Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Social Register: An Artifact of Progressivism's Failure

I last heard of the Social Register in the 1970s when I had a college friend named William Golightly who was interested in that sort of thing.  Since then American society has become increasingly fragmented, and the idea that anyone would care to call themselves the upper class of an idiot-led nation is a puzzle.  I have been doing some research on the Forbes 400, and it seems likely that there is scant overlap between the 400 wealthiest and New York's Finest--or were New York's Finest the police force?--the 400 New York families whom the Social Register deems upper class.    I've requested a subscription to the Social Register to find out whether there's much overlap.  It seems evident to me that the American power elite does not coincide with either the Forbes 400 or the Social Register, but I suspect if you beat down enough hedges you'll start to find a few hedge hogs.

The bottom line is that the nation is in decline.  If the social elite has any power, then they are at fault.  It turns out that the Social Register's publication coincided with the Progressive era: It began in New York and Boston in 1890.  Of course, there was interest in distinguishing the social upper class from mere parvenus a century earlier,  by 1800 or so according to C. Wright Mills in his Power Elite, but American society may not have been concrete and stable enough until the printing of the greenbacks during the Civil War and the advent of Progressivism to permit a rigid listing that, from the 1920s to the 1950s, varied only a few percent (10-20 members) a year. The idea of a firm American aristocracy goes into print at the beginning of Progressivism, and it intensifies a century later.

If the Social Register has any meaning at all, any meaning beyond that of a mutual admiration society or an academic learned society, for I am dubious that it does, then its members must take responsibility for the great American devolution of 1950 to 2014.   If so, then I feel no qualms in calling the Social Register a listing of mental retards who have allowed a once-great nation to decline.  Of course, and this is more likely, social status is in the mind, and most Americans don't have the Social Register in their minds, so it doesn't have much meaning either way.  In either case, it is an artifact of Progressivism's failure.


Anonymous said...


Hasani ferguson said...

Great article professor.