WASP Nostalgia

I am not a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. I do not aspire to be a WASP. I have never wanted to be a WASP. I have been subjected to anti-Catholic bigotry nearly all of my life, largely by WASPs, since I knew that there was such a thing as anti-Catholic bigotry, just about the same time as I learned about anti-Semitism. I think that the wave of nostalgia about WASPs is foolish, ill-considered, and uninformed.

Fareed Zakharia’s latest column in the Washington Post is pretty typical of the lot:

The death of George H.W. Bush has occasioned a fair amount of nostalgia for the old American establishment, of which Bush was undoubtedly a prominent member. It has also provoked a heated debate among commentators about that establishment, whose membership was determined largely by bloodlines and connections. You had to be a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant to ascend to almost any position of power in the United States until the early 1960s. Surely, there is nothing good to say about a system that was so discriminatory toward everyone else?

That’s a lie. Yes, you had to be a WASP to be elected president until 1960 and even then the Catholic elected was the son of the richest man in the world at that time. But that points to the real problem: the altar at which all too many Americans worship is Mammon.

Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court from 1836 to 1864, was a Maryland Catholic. There have been Catholic Congressional representatives and U. S. senators as long as there has been a Congress.

And that highlights another basic misconception. The overwhelming power and importance of the federal government is a 20th century phenomenon and, indeed, a late 20th century phenomenon. Prior to that the real power and influence was at the state and local level and there have always been non-WASPs in positions of influence in state and local governments.

Yes, George Washington and George H. W. Bush were WASPs. So were Benedict Arnold and Nathan Bedford Forrest. So is Donald Trump.

10 comments… add one
  • Guarneri Link

    Mr Zakharia, like so many liberals, has an ax to grind. Let him grind it in ignorance, if it makes him feel better.

    This caught my eye:

    “But that points to the real problem: the altar at which all too many Americans worship is Mammon.”

    I wonder what that really means. Only a vow of poverty will do? Or is the line drawn at what your parents had, plus 10%? Or is it millionaire or bust? Billionaire or bust?

    Trust fund types can be insufferably obnoxious, but I don’t know that they worship Mammon, they simply know nothing else. Keith Richards writes “….never want to be like papa, workin’ for the man every night and day…” This is just the desire for independence.

    I’ve known plenty of people who actually worship Mammon. But it is hardly a uniquely American thing. Nor a racial, religious, political humble or silver spooned origins thing. Its personal. More psychological.

    In any event, I’m always impressed that so many who claim to not care about money or status sure do seem to talk about it a lot, and spend a lot of time trying to justify and figure out how to take it from one and direct it to another………especially if its not theirs being redirected.

  • steve Link

    I would have placed the power of the federal government becoming predominant with WWII and pretty much staying that way.


  • WWII was a major contributing factor but New Deal really got things going. Wickard v. Filburn, which ratified the Congress’s ability to regulate just about everything, came down in 1942–WWII timeframe but not directly related to it.

  • I think it’s a matter of perspective. There’s nothing wrong with getting paid. When that becomes an overriding objective is when the problems begin. Pursuit of wealth and admiration for wealth isn’t uniquely American but it’s distinctively American. Trump’s being a billionaire gave him credibility that he would not otherwise have had.

    JFK’s family wealth obviously outweighed his Catholicism.

    I don’t think that Fareed Zakharia admires WASPs. After all the Piedmont is full of them and I’ve never seen him write in admiration of them. I think he admires rich WASPs.

    That if WASPs were still in charge he would never have been allowed in the country never seems to occur to him.

  • Ben Wolf Link

    There are four ways of distinguishing one’s self in history: politics, war, philosophy and commerce. For virtually all of recorded human history, the first three were considered worthy pursuits. Commerce and pursuit of Mammon were considered morally corrupting. Worship of Mammon, therefore, is pretty much what it sounds like: the pursuit of wealth rather than pursuit of the first three; and selfishness over public and social service.

    In fact the critics of Mammon were correct: as Marx realized, pursuit of wealth for the sake of wealth itself is a system of continuous revolution; and as such a system is heavily disruptive to social and family stability.

    Worship of Mammon is putting money over human relationships.

  • I think there are several other ways of distinguishing oneself in history. Among them are the arts and writing the history books.

  • Roy Lofquist Link

    “The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between [classical] liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal.”


  • Ben Wolf Link

    Dave, I would include those things under the umbrella of philosophy. My definition of the word is the broad “love of wisdom.”

  • bob sykes Link

    Actually, Donald Trump is German and, therefore, not a WASP.

    The Germans were the first large immigrant group, and they substantially subverted the newly adopted Constitution.

    I have a white, Anglo-Saxon name (Sykes), but I was raised Catholic by my French-Canadian mother, so I am not a WASP either, although I do WASP sympathize.

  • Andy Link

    I guess I’m a WASP based on the technical definition, but I never subscribed to that worldview, at least as I knew it growing up.

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