion. As of 1948, the millionairegroup totaled only 13,000 by the reckoning of this same source.
U.S. News pointed out that this 90,000 indicated thatone family in every 625 was in the millionaire class, which meant approximately 1/6of 1 per cent of families, a fraction of a sliver, had net assets of at least $1million.
The sevenfold variation in number of millionaires between 1948and 1965 stemmed from the fact that most wealth-holders concentrate their holdingsin corporation stocks; and in 1948 stock prices were comparatively low, in 1964 and1965 they were comparatively high. It does not indicate that new asset-nuclei wereformed to this extent. Judging by the composition of estates in 1961, Treasury figuresshowed (as U.S. News and World Report acknowledged), that upper-class wealthwas held as follows on the average: Stocks, 65.1 per cent; tax-exempt bonds, 8.5per cent; real estate, 6.7 per cent; cash, 4.3 per cent; U. S. government bonds,4.2 per cent; mortgages and notes, 1.8 per cent; insurance, 1.8 per cent; other bonds,.8 per cent; and miscellaneous, 6.8 per cent. Such being the case, any appreciablerise and fall of the stock market will alternately see-saw many suddenly up intothe millionaire class or ease them down. The 1948 figure, in my view, is more indicativeof the really heavy money than a 1965 figure. Better yet would be a 1932 figure.5 As to the formation of new asset-nuclei, this is a far rarer occurrencethan is regularly suggested in Time, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal.
As far as the achievements of the really wealthy are concerned,then, we may limit ourselves to looking within a contemporary group of very few families.
Not only will contemporary names be drawn from this propertybracket but, at times, a retrospective view will be taken of individual achievers,always leaving out of consideration, for reasons stated, business organizers andmanagers as such. In order to read of their corporate deeds of derring-do one needmerely turn to the pages of Fortune, which publishes a continual celebrationof how well men run their own plantations.
Excluded will be any who have entered the indicated propertybracket through achievements in the world of entertainment, sports and the arts--popularplaywrights, actors, athletes, opera singers and virtuoso musicians. Those of whomnote will be taken will be only those known to be in, around or about this propertyclass prior to their achievement, not those who got into it through recognizableachievement. A financially successful once poor inventor would not be included.
Standards of Achievement
Anything that passes by worldly standards as achievement otherthan ambiguous corporate success will be counted as such. The operative phrase hereis "by worldly standards," for much not applauded by the world as an achievementrepresents a great purely personal achievement as in the case of many persons, richor poor, who daily force themselves up from a bed of pain and painfully perform dailyduties or anyone, rich or poor, who becomes fairly civilized, a lamentably rare occurrence.
The commonly recognized areas of formal achievement, apart frombusiness (which appears to rate high in popular esteem), are politics, law, the performingand creative arts, the sciences, scholarship, medicine, philosophy, religion, education,engineering, entertainment in the broadest sense, sports and journalism. In consideringa sub-division of possibly 90,000 individuals and families we have considerable leeway,a large group to deal with although only a sliver of the population. But this, atleast, is the area within which to look.
Psychologists generally consider 1/2 of 1 per cent of the populationto be "gifted" in some way so that if the same ratio were preserved among200,000 families owning $500,000 or more of property there would be at least 2,000(two adults) "gifted" upper wealth-holders. Because not all the "gifted"bring their gifts to fruition there would not necessarily be this many outstandingachievers in the group; but there should be on the basis of the general distributionat least 500. Available data, however, do not enable one to assemble such a total,so that outstanding achievers are either proportionately fewer in the heavily propertiedgroup, are somehow concealed from external view or are unpublicized. Yet it is inthe nature of outstanding achievement sooner or later to call attention to itself.
It would be possible to identify all wealthy individuals onlyif one were provided with statements of net worth, which are not available; thereare, however, indications in many cases, as already noticed. Achievement itself isnotable and focuses public attention on the achiever and his background in an ageof excessive publicity. As far as the very rich are concerned, we know pretty wellwho they are and can inspect them directly.
But I shall not, owing to the absence of precise data, be ableto spot all, or nearly all, especially down near the lower levels of wealth-holding.There may be a wealthy man of considerable achievement, but if it is not shown onthe record that his family has a certain net worth I cannot name him, much as I wouldlike to. However, in the interests of an increase in knowledge, this is a game thatothers, privy to facts inaccessible to me, can play by supplementing my report. For,owing to the inattention of sociologists, we do not know with any precision the recordof personal achievement or nonachievement of all large and largish property holders.The evidence only becomes clear as we ascend into the rarified realm of the knownvery large property holders, the super rich.
Area of Greatest Impact
It is not, first, usually thought possible for a man of wealthto be any sort of achiever. "Inherited wealth is a big handicap to happiness,"said William K. Vanderbilt in a press interview in 1905. "It is as certain deathto ambition as cocaine is to morality." 6 As to the attainment ofwealth through personal achievement, a universally spread view is summarized in anold Chinese proverb: "A man seldom gets rich without ill-got gain; as a horsedoes not fatten without feeding in the night." 7
Yet the handicap indicated by Vanderbilt is sometimes overcome.
As the record shows, law combined with politics has been thearea of greatest impact of propertied activists apart from corporate management.Not that legal practice as such, which in general is not extravagantly rewarded,has attracted big propertied people to any conspicuous extent. The rigors of eitheradvocacy or jurisconsultation appear to have had few attractions for the wealthy,although the acquisition of a law degree and admission to the bar I take to be concreteachievements, whatever further steps are necessary to attaining distinction as alawyer.
In general, lawyers from heavily propertied families do notenter into general legal practice, civil or criminal. Some members of lower wealth-holdinglayers do go into the practice of corporate law. As such they are, in general, necessarilydefenders of the propertied position. Non-Establishment lawyers are, in general,defending criminal lawyers and plaintiffs' lawyers in civil actions, apart from afew affiliated with nonconformist causes such as constitutional rights. The Establishment,so-called, is usually interested either in prosecuting someone, rarely a member ofthe Establishment itself, or in defending some part of itself against not alwaysvalid individual claims.
While there may be lawyers from wealthy families who are non-Establishmentpractitioners, such a fact does not clearly show on the record.
In politics some of the more prominent of wealthy lawyers havebeen Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson and members of the Taft family beginningwith William Howard Taft, one-time president of the United States. The Tafts, inaddition to law, have notably operated in real estate.
William Howard Taft became chief justice of the Supreme Courtbut he is one of the very few among latter-day big wealth-holders who have held ajudgeship. Taft, of course, was a thoroughgoing Establishment judge. A less well-knownbut highly distinguished judge was Curtis Bok of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania,who died in 1962. A grandson of Cyrus H. K. Curtis, the mass publisher, and EdwardM. Bok, Curtis Bok was also a gifted and sensitive author who wrote Star Wormwood,The Backbone of the Herring and I, Too, Nicodemus, all worth reading.Over a long period of years he was an exceptionally fine public servant. There was,too, Judge Thomas Mellon, the founder.
Judges are quite rare, though, among families of notable wealth.One draws a comparative blank among the big-wealthy on judges although one wouldunquestionably find a few among some of more modest fortune if the data were available.Judges, of course, are often men of some modest property, acquired through the practiceof law, inheritance or marriage except for those few who have made financial killingsas members of political syndicates.
Wealthy men directly in politics are no special novelty in Americanhistory. George Washington, the first president, was considered perhaps the wealthiestman of his time in the country, an inheritor. Many of the nation's founders, relativeto their time, were quite wealthy, including Thomas Jefferson--at least until hisfinal years. They were nearly all men of property, usually landed, a fact pointedlyreflected in the Constitution. But even on a relative scale their wealth did notattain the proportions of the latter-day industrial fortunes.
After the Civil War there were many, usually self-erected, formerpoor men, who sat in the United States Senate, there closely guiding their interestsin railroads, oil, mining and lumbering; but that these held their seats in consequenceof any political achievement or aptitude is open to serious question. Prior to 1913senators were elected by state legislatures, many of which, staffed by dung-hilldemocrats, awarded Senate seats simply to the highest bidder. It did not take muchin the way of political knowhow to sit in "The Rich Man's Club," as theSenate was commonly called.
I will not, then, count any of the pre-1913 rich senators aspolitical achievers simply on the ground of their presence in the Senate.
Although rich and budding rich men were always shuttling aboutin the shadowy background of both political parties, supplying "campaign funds"and pulling devious strings right and left, they were in the more recent period broughtforward and given more direct participation by the Republican Warren G. Harding.A former senator, President Harding was a small-town newspaper publisher of no greatwealth. However, he appointed as his secretary of the treasury Andrew W. Mellon,then one of the richest men in the world--an inheritor as well as acquisitor; self-createdHerbert C. Hoover as his secretary of commerce; the corporation lawyer Charles EvansHughes as his secretary of state; and Albert B. Fall, stooge of the oil industry,his secretary of interior. Since Theodore Roosevelt it had become pretty much thecustom to install corporation lawyers as secretary of state and attorney general.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, a minor millionaire himself before becominga popular tribune, went much further in this respect than either Harding or Hoover,who appointed multi-millionaire Ogden L. Mills to succeed Mellon. Roosevelt, believingthat men of wealth and good schooling should serve in government rather than loungeabout in their clubs, practically stacked his cabinets with men of wealth, whilestandpatters, reactionaries and presumed malefactors of great wealth shrieked thathe was a Communist and a "traitor to his class," here validating in actiona Marxist conception of class consciousness among the rich. He started off with WilliamH. Woodin, head of the American Car and Foundry Company, as secretary of the treasuryand replaced him with multi-millionaire Henry Morgenthau, Jr. When the world situationbecame gravely serious in 1940 he appointed Frank Knox, Republican newspaper tycoon,as secretary of the navy and later James V. Forrestal, partner of Dillon, Read andCompany, Wall Street investment bankers. He appointed Edward Stettinius, Jr., sonof a Morgan partner, secretary of state. He brought back the able Henry L. Stimson,Republican corporation lawyer and Hoover's secretary of state, as secretary of war.He made Jesse Jones, self-erected Texas Democratic big-league banker-politician,secretary of commerce and Francis Biddle attorney general. Down through the upperranks of officialdom he drew freely upon men of great wealth, making Nelson A. Rockefellerthe Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs; W. Averell Harriman, former partner ofBrown Brothers Harriman & Co., his representative from the beginning in a varietyof posts, mainly diplomatic; Joseph P. Kennedy head of the Securities and ExchangeCommission, and so on. He gave both Harriman and Rockefeller their political starts.
Roosevelt, it is true, made many appointments from other quartersand, in fact, assembled a mixed bag. But, far from stacking his appointments withradicals or liberals, as recklessly charged, a far stronger case could be made thathe drew most of his appointees from Wall Street, Newport, the corporate circuit andthe big-city political machines. Scholarly liberals and radicals were brought inmainly as ideological window dressing in a time of great public discontent. HenryWallace, considered a far-out radical in the bayou country, was himself a very wealthyman, at most a liberal conservative.
If results are what count, Roosevelt was not hostile to theprivate-property business system, which he found in self-induced crisis and leftsome years later revived and reinforced with government support. Remove Rooseveltiangovernment economic subsidy, patronage, guarantee and support today, and the much-vauntedfree-enterprise system, beloved of Chamber of Commerce orators, would collapse likea bullet-riddled toy balloon. How many depositors would trust the banks, for a simpleexample, if it were not for government insurance of deposits? How many would trustthe one-time wide-open Stock Exchange if it were not for the SEC?
The fact that the rich were in politics, then, was nothing new.What is new is that, more recently, taking their cue from Roosevelt, the latter-dayrich have increasingly taken a direct part, with some of them at least showing signsof becoming forthright public men. They have themselves stood for election, and havebeen elected, a favorable development from the point of view that those who own thecountry should take responsibility openly for running it rather than hiding behindstooges in Uncle Sam and Abraham Lincoln suits.
Very rich men, inheritors or corporate wizards, have taken towinning elections right and left despite ingrown Populist prejudices. The electorateappears to be growing tired of the old-time "friend of the people," shaggywith folksy duplicity and athirst for franchises or whatever else he can lay furtivepatriotic hands on. Winning an election, I take it, may be counted an achievementwhereas winning friendly appointment is not particularly. For the latter all oneneeds is the nod from some Mr. Big.
By his untypical election as governor of New York in 1928 FranklinD. Roosevelt apparently led wealthy men to believe they too could be elected to thatkey office, although, as we have noticed, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft and Hoover were,earlier, in the wealthy class. Franklin Roosevelt was succeeded in the governorshipby Herbert H. Lehman of the Wall Street banking family, who served from 1932 to 1942before becoming a United States senator. Except for Thomas E. Dewey's twelve-yeartenure after 1942 the governorship of New York has been held by wealthy men since1928. In 1954, with strong labor support, W. Averell Harriman, later again in theState Department, became the first of the ultra-wealthy of later years to win animportant election when he became governor of New York as a Democrat, opening theway psychologically for ultra-wealthy Nelson A. Rockefeller, also supported by labor,to succeed him in 1958 and to win reelection twice to date. As Roosevelt showed onseveral occasions, the electorate will not shy away from a man because he is wealthy.The voters, presumably, think he is less apt to tap the public till for himself thanis an Horatio Alger boy from the grass roots and dung hills.
Outside of New York, too, wealthy men, some of whom got theirpolitical start under Roosevelt appointments, have also taken to winning elections.G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams, shaving soap and talcum powder dual heir, whobegan as a New Deal appointee in 1936, was the elected labor-supported governor ofMichigan from 1949 to 1960 and thereafter was assistant secretary of state for AfricanAffairs;. a lawyer, he is also a doctor of jurisprudence. William W. Scranton, alsoa lawyer and scion of an old Pennsylvania coal fortune, was first an Eisenhower official,then a member of Congress and in 1963 was elected governor of Pennsylvania.
The Kennedys, of course, stand out as men of great wealth whohave directly participated in politics, although they are really members of an oldlinepolitical family like the Lodges, Stevensons and Tafts. John F. Kennedy, a buddingjournalist and war hero, was first easily elected a member of the House from Massachusetts,then of the Senate. In 1961 he became president. His brother Robert, a lawyer, wasfirst his attorney general and then became senator from New York while brother Edward,also a lawyer, followed John F. to the Senate from Massachusetts.
Senator Joseph S. Clark of Pennsylvania, whom we have noticedin his effort to democratize the Senate, is a wealthy as well as extremely able public-spiritedman. Barry Goldwater, senator from Arizona before winning the Republican presidentialnomination in 1964, inherited a substantial interest in a large department store,never had to work his way up from anywhere. The late Robert Taft, senator from Ohioand presidential aspirant, came of a wealthy family; and the same necessarily holdsof his son, also directly concerned in Ohio politics.
This list could be extended--Theodore Green and Claiborne Pellof Rhode Island, the Saltonstalls and Peabodys of Massachusetts, Ogden Reid of NewYork and Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Angier Biddle Duke, Governor Winthrop Rockefellerof Arkansas, Harrison Williams, Jr., of New Jersey, et al. --but the highlightshave been indicated. While one might evaluate the political performances of eachof these men differently, perhaps rating Roosevelt and Kennedy high and Goldwaterand Taft low, or vice versa, each represents achievement on the ground that winningelections is itself a recognized achievement. Roosevelt I would call an outstandingachiever in politics.
In some quarters there is a tendency to downgrade the feat ofa wealthy man in winning an election because he has had the use of his own funds.But money alone does not win elections, although it is in the plutocratic Americansystem a necessary aid. Furthermore, nearly every man who wins an election is backedby money--his own, that of a moneyed group (like Richard Nixon and his oil backersin 1952) or of an established political machine. The few exceptions appear to besheer flukes in American politics. Money from at least a small group is almost alwaysbehind the candidates, particularly the winner. Only here and there in politicallow-pressure areas an unfinanced amateur may sneak over the goal line.
A significant recent tendency has been the appearance of a numberof successful high corporation officials in elective political office. Small andvery medium-sized business people have been no great novelty in elective office,particularly at the state level; but men from the corporate big league have beenpointedly absent. George Romney, former head of American Motors and twice electedgovernor of Michigan, launched a campaign as a 1968 Republican presidential aspirant;and Charles Percy, former head of Bell & Howell, was elected senator from Illinoisin 1966. On the corporate circuit, these men were big guns. If more big managersof corporations thrust forward in politics, the country may see something of whatcold corporate rationality can do applied to government, assuming that such men retainthe corporate approach. Robert S. McNamara, former president of Ford Motor Company,conducted his own specialized exercise in corporate rationality with the DefenseDepartment, but his best efforts there had not been able to out-general Ho Chi Minhon his batteries of Pentagon computers.
In any event, it would appear that a change is under way whenthe industrial rich, descendants of original tycoons, and corporate nabobs participatedirectly in politics instead of working through subsidized lower-class stooges. Thereis a gain here, in the first place, for candor. At least the fractional thinkingpart of the electorate can now evaluate what these candidates publicly stand forinstead of voting for men presumably independent but secretly harnessed to the corporatejuggernaut. What any of these men propose politically may not be approved by theobserver, but the observer will nevertheless learn by noticing public performanceprecisely what he does stand for.
Personalities like Lyndon B. Johnson, although moderately wealthy,are not included in the foregoing because they were not wealthy when they came topolitics but were politicians first, wealthy men later.
No claim is implied here that all the wealthy who are lawyershave been named, for that list would run into hundreds, or that the mere fact ofbeing a lawyer is something wonderful, Quite a number of the wealthy and the well-to-dobecome lawyers although not so many, it appears, as become corporation executives,project promoters and nonprofit administrators.
The Ruling Class
That members of the wealthier classes do often become corporationexecutives, administrators, lawyers and appointed or elected officials, thereuponopening themselves to evaluation in terms of going standards of achievement, is hardlyodd in the light of the concept in political science of a "ruling class."Activists among the rich do seem to drift primarily into directorial, managerialor similar executive-type functional posts. However, to suggest that the United States,where sovereignty in theory lies within the whole people, has a ruling class is ideologicallyheretical, repugnant to public-school alumni and is for the most part volubly andemphatically denied. It is, above all, quite contrary to public school indoctrination.
For my part, I do not insist that the United States has a tightruling class because there is often some ambiguity about what public activists ingeneral are up to. Some appear confused themselves.
Objections to the idea of an American ruling class generallyseem to flow from misconceptions about the nature of rule, which in the United Statesis indirect, and also from the idea that a ruling class must be formally constituted,as by titled nobility with certain formal privileges and immunities. Objections alsoseem to stem from the notion that a ruling class, in order to exist, must be closedto outsiders (which, for example, the ruling class of England never was).
But if a ruling class consists of people whose members veritablyrule, a class whose imperative wishes and criteria largely order society, then itseems to me a case can be made that there is such a class in the United States, partlyhereditary as to property and position and partly open to conforming newcomers. Whilenot every member of a ruling class exercises rule, some being no more than detachedobservers and more or less graceful idlers, it is from such an established classthat rulers may be selected.
If rulers are those who lay down and enforce the rules, thenit would seem that the United States has such a class. The only question remainingwould be whether these rulers are publicly selected on the basis of sheer merit orattain their positions largely by means of wealth or hereditary position. Newcomersto rule in the United States, it will be noticed, must pretty much accept and implementalready going values established by preexistent rulers. A difference between beingborn into a ruling class and being accepted into it is that the newcomer must learnand adopt the general values of the ruling group. A man who works his way into theruling group from the laboring class (and there have been and are such) does notordinarily retain the values of his original class. He acquires, more or less, thevalues of his new associates. Like most converts he is often more orthodox than apope. Everett Dirksen, once a journeyman baker, does not have the outlook today ofa journeyman baker.
How, it may be asked, would one discern a member of a rulingclass if there were such a class? The method, it seems to me, would be simple: Onewould notice whether or not he ruled and how much be ruled. In this sense there iscertainly a ruling class in the United States; for radiating throughout the countryare various wide-jurisdiction chains of command--political, economic, cultural andjudicial--that always have someone at their heads. These head men are, or seem tome, rulers.
That there is something improper per se about such rulership,as is either directly charged or strongly implied in much leftist analysis, may beflatly denied. Social organization of any kind requires rule, and the fact that certainexecutive types from a small group assume rule derives as much from the passivityand incoherence of the masses as from any impropriety or inequity in arrangementseven though one concedes that anyone who has "influence," either throughthe possession of money or established position, does have an inside track when itcomes to establishing himself in a position of rule. But under any possible versionof socialism, for example, there would be similar rulers; and, despite all cant abouta democratic socialism, such rulers would tend increasingly to be drawn from a semiprofessionalizedself-perpetuating class, properly designated as privileged rulers.
The idea that we have rulers is somewhat obscured by phrase-makerswho at least unconsciously are trying to hide the fact or to save the notion of popularsovereignty, which I unabashedly take to be simple nonsense in any possible socialcontext. The vocabulary of concealment consists of words like "executive.""administrator," "decision maker," "public servant,"etc.; the more direct and colloquial "boss" comes closer to the true stateof affairs.
That the American people choose their own rulers (at least inthe political sphere) is an idea that will die hard no matter how carefully one showsthat the choice almost always narrows down to two not very different hand-pickedmen who have been long nurtured in the political pipeline, gradually rising to thetop. That the American people as a whole "chose" any president or otherofficial in the sense of selecting him from among many possible can be dismissedas a notion beneath notice. What there is to public choice of political officialsis negative--and itself controlled. Anyone known, for example, to be an atheist,freethinker, socialist or (in many jurisdictions) a believer in divorce (or subjectto a variety of other designations) will be rejected out of hand by the electoratebecause these words have been antecedently contextually placed as "scare"words. The public, without knowing it, is manipulated by its preconditioned emotionalresponse to certain loaded words, often irrelevant to the man or issue. Such wordsare given their value content by dominant defining agencies, which are always inthe hands of persons favoring the established order (members of a ruling class?).It is not that people select among candidates as they are told. They limit theirselection as they have been conditioned by definitions containing concealed valuejudgments. They are, then, mostly ruled from within themselves but by others whohave antecedently determined their reactions. Far from being free men, they are puppets,prisoners of their indoctrination.
Outside the directly political area, in corporations and privateorganizations, the case for the selection of rulers by popular choice has not eventhe most tenuous ground to stand on and nobody at all argues for it. Yet corporaterules affect more people directly and immediately than governmental rules. And inthe Catholic Church, by way of large example, the members have nothing to say aboutthe selection of its personnel.
As all rulers, men at the head of chains of command, eithercome from a class habituated to producing decision makers or are strivers from theswamps and bayous who learn the same ways and vocabulary either in big organizationsor government, the case is strong for at least entertaining the notion that thereis in the United States a partially open ruling class oriented around its own specialvalues. Among others, this class by cultural fiat rules out socialists, atheists,agnostics, and freethinkers--that is, as to the latter, people who make judgmentsonly according to evidence. If one's mind is known so to operate, without prior commitment,one is a political pariah by decree, a strange political fact in a supposed freecountry. Jefferson could not be elected dog catcher today.
In the United States, according to theory, one is only ruledwith one's consent. Yet this is true only in the sense that, if one does not successfullyresist, one consents. Nobody living ever had an opportunity to consent to the Constitution,to most of the laws on the books or to more than an infinitesimal fraction of theofficials and rules to which he is subject. There is, it is said, an orderly mechanismfor changing any feature one may not like about political reality. As to this, itis well known that the mechanism is so complicated and cumbersome that one can prettymuch forget about timely orderly change. If the need for doing anything whateverin the world had to be determined by the processes for legally amending the UnitedStates Constitution, for example, we would live in an almost frozen universe.
Individual performance within a class, however, always differs;and even in a ruling class not all the members are likeminded, a fact which givesrise to differences about emphasis or policy. It is the outcome of policy that determinespolitical achievement. But the fact that a man of wealth is carrying the ball atall in the political arena seems to me to represent political achievement unlessit can be shown that be is, as in the self-proclaimed case of the late Senator RobertKerr of Oklahoma, simply looking after his own economic interests from the vantagepoint of public office.
Because the flood of hereditary wealth-holders into public officesince Roosevelt has consisted largely of university men, it does seem to me thatthey have generally brought with them a broader conception of public interest thanmany hardbitten professional politicos or businessmen possess. Neither Rooseveltnor Kennedy played the narrow Wall Street game, although they were far from opposedto the general economic interests of wealth-holders. They were also far from socialistsor even soft-headed dogooders.
One will have to evaluate the performance of the rich in publicoffice from one's own point of view. I say only that whatever they do (if they don'tmerely service themselves) represents effort and the assumption of responsibility,hence achievement. The fact that Winston Churchill was an upperclass Tory does notlessen the fact that he was a tremendous achiever beyond the call of ordinary duty.And the more like Churchill, Roosevelt or Kennedy any politician is the more of anachiever I take him to be. In saying a man is an achiever one does not necessarilyapprove his achievement. One is not required to like an artist's picture, no matterhow great an artist he may be. But the alleged achievement must be more than mereactivity carried on for one's self-interest. Although his occupation may be onerous,a navel-gazer (or so it seems to me) cannot be rationally rated an achiever any morethan can a miser.
Publishing has attracted a number of the wealthy. Whether thereis achievement here is determined (at least by me) in the light of whether the publishinghas any constructive purpose beyond making money. Here one must look for some indicationof intent as well as fulfillment. Where the intent is general enlightenment, andwhere this intent is to some appreciable extent attained, I would look upon the enterpriseas an achievement of public value; where the intent is obscurantic or merely commercial,one may disregard it; although it is probably always better that people read somethingthan nothing.
Publishing enterprises that have grown from scratch and thathave made the owners wealthy, as in the cases of the Pulitzer, McCormick-Pattersonand Ochs families, do not fall into the category of our interest.
As to newspapers, it seems to me that Dorothy Schiff with theNew York Post, the Eugene Myers family with the Washington Post andthe late Marshall Field III with the Chicago Sun-Times have taken over orstarted newspapers which they have inclined broadly toward civilized values. Thelate William Randolph Hearst, the wealthiest man ever in the newspaper field, seemsto me to have turned in a negative achievement, for the most part pandering to massweaknesses. John Hay Whitney, in a costly attempt to keep a revivified New YorkHerald Tribune afloat, made a particularly worthy effort in latter-day journalism,to be vanquished in 1966 by adverse circumstances. Under Whitney the Herald Tribunemade notable contributions, to some of which allusion was made earlier.
Unfortunately, there is not much in newspaper publishing asa whole (or the mass media in general) subject to evaluation as contributory achievement.As the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of journalism reports:
Of the two hundred or so major papers, somewhere between ten and eighteen are generally ranked as excellent by such knowledgeable critics as reporters, editors, and journalism educators [with these figures I would concur--F.L.]. A few critics would raise the total to thirty or forty. Perhaps another fifty to eighty smaller dailies would be ranked as "very good for their size." All of these would be so ranked because they are reasonably complete, thorough, dependable, enterprising, and fair in their news columns, regardless of editorial-page views. At the other pole, a total of perhaps another fifty newspapers large and small, would be ranked as "bad" newspapers--some because of a tendency to distort news to conform with the owner's prejudices, others because of sheer incompetence in reporting and editing, some because of both faults. Between these extremes, at levels ranging from "poor" to "fair," lie the vast majority of American daily newspapers. 8
Most of the big newspapers, good or bad, are self-generatedenterprises, not dependent on a wealthy sponsor so much as on commercial supportby corporate advertisers.
Marshall Field broadened his publishing effort by going heavilyinto the field of adult and children's reference and educational books, with notablesuccess. More recently a number of wealthy people have gone into book publishingbut, it seems to me, mainly for investment purposes. In the field of books in generalduring the past fifty years young men of some original small property have enteredand achieved commercial as well as cultural publishing success, but as these havenot until recently represented anything to be regarded as considerable establishedwealth they do not belong in this account.
In the early 1960's Huntington Hartford, enamored of Broadway,launched the elaborate magazine Show, a critical but not commercial success.It was soon relinquished.
Paul Mellon's Bollingen Foundation has published or reprintedmany books in the field of art and the humanities--worthwhile books that would otherwisenot have appeared and highly esteemed by a critical few. Praise seems to me due insuch a case.
One of the most distinguished publishing enterprises foundedand endowed by a wealthy man was the Loeb Classical Library of Greek and Latin classicswith English translations on facing pages; it was established by James Loeb (1867-1933,Harvard, '88), a member of the banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb and Company until his retirementat the age of thirty-four. Loeb in 1905 also founded the Institute of Musical Art,now part of the Juilliard School of Music, and established in Munich a clinic forpsychiatric study--a man far ahead of his time.
Many creative writers have been facilitated in the productionof new works by fellowships issued for several decades by the Guggenheim Foundation,although this foundation would not be classifiable as a publishing enterprise.
Wealth-financed writings are far more extensive than the uncontrolledproductions of Guggenheim fellows. Study grants are issued by many foundations, butone cannot uniformly regard the results as publishing achievements because, withthe exception of occasional eye-opening works like Myrdal's An American Dilemmaand Kinsey's two books on sexual behavior, they are often indirect apologies or rationalizationsfor existing states of affairs. Where contra-factual or misleading conclusions areput forth even unconsciously under the rubric of certified scholarship as links ina covert in-group celebration under a self-protecting mythology, they can be regarded,it seems to me, only very dubiously as achievements. There are such sponsored writings.
Publications that in their various ways have represented noncommercialcontributions to political and social understanding have been The Nation andthe New Republic. The Nation was subsidized for many years by wealthyinheritor-editor Oswald Garrison Villard and more recently published under JamesJ. Storrow, Jr., son of the Boston banker; and the New Republic was assistedinto being by Willard Straight of the J. P. Morgan firm. The Reporter, financedwith Rosenwald money, has also turned in a distinguished noncommercial record. Dogmaticleftists tend to dismiss these publications because they are gradualist-reformistin tendency. It is interesting to notice, though, that the leftist publications pickup most of their grist from publications such as these and the better newspapers,subjecting it to their own ideological interpretation. Without the better publicationsto rely upon for information, the editors of the left would be completely blind.
Except for small enterprises run by artistic or intellectualgroups there is little or nothing of value in daily, weekly or monthly publicationsthat has not emerged as a consequence either of pure commercialism or of patronageby the more enlightened of the wealthy or affluent. Out of the masses themselveshas come nothing in this line except fantastic religious, moralistic and politicaltracts. "The Face on the Bar-Room Floor" is an epic of this school.
While some of the rich have stood forth as publishers, not many,as in the case of Curtis Bok, have distinguished themselves as writers. John F. Kennedy,to be sure, instantly comes to mind as a writer who with his Profiles in Couragerang bells; he very evidently had it in him to function at least at the Lippmann-Restonlevel, or perhaps beyond, even had he been no more than a poor scholarship studentin his youth. Money or no money, Kennedy was obviously a talented fellow; money simplygave him a longer reach. Talented himself, he could recognize talent, something successfulpoliticians are often unable to do. His obvious admiration for political courage,too, seemed to augur something in his political future that political and economicclimbers tended to fear, lending color to the disputed view that his assassinationwas the outcome of a rightist conspiracy.
If more than a very few of the wealthy have individually distinguishedthemselves as practicing journalists, I have not been able to pick up the trail fromthe dim record. There was, of course, Villard.
Six times married and divorced Cornelius Vanderbilt III (b.1898) lists himself as an author, lecturer, cinematographer and televiser and hasserved as a working reporter and then founder, publisher and president of VanderbiltNewspapers, Inc., which briefly issued illustrated newspapers in Los Angeles, SanFrancisco and Miami. He was associate editor of Hearst's New York Mirror from1925 to 1929 and has since worked as a columnist for many newspapers and periodicals.He is the author of more than fifteen semi-popular, semi-autobiographical books,including Farewell to Fifth Avenue (1935).
As with most books by scions of the rich, readers appear tohave been chiefly interested in Vanderbilt's autobiographical and "insider"revelations. This was true, too, in the case of Evelyn Walsh McLean's Father StruckIt Rich.
Vanderbilt appears to me to have come the closest of one froma very rich family to being a professional writer and working editor; he was preciselythat most of his adult life. I call anyone here a professional writer who habituallysets words down on paper for sale to the public. The definition implies no criticaljudgments.
The Literary Set
Mary Borden (Lady Spears), daughter born in 1886 of WilliamBorden, the dairy-products tycoon, comes the closest known (to me) of any higher-strataAmerican rich to being a critically extolled professional creative writer. Authorof some twenty works, mostly fiction, "Her novels reveal a quiet but devastatingwit" according to William Rose Benét's The Reader's Encyclopedia (1955).There have been writers in some abundance from the propertied middle class, in possessionof some modest private unearned income (Henry James, Clarence Day, Willa Cather,Ellen Glasgow and others), but this is not the question. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, daughterof a Morgan partner, should also be noticed as a writer of considerable distinction.
Creative writers about the rich and the upper classes in theUnited States--Edith Wharton, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frank Norris,Louis Auchincloss--have not themselves been of the very wealthy strata; althoughEdith Wharton was definitely upper class in that she was of the Rhinelander pre-Revolutionaryfamily, wrote about some of the latter-day rich and was married to an affluent Bostonian.Auchincloss, as a big-firm Wall Street lawyer with Yale and Groton in the background,I would place in the cultivated upper middle class rather than the plutocracy.
Most writing, especially by scions of the post-Civil War industrialfortunes, has been in the form of memoirs, some of them emanating from literary ghosts.I conclude that few if any of the American big rich, excluding here descendants ofearly-established New England mercantile families, have distinguished themselvesas writers; I do not, however, assert that none of them has authored a book of somesort or written an essay.
As to great editors--taking as par for this course Joseph Pulitzer,Maxwell Perkins, H. L. Mencken, E. W. Howe, Henry Watterson or almost anyone of asimilar stripe--I would say the rich have produced none. Hearst would surely notrate.
Performing and Plastic Arts
In the performing and nonliterary creative arts, one can pickup a name here and there, mostly from lower levels of wealth, but the record is rathermeager. Albert Spalding (1888-1953), a very fine violin virtuoso and composer, wasa scion of the sporting-goods family; and Mary Cassatt (1845-1926), an esteemed painterespecially of mothers and children, was the daughter of a banker and sister of thepresident of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Neither Spalding nor Cassatt, however, werefrom the top echelons of wealth.
In the upper level of wealth is Gerald Felix Warburg (b. 1901),son of Felix M. Warburg and Frieda Schiff and a distinguished performing cellist,formerly a member of the Stradivarius Quartet and known for his concertizing andinvolvement in musical enterprises. Here, too, should be mentioned James P. Warburg,son of Paul M. Warburg, the banker, and Nina J. Loeb (Kuhn, Loeb), who paralleleda career in investment banking and corporate management by authoring more than thirtybooks on aspects of economics, finance, politics and public affairs and found timeto produce some books of verse--a literary geyser. There is, too, Edward M. M. Warburg(b. 1908), a social worker who has taught art, has participated in archaeologicalexpeditions and more recently has taken a directorial role in various cultural andcharitable enterprises. The Warburgs, offshoots of a cultivated Anglo-German Jewishbanking family, seem to me an untypical case oriented more like certain descendantsof earlier Boston mercantilists than latter-day industrialists, even though theircenter of activity has certainly been Wall Street. They were affluent, probably rich,before they came to the United States.
Beyond this one has to search carefully for more candidates.Gloria Vanderbilt has had "one-man" shows in painting. That there are creativesparks within the Vanderbilt clan is also suggested by the fact that Harold S. Vanderbilt,premier international yachting champion, around 1925 invented the game of contractbridge, which is an achievement of the same order that one would surely acknowledgeto the unknown developers of games like chess, checkers and mah-jong.
Raymond Pitcairn, described in Who's Who as a lawyer,architect and philanthropist (1885-1966), president of the Pitcairn Company and adirector of the family's inherited Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, one of the largerof the nation's industrial enterprises, was the architect of the Cathedral of theBryn Athyn (Pennsylvania) Church of the New Jerusalem (Swedenborgian). He is thefather of eight children, including Nathan Pitcairn (born 1912), director of PittsburghPlate Glass and many other companies.
Alfred Victor du Pont (born 1900) has been a career architectsince 1930. Irénée du Pont, Jr. (born 1920), is a mechanical engineer withthe family company. Many of the contemporary Du Ponts, however, have had educationsin science or engineering at schools such as Harvard, Yale and M.I.T., and many areensconced in family enterprises. John du Pont presents himself as a marine biologistas well as an Olympic athlete.
In this book reference to the Du Pouts is only to the dominantowning group of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, which since its reorganizationin 1902 is what gave this group its money-power; members of this group have largelyconcerned themselves with business, finance and, indirectly, politics. In politicsthey provided the backbone of the opposition to Roosevelt's New Deal.
The family as a whole is much more extensive than the chemicalkings and has been traced genealogically by two family members, obviously imbuedwith familial mystique. 9
As of 1949 the genealogy showed 1,035 descendants of PierreSamuel du Pont de Nemours, some of the eighth generation. 10 The firstknown ancestor of the line leading to Pierre Samuel, there being other branches,was Jehan du Pont, baptized at Rouen on February 22, 1565. 11 The FrenchDu Ponts were inscribed generally on local roll-books as "bourgeois," sothat the family may be said to have been officially middle class until the emergenceof a section of it on the latter-day upper finpolitan circuit of plutocracy.
As a middle-class family it included a considerable number ofnonbusiness achievers, a fact not germane to this inquiry about the wealthy of alater day. Nor is this inquiry concerned with any of the noncorporation Du Ponts,most of whom interestingly do not bear the surname of Du Pont at all. One would not,for example, associate the name of Lawrence Sven Anderson (b. 1944) with that ofDu Pont; yet his mother was Rosina du Pont, who traces back directly to Pierre Samuel(1739-1817). Nor would one at first blush be inclined to designate Washington Irving,Jr. (b. 1952) as a Du Pont; but he too, is a direct descendant of Pierre Samuel.And so it goes with many others who do not bear the Du Pont name. 12
In medicine we find William Larimer Mellon, a specialist intropical diseases who has served the natives in the West Indies, and Henry Clay FrickII, grandson of the ironmaster, a physician and surgeon specializing in gynecology.If there are any other medical men from heavily moneyed strata, they have escapedmy notice. As to medicine in general today (without any reference to those two valuedpractitioners), a variety of investigators has shown that it has become pretty mucha lush prerogative of the middle class, members of which dominate it as a recentlylucrative field. The great discoveries of selfless medical scientists have, by andlarge, been capitalized along conspicuously lucrative lines by striving middle-classpeople. 13 It is the belief of some investigators that the present needto finance a medical education privately out of middle-class resources operates toexclude men of genuine talent from lower levels of society and to proliferate business-orientedunthorough doctors whose strictly middle-class economic outlook obviously dominatesthe policies and expressions of the American Medical Association. Doctors, it isimplied by many dicta of this association, should properly function on a strictlyindividual cost-plus-average-rate-of-high-profit basis--all the traffic will bear.
Although wealthy men sometimes marry their nurses I was unableto find any women from wealthy families serving as professional nurses, but sucha fact might be difficult to detect. Some wealthy women do serve as nurses' aidsin home communities and during wartime. Most nurses of whatever degree probably servemainly out of economic necessity in an ill-rewarded field. Despite immoderate publicexpressions of esteem for them, nurses in the United States are generally treatedas lower servants.
Wealthy men and women not infrequently marry theatrical performersand opera stars, but there are few cases of a wealthy man or woman becoming a professionalperformer. One of these few cases was Grace Kelly (born 1929) who became a prize-winningfilm star and then Princess Grace of Monaco; she is the daughter of wealthy Philadelphiacontractor John B. Kelly. More recently there has emerged film star Dina Merrill,daughter of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. Similarly, wealthy peopleare sometimes sportsmen in the sense of following or bankrolling some sport suchas horse racing or yachting, but one rarely finds one as a competitive participantlike yachtsman Harold S. Vanderbilt in rough-and-tumble big-league action. Exceptfor youngsters in college sports, hardly any stand forth under my scrutiny as athletes--GraceKelly's father was a sculling champion--despite the newspaper-fostered national cultof athleticism. Many of the wealthy, of course, play golf and tennis; but they simplydon't rate on the big-trophy circuit.
In general, the Hollywood, Broadway and athletic circuits aredominated by people who came up from the nonpropertied depths of nonentity. Someof these, of course, have hit it big financially and hobnob happily with the well-heeledin feverish Café Society.
Scientists, Scholars and Philosophers
Nobody from a conspicuously rich established family was foundin a possibly imperfect search among scientists or scholars as these are listed inAmerican Men of Science: The Physical and Biological Sciences, 3 vols., 11thedition (R. R. Bowker Co., New York, 1965); and American Men of Science: The Socialand Behavioral Sciences, lOth edition (the Jaques Cattell Press, Inc., ArizonaState University, Tempe, Arizona, 1962). In the four-volume Directory of AmericanScholars (R. R. Bowker Co., New York, 1963), there is listed Corliss Lamont,son of a one-time leading Morgan partner, as a writer on contemporary and philosophicalaffairs. Among various books he is perhaps best known for his The Philosophy ofHumanism, 1957.
1 would not deny that some--a few--scientists, scholars, philosophersor educators may have sprung from families of lesser property, perhaps up to $1 millionby value, but I have been able to devise no system for readily locating those whotrace a line of descent on the distaff side. In general, the record as I scan itsuggests that few people of noticeable wealth go into science, scholarship, education,medicine, journalism, the judiciary, philosophy or the arts--that is to say, theyshun subtle detail work all the way from managing their own accounting systems onupward. Some men-on-the-make, however, like the original Rockefeller, have a geniusfor detail that reminds one of extremely self-demanding artists.
Echelons of Command
Activists among the rich (as distinguished from the more orless graceful and here and there civilized idlers) tend to surge toward positionsof broad command in corporations, nonprofit cultural, social and artistic organizationsand in government, in this last recalling Aristotle's observation about the penchantof the rich for political office. There they do what they can to lay out and enforcebroad lines of policy within which the detail work of others will bear the requisitefruit. The wealthy may finance the detail work that goes into the creation of aninstrument like television and may finally finance its launching; they thereafterdetermine, in concert with up-and-comers, how it shall be used --as an instrumentof general enlightenment or an instrument for selling merchandise at a profit. Whilecompromises are worked out to meet the objections of churlish dissenters, anyoneis free to see where the emphasis falls and what the level of appeal is.
From the universities to the corporations and cultural organizations,the wealthy and their chosen aides supervise the detail workers. In theirvarious positions of command the supervisors are known as executives, administrators,directors, publishers, trustees, sponsors, officials, community leaders, philanthropistsand public servants. I imply no criticism here, simply point to the fact that activityand achievement among the rich at any level usually boil down primarily to concernwith ordering the surrounding state of affairs and directing detail work along soundlyapproved lines of profitability.
I do not deny but indeed assert, while pointing to FranklinD. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, that such concern may visualize improvement inthe surrounding state of affairs rather than keeping them soundly headed toward therocks. Yet, whether it represents improvement, deterioration (as C. Wright Millscontended) or the maintenance of the status quo, it shows the area of majorinterest. The active rich and upcoming rich, as far as one can judge from the availablerecord, are far less interested in understanding, improving or embellishing the worldthan in running it, at times running it close to the rocks as when the German industrialistsembraced Hitler, or as when American financiers thrust the United States into WorldWar I.
The World of Celebrity
The Celebrity Register, edited by Cleveland Amory (Harperand Row, New, York, 1963), lists people as noteworthy according to the amount ofspace they are given in the mass media. Among the rich there mentioned one findsDouglas Dillon; Donald Douglas; Angier Biddle Duke; Doris Duke; Irénéedu Pont; Cyrus Eaton; Henry J. Kaiser; Sherman Fairchild; Marshall Field IV (d.);Harvey S., Leonard, Raymond and Russell Firestone; Randolph and William Randolph(Jr.) Hearst; Henry, Benson, William C. and Mrs. Edsel Ford; Paul and Richard KingMellon; John Pillsbury; Alfred G., Cornelius, Jr., Gloria and Harold S. Vanderbilt;all the Rockefeller brothers and Jievute Paulekiute Sears ("Bobo") Rockefeller;Ogden Reid; Walter P. Chrysler; Amon Carter, Jr.; Dorothy Schiff; Lady and John JacobAstor of England; Henry Crown; Lammot du Pont Copeland; August Busch; and a medleyof others.
In combing through the list of the rich who are also celebratedby percipient editors one does not encounter any significantly additional names relatingto notable personal achievement and, indeed, one notes many omissions.
The Question of Achievement
This question of achievement has arisen, I remind the reader,for two reasons: (1) It is part of standard public relations ideology that the bigfortunes are used in all ways for public support and (2) the criteria of achievementare applied in general most forcefully by the rich to others. What I am doing, heretically,is applying the standards to them. I mention this because it should not be inferredthat I myself value achievement as such, and in and of itself, very highly; thereis much to be said along the line of Bertrand Russell's In Praise of Idleness.As far as people in general are concerned, I personally value them first for generalamiability, which I consider beyond price, and after that for such higher cultivationas they may have acquired. A man amiable and cultivated seems to me the limit ofwhat one can ask for in a human being. If he is also creative he is, patently, ineffable.
The achiever, as it is now known, is usually a person psychologicallyprogrammed or impelled to function in a certain way and possessing the ability tosatisfy his impulsion. It is, however, part of the middle-class cult of personalityto celebrate immoderately the carrier of such often purely fortuitous programming.A man's specific achievement, as far as that goes, is often greater or lesser thanhe is, a fact sensed by those achievers who draw back from public acclaim not somuch out of modesty as uneasiness with the personal judgment of which they are theobjects.
Although achievement is a splashy middle-class value, it isapplied most rigorously by the rich, who bring it to bear on others far more rigorouslythan I have applied it to them in this chapter, where at times I have inwardly quailedat the thought of how purists would look upon the free catholicity of some of myinclusions. As I explained initially, however, I do not pretend to be applying thecanons in all their rigor but will take almost anything offered.
What the rich generally demand in all things of direct concernto them is perfection-from food, clothing, drink, raiment and shelter to expertisein all skills of which they feel need. This is readily seen in the food and servicein their clubs and restaurants and in the arrangements in their own hospitals. Wherethe rich congregate and bestow their patronage everything is offered according totiptop standards. It is the same when it comes to choosing skills for their culturaland economic enterprises. In the plastic arts what they clearly want is the best,for which they pay astronomic prices. On the cultural front standards, particularlytechnical, are most rigorously imposed, on students and faculty alike, in the keyuniversities; as one traces the chain of command upward one arrives finally at theboard of trustees, where the familiar names of the rich, absent farther down, beginto occur with frequency and regularity. The more prestigious the university the morefrequently do outstanding names in science and scholarship appear among the faculty-Nobellaureates or men of comparable lofty stature. The higher one ascends among the graduates,from the cum laudes to the magna cum laudes and on to the summacum laudes the more rigorous are the applied standards. It is the same amongthe big corporations, which skim the cream of the physicists, chemists and engineers.Who wishes to invest money in a skyscraper if it is going to turn out to be anotherLeaning Tower of Pisa?
In brief, only the best is wanted except perhaps in social analysis.Many are called, few are chosen.
Throughout society, ordered from on high, the screws are tightas to (1) technical standards of production and service and (2) rates of pay forall subordinates. The consequence is that the United States is a high-tension society,invisibly and almost insensibly imposing upon all achievers demanding standards ofperformance and upon the labor force minimal rates of pay in the name of strictesteconomy and efficiency. It would clearly be inefficient as well as uneconomical topay more than was required according to the unbreakable "law" of supplyand demand. Hence, when rare skills are required by the ruling group--at this pointwe can stop all fencing and notice that we are in fact confronted by a quite smallruling group--more bearers of these rare skills are produced, thus bringing intoplay the "law" of supply and demand. It would not do to have only 500 orso physicists in the country, each of whom could command an exorbitant salary comparableto that of a corporation chairman (and possibly tax exempt). It is better to producethousands of physicists so that few can expect a salary above that of, say, an assistantbank cashier.
It is a curious fact in the United States that some of the rarestand most difficult skills--as of a creative mathematician--are paid for on a verylow scale (Einstein, we recall, got $16,000) whereas far less rare skills, such asin the imposing of rules and standards, are relatively well rewarded. True savantsin the United States are far more of the order of menial servants than they themselvessuspect.
Although rejecting and resenting it when applied to themselves,the rich in general make full use of the instrument of criticism, in their own service.While this can be shown in many directions it appears most readily in the matterof politics. Not only is criticism sharp here but it is oriented not philosophically,according to reason, but along lines of naked and narrow self-interest. The politicianwho pursues under necessity some unfamiliar course, such as Franklin Roosevelt, issubjected to the most unsparing and ungenerous appraisal. No holds are barred. ANorman Thomas is hooted off the rostrum.
If it is one of the functions of criticism to encourage theperformer to do better, it must follow that a function of criticism of the rich isto enable them to do better--as they expect everyone to do from waiters and bus boyson upward to presidents.
Achievement as a Value
The important value of achievement is directly imposed on Americansociety largely by pushful products of the lower middle class who have received thenod from on high to occupy executive posts throughout the mass media, the great carriersof values in our day.
Any competent news editor can determine in a flash how noteworthyanyone is. His is an important function, for he decides how much valuable space canwith maximum economic efficiency be allotted to anyone. He achieves his end by drawingupon wide background knowledge and evaluating how wealthy a person is, how elevatedhis position in the social hierarchy or the proper dimension of his apparent objectiveachievement. He believes he is governed by audience interest; that this is not socan be proved by showing that many of his emphases are of interest to no very wideaudience. Attaining the presidency, winning a Nobel Prize, getting some championship,hitting a record number of home runs or writing a Broadway "hit" are instantlyrecognized pretty indiscriminately as big achievement; he has more difficulty inpresenting some important scientific breakthrough. Not that many really care. Asthose know very well who make these measurements, not to have money, position orsome approved tangible achievement to one's credit is to be a nobody, an employeeat most, subject to downplay in the news columns unless one commits some titillatingindiscretion or stupefying horror.
There are those moralists who carefully explain that such facilevaluation is mistaken, that the widow suffering with lumbago and sciatica who rearssix children to become solid citizens is as good as anyone, perhaps better. One mayagree; but, as they say in electoral politics, if you have to explain just how goodsomebody really is you are lost. One either sees the point instantly against thebackground of accumulated values, as the news editor sees it, or never. Attentionwanders as the moralists drone on hollowly that every person is invested with highhuman dignity and is of infinite inherent value. As anyone can see by looking abouthim, in terms of established going values this is just not so; operationally it ispure bunk. In terms of applied going values, most people are crashing nobodies.
Eccentrically applying this same scale of going values to therich, as they are applied to everybody else, produces results approximately of theorder I have indicated in this chapter. The activists among the rich are not achieversso much as commanders and through their intricate public-relations system projecttheir positions of command as superlative achievements. A man is not an "industrialist"because he possesses some recondite skill denied to other men; he is an industrialistbecause he possesses and commands capital. And so it is with most of the roles therich play. Put another way, give many other men the same cards and they could playthe same hand, perhaps to better effect, surely not to worse.
Achievement and the Middle Class
Achievement in general appears to be a middle-class prerogative.The rich, as William H. Vanderbilt observed, do not appear motivated by any particularambition, other than to rule. They are brought up to feel that they have alreadysomehow made the grade. The poor and near-poor, having all they can do to keep theirheads economically above water, cannot aspire even in fantasy to much in the wayof achievement except possibly in sports or entertainment. Becoming a soft-shoe danceror a professional ballplayer represents perhaps the zenith of aspiration among someof the more ambitious of the younger poor.
In the middle classes--lower middle class being those with nontaxableestates, higher middle with taxable estates up to whatever level one would considerwealthy, let us provisionally say $1 million--there is just enough feeling of scarcityto suggest that something more might be desirable and enough feeling of attainmentto lead to the belief that more might be achieved along some line. It is in thissocial stratum that dreams are born of becoming big corporation executives, big lawyers,big scientists, novelists, college presidents, scholars, roving journalists and super-salesmen.
The middle classes invariably have something to begin with butoften feel capable of more distinctive performance. Not, as it is commonly said,that they are mere status strivers, although there are those, too. They do, however,have a base from which to launch operations, if only in the direction of money-makingor attaining position. The only way most of the poor feel they might make some moneybeyond the subsistence level is by winning against heavy odds in a sweepstakes, findingoil or robbing a bank. For the really poor man, imbedded in a poverty culture, theoutlook for personal achievement is bleak. He needs constant help and encouragementof the kind available to its members from within the middle class: "Sure youcan be a big engineer. Look at So-and-So and So-and-So. All you need do is stickto your studies and pick up some good connections."
Both the rich and the poor lack the balanced tension for achievementfound in the middle class, often to the undoing of its more taut members.
So, although I don't decry the slender evidences of achievementwithin the wealthier classes, some of whom are at least percipient enough to underwriteand finance achievement in others, it is a fact that it doesn't amount to very muchand is concentrated within the less well-heeled middle classes. This conclusion hasbearing from a different direction on the contention out of public relations metaphysicsthat the big fortunes in one way or the other are really great public benefactions,largely devoted to public good works. That this contention is prevalent may be seenby noticing the designation by newspapers of nearly all wealthy men as philanthropists.Some may be here and there but surely not all.
As we have seen, only 8 per cent of all donation, in the neighborhoodof an aggregate $10 billion annually, comes from foundations; 50 per cent of allpublic giving goes to religious institutions and amounts, in fact, to the price ofsupport of untaxed church services. There remains 42 per cent, or about $4.2 billion,spread around among Community Funds and special-purpose charitable and medical organizationsto which the public in general contributes.
Achieving saviors put forth from among the big fortune-holders,then, appear to be few. If there were any Mozarts or Pasteurs among them it wouldbe evident that the public was receiving gifts beyond price; but I could find nonealthough I stand ready to be corrected on the point by any one of the many articulateadmirers and supported supporters of the rich.
While it may be that the American rich, compared with the Europeanrich, have devoted more lucre to good works, it is nevertheless true that they havehad more to parcel out and what they have parceled out has not been great proportionately.Even if one concedes without further ado the acts of the twelve largest foundationdonors as unquestionably and unchallengeably disinterested and publicly supportivethey, as it happens, do not turn out to be much in bulk.
Most of the cash revenues of the active and inactive among therich seem to me devoted to supporting a life of luxury and ease amid surroundingconditions of pressing need. Not that what is devoted to luxurious living representsout-of-pocket deprivation of the poor or that the latter would be sustained if onlythey had these revenues. Such a contention would not stand up under analysis.
What fosters the great disparity between the wealthy few andthe impoverished many is public policy. Although some of the wealthy disagreewith important aspects of this public policy, the wealthy and the near-wealthy asa class use their considerable influence to maintain it in their own interest.It is not that they take from the poor what belongs to the poor but that they sponsor,support and underwrite public arrangements, such as the tax structure, that makesany different outcome impossible. With the tax structure, merely one detail amongmany (the price system is another), rigged against him the way it is, it is almostimpossible now for any member of the labor force even to save his way into the economicmiddle class. The tax bite on earned incomes is much too great in the Garrison State.
Even with smaller taxes most members of the labor force wouldbe unable to save their way out of it because, hazards apart, the system of advertisingconsumer goods often operates upon them with coercive effect. Able himself to resistthe blandishments of the advertisers, an employee finds that his wife and childrenmore readily succumb, importune him to make rash purchases for their delight andput him in the position of a niggardly churl for counseling prudence. "All theother families in the neighborhood have one; why should we be different?" Giventhe choice between being intelligent Economic Man or compliant Good Father, he usuallychooses the latter role and becomes, as the news editors will say, Mr. Nobody. Hecomplains, may console himself with strong drink but always gives in. In the end,he has not made the grade but is given a gold watch for forty years' service beforebeing ushered off to live on less than $100 per month Social Security. His childrenoften look on him as a flop, speak of him disparagingly.
In their influence over public policy the rich and their power-elite,then, are not successful merely through being devilishly clever or unscrupulous.They are usually successful because their natural victim (or, better perhaps, bystander)the mass-man about whom reformers are continually concerned, is passive, relaxed,psychologically conditioned to submission and usually broadly untutored. He irrationallyfavors, in fact, many aspects of policy that are most disadvantageous to him.
While there is much else to be said pro and con about mass-man,he nevertheless shows these broad characteristics:
1. Since infancy he has been indoctrinated by parents and parentalsubstitutes to believe there is a supernatural power on which he can safely rely."The Lord will provide," it is said, although it is not said just whatprovision He will make. Those who sincerely believe they are supernaturally protecteddo not apparently feel it necessary to rely on their own wits. Owing to the belief,probably well founded, that religion makes most people readily tractable, the Stateexempts religious institutions from taxation as an adjunct to its more direct policepowers. Whatever is tranquilizing on the masses is generally approved by social managers.
Conservatives, standpatters and reactionaries invariably extolreligious belief as a political support, and this was well exemplified in the inauguraladdress of Ronald Reagan as governor of California when he said: "Belief inand dependence on God is absolutely essential. It will be an integral part of ourpublic life as long as I am Governor. No one could think of carrying on with ourproblems without the help of God." 14
For this reason critics of the established order--radicals andmany liberals who would wish to change or modify it--see religion as part of thepolitical process of keeping the common man in chains and submissive to highersecularists, often in clerical garb. The issue as between conservatives and radicalsis not whether God exists--for this question is of interest to neither--but whatthe effect is on the populace of belief or disbelief in God. Religion is seen byboth equally as an adjunct to repression and inhibition.
What is perhaps most significant about sincere religious beliefwith respect to its influence on political and economic attitudes is this: If one,for example, can believe without any difficulty in the Virgin Birth of Jesus andthat Jesus walked on the waters, changed water into wine and performed other unnaturalacts then one will experience little difficulty in accepting Everett M. Dirksen andLyndon B. Johnson, to name no others, as great statesmen, and little difficulty inbelieving that some fifty-nine-cent cosmetic will make one irresistible to the oppositesex. A social effect of religion, at least in its cruder forms, is that it fosterswidespread public credulity, makes a wide public sitting ducks for political andeconomic short-change artists. As people joyfully sing "Washed in the Bloodof the Lamb," they are beset by thousands of invisible vampires. Offended bythis spectacle, the skeptic turns away.
2. He has been schooled to believe sincerely that he lives undera government as nearly perfect as the subtlest mind of man can devise. Indeed, thebetter his schooling and the more apt a student he has been in elementary and secondarygrades on the subject of government, the more widely he has been misled. For whathas been presented to him, at least in the best schools, has been razor-exact inits formalism. Although formally true, most of the lessons he has learned on thesubject of government have been intrinsically and deeply false or at least misleading.The difference between government as he has learned about it and government as practicedis the difference between a battle plan on which troops have been briefed and theactual battle. What is in the latter that was not in the plan are blood, pain, pillage,destruction, cries of agony and death. The plan is neat; its execution is sheer havoc.
The American governmental system, I do deeply believe, is beautifullyrational in its structure. It implicitly assumes that all will be well if everyone,equally endowed, is intelligently self-protective. What throws it askew, however,is that people are neither equally endowed by nature or law. Paradoxically, one mightsay that the system was devised by dogmatic, somewhat myopic rationalists.
3. On top of this religio-political indoctrination he is givenmost of his information about daily affairs not by experts but by the daily press,which many analyses have shown to be deficient. While a close reading of six to adozen of the best newspapers at home and abroad will give one a close approximationto much relevant contemporary truth, few people can give the time to such readingand, even if they were fully intelligent, they would not always be well served. DuringWorld War I, for example, a close reading of all the best papers in the United Statesand Europe would not have given one so much as an inkling of the true causes, originsand aims of the war. Historians had to ferret out the facts later.
In consequence of the foregoing (among other things) we getMencken's booboisie, Barnum's suckers, my own handicapped dependents.
The man of affairs, however, either rich or up-and-coming, usuallyhas a different background. He has not, first, been successfully indoctrinated withthe idea that he can rely on a Higher Power. He is more apt to believe that "theLord helps those who help themselves," or that the Lord is a neutral referee.
As to schooling, he has usually pursued it further to the advancedlevel that introduces comparative government and problems in American government;or he has heard government talked about in skeptical terms at home. Whether he studiesgovernment in college or from the vantage point of a law school, he becomes awarethere is much fine print about exceptions and variations to be absorbed. There aremany "buts." The whole thing does not operate according to the broad strokesof elementary summaries. There are, as it turns out, "smoke-filled backrooms"where men of easy virtue bargain with tight abandon for imperial stakes.
Any high-level course in problems of American government quicklyacquaints the student with the fact that the governmental system is shot throughwith difficulties and contradictions. In many situations and circumstances the systemwill no more save or protect the individual than the deity to which daily prayersare directed.
People of affairs, particularly wealthy people, do not relyon the newspapers, even the best newspapers, for information upon which to act. Theyemploy their own research staffs and subscribe to many expensive informational servicesunknown to the general public. A clerk, for example, may read about a stock in somepublication and decide to commit a large percentage of his slender capital to itspurchase. A wealthy man has a staff or a specialist study such a stock and, if hebuys at all, commits to it only a small portion of his capital, perhaps less than1 per cent.
It is, then, natural that when any popular interest enters thepublic arena against any particular or combined money interest it is much like amuscle-bound amateur entering the ring against a lithe battlewise champion. It isonly a question of what round the amateur will go down in or by what margin he willbe outpointed. The champion can deliver the result any way, and on order. He caneven, if this seems politically desirable, allow himself to be knocked out in somecontest where the issue is minor, giving the popular faction a sense of triumph fora change. Such popular victories turn out to be "no title" contests. Winningor losing them makes no fundamental difference.
The dice, in brief, are loaded by (shall we say? ) destiny.
Instead of the rich being irresistible exploiters, then, asMarxists present them, the situation as a whole is much more like a sadomasochisticprocess with one small group internally programmed for command and the other, muchlarger, for gratifying submission. While the outcome of submission is not widelyrelished, the process of submission itself appears to be pleasing to most people.In Barnum's words, they are born suckers. They like to salute.
Freud looked upon all civilization as a process of necessaryrepression. Most of this repression is achieved by psychological means through theuptraining of children in certain ways by parents and parental substitutes. Wheresuch training fails and overt rebels against the system of repression appear, thepolice and the military stand ready. They carry out direct repression.
What happens within these systems of repression at differentperiods and places is that certain small classes arise, identify themselves withrule, and turn the whole mechanism of necessary repression to their personal advantage.Necessary repression, expressed in law, becomes the mechanism behind which they carryon repression in their own interests. Law and order, desirable in general, mean inthe light of special emphases wealth or affluence for a few, poverty for many.
For the people in charge of the instruments of repression intime are emboldened to make more and more exceptions in their own immediate interests,as in the case of the medieval popes. What was forbidden to everyone else was allowed,off the record, to the pope. Who was there, after all, to say him nay?