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THE CREAM OF THE QUEST
The various attitudes and dispositions of the wealthy coterie--theup-and-coming, the active and established, the playful and the idly parasitic (artisticcontrast on the social scene to the lethargic parasitic poor)--obviously have somesort of general end-in-view or goal. For a man ordinarily seeks to attain or retaingreat wealth for some more tangible reason than simple social security, which theAmerican rich have achieved to an absurd and perhaps self-defeating degree. As seemsevident, the common reason for attaining and retaining wealth, as displayed in specificcareers, is to lead some personally determined insulated version of the Good Life.Considerable independence of others is an invariable hallmark of the good life asdelineated by the rich. Power itself creates a barrier between those who possessit and those who do not.
As all of the rich have far more choices open to them than thenonrich in selecting personal roles and scheduling their time, the way they liveshould at least shadow forth their conception of how one should properly live. Manifestly,if they thought it a hardship to sleep in a gold canopied bed in a mansion they could,exercising free choice, instead sleep in a Bowery doorway, under a haystack or ina cabin small by a waterfall; some, in fact, prefer to sleep, occasionally at least,in remote hunting lodges or on damp, unsteady yachts. As far as that is concerned,they could, exercising choice, retire to a monastery on a cold Himalayan slope orjoin (or even buy) a circus. A few, to be sure, have satisfied profound inclinationsby buying Broadway shows and square-rigged sailing ships.
Yet, despite the wide range of material choices open to them,recipes for living among the rich are so restricted and familiar as to have becomehistorical clichés. Their general style of living has changed little since thedays of the Pharaohs, both absolutely and relatively to the rest of society. Thepersonal life of a rich man in truth is rather cut and dried and pretty much followsa longstanding script; it is about as stylized and full of surprises as a minuet.Within a rather narrow range one can accurately predict his moves from collectingexpensive objects to breeding horses and dogs. To be rich and not a collector isto be a fairly rare bird.
Certain broad patterns of living can be clearly discerned amongthe rich, although one may be a total abstainer and another a sturdy boozer; onemay prefer blondes and another exotic non-Caucasians. It is no doubt because lifefor the rich is historically routinized, holding few surprises either enchantingor terrifying, that so many of them become addicted to gambling, from the stock marketto the casino and horse race. Except for those who play out their gambling drivein politics or forms of business rulership, many of them are patently subject toboredom, as many photographs show. 1
While I would not go so far as to say that all of the rich arebored all of the time, boredom has historically been one of the occupational hazardsof the upper classes; for people who have seen nearly everything and satisfied inclinationsas much as they could each day acquire a considerable feeling of déjàvu. Unlike the common run of employee they have, for example, never had the unexpectedthrill of being suddenly called to account. They have never suddenly been told: "You'refired," a dramatic experience known to thousands of poorer men, including universitypresidents.
Unlike the very poor they are not, even rarely, bemused by unexpectedkindness or consideration; for they have learned to expect such attitudes from others,especially from officials and personnel, and might, perhaps, be diverted rather thanotherwise moved by some rare outburst of rudeness that would annoy a humbler man.Some of the rich no doubt get some release from boredom by reading the overheatedMarxist press and learning what aspiring back-alley commissars have in store forthem. But such roaring historic adventure on the guillotine, they no doubt sadlyrealize, is not to be for them. They are fully aware of all the overlapping mechanismsof social control, from the Holy Ghost and the local schools to the police and themilitary, to say nothing of privately retained legislators and eager-beaver rank-and-filevigilantes ever ready to show their patriotic zeal by harassing bedraggled dissenters.
Whatever their orientation either as actives or passives onthe social scene, the rich are all affected, almost without their knowledge, by theconcentrated dynamic of money. Their assets, as it were, are constantly sending outinvisible impulses to them to make some move, make some move, make some move. . .. To get away from the compulsively hypnotic influence of these assets is seemingly,for nearly all, virtually impossible. They are as Trilbys to the Svengali of theirmoney.
This is readily seen in the cases, always fulsomely reported,of people who unexpectedly come into large properties, either by inheritance or bywinning some sweepstakes. As soon as happy news of the good fortune is received theremust be a celebration with champagne, cigars and immoderate quantities of delicatessengoodies. Under the questioning of reporters the lucky recipient, delivered from animpecunious hell, must relate what he intends to do with his windfall. He is sometimesbaffled at first, but the world insistently demands an answer and it is clear thathe must do something with the money. To refuse it out of hand would be manifest folly.So we see that the money is already prodding him, and will keep on prodding untilthe day it is all gone. He can spend it all rapidly (and some have done just this)or he can more prudently bank it and spend only the income, thus reserving its magicpower for disposition over a wider section of space and time; if he does this hehas almost insensibly moved upward in the socioeconomic structure, joined the bourgeoisie.
No case has yet been reported, although there may have beenone, of a man informed that he had just come into an unexpected $5 million who, makinga note of it, nonchalantly sauntered off to keep a dental appointment and to pickup some chopped meat for his dog on the way home. Nor has any case yet been reportedof a man, telephoning a friend, who near the end of the conversation says somethinglike, "By the way, George, I've just been surprised to learn I've come into$5 million." Such recipients, to the contrary, usually start sending excitedmessages to all points of the compass.
Most of the rich, whether they arrived by their own schemingor have inherited, are not thus taken by surprise. It was always understood by mostof them that they were going to be rich as soon as some older relative passed tohis reward. While no great alteration is required in the style of life of such they,too, have it gradually borne in upon them by bankers, lawyers, wives and friendsthat they are under some irresistible compulsion to make moves in which their moneyplays a major role, something like the queen in a game of chess. Few new heirs, ifany, find that they can ignore or even tranquilly contemplate from afar their newlyacquired assets. They are suddenly burdened with problems: an investment problem,a tax problem, a political problem, a donation problem, a general living problem.Where to spend the summer? The winter? Spring and fall? And what of the difficultperiods between seasons, where there is an overlap? And what to wear? What clothing?Who to see and not see?
A generalization that applies with hardly an exception to allof the rich is that asceticism is rarely if ever an ingredient in their personalscheme of affairs. Not that it should be; it just is not. Rather is it the case thathowever the life of one rich person may differ from that of another both live atthe opposite pole from asceticism. The elder J. P. Morgan was quite a bon vivant,a swinger, and Rockefeller was a teetotaler and homebody; yet Rockefeller, amongother things, maintained four palatial estates, one for each season of the year,from Maine to Florida. Although a tight-lipped Baptist elder, he was far from monkish.
The personal life of the rich, almost without exception, comesdown to sensory gratification on a grand scale, gratification attained in the lightof standards generally considered luxurious. A simplistic material determinism seemsto rule their lives as by an iron law. Here and there, it is true, have been personsfrugal to the point of miserliness, such as Hetty Green, but in general the richare found to live according to popular conceptions of extreme luxury even thoughone may be comparatively restrained and another an obvious sybarite. They do, broadly,precisely what the average man in the street would do, neither more nor less, werehe on their lofty pecuniary perch. What one may say in the most extreme criticismof them is that they are so ordinary, so common, so vulgar, yet placed in positionsof extraordinary advantage. Far more than they themselves suppose, they are automatons,moved one way or the other almost always by considerations of money. To find a richman, apart from an occasional eccentric inventor, living a life largely unmotivatedby his money is, as I believe the record shows, a virtual impossibility. Successfulinventors, yes; others, no.
The Gorgeous Setting
What unquestionably first strikes the most indolent observerabout the personal lives of the rich compared with the nonrich is the opulence oftheir residential settings. These lush habitations, contrary to many hurried commentators,have more than a titillating value for outsiders. They are, I submit, deeply symbolicof a self-conception and of actual objective social status. They are, contrary tothe eagle-eyed Veblen, more than an exercise in ostentatious display and conspicuousconsumption. They are, in fact, a dead giveaway of what it is all about.
Since the time of the Pharaohs, and no doubt even before, thehead man in the kingdom always had the biggest house, a palace, and with the adventof progress in utilizing labor he came to have many palaces suitable to the differentseasons of the year and different moods. The supporting nobility and priesthood hadlesser but sufficiently palatial habitations, and it was only as some of these cameto have more to say in ruling the realm that their homes began to rival in size thatof the monarch.
At the risk of provoking the bargain-basement sages into chargingthat I am oversimplifying, let me say it plainly on the line: The people with themost say-so have always had the largest and most elaborate domiciles. Big house historicallymeans big man in the realm; conversely, small house means nobody in the realm.
As direct survivals of this tradition, embellished by Romanemperors, Louis XIV, the czars and a few others, we today see the pope, spiritualruler over some 500 million precious immortal souls, living in a series of huge palaces,one of which is set in his own small city. We see the figurehead kings and queensof England still housed in extraordinarily large houses, some approaching the sizeof the Kennedys' Merchandise Mart in Chicago. And we see the successors to the czarsliving in the Kremlin, no shack.
From time to time a vast residence has been awarded at the expenseof the realm to someone who has been of signal service to the rulers, as in the caseof huge Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England, awarded in Queen Anne's reign toJohn Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, for his victory in 1704 over the Frenchand Bavarians at the decisive battle of Blenheim in Bavaria. Winston Churchill spentmuch of his boyhood in this truly imperial edifice.
A very big house, then, or a series of big houses, means historicallythat the inhabitant is either a ruler or one very closely associated with rule. Itis never, never, never the case that anyone functionally or otherwise dissociatedfrom rule, anyone such as an artist, philosopher, civil service official or scientist,inhabits such a big house except as a guest. The big houses, then, are the outwardsigns writ plain of a class habituated to rule, reminding us of the principle ofRoman law: Cui bono?
As the United States does not have anything like a ruling class,according to an extensive assortment of fully housebroken professors, we are confrontedhere by an apparent anomaly: People who in theory have no more to say about governancethan the ordinary truck driver somehow inhabit some of the choicest and most expensiveestablishments of all history. In American political theory, to be sure, the rulersare fundamentally the whole people, who from time to time duly elect their representatives.These latter, if anyone, are held to be the real rulers. Yet these putative realrulers, unless they already belong to the very rich class, never inhabit dwellingsof comparable opulence even if they reach the White House, which is itself a comparativelymodest affair with a short-term lease.
When American presidents leave office they almost invariablyreturn to relatively unimposing dwellings--Eisenhower to a remodeled frame farmhousein Gettysburg, Truman to a Victorian frame house in Independence and Lyndon B. Johnsoneventually to a not very impressive ranch house in West Texas. With no intentionof being disparaging, one can see that these ex-presidential habitations, comfortableenough to be sure, would hardly rate as servants' quarters on most of the largerestates. Members of the Supreme Court, as anyone can see, occupy nothing more substantial.
This is not to say that the president and members of Congressare not powerful for stipulated periods within constitutional limits. But their power,whether it consisted of Wilson steering the country far off center into World WarI or Johnson by his own decision intervening massively in faraway Vietnam, was alwaysexercised at the prompting and with the approval of the magnates. We know this, first,because the magnates publicly applauded and, secondly, not a single one of them seriouslydissented. Except for certain features of policy under Franklin D. Roosevelt, whencounsels in a crisis were divided, the magnates have been in general harmony withnational policy all along. Either the magnates wanted that policy (and heavy documentationby Gabriel Kolko for 1900-12 in The Triumph of Conservatism shows them asthe very source of policy) or the political managers have been clairvoyant enoughto hit upon policies that would meet with the broad approval of the magnates evenas many highly intelligent and informed nonmagnates dissented (as with respect toJohnson on the Vietnam policy).
Much policy deeply affecting the lives of most citizens, asfar as that goes, is never submitted to the political powers for their rescript.For whatever is not specifically forbidden under the rule of freedom is permitted.As a single example, let us consider technological innovation, always embarked uponby private decision but invariably of vast public consequence. in pursuit of greatereconomy and efficiency, higher productivity per man employed and more substantialprofits, the corporate managers, deputies of the big owners, constantly refine thetechnology of production. More particularly they have recently, without any promptingword from formal government, plumped heavily for labor-eliminating automation. Andalthough the size of the labor force has steadily increased it has not increasedparallel with population growth, thus dealing large sections of the populace outof it, notably the younger, the crudely skilled and those designated as superannuatedat sixty-two to sixty-five years. No representatives, near or remote, of those dealtout ever passed on the policy that has had such effects. The measures were simplytaken by private, unilateral decision in consonance with sound corporate practice,an example of veiled power that has wide effects.
More formally, now, with the social effects apparent, the youngwere bidden to remain in school, for which many have no stomach either because ofpersonal incapacity or because a considerable segment of conventional schooling isplainly boring and irrelevant to any felt issue. Many simply cannot stand the dullroutine. Again, many in a pecuniary milieu want to earn money so as to feel someillusory independence. As a consequence, the country now possesses a large sectionof disoriented young, neither at school nor at work and getting into a variety ofheadline-making mischief from congregating in unseemly hordes to sedulous extra-curricularcopulation and drug addiction.
No elected representative ever passed on the decisions thatproduced these results. The decisions were made quietly by quiet men in quiet corporateboardrooms.
The big houses, in brief, are occupied by the basic decisionmakers, and this has been the rule down through history. A difference, however, isthat in the United States the decisions are only indirectly and obliquely imposed.
It should not be supposed that, the idea of this self-conceptionof rulership on the part of the rich is sustained only by the fact that they havea penchant for assorted ducal mansions and grounds. That this is the self-conceptionis shown, too, by the way many of them sign their names with Roman numerals appended,betokening an established family line in the style of European nobility. It is shown,furthermore, and more convincingly, in the affinity of the American rich, particularlywith respect to their young women, for marriage with members of the European nobility.
Such marriages have taken place by the hundreds and I will nottrouble once again to cite and update them. The most spectacular of them was themarriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborough, the two offspring ofwhich are directly in the ducal Marlborough line. That the motivation in these marriageswas the quest for titles, mainly on behalf of the mothers of daughters, is made clearby the fact that wealthy young American males rarely married a titled European female;for in that case the title was not shared. 2
Almost always it was the case that marriage took place whenthe title could pass and the offspring, grandchildren of American commoners, couldbe authentically ennobled. "I am the mother of a genuine, 24-karat duke,"the American woman could sigh in quiet idiotic joy.
It is obvious that the American industrial rich, not sharingthe distaste of the Founding Fathers for titles, identified themselves with and sawthemselves playing a role similar to European nobility and royalty.
True, a self-conception is not necessarily a reflection of reality;it could be pure fantasy. It is on other grounds, of actual rulership, that we seethat the self-conception was not mistaken. The big-rich of the United States arein fact if not in form American dukes; the general populace pretty much enacts therole and has the outlook of peasantry, most of them quite gladly.
Patterns of Residence
While much has been written in detailed description of the opulentand vasty residences of the freedom-loving rich, and many photographs of them havebeen published, it has not been noticed as far as I am aware that they occur in distinct,different patterns.
These patterns are as follows:
I. The compound, or multiple estate, containing many large residencesof different members of an extended family and sometimes including an entire villageand much acreage.
2. The cluster or territorial grouping of separate estates ofan extended family.
3. Scattered estates up to fifty or more of the different branchesof an extended family.
4. The single country estate of a nuclear family, usually themark of someone new to wealth.
In all cases it should be understood that the estate is merelythe family center. There remain to be reckoned town houses, distant estates in nonurbanterrain and foreign estates; many wealthy Americans own either European or LatinAmerican estates and a few persons have them in northern Africa, particularly Morocco.
One function of the large estate, of course, is to instil aweand thereby place social distance between the owner and the clamorous hoi polloi.
The question of preserving social distance is important fora variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it would be awkward in manyways if rich and poor were closely mingled. It would certainly be socially awkwardwhen the rich man sat down to a feast and the poor man turned to his stew and grits.As a matter of common sociability the rich man would be expected to offer some ofhis steak and endive salad to the poor man and to accept some of the stew. If itwere only one or a few poor men asked to partake of a sumptuous repast it would beone thing; but if the participation were quite general it would be another. A manworth $100 million would be broke over night, for example, if he treated all thefamilies in the country to a single steak dinner at his expense.
Social distance, then, is seen to come down, among other things,to a matter of economy. One cannot invite everybody into the plantation and remainrich for long. The visitors will literally eat one out of house and home, like invadinglocusts. That the rich man is not ordinarily this open-handed does not signify thathe is especially ungenerous; he is merely prudent and posts his various signs: "Private,Keep Out." Privacy becomes a cult.
Examples of Residential Patterns
A prime example of the compound or multiple-dwelling arrangementis the Rockefeller estate, Kykuit, of 4,180 acres at Pocantico Hills, NewYork, just east of Tarrytown in the fabled Sleepy Hollow country. Such land in theregion sells at $5 to $10 thousand per acre and higher. Until Winthrop left for Arkansasall the brothers had each a large house on this estate, where lived also RockefellerI and II. The place has many scores of buildings, for maintenance and the housingof a large staff, and includes a $1 million playhouse (at cost many years ago) thatholds bowling alleys, tennis court, swimming pool and squash court. 3
The Rockefeller brothers also have New York City residences.John III and his wife share a large duplex apartment on the upper East Side and in1950 built a house for guests near fashionable Beekman Place. 4 Nelsonand his family occupy a triplex penthouse on Millionaire's Row of Fifth Avenue, facingCentral Park. 5 David, Laurance, Rodman C. and Winthrop all have separatedomiciles on New York's upper East Side, as shown in the telephone directory.
Nelson owns a large ranch in the highlands of Venezuela on whichhe sojourns at intervals, Laurance has a plantation in Hawaii and Winthrop has apalatial working plantation in Arkansas. It is not, however, necessary for the wealthyto own their separate places of residence; many of them lease large places from timeto time in various parts of the world or take over entire floors in de luxe hotelsas the occasion seems to require. They are, therefore, to be found now and againflitting in and out of Paris, London, the Riviera, the Bahamas or Puerto Rico.
Kykuit is bisected by a public road that affords viewsof dense forests and open fenced fields on either side for a stretch of many miles;this road is Route 117, connecting North Tarrytown with Pleasantville, New York.
Once entirely open to the public, only part is now open forhiking, horseback riding and hunting. But where the family homes are it is "asremote from the outside world as a fortified principality." 6 Tightsecurity is maintained: "high stone walls, massive iron gates, alert guards,police dogs and miles of barbed-wire fences make the homes a sanctuary." 7The home of David, however, is right on the main public road.
The main house, Kykuit itself, until his death occupiedby John D. II and his wife, is a fifty-room granite structure in modified Georgiandesign with spacious views of the surrounding country. It has four stories with guestrooms on the third and fourth floors. 8
More recently the widow of John D. II, finding this edificetoo roomy, constructed elsewhere on the estate a modest $300,000 Georgian home ofonly ten bedrooms. The destiny of the big house has not apparently yet been decided.
Various price tags have been put on all this by different commentatorsbut as the books of account have not been made public it is perhaps misleading tocite any. When Rockefeller I died the New York Times (May 24, 1937) said thesingle granite house had cost $2 million to build, while the estate took $500,000a year at Depression prices to maintain. The entire affair required a staff thenof 350. Standard equipment throughout are elevators, air conditioning and just aboutanything in the way of appurtenances, comforts and conveniences one cares to name.The domicile of no potentate is any better equipped.
This compound or multiple assembly style of dwelling was adoptedby the numerous Kennedys for their summer residences at Hyannisport, Massachusetts.For more prolonged residence they appear to find the scatter-type of dwellings moresuitable. Many families, indeed, have their summer estates in the compound form,a great many on coastal islands. In addition to the numerous Forbes family, whoseplaces dot Naushon Island near Martha's Vineyard, there are many others of a similarnature. Islands appear to hold a great attraction for the rich, insuring completeprivacy, and on them one finds the compound of estates and at times a collectionof seasonal estates of many different high-ranking families, such as Jekyll Islandoff the Georgia coast was until the 1940's. The biggest island layout, of course,is Santa Catalina Island off California, owned by William Wrigley, Jr., the chewinggum king, for many years. This sort of thing, one might say, is really living, forwith an island of one's own one is really the local sovereign. 9
The more numerous Du Ponts provide the chief illustration ofthe cluster type of massed estates in northern Delaware and extending over into nearbyPennsylvania. Because of the many large Du Pont houses strewn about, the region hasbeen dubbed by some as "America's chateau country" and "the du Ponts'duchy of Delaware." 10
The largest of the Du Pont estates--Longwood, Nemours and Winterthur--havebeen given tax-free endowments as public museums so that the average citizen cannow go and get some foretaste of what Valhalla is really like; but the names of twodozen others strew the countryside: Montchanin, Granogue, Chevannes, St. Amour, Louviers,Bellevue, Guyencourt, Owl's Nest, Bois des Fossés et al. 11
Latterly many of the Du Ponts, according to a recent expertbiographer, have taken to acquiring more modest habitations such as Hexton of SamuelFrancis du Pont, which we are reassured "has dignity without formality, spaciousnesswithout ostentation, ease without opulence." 12
It should not be supposed that Du Pont residences are confinedto Delaware. Lammot du Pont, who died in 1952, had a big summer place on Fisher'sIsland, New York, near the mouth of Long Island Sound. Many of the wealthy have summerdachas on this hallowed isle. Alfred I. du Pont moved to Florida, where heleft the mammoth Nemours Foundation noticed earlier. Others have extra residencesby the scores, city and country, tucked away elsewhere.
For a detailed description with photographs of a fabulouslyelegant Du Pont house the reader is referred to Folsom. 13
The four third-generation branches of the Vanderbilt clan, lesscohesive than either the Rockefellers or Du Ponts, scattered their many separatepalazzi to all points of the compass.
The most ornate Vanderbilt place among many is the French Renaissancechateau of George W. Vanderbilt near Asheville, North Carolina, built when he hadachieved hereditary success at the age of twenty-six. It contains 250 rooms and wasset in 146,000 acres (now 12,000 acres) with a three-mile drive through 500 varietiesof flora from the front gate to the house. 14 Inside views of the houseshow it to be, like many homes of the American rich, a quite literal variation onthe themes of grandiloquent opulence expressed at Versailles and Fontainebleau. "Asconceived by Mr. Vanderbilt, his new principality was typical of those developedby royal families in Europe hundreds of years earlier." 15 This placewas inherited by his daughter Cornelia and, as of 1964, by her two sons, George andWilliam Cecil. Here is an example, one among many, of an original name lost to viewthrough a distaff marriage. The original cost of this place in 1895 was estimatedat $7 million and its present value is set at $50--$60 million. 16
Vanderbilt mansions, one after the other, used to dominate FifthAvenue in New York but have since been torn down to make room for lucrative skyscrapers.Frederick W. Vanderbilt built a vast stone palazzo overlooking the HudsonRiver at Hyde Park, New York. Avoiding inheritance taxes, it was left to New YorkState and is now operated as a museum of high life in yesteryear. Cornelius Vanderbilt,another grandson of the founder, built The Breakers at Newport, with interiorsthat are practically replicas of royal French palaces. Other Vanderbilts played housewith big houses elsewhere. Many presently occupied by authentic Vanderbilts are scatteredabout the country.
More usually a wealthy family has one or two single countryestates and one or two town houses, such dispositions of course depending on thesize of the family and the fortune.
Although the trend is now toward less ornate or more secludedplaces on distant shores, some of the original big houses, along with their largetruly royal art collections, have since passed to public or educational use so asnot to figure in testamentary estates for tax purposes.
Data, descriptions and dazzling photographs of a few among manyultraelaborate chateaux are given by Folsom in the following: Vizcaya, ofJames Deering, Miami; Marble Casa, of Henry M. Flagler, Palm Beach; Ca'd' Zan, John Ringling, Sarasota; Shadow Lawn, Hubert T. Parson, formerpresident of F. W. Woolworth Company, West Long Branch, New Jersey; Fifth Avenuemansion, Henry Clay Frick, New York City, lower floor now an art museum housing theFrick collection; Tudor mansion, Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh, now Mellon Hall ofChatham College; La Cuesta Encantada, William Randolph Hearst, San Simeon,California; San Marino, Henry E. Huntington, San Marino, California; Ophir Hall,Whitelaw and Ogden Reid, Purchase, New York, now part of Manhattanville College ofthe Sacred Heart; The Elms, E. J. Berwind, Newport; various mansion-sizedNewport "summer cottages" belonging to Dukes, Youngs, Mrs. Perle Mesta,Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, Vanderbilts, Firestones, Jelkes, Van Rensselaers, Havemeyersand others; Belcourt Castle, O. H. P. Belmont, Newport; Ochre Court,Ogden Goelet, Newport, now part of Salve Regina College; Stan Hywet Hall,Frank A. Seiberling, Akron; Fair Lane, Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan, partnow of Dearborn campus of the University of Michigan; Meadow Brook Hall, Mr.and Mrs. Alfred G. (Dodge Motors) Wilson, Rochester, Michigan, now part of East Lansingcampus of Michigan State University; and English manor house, Edsel Ford, GrossePoint Shores, Michigan.
These, let it be understood, are only a very few samples amongmany.
While the ducal country and foreign estate is still part ofthe standard equipment of the very wealthy, the big town house has been largely replacedby the cooperative luxury apartment which in many cases amounts to a large town housesequestered behind the flat facade of an apartment building. The advantage of a cooperativeapartment is that it need never become a taxable white elephant but can be sold atfull value as it is or broken down into more saleable smaller apartments. Taxwise,the cooperative apartment is a liquid asset as the big town palazzi and theirart collections failed to remain under post-1913 tax policy.
The Rockefeller estate at Pocantico Hills is almost certainto wind up either as a huge public park, a fashionable real estate development oras part of each. After having been forced to accept by testamentary bequest severallarge country properties that thus escaped figuring among taxable assets, New Yorkpassed a law requiring that all such bequests must first gain the consent of thestate in order to escape the cash-draining tax net.
The interiors of most of these houses are more spectacular thanthe exteriors, which are mostly impressive in their dimensions. As photographs, liberallysupplied by Folsom, show very well, rooms are often of palacelike proportions withthe marble walls covered by expensive paintings and tapestries. Rare Oriental draperiesand rugs, entire imported paneled rooms from European chateaux and expensive bric-a-bracand furniture are in most places strictly de rigeur. Expensive is the operationalword. The National Gallery in Washington now houses the Andrew M. Mellon art collectionand the Frick Museum shows what Frick collected. There is, too, the opulent J. P.Morgan Library of rare medieval illustrated books and manuscripts, once a privatesanctuary. This sort of thing, as a matter of fact, is scattered all around.
The magnates were, and many remain, art-minded, and no doubtsaw themselves secretly as latter-day versions of Renaissance princes. But a differencein their relation to art is that, while the princes and later kings subsidized workingartists, the American wealthy usually merely bid up the prices of extant art. A fewtoday, such as Nelson Rockefeller, collect modern art and thus may be looked uponas giving monetary encouragement to living artists. But, by and large, art dealersrather than artists benefited from the artistic interest of the American magnates,who were traders and collectors rather than art patrons.
The artistic impulses of most of the rich are recognized intheir own circles as essentially pecuniary. Thus, the Wall Street Journal,January 3, 1967, impiously notes that a work of art is looked upon as "a growthstock, a whopping tax deduction--or an artful fake." Actually, says this authoritativepublication, "it's possible for a painting to be all these things at once."
"The rise in prices has led many purchasers to view artprimarily as an investment whose growth potential puts many a high-flying stock toshame," said the Journal. "According to dealers and others in theart world, some 'collectors,' who not long ago thought Modigliani was some kind ofItalian dish, now move in and out of the art market like so many Wall Street speculators,bunting bargains, and then trying to resell them at a fancy profit."
Works of art, acquired at bargains, in other words have thepotentialities of capital gains and do represent diversification of holdings in analways uncertain world. In any market they would always (unlike money) be worth something.This apart, as the Journal said, art works, whether genuine or fake, makepossible huge tax deductions that offset actual money income. The way this worksis as follows: a man buys a painting, genuine or fake, for $1,000, holds it a whileand then donates it to a museum at a declared market value of $10,000, thus obtaininga net $9,000 deduction from taxable income for a tax-free gift to the always-to-be-consideredpublic. If the museum spots it as a fake, it says nothing for fear of discouragingthe later donation of genuine works. There is, thus, a ready market for palpablefakes.
In order to obtain tax benefits the operation requires onlythat the declared value of the gift exceed the cost, whatever it was.
"In surveying the appraisals used in justifying the taxdeductions of 400 donated works," said the Journal, "IRS [InternalRevenue Service] found that the art objects had cost the donors a total of $1,471,502--butthat their total declared 'fair market value' as deductions had climbed to $5,811,908."The ruse is profitable whether the art work is authentic or not.
Art works, too, may play other financial roles. A man may pay$10,000 for a painting and later bestow it as a gift on a friend or relative. Asa gift of valuable property this is theoretically taxable, but gifts of portableobjects are not ordinarily scrutinized and, as far as that goes, the tax courts haveruled that valuable gifts to, say, a lady friend, are not taxable; so to argue wouldcheck sentiment. An ardent admirer may give a series of such gifts to a lady andnot be subject to a tax, thus building up her net worth tax free. The gifts, beingvaluable, may be used as collateral up to at least half their value against loans.And they may be sold privately for cash.
Art collecting, again, may be used to pay a large portion ofinheritance taxes. Thus, as part of his general operation, a wealthy man, otherwiseno aesthete, gradually builds up a collection of paintings of some artist or school;his very acquisitions have the effect of giving these paintings a scarcity value--andit is scarcity as well as vogue that gives these objects their appraisal value whetherthey are works of art, postage stamps, books and manuscripts or old coins. A collectionthat cost $10 million may ultimately have a market value of $50 million, which isrecovered in careful sales and the proceeds used to pay inheritance taxes relatingto revenue-producing properties as well. Two birds are thus killed with one tax stone:There is no capital-gain tax on the increment in value (death excluding capital gainsunder the tax law) and the proceeds pay all or a large part of taxes, thus preservingrevenue-producing property for the inheritors.
Aesthetic objects thus play a dual decorative as well as pecuniaryrole.
Concluding this bit, it can be shown that the pecuniary approachto art has been thoroughly systematized for the benefit of a well-heeled clientele.For verification the reader is referred to two large-paged books: Richard H. Rush,Art as an Investment, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1961,418 pages, and Robert Wraight, The Art Game, Simon and Schuster, New York,1965, 224 pages. The ins and outs, and the "angles," get full treatmenthere.
Apartment House Chateaux
Since World War II, even as more and more of the booboisie arefound to be sleeping in subway trains, doorways, flophouses, parks and bus stations,there has been a surge of building large luxury apartment buildings in the largercities: New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, etc. This building boom has, perhaps,been greatest in New York City where on central Manhattan there have been erectedscores of luxury apartment buildings, many of them cooperatively owned by the well-heeledtenants.
As it would require a great deal of space to list and describethem all let us concentrate on an outstanding recent example, the United NationsPlaza, as described by the always staid New York Times. 17
United Nations Plaza, of thirty-eight stories, is the tallestresidential structure in the city and faces the United Nations headquarters fromthe north at 48th Street and the East River. The initial cost of each apartment is$25,900 for 31/2 rooms to $166,000 for a nine-room duplex "with its own littleelevator, wood-burning fireplace and curving stairs, and with carrying charges thatrange from $248 to $1,590 a month. . . . The cost of the apartment is only the beginningfor a lot of tenants. Fully a third of them have taken down walls, put up new ones,installed circular columns or big square pillars, and otherwise altered the originalfloor plan. And it is taken for granted that a majority of the tenants will upgradebathroom fixtures and kitchen appliances."
Although there were more than 335 basic apartments, some tenantsacquired several and joined them together while enlarging rooms so as to have, ineffect, a large townhouse behind a flat glass-and-aluminum facade. This is standardprocedure in luxury apartment buildings. In many of the apartments metal fittingshave been replaced with gold or sterling silver fittings.
Corner suites have seven-foot-high windows that stretch forforty-eight feet in the living-dining areas, and many look out over the East River.All apartments are air-conditioned and at the touch of a switch can be kept at anymoderate temperature, winter or summer. Bathroom floors and walls are of Carraramarble, kitchens are eighteen feet long and a gourmet restaurant on the ground flooroffers room service to tenants.
Luxurious to the nth degree, the edifice has tenants who arefully a match for the setting. At the time of making its report, said the Times,among the owners,
. . . there are no theater people, no familiar television faces, and only one writer, Truman Capote. What is filling United Nations Plaza, especially the East tower, is a sort of power elite.
Of the 71 per cent that quietly make wheels go 'round, 69 per cent are senior vice presidents, executive vice presidents, presidents or chairmen of the board.
In big business they include John Dickson Harper, president of Alcoa, the company that put up the building; William Johnstone, chairman of the finance committee of Bethlehem Steel; Chester Laing, president of John Nuveen & Co., investment bankers; and Lowell P. Weicker, president of Bigelow-Sanford, Inc.
In publishing they are Roy Larsen, chairman of the executive committee of Time, Inc.; Andrew Haiskell, chairman of the board of Time, Inc., and Mrs. Philip (Katherine) Graham, publisher of The Washington Post and president of Newsweek magazine.
The 9 per cent of the tenants who are lawyers include Christian Herter Jr., whose father was Secretary of State, and William Pierce Rogers, who was Attorney General under Eisenhower.
Eight per cent are classed as persons of independent means; a good many of them have sold homes and taken apartments to simplify living.
Among the 6 per cent embracing various professions are William S. Brown, a partner of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, architects; Ross Claiborne, editor of the Dell Publishing Company, Inc.; and Bonnie Cashin, who designs clothes for Seventh Avenue. . . .
Among the 6 per cent of the tenants who are identified with government or with philanthropic foundations are Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Raymond Dinsmore and Mrs. Albert (Mary) Lasker, widow of an advertising tycoon. . . .
Mary Lasker, whose apartment will not be finished until early summer, and who wanted to be no higher than the 10th and 11th floors because otherwise she would "be too far above the trees, . . ." [will use her apartment] as a kind of annex to her house on Beekman Place--where she will continue to live. . . . [She has an apartment of only five rooms] but it was actually made by taking three and a half apartments with a total of 22 rooms.
That the rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald sensitively discerned,inhabit an altogether special reality is shown in what they designate a room. Thedimensions of a living room in a lower middle-class home become in a rich man's housethose of a dressing room, a mop room or a linen closet. Rooms, properly speaking,in a rich man's house are generally at least four times larger than average residentialrooms, sometimes ten or even twenty times larger. . . . They are often of museumand ballroom calibre, as photographs show.
"To Bonnie Cashin, United Nations Plaza represents 'a wholenew world. And moving into it is almost like going to a new country. . . .'"
Interiors and intimate methods of operation of United NationsPlaza have been shown on television. As there explained, the tightest security ismaintained, both at the front door and with respect to deliveries. Delivery men mustshow credentials at various guarded barriers in the basement, will be admitted onlyon explicit instructions from on high and must be checked in and out. Names of occupantsare not listed on mail boxes. The security staff and supportive personnel have allhad their backgrounds rigidly scrutinized before gaining clearance by standards reportedto be more exacting than those of the FBI and CIA for their finely tuned personnel.
While by no means the only such place in the larger cities UnitedNations Plaza may be taken at least as the dernier cri in "compact,"luxury urban living quarters even though some of its larger apartments are no morethan annexes to and extensions of nearby town houses for overflow guests, power brokersand relatives.
Practically standard equipment in all the bigger houses of thesuperwealthy are items like pipe organs, extensive gardens and hothouses, interiorand exterior swimming pools, chapels, statuary and sculpture strewn about, inlaidimported wall paneling and ceilings and a full line of all gadgets known to modernman. Expense has not been spared, money is plentiful.
Whereas early this century most of the big-rich owned theirown private railroad cars and later their fleets of chauffeured automobiles, morerecently many own their own long-distance airplanes standing ready at some nearbyairport. Whereas upper corporation managers make free use of company planes to lookin on plant operations in distant parts, the big stockholders have their privateplanes and crews. 18
The random reader will be happy to learn that the governmentthoughtfully provides a subsidy of $160 million per year to provide services forprivate and corporate aircraft and that taxes on aviation gasoline now cover only4 per cent of this cost; the rest is charged to the general taxpayers. 19Actually the government underwrites the wealthy 100 per cent.
The private large cruising aircraft appears to have largelyreplaced the private railway car and ocean-going steam yacht of an earlier day, althoughsports yachts are still present in single-ownership fleets.
Entertainment and Parties
These elaborate residences are used a great deal for entertainingand partying. The rich do a good deal of entertaining for friends and acquaintancesbecause they do not ordinarily congregate in public places. If they did not providea great deal of room in their homes for many guests and servile personnel they would,in order to avoid monkish seclusion, be forced to congregate where the public gathersin so-called public luxury establishments that are, in fact, largely patronized bypushers, entertainers, people "on the make" and obvious fourflushers. Onerarely, as a matter of fact, sees any of the very rich in the presumably fashionablebistros. Here and there, now and then, yes; generally, no.
Expensive parties to mark various occasions have long been apredilection of the American rich, with the costs ranging from $250,000 to $1 millionor more per shindig. The debutante party, through which the rich man presents hisnubile daughters to the world, was long a standard affair with double orchestrasblending entrancing sounds in huge ballrooms and champagne and caviar pouring downthe gullets of thousands of well-heeled democrats amid banks of imported flora. Whilethese exhilarating affairs (which seemed to outside observers to be rubbing it in)are now rarer, they are by no means entirely outmoded. The big party in general hasgiven way to more discreet entertaining in small groups. They are, however, stillserved to the queen's taste.
A History of Luxury Parties in America would require a bookof many hundreds of pages, the main source being the High Society pages of the leadingnewspapers. That aspect of partying that exerts most fascination for the mythicalman-in-the-street, however, is of the order of what is reported to have suited thestaglike taste of the late T. Coleman du Pont, obviously a man of the people. "In1912, in partnership with Charles P. Taft, the President's brother, Coly built theMcAlpin Hotel in New York, and on its twenty-first floor he established his Manhattanpied-à-terre. His parties there soon became famous for their gaiety andtheir pretty girls; Coly often had half the chorus of a Broadway show among the fortyor more guests at an after-theater party. 'The General is loyal to a myriad of prettygirls who are proud to claim him as a friend,' a New York newspaper said in a needlingstory, 'and no one, not even Mrs. T. Coleman du Pont, seems to raise an objection.In fact, some people imagine that Mrs. T. Coleman du Pont must be a myth. One neversees her, never hears of her.'" 20
Dinner parties, sedate or hilarious, always were, and remain,a favorite form of entertaining eight to a dozen or so of the ranking gentry. Whilepolitical figures from abroad are often present, no doubt useful in snagging distantconcessions and other goodies, it is noticeable that local politicos are rarely onhand except in Washington, where political intrigue is the sole social interest.Generals and admirals, however, are much sought for a certain austere contrastingtone.
It would, in any event, be bad electoral image-making for apolitician of the domestic variety to be counted among those present at some of themore rococo parties of the ultra-affluent, which smack to some of the more straitlacedin the constituencies of European royal revels simply because champagne (a high-classsoda pop) out in the sticks connotes something exotically perverse.
A Map of American Wealth
If a map of the centers and nature of privately held wealthwere drawn, it would show the larger corporations in their headquarters and principalplants as fortresses toward which raw materials are constantly moving and from whichare streaming products. These fortresses would represent the "big business"factor.
The big banks, represented by a different symbol, would appearas special centers with influences radiating out into the world of "small business."For in general, as we have noticed, "small business" is to a large extentthe loan-supported business of the big banks, upon which some of the larger corporationsare no longer dependent. Small business, paradoxically, is really fractionized bigbusiness.
The map would then show the family estates of the principalowners, numbering several hundred.
There would be symbols to show the locations of the principalmetropolitan clubs and the principal pleasure resorts of the wealthy.
Corporate headquarters and big banks would tend to be clusteredin New York City but plants, resorts and family estates would be more widely scattered,thinning out as one moved to the extreme west and south. In general, there wouldbe considerable clustering around major urban centers and sparseness of symbols innonurban areas.
Self-Image of the Rich
What all this shows, it would appear, is that the rich, despitethe meagerness of their personal achievement as linmed in the preceding chapter,believe they are entitled to opulent settings. A divinity was once thought to hedgea king and it seemed only common sense that a divine personage be given the mostopulent setting conceivable to man. The same sort of thinking applied to churchpols,who were believed to be in the closest confidence of the Deity. Faced by uncouth,undivine "robber barons," public thought in Europe simply bowed to forcemajeure. It was difficult to dispute with armed gangsters.
The first thing that occurred to the newly emerged Americanrich was to ape the style of life of European nobility and royalty. The Americanrich, quite obviously, saw themselves playing the same relative roles as mastersof the situation, "lords of creation" in the phrase of Frederick LewisAllen. In the main, the style of life of the English and French higher gentlemanbecame the style of life of the American rich, who took root in a country where,oddly, a powerful political symbol was still the log cabin.
Whereas European royalty and nobility played profound integralroles in European history, the latter-day American rich were more like hitch-hikerswho opportunistically climbed aboard a good thing, They produced neither the technology,the climate, the land, the people nor the political system. Nor did they, like manyEuropean groups (as in England), take over the terrain as invading conquerors. Ratherdid they infiltrate the situation from below, insinuate themselves into opportunelypresented economic gaps, subvert various rules and procedures, and, as it were, ridea rocket to the moon and beyond, meanwhile through their propagandists presentingthemselves, no less, as the creators of machine industrialism which was in fact copiedfrom England and transplanted into a lush terrain.
Let this be added: The fortune-builders were indeed organizersin a virgin terrain of little or no organization. They organized economic affairsaccording to well-establisbed European patterns, and for this service charged a feethat some commentators consider extortionate, others reasonable, What was it, really?It was extortionate, of course. Judging by their style of life they set a high valueon their services which amounted to merely imposing their rule. If one evaluatestheir achievement in other than self-serving corporate terms, the great expense ofmaintaining their personal way of life begins to look very much like another instanceof misallocation of resources. From my possibly jaundiced point of view, it doesnot seem to me that the country is getting any return for the wealth self-lavishedon their style of living.
Lest anyone believe that I am particularly indignant about thisprospect let me at once enter a disclaimer. I harbor no such indignation, not anymore than I would have for a man who sees a particularly enticing meal outspreadand sits down to enjoy it--a wholly natural thing to do. What indignation I haveis reserved for those who contemplate the prospect and consider it in accord withthe cosmic proprieties or even that a greater public show of deference is due. Iwould not wish to proclaim to the world that Americans are an especially slavishpeople; I do not believe such to be the case. But there is a considerable sectionof Americans, for reasons about which one can only speculate, who definitely areobviously slavish. They have been commented upon in the memoirs of visiting royaltyand nobility taken aback by being advanced upon in the United States with alarminggesticulations of deference and extravagant signs and cries of voluntary submission.
My own explanation for this phenomenon is that the United Stateswas largely settled by members of the lower classes of Europe in whom were deeplyingrained a sense of their class lowliness and fealty to the upper orders. Descendantsof these still like to kowtow whenever they can, and the more affluent of them spendlarge sums of money so they can be presented at the English royal court, there tobow, curtsy and scrape, to any other royal or ducal ceremonial to which they canwrangle admittance or to the Vatican where they can experience the ineffable ecstasyof kissing the pope's ring, joy supreme. Some of this ingrained tendency, as it iseasy to see, plays out on the domestic scene and is focused at times on public figureslike Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller who, as the television cameras show, is at timesplainly amazed and perhaps puzzled by the ecstatic fervor of his enthusiastic publicreception. That it is all pretty much of a preconditioned American mechanism, uncommittedto any particular object, is shown when it is directed, without partiality, at someformer sausage-stuffer who has become a film star or at a toothsome female, obviouslyguilty of first-degree murder, who has just been released with cheers by a jury ofher peers. Clamorous deference in such circumstances, as the newspapers regularlyreport, at times attains riotous proportions. What ensues is in fact a raving massself-abasement.
In this purely American setting, the self-image of the richis at times reflected back upon them in magnified dimensions, no doubt leading someof them to believe they have taken far too humble a view of themselves.
Deviants from the Norm
Among the wealthy there do not appear to be many who show theslightest tendency to deviate from the norm of being either a finpol, a pubpol,a corp-pol or a more or less graceful idler and rentier. The life of the rich,as we have noticed, is as patterned and stylized as the life of the poor, holdingfew surprises.
That this is the case is seemingly more and more clearly realizedby at least some of them, of late notably by the pace-setting Rockefellers even thoughthey have been outrun into healing by a Mellon and a Frick. The fourth generationof Rockefellers, however, seem to be deviating more than occasionally from the plush-linedruts traveled by the general man of wealth. As a psychologist might say of them anda few contemporaries, they appear to be seeking an identity of their own by breakinginto new ground, thus playing a role more original than that of mere descendantsof John D. I, or even of travelers in his general trustified direction.
As one swallow proverbially does not make a summer one neednot look upon what is happening in this quarter as a trend. It is perhaps, however,a portent that some of the descendants of the industrial rich may be about to retrace,if history grants them the chance, the path followed by the historically more distinguisheddescendants of the earlier and more modestly capitalized mercantile Boston and landedHudson Valley gentry who were considerably eclipsed in wealth and central influenceby the rise of the industrial rich.
Michael Rockefeller, twenty-three, son of Nelson A., was anaspiring anthropologist until he was lost at sea from a disabled power-raft in 1961while on an expedition to Dutch New Guinea with a Harvard University-Peabody MuseumExpedition. He was declared legally dead on February 2, 1964. The Times reportedhe left an estate of $660,000. 21 According to all accounts, he was asuperior fellow who was going to make some sort of individual mark.
Steven Rockefeller, another son, has become a clergyman, expoundingthe Gospel in benighted Chicago.
More recently Laurance Rockefeller, Jr., twenty-two, has appearedin the news as a member of Vista (Volunteers In Service To America), sometimes referredto as the domestic Peace Corps. Newspapermen caught sight of him as he began an eight-weektraining period in East Harlem, beginning adult life literally among the dregs.
In the meantime John D. IV, whose father is John D. III, hadmoved into an impoverished neighborhood in West Virginia, started hobnobbing withthe local descamisados and sans-culottes and was swiftly elected tothe West Virginia House of Delegates. If other cases are any guide, he is on hisway to becoming at least a governor or a senator, possibly president. The UnitedStates could very appropriately have a President John D. Rockefeller IV.
The various courses embarked upon by these four young Rockefellersare, though, obviously offbeat as far as most of the rich are concerned. Many moreof the affluent young are to be found congregating at the nearest country club oryacht basin, as I have determined by personal anthropological observation in thefield.
Cracks in the Compound Walls
What I have written thus far might tend to leave the impressionthat the rich are, relatively, in a cushy position. And so they are. But the enviablenessof their position amid accumulating signs of storm on every hand can be easily exaggeratedunless seen in perspective.
In saying that the rich are faced by difficulties I simply statesober fact, not trying to gain for them any feeling that they are as heroes and heroinesin an enveloping Greek tragedy. C. Wright Mills was very careful to issue an elaboratecaveat against pitying them when he wrote,
The idea that the millionaire finds nothing but a sad, empty place at the top of this society; the idea that the rich do not know what to do with their money; the idea that the successful become filled up with futility, and that those born successful are poor and little as well as rich--the idea, in short, of the disconsolateness of the rich--is, in the main, merely a way by which those who are not rich reconcile themselves to the fact. Wealth in America is directly gratifying and directly leads to many further gratifications.
To be truly rich is to possess the means of realizing in big ways one's little whims and fantasies and sicknesses. . . . The rich, like other men, are perhaps more simply human than otherwise. But their toys are bigger; they have more of them; they have more of them all at once.
. . . If the rich are not happy it is because none of us are happy. Moreover, to believe that they are unhappy would probably be un-American. For if they are not happy, then the very terms of success in America, the very aspirations of all sound men, lead to ashes rather than fruit. . . . If those who win the game for which the entire society seems designed are not "happy," are then those who lose the happy ones? Must we believe that only those who live within, but not of, the American society can be happy? Were it calamitous to lose, and horrible to win, then the game of success would indeed be a sad game, doubly so in that it is a game everyone in and of the American culture cannot avoid playing. For to withdraw is of course objectively to lose, and to lose objectively, although subjectively to believe one has not lost--that borders on insanity. We simply must believe that the American rich are happy, else our confidence in the whole endeavor must be shaken. For of all the possible values of human society, one and one only is truly sovereign, truly universal, truly sound, truly and completely acceptable goal of man in America. That goal is money, and let there be no sour grapes about it from the losers. 22
Mills here is partly ironic because his whole book expressesa complete lack of confidence in the general American endeavor. There is, then, noreason why the rich from his point of view should be even theoretically regardedas happy. It is probably true, however, that on balance they are no unhappier thananyone else and probably have at least a greater number of euphoric interludes.
In speaking of the rich as of any collective group there isalways the danger of tacitly assuming that all the units in the collection, becausethey share some characteristic, are as alike as peas. The rich, of course, differamong each other in age, constitution, temperament, intelligence and knowledge. Theyalso differ as to source of wealth: inherited or self-accumulated, diversified orconcentrated, held in the form of bonds, equities, real estate or a combination ofall. Yet, despite individual differences, they are similar in that they are, mostof them, held within the same social matrix, subject to the same external compulsionsand pressures.
This fact is clearly brought into view when we consider thatalthough the rich have much power, more than the common run of men surely, they alsoexperience in general a deeper sense of frustration than most people owing to thefact that their greater power is exercised within the restraints of a certain systemand under the scrutiny of other powerful people. This amounts to saying that, thoughgreat, their power has limits, often annoying limits.
We can see this at a glance by looking at the problem of airpollution. And New York City, financial center of the world, is fittingly held byexperts to have the worst pollution problem in the country. True, the rich man canflee the city from time to time and has in his homes and offices the latest air filtrationdevices; he is not so badly off as the ordinary citizen who must breathe the lethalstuff without interruption. Yet he knows that his staff, to which he is as loyalas it is to him, is caught in the muck. And he knows various projects of interestto him--perhaps a big skyscraper promotion--are qualified in their attractivenessand even value.
Why, then, as he has power, does he not deal with the problemdecisively?
He is unable to do so, no doubt to his chagrin, because of thevery momentum and direction of the system. Although he may publicly deprecate stresson the health issue he understands it as well as anyone. He is, however, caught inthe situation as depicted by Theodore B. Merrill, an editor of Business Week,who said in a comprehensive national survey as long ago as 1960 (and in the meantimethe problem has become more urgent) that "Nobody is going to put in any kindof control devices that cost him money unless he has to. . . . It simply has to beunprofitable for an industry to pollute the air or else they are going to polluteit, because it is cheaper to use the air for a sewer than to pay for keeping it clean."23 The same holds true of polluting waterways.
Here, it would seem, profit is being put before human life andhealth, a point made endlessly by nasty socialists. And it is not merely profit thatis in question but the general standing of an institution, a particular company.Although a rich man may control this company and could instantly make it stop pollutingthe air, such unilateral action would not solve the pollution problem, to which othercompanies also contribute. Unless all the companies acted in concert the action ofone would have little effect.
And if all the companies in a particular region agreed to undergothe expense of reducing air pollution their costs would rise and profits fall inrelation to companies in less populated regions not burdened with such costs. Theinter-company position of the social-minded companies would decline. At this pointmultitudes of investors, some of them large but not controlling, would perhaps beginselling the stock of the social-minded companies because the relative return wasdiminishing in comparison with that of unsocial-minded companies. Dutch, Swiss, SouthAmerican and ordinarily prudent domestic investors would sell out, realizing thatthese social-minded companies have expensive profit-eroding problems.
Investors, high or low, do not feel sympathetically identifiedwith a company's problems, do not "forgive" it for making a poorer financialshowing in a good cause. They simply analyze the figures and prospects of variouscompanies. Some of these investors live in the bracing air of distant mountain resorts,by the seaside, off on distant healthy pampas. All they know is that as between companyA and company B the latter, not burdened with many social-minded expenses, showsan ascending line of profitability and that this is better for them.
Why not then, it may be asked, make all companies uniformlycomply to the maximum with all social-minded regulations, thus putting them on allfours and passing additional costs on in price? Doing this, however, would raisenational costs vis-à-vis industries in other countries, which could undersellthe Americans. In the world market the lowest-cost producer, everything else beingequal, has a profit advantage and most readily attracts new capital most cheaply.And the world market is an area of prime interest to capitalists.
It is, then, "The System," as socialists have longcontended, that gives priority here to its own systemic needs over the larger questionof human life and health in specific instances.
As many scattered stockholders begin selling out of a companywith a declining relative level of profitability, the price of the stock, its value,declines, affecting multitudes, jeopardizing bank loans and inducing an endless trainof economic troubles. And when it comes to new financing the capital is not readilyavailable, must be obtained along the route of a fixed rate of high interest, itselfdamaging to profitability, rather than through the issuance of equities. Being unilaterallysocial-minded, then, is ruinous.
Although powerful, the rich man, even the grouping of all richmen, is not powerful enough to fly in the face of the requirements of the supportingsystem. Beyond a certain level they must all take the rough with the smooth as offeredby that system, a point that no doubt makes disconsolate the more reflective of them.
We may, now, imagine that one of the many economists who devotetheir lives to extolling the beauties of this system, its contributions to "progress,"is dying in a hospital of lung cancer or emphysema contracted because of pervadingair pollution. A case of poetic justice, it will be said. Yet he, as insight-limitedas most economists, fails to make the connection between his lamentable conditionand the economic system he so much admires. He considers himself only the victimof genetics or "bad luck," and if pressed will probably echo rueful AdamSmith that there's a great deal of ruin in every system--surely an intellectuallyweak stance.
The rich man wants for his children, whom he often loves passionately,the best in the way of education. He sends them to special schools that have thechoice of teachers for small groups that are carefully supervised from dawn to nightfall.Most of these children, many of whom sign the family name with coveted large Romannumerals suffixed, go on to the best available in the way of colleges.
Yet the rich and powerful man cannot forever shield from hisown children knowledge that they are going into a society bristling with avoidabledestructive problems that it is unable owing to its corporate systemic requirementsto solve. Many of these problems have their horns pointed directly at the childrenof the rich man.
Let us took at this neglected aspect.
All general disturbing and life-threatening social problems--airand water pollution; crime; overpopulation; vexed race relations; traffic tangles;accumulated causes of civil disturbance such as slums, unemployment and extreme poverty--intrudeupon the young rich with about as much force as upon the young poor. The rich youngperson may have better oases to which to retreat; but he is nevertheless adverselyaffected by the same accumulating, neglected phenomena.
Even in their oases the young rich are by no means safe. They,like others, are subject to narcotic addiction, alcoholism and psychological disorders--andan inventory of all their tribulations along this line would be impressive. They,too, in various ways are assailed by hard types. And let us remember that their fathersare powerful men.
Of crime, against their own persons and in its aspect of crimeagainst property a rising, low-grade, guerrilla variant of Marxist class war, theyare steady direct and indirect targets. As the Wall Street Journal in manyarticles during the 1960's made clear, there is a broad and steady determined assaulton the merchandise and cash of the big companies by shoplifters and employees--crimecarried out by noncriminal classes. Losses here, contrived by people whose appetitesare stimulated beyond the reach of their means through the agency of voracious advertising,are passed on to the general public as much as possible in higher prices; but someof these losses, running into billions annually, must be absorbed. There are notsufficient jails to hold most of the offenders, many of whom when caught are letoff with suspended sentences, dire threats from the bench, paroles, disgracing publicity,etc.
That the rich are as subject as anyone to misadventures in awide-open society (kept wide-open in general so as to facilitate double-dealing inprofitable particulars) can be shown by the citation of a number of salient cases,abstracted from among many.
In 1966 the young daughter of Charles Percy, former chairmanof Bell & Howell, camera manufacturers, and now junior senator from Illinois,was wantonly murdered in her bed in the family home in exclusive Kenilworth, Illinois,on the Gold Coast north of Chicago. Her unknown slayer was not apprehended. Wealth,power and exalted position did not protect her in a jungle society.
In the same year a well-organized kidnapping plot against LeonardK. Firestone, rubber scion of Beverly Hills, California, was frustrated through theenterprise of an underworld tipster. The two plotters, one the tipster, were killedby eager police in the attempt. Had the plot been successful Mr. Firestone wouldhave been abducted and held for ransom as a number of rich people have been, despitethe severe "Lindbergh law" against kidnapping and despite the virtual impossibilityof circulating ransom money. Such money, in whatever form, is subject to modern,high-speed photographic recording by the FBI and instantly becomes "hot"money, hardly worth the risk at ten cents on the dollar. It can even be treated andmade radioactive, a dead giveaway when passed over Geiger counters.
Robberies in the homes of the rich are frequent and there isreason to believe they are not always reported. And this despite elaborate protectivesystems. While traveling, the rich are especially the targets of expert thieves,as in the case of Henry Ford II in New York City, also in 1966. His hotel suite wasburglarized and jewels in the reported amount of $50,000 were taken. Servants inthe homes of the affluent and rather wealthy, according to news reports, are prettyregularly trussed up by invading thieves and the premises ransacked. Burglaries arecommon in wealthy residential districts.
Grant-laden Establishment methodologists, exponents of a sterilesociological scholasticism, will no doubt charge that I have selected a few unrepresentativecases to make my point. Actually, I cite these as representative cases, availablein any year. This is what is going on, all the time.
A close variation of the following New York Times headline(August 31, 1967; 22:4) is repeated every few months with respect to violent eventsin Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere:
BEATEN TO DEATH
It has become almost a standard story to read about women ofproperty murdered in their isolated splendid homes by intruders, who as often asnot are not caught. The only reason I don't list those of a recent year or two isthat I don't want to use the space.
With respect to the high-toned village of Purchase, New York,a "three-square-mile domain of big homes, colorful gardens, private swimmingpools, tree-shaded bridle paths, elegant country clubs and winding lanes" saidthe Times of August 13, 1967 (66:4-6), "Sixteen burglaries of estateshave occurred in the last month. Some estimates of the loss in jewelry, antiquesand cash run up to $250,000 but Harrison police detectives are dubious at the highestimates. . ."
No police dubiety was expressed, however, about the amount of$780,000 set as the value of jewels stolen from Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius VanderbiltWhitney at Saratoga Springs, reported by the Times on August 6, 1967. Thethieves missed $175,000 additional in gems only because Mrs. Whitney wore them todinner.
What I want to say here for the methodologists is that the rich,almost as much as the poor in their slums, are the recurrent victims of violencein a cuckoo-clock political system. The profiteers and their poor-boys-who-made-goodin the legislatures seem unable to give much protection to their own women and children,to say nothing of the women and children of the less well heeled.
The rich, like the rest of us, are as readily victimized bydeleterious products: dentifrices, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and various untestedchemical applications to various parts of the body. After all, there is only a certainrange of offerings of this kind; the rich have no more sophisticated choices opento them than the rest of the public in the way of deodorants, depilatories, mouthwashes, unguents and the like. Their young gorge on rancid hot dogs and hamburgersat ball games like any other red-blooded, true-blue American.
That various of these products, including widely circulatingfood preparations, are dangerous to health is regularly made known by appropriatefederal supervisory agencies, kept thoughtfully understaffed through the courtesyof a bought bucolic Congress. The rich here are often hoist by their own politico-economicpetard.
For a resounding case--one among many--let us go back a fewyears, to 1932. In that year died after a long wasting illness Eben McBurney Byersdirector of a number of companies and chairman of A. M. Byers Company: of Pittsburgh,makers of iron pipe. Mr. Byers, a Groton-Yale man, had been national amateur golfchampion in 1906, came of a wealthy established family and was no small-bore personality.The medical diagnosis at Doctors' Hospital, New York City, was that he had a brainabscess, caused by radium poisoning. For three or four years he had been dosing himselfwith two to three two-ounce bottles per day of a widely advertised preparation containingminute quantities of radium. He was under the impression that the lethal stuff wasdoing him some good. Following testimony by one of his physicians, the Federal TradeCommission in January, 1932, issued a stupendous order prohibiting, no less, theBailey Radium Laboratories from advertising Radithor as harmless. Not only had thisproduct been so advertised, it was reported by the Times, but it had beenrecommended, said the Times, for 160 conditions and symptoms. 24So ended Eben McBurney Byers, a man on the inside track of wealth.
That the rich are as gullible as anyone else in readily gobblingup and smearing themselves with whatever products are offered in the free-free-freemarket is readily apparent. Merely because a man is clever at conserving what hehas inherited or is skillful in overreaching the public in the clinches affords noindication that he is clever enough to protect himself and his family in all aspectsof the freedom-blessed American politico-economic jungle.
The situation is made clearer still in the case of the automobile.A rich man is obviously in a position to purchase the best there is in the way ofautomobiles and have his own private mechanics service them. But, as Ralph Naderhas shown and as Detroit has more recently admitted through extensive recalls ofdelivered automobiles, many automobiles are not mechanically safe in a country crosshatchedwith roads literally clogged with cars. Even though a rich man may have a car thatis in perfect working order, there is no guarantee that he will not be run into orrun down by some automobile that is either mechanically defective or in the handsof a defective driver, of which numerous are disclosed from time to time. The richman and his family, it is evident, are as exposed to the automobile menace as theyare to poisonous smog. They are no better off in this respect, unless they remainpermanently indoors, than the rest of society. And, sure enough, as newspaper reportsfrom time to time show, top-drawer eminents and their children are from time to timecut down in the streets by cars or battered on the roads. A complete inventory ofsuch cases would require many pages.
Although injured by avoidable accidents or made ill by detestableproducts, the rich man does have an edge in that he can procure, no matter wherehe is, the very best and most expensive medical services. But doctors cannot alwayssave him, much as they would like to.
The rich are especially enamored of medicine, and give heavilyto their own hospitals and to medical research. Plainly, like the rest of us, theyare seeking mundane salvation. But their faith in the powers of the doctors at timespasseth all understanding. What I mean is illustrated by a story told me some yearsago by an eminent internist, who complained that he had been detained for severalhours on a sleeveless errand while many patients were in need of attention. He hadbeen summoned with some ten or a dozen other specialists to attend a wealthy NewYork banker in his eighties who was very ill. It was obvious at a glance that theman was dying and yet members of the family walked about on tiptoe, with bated breath,and looked upon the assembled doctors as a high priesthood capable of saving thewasted hulk--the patriarch and founder of the clan.
The fees for this consultation, my annoyed informant told me,were bound to be astronomical, and the whole gathering obviously futile, an instanceof medical fetishism. As E. M. Byers discovered, expensive medical care cannot alwayssave one.
One might suppose that a rich and powerful man, aware of thesource of some patently deleterious influence, would take arms and gird himself againstthe common threat. Here we come to an aspect of inner finpolitan affairs towhich most of the sociologists have turned a blind, uncomprehending eye. It is afinpolitan rule that one company does not take a public position against another--whateverit does--as long as it does not act directly as an adversary; and the members ofone industry do not lead or join in the public denunciation of another industry.Each industry, each company is allowed to pursue its own way unless it tries to grabtoo big a share of the market.
Thus, when public criticisms gain momentum against one companyor one industry, when that company or industry stands in the public dock, as it were,others preserve diplomatic silence. The mass media, too, stand aside if they do notoffer outright defenses of the criticized practices. Thus we see the entire corporateworld maintaining a studied silence as pharmaceuticals are criticized for pricingpractices, automotives for safety factors, the oil industry for special tax sheltersand any or all for monopoly, gouging prices, poor products or community pollution.
The reason for this impotent silence is simply that if one wealthygroup opens fire on the cushy preserve of another wealthy group there will be retaliationin kind. For each industry has vulnerable points open to criticism. It is the need,then, to preserve some semblance of intramural harmony that causes the financialgroups to maintain silence about the shortcomings of their various members. Highercapitalism is a little club holding within it diverse temperaments, true enough,but temperaments that must, under pain of direct reciprocal attack, preserve an appearanceof outward solidarity to the world.
Lest anyone believe I am making a purely suppositious pointlet me make it clear that one capitalist often thoroughly detests another entireindustry and that such detestation, properly financed, can lead to the root-and-branchdestruction of the detested industry. John D. Rockefeller I, for example, dislikedthe liquor industry, and he opposed smoking, dancing and the theater as well. Theliquor industry in the United States was for a time destroyed with heavy losses,through Prohibition, illustrating what can happen. I am not suggesting that it wasRockefeller who smashed the liquor industry; but he shared the point of view of theProhibitionists in regarding liquor in general as a social menace, a blight on efficiency.
Rockefeller was by no means an exception in holding such straitlacedviews about the propriety of certain entire industries. I once knew a successfulWall Street broker who always did whatever he could to dissuade his customers frombuying shares in alcohol, cigarette, film and small-loan companies on the groundthat he thought them socially harmful.
Yet such intramural antipathies, which usually have rationalgrounds (as in the widespread capitalistic detestation of the powerful domestic fire-armsindustry), seldom lead to any effective action against the offenders; for everybodyis, in a way, in the same boat and hence silent. As I used to argue to my moral broker-friend,his qualms were vain; customers could come into his office with money from any source,even from some illicit enterprise. What was gained if they now purchased only stocksin morally approved enterprises? Moral or immoral, the companies offering stockswere all legal entities in an economic system that does not discriminate betweenproducers of fire-arms and producers of surgical instruments. All industries arecreated equal.
Being bound to keep quiet when he sees obvious destruction beingwrought by some reckless peer, at least the intelligently reflective capitalist cannot,contrary to Mills, be entirely happy. And his unhappiness has an entirely differentcause from that of most people. It is the unhappiness of a consciously powerful manwho realizes he can do nothing effective against something he considers profoundlyevil, cannot even fully protect his own children. Even though he may feel that hisown enterprises are as far beyond criticism as ingenuity can make them, he knowsthat this is no defense against fabrications which can be circulated against himto his distress by powerful people his uncooperative crusading spirit has made angry.
It is for this reason, among others, that it is rare to findcrusaders among capitalists, who all in one way or the other live in glass houses.
In the matter of divorce and broken families the rich are, ifanything, worse off than most of the population; at least they are no better placed.For the divorce rate among the rich, with many of them such ardent believers in marriagethat they remarry up to five and even ten times, is very much higher than the nationalrate. Divorce, even if one looks upon it as a desirable escape hatch from an untenablesituation, is never taken as a sign of sound human relations; rather is it takenas an index of unresolvable interpersonal trouble.
If stable familial relations and intra-family continuity aredesirable, as it is widely held, then divorce and the dispersion of family members,particularly the young, must be an index to failure. At least the children of divorcedrich couples are not happy about the event. And this sort of failure is rife amongthe rich. Failure being the opposite of success, in this department of life the rich,however they got that way, cannot be looked upon as generally successful. Perhapsthey are no more unhappy than others; yet they do not appear to be conspicuous winnersin the marital sweepstakes. As in the case of most divorcing couples, they find eachother unbearable--and not simply in one instance but, as the record shows, in a trainof instances. Not to be able to find a single retainable marital partner in a numberof attempts surely argues some sort of personal impoverishment in a culture thatvalues marital stability.
Deficiencies and lacks of the kind we have looked at are not,as many suppose, purely subjective, the ills to which all men are heir. They aresocial, deriving from the general social situation, which has much to do in shapingthe psychologies of people.
The rich, it is clear, are not immune to the general falloutfrom the existing socio-political system even though they may have compensationsdenied to others. Far from all the fallout upon the rich has been indicated and onecould go on at considerable length about more. However, confining ourselves againto the young and innocent rich, it is clear that their minds are as subverted asthose of poorer youth by the all-pervading influence of persuasive advertising.
If someone systematically splashed mud on the clothing of richchildren their parents would soon take steps to see that the offender was laid bythe heels. Yet the rich, for all their power, cannot protect their children fromthe subversive influence of advertisers who insistently confuse the intellect invarious detectable ways. Most of the time they misuse language and pictures in theeffort solely to sell.
True, the rich youth like the poor, if he makes his way intothe higher and more recondite studies such as semantics, logic and epistemology,can overcome the enervating intellectual influences of advertising and homespun propaganda,thus possessing himself at least of his own mind. But few find their way to suchrarefied studies and the result is that the rich usually have as confused a viewof the world as the poor, subject to exploded notions (particularly in economics)and with about the same general world view as that of a postman or bartender. Thatthis is so is readily seen in the public utterances of the more vocal of them. Amongthe self-erected we have cracker-barrel philosophers like Henry Ford I and H. L.Hunt and among the more educated we have the sagging economic views of David Rockefellerand, on a much lower level of wealth, the socio-cultural divagations of William F.Buckley, Jr., who asserts the presence of "eternal verities." A B-minusundergraduate in epistemology at Swampwater College knows better than that even thoughBuckley's public vowel movements are intently studied by a select circle of admirers.
One would think that a rich man, with money at his fingertips,would get smart and hire an epistemologist who would at least straighten him outfrom time to time about the grounds for rational belief. For we may well supposethat a rich man, always wanting the best, does not wish to go about in a scatterbrainedcondition hawking absurdities. He must want the true view just as he wants a livewiregirl, a prime steak and a sound wine. Yet we find him apparently no better off inthis respect than the common man. Nor, considering the baneful social influencesto which they are subject will most of his prized children be better off. MadisonAvenue vomits on their minds as freely as on the battered mind of the ordinary clod.
In this matter, however, the rich man is no doubt imbued withthe unjustified self-pride of others as summarized by Descartes in the opening linesof his Discourse on Method: "Good sense is of all things in the worldmost evenly distributed among men, for each one believes himself so well endowedwith it that even those who are the most difficult to please in all other thingsare generally satisfied with their share." (For our purposes we may ignore thenon sequitur noticed by logicians between the warranting reasons cited andthe conclusion.) In any event, the rich man like the nonrich believes his own mindis as good as any and its way of operation to be in no particular corrigible; onecan see this in the bland assurance with which the rich often express themselvespublicly on recondite matters such as achieving the national destiny. In this belief,no doubt in the majority of cases, the rich are like others demonstrably self-deceived,victims of self-pride, unless they have gone to herculean efforts to free themselvesfrom the free-market socio-cultural seepage all about them; they are as much offthe track as T. W. K. Mits, the well-known man in the street.
The Successful Kennedys
Sufficient grounds have been stated, I believe, to suggest,contrary to supposition among both the rich and their critics, that the rich arenot so well off as they themselves sometimes suppose and are commonly supposed tobe, even though they may be more advantageously placed than the average man in manyselected areas. Their difficulties, furthermore, are not merely those common to theflesh of man but often derive from their own celebrated social system, from the propaganda-hallowedbut rickety social structure itself. Such is the resistance of indurated dogma toreasonable refutation, however, that one could pile further proof on proof in thesingle well-known case of the successful Kennedys, dogged by socially induced tragedies;nor are they alone.
The first of the Kennedys to feel the blow of adversity wasthe eldest son, Joseph P., Jr., who had early been earmarked in the family circleas a future president of the United States. Aged twenty-nine, he was killed in actionas an eager airman in Europe during the replay with special Hitlerian effects ofWorld War I. Two weeks later Kathleen's ultra-British husband was also killed inaction. And in 1948 Kathleen herself, flying in a private plane to join her fatheron the Riviera, was killed as the machine crashed in rain and fog over France.
With the election to the presidency in 1960 of John F. Kennedy,the second oldest son, the Kennedys' star seemed once again in the ascendancy; theywere literally the darlings of the world. The abrupt assassination of the sociallyaware president in Dallas in 1963 by a publicly neglected, mentally disturbed ex-marinewas especially ironic; a social system eroded by neglect struck down a potentialstatesman through one of its neglected cases.
The theme of violence in the Kennedy later history, which hadalmost finished JFK during the war in the South Pacific, showed itself again in thenearly fatal airplane crash of Senator Edward M. Kennedy in his own plane in 1964.As it was, his back was severely injured, necessitating the wearing of a brace.
The Airplane and The Rich
The airplane, it may be observed in this melancholy recital,is a special hazard of the rich and affluent. Few plane crashes, unless upon buildings,ever involve lower-class citizens; many tycoons have already met their end in theskies. And the bored rich, in their affinity for plane travel as for everything technologicallynovel and "advanced," are themselves the victims of a smooth statisticalfalsification given wide currency: that the rate of passenger fatalities inaircraft is lower than that on railroads. This falsification is achieved by comparingfatalities per passenger-mile. If, however, one properly takes into considerationall the relevant factors and makes the comparison on the basis of passenger-mile-hours(for time is an essential factor in measuring motion, which is a function of timeas well as distance), then it is seen that the rate of fatality is tremendouslyhigher in air travel. As far as that goes, in absolute figures passenger air fatalitiesare greater than passenger railroad fatalities.
We see here that the rich are as susceptible as anyone to beinggulled by institutionalized propaganda (assuming that they are indeed misled by theclaims of alleged superior safety in airplanes). Although airplanes may be sufficientlysafe, considering all factors, they are self-propelled kites flying with heavy loadsof volatile fuel, obviously highly vulnerable to serious mishap. In computing airfatalities the Federal Aviation Agency, for example, excludes deaths occurringin airborne dynamite explosions! 25 Such are apparently not deemed statisticallykosher.
The Curse of Prominence
Great prominence itself, as many of the wealthy know, carrieswith it special problems. In the case of the Kennedys this was shown in the wrangleover the wording of the originally authorized book by William Manchester about theassassination of the president. Said The Nation (February 6, 1967): "Thesubsequent attempts on the part of the Kennedys to control the text of the book andits serialization gave the impression of an arrogant use of money and power. Theymay have been within their legal rights, but that is not the point. Apparently mostof what they objected to was of little moment one way or the other. The public wasnot in a mood to go along with them, whether they were right or wrong. The John F.Kennedy aura was blown away by the exchange of recriminations.
"At a given point of idolatry," The Nationcontinued, "the public turns from adoring its idols and begins to examine theirfeet. Once celebrities reach a certain level of overexposure, there is just as muchmileage to be gained from cutting them down as there was from building them up. Thewriters and broadcasters who provide this sort of fare are familiar with the reaction,and when some of them sense the turning point, the others follow. All of the overexposedlive in the shadow of an obloquy. It is one of the hazards of publicity."
What is less widely known is that scholarly John F. Kennedyhimself, in 1959, successfully brought pressure to bear to exclude from the bookThe Kennedy Family by Joseph Dinneen three summary paragraphs about the attitudeof his father toward Jews. Dinneen in 1944 had interviewed the elder Kennedy forthe Boston Globe and had taken shorthand notes of the interview. Present alsowas Lawrence Spivak, then editor of The American Mercury and later a nationaltelevision news panelist. The Globe decided not to publish the interview andDinneen fifteen years later summarized it in his book, of which he sent a set ofgalley proofs as a courtesy to JFK. The president-to-be, disturbed, insisted overthe telephone from Oregon that the prickly paragraphs be omitted even though thework was now in plates. Dinneen and the publishers after some resistance consentedto the awkward deletion and substituted some inoffensive material. 26
JFK, soundly from a public image point of view, recognized thatthe nature of the interview, far from settling the issue of anti-Semitism raisedagainst his father, piqued critical interest and raised more questions than it resolved.From an electoral point of view, though the president-to-be was not at all anti-Semitic,even a brief summary of the interview could have been troubling by reason of association.
In passing, it is standard although not universal finpolitanand pubpolitan practice to attempt to control or influence--that is, censor--writingsand other expressions that becloud one's public image by suggesting something untowardor disturbing. What is wanted is a carefully retouched pleasant studio portrait ofpersons and events, not a candid catch-as-catch-can camera shot of some bigwig offguard and thus completely himself. For this reason writers and other commentatorson public affairs are generally wooed, flattered, facilitated in various ways and,at times, subsidized, authorized, edited, lied to, intimidated or coerced by powerfulpublic figures. While resorting to the courts to expunge nonlibelous matter froma text is rather unusual, the general attitude of those Kennedys involved in theManchester controversy is not unusual among political and corporate people, whateverillusions the public may have about the free-wheeling independence of writers underthe Star Spangled Banner.
Attempts to control the projected image extend even to photographs.Few politicians like to be photographed smoking cigars, perhaps because that typicalact of politicians reminds the public of cartoons about paunchy, cigar-smoking wardbosses, concededly corrupt. Herbert Hoover had the plates confiscated from a photographerwho snapped him cigar-smoking aboard a battleship, and Jack Kennedy, who smoked panetelas,did not like to be photographed in the act. Roosevelt, however, did not conceal thathe smoked cigarettes, no doubt feeling that by doing it openly he projected an imageof insouciance and self-sufficiency. Nor do politicians like to be photographed witha convivial glass in hand.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, always sensitively concerned about hisimage, worked carefully to see that it was not clouded. For a long time, althoughhe was under close direct scrutiny, it was unknown by the general public that bewas wholly paralyzed from the waist down and had to wear leg braces. Roosevelt himselfwent to herculean and physically exhausting lengths to keep the surely significantfact of this weakness from becoming generally known. 27 John F. Kennedy,too, kept from general circulation the fact that he suffered from Addison's disease.
Moreover, writers and photographers who offend by engaging inunauthorized image revision are thereafter rebuffed, barred, harassed, denounced,spied upon, rebuked, intimidated and otherwise made to feel remorse, regret or fearat having offended the higher powers, whose claim to kid-gloved handling is invariablybased upon nothing more than money or position.
Ralph Nader, for presuming to question automobile safety inUnsafe at Any Speed, was subjected to close surveillance by General Motors,largest corporation by sales in the world, for which act a high GM official laterpublicly apologized. According to Nader, with General Motors denying the charge,the object was to obtain some bit of publicly inflammatory information of an irrelevantlyderogatory nature. 28 True or not in this case, it is often true in manyother cases because a largely confused philistine public believes that the truthof some statement is brought into serious question if it can be shown that its originatoris a Communist, Socialist, atheist, homosexual, yogi, imbiber in strong waters, freethinkeror one addicted to engaging in crim. con. with amiable ladies. Dedicated,sincere heterosexuality may itself be impugning.
Unsettling though it may be to many sturdy citizens, it is probablya fact that a majority of the scientists at work on the federal space-explorationprogram are thoroughgoing atheists or agnostics. For careful studies have shown thatmost American scientists (save us all!) are of this horrifying, cosmosshatteringorientation. Should, therefore, the space program not be canceled or its personnelchanged? Should not, in the name of common safety, Billy Graham and Fulton J. Sheenbe placed in charge? Why, the perturbed grass-roots citizen may well ask himself,cannot persons with a wholesome, dung-hill, 100 per cent American outlook be selectedfor this highly elevating work?
In one of his few but revealing gauche moves, PresidentJohn F. Kennedy, deeply annoyed, canceled the White House subscription to the NewYork Herald Tribune and barred it from the sacred premises--an instance of Jovehurling the penultimate thunderbolt: banishment.
Concluding, although the difficulties encountered along life'sway by the Kennedys and others can hardly be taken as par for the course among therich and powerful they do show, in concentrated cases, what in varying degree allof the rich are up against in a highly turbulent irrationally structured society.The rich are by no means as well off as they are often imagined to be and as a sociologistsuch as C. Wright Mills imagines them to be. They have many troubles going far beyondthose to which the flesh of man is heir. They are, in many ways, "on the spot."They have a lion by the tail.
Nowhere else is this better shown than in the matter of self-protectionin the atomic age. The rich are individually as subject to nuclear holocaust as thepoor in the brave new world's threatened nuclear democracy of all-encompassing death.And although many of the rich have constructed elaborate bomb shelters on their estates,complete with television (what station will be on the air?), among the more intelligentsuch contrivances must be clearly recognized as no more than tranquilizers for thewomen, children and servants. The world to which hypothetical shelter survivors wouldemerge would be one, according to all estimates, in which the dead would be lookedupon with envy. The tycoons know this as well as does Herman Kahn.
The Fundamental Problem of the Rich
The fundamental difficulty of the rich has not yet been fullyindicated. This difficulty consists of acquiring a sense of worthwhile function (andgetting the world to agree with the self-estimate of this function) and, at the sametime, of containing the many eruptions and breakdowns in a social system the obsoletestructure of which is continually being strained by the introduction of new profit-makingtechnology as well as by the rise of appropriately ferocious rivalry abroad. Thesituation in which the contemporary rich find themselves could be described by somepundit, brightly, as challenging.
As to function, it comes down largely to rule under variouseuphemistic rubrics. At times, as the pages of Who's Who attest, the claimsto function are more flamboyant and see the subjects pathetically proclaiming themselvesas financiers, investors, venture entrepreneurs, philanthropists and the like. Afterall, a financier is only a money lender, an investor is someone who owns somethingproducing revenue for his own account, a venture entrepreneur a promoter for hisown account and a philanthropist a lover of mankind. While being a lover of mankindmay be laudable it does not bespeak any particular knack. For what is man or mankindbut an abstraction? One never encounters man in experience, only men, women and children.What some testy observers ask is this: Will some of the self-proclaimed lovers ofmankind kindly get off the necks of men, women and children?
Function, among the rich, as we have seen, is most often statedin terms that boil down to rule: executive, public official, administrator, trusteeand the like.
In the modern world, function is closely related to self-identitybecause the question is no longer who one is but what one does. To the question "Whoare you?" the answer is generally that one is a truck driver, clerk, teacher,performer or what-not of a certain name. "I am a tuba player named John Jones"is, at least for a beginning, a satisfactory designation (if true) of one's identity.
The rich, however, have difficulty in stating any function forthemselves that is dissociated from rule. While terms like financier, investor, ventureentrepreneur and philanthropist suggest commendable, nonintrusive and possibly supportiveroles, terms such as executive, director, official, trustee and administrator andthe like are clearly epitomized in a revealing term: boss.
In the contexts in which they are publicly advanced, all theseterms hazily suggest synonyms for "hero," and at times a halo is also indicatedfor the heroic figure as in "international financier" and "upper-echelonexecutive." As one bears and reads of such, one is literally stunned by thesuperhuman vistas suggested. And when one reads that messages are being exchanged--actuallyexchanged--between the president of the United States on the one hand and internationalfinanciers and upper-eschelon executives on the other (subject: something or other)one can imaginatively feel the world grinding on its hinges.
Whether the rich recognize it or not, in most public roles theyseem to feel qualified to play they appear as bosses, however disguised, and notnecessarily unbenevolent. In any other function they may elect to attempt--of a physicist,a ballplayer, a soft-shoe dancer, an artist, a writer or a philosopher--they findthat their money gives them no edge at all. In roles of nonrulership, where the competitionis extremely lively, if they decided to go in for poetry they find that par for thecourse is set by hard-to-beat T. S. Eliot or Robert Lowell, if for ballplaying byMickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, etc. Most of the rich seeking active roles thereforedrift, by default as it were, to corporations, banks, brokerage houses, nonprofitfunds and various political jurisdictions. These are all organizational havens forimprecision even though they all harbor aspects where precision may be required ofunderlings, and appreciated.
In attempting to establish his unique identity through someunfinanced achievement, the rich man is pretty much in the position of anyone else,even a pauper. If his claim to competence is that he is very good at chess, all heneed do to establish it is to beat a few lower-rung chess experts and then move higher.If his forte is science all he need do is gain the accolade of other scientists,hard to do. Normally finding such feats difficult, his next recourse is to get forhimself one of the vaguely heroic current designations, crown it with an adjectivalhalo and project it into print: a public image. Most people will accept him, evenapplaud him, in his self-designation. The only ones who will ever question his bonafides will be dyspeptic churls, fit only for treasons, spoils and stratagems, perhapsto boot connoisseurs of pornography and arcane seances--in short, losers.
No matter what designation of puissance the rich man permitshis media of publicity to allot him, however, there remains the harsh fact that beis operating within an increasingly obsolete social structure, politically designedfor an agricultural and local commercial economy and culturally for the most partof even more antedated vintage. This social structure, under the impact of high-poweredtechnology, is obviously increasingly inadequate to its supportive task, requiresmuch change and is insulated against change by the resistance of many establishedeconomic groups, perhaps including his own.
What to do? One palliative after the other is embraced, resultingin an increasingly cross-stress, tension-producing patchwork. Where will it all lead?What will happen to the rich man's special stake, constantly threatened by science-derivedinnovations and requirements for more and more government intervention?
Obeying the maxim "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em,"most of the rich appear increasingly to have joined forces with government in developingthe welfare-warfare state, largely utilizing tax money from the labor force and therebyguaranteeing themselves one big profitable customer. Yet even this maneuver introducesendless new difficulties, and there remains to be contended with the rest of theterrestrial world exploding into smoggy industrialism.
The state of mind of a fully aware wealthy man, then, cannotbe as tranquil as commonly supposed. And that it is not at all tranquil is shownby the endless fulminations of the various communications media against communism,socialism, statism, totalitarianism, radicalism, fascism, technocracy, liberalism,crime in the streets (where it clearly should not be), do-goodism, reformism, softism,sentimentalism, apathy, unpatriotism, unconstitutionalism, centralization, bureaucracyand the like, and by the stream of contributions to super-patriotic Pied Pipers.All persons who think seriously in terms of adjustment to modern conditions thenfind they must be extremely circumspect so as not to be suspected as subversive andun-American, in the ideological company of foreigners.
A constant danger now faced by the jumpy finpols is thepossibility that someone among the pubpols, like a Roosevelt or a Kennedy,will really take the bit in his teeth and start running the ball in a different direction,perhaps change the nature of the whole game. For, in the shadow of the uncertaintiesof an old-line local business economy with high-speed technology grafted on to it,the pubpols appear to be slowly shaping a wider role for themselves as governmentis required to step supportively into various fissures of a misshapen society.
While it appears a bit early to assert that the days of therich are numbered, as socialists like to believe, it does appear they are in forsome stormy times and, perhaps, for eventual extinction at the hands of rising forces--asubject to be broached in the next and concluding chapter. The rich, in any event,are in a time of many troubles as their wealth increases, and I conclude that themore thoughtful among them cannot be feeling as complacent as the bland-bland exteriorof their power elite may suggest.
For it is veritably written: "So foul a sky clears notwithout a storm."