The Growth of American Thought

By Merle Curti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXV The Conservative Defense

The idler gets what is coming to him--and that is nothing. The United States stands for individual effort and self-reliance. . . . It would be an unfortunate thing for us if we all became merged into one mammoth society with individualism suppressed and personal initiative suppressed and discouraged.

-- JAMES O. FAGAN, The Autobiography of an Individualist, 1912

And just as the petty gambler's faith is fostered by runners and "cappers" for faro, policy, roulette, and keno, so the faith of the industrial underling is fostered by a tremendous trumpeting of the ways and means to worldly "success." The preaching of "success" has become, in these last five years, a distinct profession, honored and well recompensed.

-- WILLIAM GHENT, Our Benevolent Feudalism, 1902

On the threshold of the century William Graham Sumner, the diszinguished economist and sociologist at Yale, observed that "an air of contentment and enthusiastic cheerfulness characterizes the thought and temper of the American people." The growing strength of socialism and of reform ideology had not materially shaken the traditionally individualistic and optimistic faith of the great mass of the American people.

One reason for this was sensed by Professor Edward A. Ross of the University of Wisconsin. "Those who have the sunny rooms in the social edifice have . . . a powerful ally in the suggestion of Things-as- they-are," he wrote. "With the aid of a little narcotizing teaching and preaching, the denizens of the cellar may be brought to find their lot proper and right."1 The conscious and articulated defense of the existing order by conservatives could hardly have succeeded had not the great body of plain people naturally clung to the ideas that had served them or their fathers in the past, ideas made dear and familiar

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1
Cited by W. J. Ghent, Our Benevolent Feudalism ( The Macmillan Company, 1902), 156.

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