Tag: Gilded Age

Five Old-Fashioned Values We Rightly Reject

 

After a steady diet of period films, literature, and historical nonfiction, I’ve realized that in some ways, our culture has changed dramatically in the last 250 years or so. If you or I were transported to say, 1820, and we mingled with Americans then, we would struggle to fit in. We often grouse about the loss of shared values over time, and it is true that some of the beliefs that strengthened family units and held our culture together have been eroded. However, a few of those entrenched traditional attitudes were harmful and encumbered our progress. Some of them were held in opposition to the self-evident truths proclaimed in our founding documents, or worked against the family unit, and I say good riddance. Here are some examples:

Marrying Advantageously: One is probably wise to consider a prospective mate’s financial situation (especially to the degree that they reflect work ethic). However, novelists such as Jane Austen, who were contemporaneous to rank-and riches-conscious cultures, detail for us a milieu of shameless social climbing and gold-digging. Behaviors that would today be considered tacky seemed to be somewhat acceptable then, even expected: discussing openly how many pounds a year one was given as an allowance, or whether there was an inheritance to be had. One’s spouse needed to be of the right social class, and (as one biographer argued was true of George Washington’s marriage) even calculated to move one up the social ladder. We might argue that today’s criteria for marriage, a sense of romantic connection, for example, are even flimsier than they were in the past. Even so, we ordinarily do recognize today that character, kindness, and work ethic come into play in choosing a good spouse and likelihood of a productive future together.

Wealth As a Means to an End—Amity Shlaes

 

These days, even conservatives think class warfare works. That’s the takeaway from a spate of conferences on the topic of wealth distribution that have been taking place across the country lately. It’s also the takeaway from Mary Kissel’s excellent recent video interview with Charles Murray for the Wall Street Journal. In the video, Murray cautions that class warriors succeeded in part because the American “upper class has given them a wide open target.” Murray continues with a warning about display of wealth: “it’s an American tradition that you don’t get too big for your britches once you get rich.”

Sort of. Conspicuous modesty is not an American tradition. It’s a Protestant tradition. That wealthy Americans tend to become Protestant once they are wealthy is a second tradition. Here Murray is remembering history selectively.