Saturday, June 10, 2006


Anto-Capitalistic Mentality:

The common man as a rule does not have the opportunity of consorting with people who have succeeded better than he has. He moves in the circle of other common men. He never meets his boss socially. He never learns from personal experience how different an entrepreneur or an executive is with regard to all those abilities and faculties which are required for successfully serving the consumers. His envy and the resentment it engenders are not directed against a living being of flesh and blood, but against pale abstractions like “management,” “capital”, and “Wall Street.” It is impossible to abominate such a faint shadow with the same bitterness of feeling that one may bear against a fellow creature whom one encounters daily.
It is different with people whom special conditions of their occupation or their family affiliation bring into personal contact with the winners of the prizes which—as they believe—by rights should have been given to themselves. With them the feelings of frustrated ambition become especially poignant because they en­gender hatred of concrete living beings. They loathe capitalism because it has assigned to this other man the position they them­selves would like to have.
Such is the case with those people who are commonly called the intellectuals. Take for instance the physicians. Daily routine and experience make every doctor cognizant of the fact that there exists a hierarchy in which all medical men are graded according to their merits and achievements. Those more eminent than he himself is, those whose methods and innovations he must learn and practice in order to be up-to-date were his classmates in the medical school, they served with him as internes, they attend with him the meetings of medical associations. He meets them at the bedside of patients as well as in social gatherings. Some of them are his personal friends or related to him, and they all behave toward him with the utmost civility and address him as their dear colleague. But they tower far above him in the appre­ciation of the public and often also in height of income. They have outstripped him and now belong to another class of men. When he compares himself with them, he feels humiliated. But he must watch himself carefully lest anybody notice his resent­ment and envy. Even the slightest indication of such feelings would be looked upon as very bad manners and would depreciate him in the eyes of everybody. He must swallow his mor­tification and divert his wrath toward a vicarious target. He in­dicts society’s economic organization, the nefarious system of capitalism. But for this unfair regime his abilities and talents, his zeal and his achievements would have brought him the rich re­ward they deserve.
It is the same with many lawyers and teachers, artists and actors, writers and journalists, architects and scientific research workers, engineers and chemists. They, too, feel frustrated be­cause they are vexed by the ascendancy of their more successful colleagues, their former schoolfellows and cronies. Their re­sentment is deepened by precisely those codes of professional conduct and ethics that throw a veil of comradeship and col­leagueship over the reality of competition.
To understand the intellectual’s abhorrence of capitalism one must realize that in his mind this system is incarnated in a defi­nite number of compeers whose success he resents and whom he makes responsible for the frustration of his own far-flung ambi­tions. His passionate dislike of capitalism is a mere blind for his hatred of some successful “colleagues.”
The anticapitalistic bias of the intellectuals is a phenomenon not limited to one or a few countries only. But it is more general and more bitter in the United States than it is in the European countries. To explain this rather surprising fact one must deal with what one calls “society” or, in French, also le monde.
In Europe “society” includes all those eminent in any sphere of activity. Statesmen and parliamentary leaders, the heads of the various departments of the civil service, publishers and edi­tors of the main newspapers and magazines, prominent writers, scientists, artists, actors, musicians, en­gineers, lawyers and physicians form together with outstanding businessmen and scions of aristocratic and patrician families what is considered the good society. They come into contact with one another at dinner and tea parties, charity balls and bazaars, at first nights, and varnishing days; they frequent the same restaurants, hotels and resorts. When they meet, they take their pleasure in conver­sation about intellectual matters, a mode of social intercourse first developed in Italy of the Renaissance, perfected in the Parisian salons and later imitated by the “society” of all impor­tant cities of Western and Central Europe. New ideas and ide­ologies find their response in these social gatherings before they begin to influence broader circles. One cannot deal with the history of the fine arts and literature in the nineteenth century without analyzing the role “society” played in encouraging or discouraging their protagonists.
Access to European society is open to everybody who has distinguished himself in any field. It may be easier to people of noble ancestry and great wealth than to commoners with modest incomes. But neither riches nor titles can give to a member of this set the rank and prestige that is the reward of great personal distinction. The stars of the Parisian salons are not the million­aires, but the members of the Académie Française. The intellec­tuals prevail and the others feign at least a lively interest in intel­lectual concerns.
Society in this sense is foreign to the American scene. What is called “society” in the United States almost exclusively con­sists of the richest families. There is little social intercourse between the successful businessmen and the nation’s eminent authors, artists and scientists. Those listed in the Social Register do not meet socially the molders of public opinion and the harbingers of the ideas that will determine the future of the na­tion. Most of the “socialites” are not interested in books and ideas. When they meet and do not play cards, they gossip about persons and talk more about sports than about cultural matters. But even those who are not averse to reading consider writers, scientists and artists as people with whom they do not want to consort. An almost insurmountable gulf separates “society” from the intellectuals.
It is possible to explain the emergence of this situation his­torically. But such an explanation does not alter the facts. Nei­ther can it remove or alleviate the resentment with which the in­tellectuals react to the contempt in which they are held by the members of “society.” American authors or scientists are prone to consider the wealthy businessman as a barbarian, as a man exclusively intent upon making money. The professor despises the alumni who are more interested in the university’s football team than in its scholastic achievements. He feels insulted if he learns that the coach gets a higher salary than an eminent profes­sor of philosophy. The men whose research has given rise to new methods of production hate the businessmen who are merely interested in the cash value of their research work. It is very significant that such a large number of American research physicists sympathize with socialism or communism. As they are ignorant of economics and realize that the university teachers of economics are also opposed to what they disparagingly call the profit system, no other attitude can be expected from them.
If a group of people secludes itself from the rest of the na­tion, especially also from its intellectual leaders, in the way American “socialites” do, they unavoidably become the target of rather hostile criticisms on the part of those whom they keep out of their own circles. The exclusivism practiced by the American rich has made them in a certain sense outcasts. They may take a vain pride in their own distinction. What they fail to see is that their self-chosen segregation isolates them and kindles animosi­ties which make the intellectuals inclined to favor anticapitalistic policies.