The Saturday Evening Post’s connection to the old stock was through the predominantly Anglo-Saxon localities of the heartland, whose leaders ran their communities much as the national elite ran the country. They dominated the banks, civic organizations, school boards, county courthouses, and businesses. And they constituted the core readership of the Post, for decades the nation’s most influential and widely circulated magazine. Its old-fashioned editorials and Norman Rockwell covers depicting middle-class scenes were regarded by many as symbolic not just of the magazine and of their own families but of the nation itself.
This cultural symbiosis between the elites of the Northeast and the heartland masses made for a relatively high degree of civic amity within the polity and relatively little class animosity. The acceptance of the elite by the masses generated self-confidence at the top, and this in turn generated an accommodative and soft-edged leadership. Stewart Alsop, in writing about the elite’s decline, referred to it as having been made up of “self-confident and more or less disinterested people.”
…But it would be a mistake to view the old elite as soft or easygoing on matters related to the national identity or the country’s political and foreign policy aims. This was brilliantly captured by writer and thinker Benjamin Schwarz in a provocative 1995 essay in The Atlantic Monthly entitled “The Diversity Myth.” Schwarz punctures what the magazine called the “hortatory version of our history, in which America has long been a land of ethnic tolerance and multicultural harmony.”
No, says Schwarz: until probably the 1960s, the “unity” of the United States derived not from its “warm welcoming of and accommodation to nationalist, ethnic, and linguistic differences but from the ability and willingness of an Anglo elite to stamp its image on other peoples coming to this country.” This was the legacy of “a cultural and ethnic predominance that would not tolerate conflict or confusion regarding the national identity.”
Consider the stark expression of Stewart Alsop’s great-uncle, Theodore Roosevelt, who offered words of both welcome and warning as waves of immigrants entered the United States from Eastern and Southern Europe. “We have no room,” declared Roosevelt, “for any people who do not act and vote simply as Americans.” Newcomers who had become “completely Americanized,” he added, “stand on exactly the same plane as the descendants of any Puritan, Cavalier, or Knickerbocker…. But where immigrants, or the sons of immigrants, do not heartily and in good faith throw in their lot with us, but cling to the speech, the customs, the ways of life, and the habits of thought of the Old World which they have left, they thereby harm both themselves and us.” America would not tolerate, said Roosevelt, newcomers inclined to “confuse the issues with which we are struggling by introducing among us Old-World quarrels and prejudices.”
This was a distillation of the concept of the melting pot—which, as Schwarz correctly notes, “amounted to the repression, not the celebration, of ethnic diversity.” He adds that, given the immigrants’ value as working-class stalwarts at the dawn of industrial America, no effort to curtail the immigrant wave could succeed politically (until the 1920s). But these groups weren’t allowed to vitiate Anglo-American dominance. “Americanization, then,” writes Schwarz, “although it did not cleanse America of its ethnic minorities, cleansed its minorities of their ethnicity.”
…The British ventured to the New World largely as families to create communities, commerce, and wealth born of toil. Bent on perpetuating the folkways and mores of the Old Country, the menfolk brought their own women and generally refused to mix with the Native Americans. The Spanish of Mexico, by contrast, came as conquerors and plunderers. They mixed freely with indigenous women—beginning with Hernan Cortes, who, upon arriving, promptly took as his mistress the lovely and intellectually vibrant Princess Malintzin. The result was that, within a few generations, ethnicity became a particularly vexing issue in the lands of New Spain. Eventually, a new class system based on blood lines emerged, with the increasingly numerous mixed-blood mestizos harboring political and social resentment born of mistreatment and prejudice from both Indians and Spaniards. One result was that the kind of civic solidarity seen in Anglo-Saxon America couldn’t take root in Mexico.
A friend says:
Gary Cooper has been replaced by Dustin Hoffman! Haha. Wow.
“It should be noted that this article represents no call for any kind of restoration. History moves forward with a crushing force and doesn’t pause for nostalgia.”
Well, of couuuurse.
First thought: maybe hyper-literate urbanism can never be the aspirational model for an entire people. I think this used to be commonly understood. We urbanites needed Iowans to grow our food. It would be crazy to imagine that everywhere in America should be like San Fran and NYC… those places aren’t even self-sustaining. But that mutual respect—urban respecting rural and vv) has fallen apart.
The phrase “old-fashioned” as used in this article to describe Saturday Evening Post maddens me.
Old elite were “disinterested people.” Yeah. And remember Washington’s early warning about partisanship. This is the ethos I operate within OR ELSE I risk ostracism… I have to teach my classes (do my job) as if I have no race, no interests. I’m a ghost. Or else I’m a Nazi. That disinterest, which was the mark of a good person, almost of a philosopher, was weaponized and used against us.
The quote from Roosevelt about people acting “simply as Americans” is akin to the Christian command to be born again. No more Greek or Jew.
To put all this another way: a shadow identity was invented that looked outwardly WASP, but inwardly was anything but WASP… the WASP ethos was assumed and self-policing because, as the article says, one needed to assimilate or they wouldn’t be able to make a living. But some realized this situation and consciously performed assimilation (language, dress, even manners) while inwardly never assimilating. And then these shadow WASPs gradually changed the ideal form so that “American” and “WASP” no longer looked exactly the same.
Note: as to why the real WASPs let this happen… and how responsible they are. Eh. I dunno. Maybe they didn’t think of making movies as a particularly important contribution to society. Guess they were wrong.
I think capitalism and even “usury” is an unremarked part of this story. Capital seems to take on a need to expand, and so bringing in Italians and Irish and even Chinese was profitable through 1920… in Federalist 10 Madison talked about the “rage for paper money” being a wicked project. Andrew Jackson tried to resist the bank in like 1828, but the bank won… I don’t know that I’ve ever convinced you about this at all—you seem to be almost an Austrian when it comes to capitalism. But it seems to me like we ought to be looking for other economic models that do not require constant growth and expansion. Otherwise, in the end, the Bank eats up everybody but the bankers, so to speak. It’s not just that lending and double-entry book-keeping and credit default swaps are sheisty… it’s that they are sycophantic. They are unnatural. They extract value. And over time, then, money accumulates in the financial industry. Which isn’t really a value-producing industry. Something like that. So money & power get narrower and the elite gets more predatory and isolated.
Key sentence: “Thus did the old elite soon come under attack from those who saw it as an impediment to American social and cultural progress.” — progress. Ugh! This is crucial. It begs the question — progress toward what? What IS “merit?” One thing is clear: Matthew Stewart never actually wants to live in anything other than a white neighborhood… however he virtue signals about it.
Interesting sidenote re: Huntington thesis… Roman Catholicism was long associated with Race & ethnicity, and almost all popes were Italian or French… but the last three have been Poland, Germany, and Argentina, and soon (of course) that circle will widen and Roman Catholicism will be merely a creed. And that isn’t sufficient.
Final thought: the kulaks who died in Ukraine were basically country bumpkins. Ukraine the bread basket of the USSR. Will our elites seek to totally destroy them the way the Yezhov Terror did under Stalin? Could there be a midwestern holodomor?