The Study of Man: Aristocracy in America
AMERICAN sociology has become the most omnivorous of all the social sciences. It has set itself the task of systematically investigating the operations of contemporary society, in much the same fashion, and with similar theoretical conceptions, as the biological sciences seek to investigate the structure and function of living organisms. How far sociology has succeeded in fulfilling this large ambition should not be left to the experts to judge, but I think there can be little doubt that until now it has failed to deal adequately with one major problem: the inter-relations of power and upper-class status in egalitarian and democratic America. I am happy to report that the work under review promises to meet part of this need. Philadelphia Gentlemen, by E. Digby Baltzell, says important things about class and power in America, and says it in ways that will interest and fascinate laymen as well as sociologists.
Baltzell’s most important thesis is that the United States is developing an upper class comparable in many ways to the aristocracies of the old world. Characterized by descent from old wealth, an Anglo-Saxon ethnic background, membership in the Episcopalian church, education at a private boarding school and then at Princeton, Yale, or Harvard, membership in the Somerset, Knickerbocker, or Philadelphia clubs-it is this class which also, in Philadelphia at least, controls the major sectors of the economy; by its combination of high social status and economic wealth it possesses tremendous community power. Evidence of this is the fact that the Philadelphia Social Register, a book in which the nouveaux riches, no matter how wealthy, find no place, “listed, with certain ethnic exceptions, almost all the most powerful bankers and businessmen in the city in 1940.”
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