Aristocratic Tendencies

In the caricatures of the American which are so gladly drawn by the
European, and so innocently believed in, there is generally, beside the
shirt-sleeved clown who bawls “equality” and the barbarian who chases
the dollar, the rich heiress bent on swapping her millions for a
coronet. The longing for bankrupt suitors of undoubted pedigree is
supposed to be the one symptom of any social aspiration, which the
Yankee exhibits. The American begs leave to differ. He is not surprised
that the young American woman of good family, with her fine intellectual
freshness and her faculty of adaptation, should be sought out by men of
all nations; nor is he filled with awe if there are some suitors of
historic lineage among the rest. But the day is long gone in which such
marriages are looked on as an enviable piece of good fortune for the
daughter of any American citizen. Even the newspapers lightly smile at
such marriages to a title, and they are becoming less and less frequent
in the really best circles of American society. Besides, no such cheap
and superficial aspirations are really indicative of aristocratic
tendencies. The American is, by principle, very far from making his way
into the international aristocracy of Europe, and he neither does nor
will he ever attempt any artificial imitation of aristocratic

It is a capital mistake to suppose that the American, put face to face
with European princedom, forgets or tries to hide his democracy.
Aristocratic institutions, particularly those of England, interest him
as a bit out of history; he seeks such social contact just as he wanders
through quaint castles, without wishing thereby to transfer his own
country house on the Hudson into a decaying group of walls and turrets.
He takes an æsthetic pleasure in the brilliancy of courts, the pomp of
military life, the wealth and colour of symbols; and, quite
independently of that, he feels indeed a lively interest in certain
fascinating figures of European politics—most of all, perhaps, in the
German Kaiser. But whether his interest is historical, æsthetic, or
personal, it is never accompanied by any feeling of inferiority to the
persons who represent these aristocratic institutions. When Prince
Henry, on his visit to the New World, quickly won the hearts of
Americans as a man, there was nothing in the tone or accent of the
greetings addressed to him which was out of accord with the fundamental
key of democracy. The dinner speakers commenced their speeches in the
democratic fashion, which is always first to address the presiding host:
“Mr. Mayor, your Royal Highness.”

At the same time the peculiarly democratic contempt for things
monarchical is disappearing, too; the cultivated American feels
increasingly that every form of state has arisen from historic
conditions, and that one is not in and for itself better than another.
He feels that he is not untrue to his republican fatherland in attesting
his respect for crowned heads. He shows most of all his respect, because
it is just the friendly, neighbourly intercourse which makes possible a
relation of mutual recognition. Democracy is itself the gainer by giving
up the absurd pose of looking down on aristocracy. Thus it happens that,
of recent years, even native-born Americans have sometimes received
European orders. They know well enough that it will not do to wear the
button-hole decoration on American soil, but they feel it to be
ungracious to decline what is offered in a friendly spirit; unless,
indeed, it is a politician who wishes to accentuate and propagate a
certain principle. Democracy feels sure enough of itself to be able to
accept a courtesy which is offered, with equal courtesy; but nobody
supposes, for a moment, that European monarchical decorations have any
magic to exalt a man above his democratic equality. Indeed, the feeling
of entire equality, and the belief in a mutual recognition of such
equality, are almost the presupposition of modern times, and only in
Irish mass-meetings do we still hear protests against European tyranny.
This much is sure: America shows not the slightest tendency to become
aristocratic by imitating the historic aristocracies of Europe.

There are many who seem to believe that, therefore, the only aristocracy
of America consists in the clique of multi-millionaires which holds its
court in Newport and Fifth Avenue. The whole country observes their
follies and eccentricities; their family gatherings are described at
length by the press, quite as any court ceremonies are described in
European papers; and to be taken into this sacred circle is supposed to
be the life ambition of industrious millionaires. Many Americans who are
under the influence of the sensational press would probably agree with
this; and, judging by outward symptoms, one might in fact suppose that
these Crœsuses along the Cliff-walk at Newport were really the
responsible social leaders of America. This must seem very contemptible
to all who look on from a distance, for everything which the papers tell
to the four winds of heaven about these people is an insult to real and
sound American feeling. The fountains of perfumery, the dinners on
horseback, the cotillons where the favours are sun-bursts of real
gems—in short, the senseless throwing away of wealth in the mere
interests of rivalry and without even any æsthetic compensations, cannot
profoundly impress a nation of pioneers.

On looking more closely, one sees that the facts are not so bad, and
that the penny-a-liners rather than the multi-millionaires are
responsible for such sensational versions. In fact, in spite of many
extravagances, there is a great deal of taste and refinement in those
very circles; much good sense, an appreciation of true art, honest
pleasure in sport, especially if it is on a grand scale; polished
address, accomplished elegance in costume, and at table a hospitality
which proudly represents a rich country. In the matter of style and
address, these people are in fact leaders, and deserve to be. Their
society, it is true, is less interesting than that of many very much
more modest circles; but the same is true throughout the world of those
people who make pleasure their sole duty in life. Their ostentatious
enjoyments display much less individuality, and are more along
prescribed lines, than those of European circles which live in a
comparable luxury—a fact which is due largely to the universal
uniformity of fashion that prevails in every class of Americans, and
that is too little tolerant of individual picturesqueness. In spite of
all this, neither diplomatic Washington, nor intellectual Boston, nor
hospitable Baltimore, nor conservative Philadelphia, nor indomitable
Chicago, nor cosmopolitan San Francisco, can point to any collection of
persons which, in that world where one is to be amused expensively at
any cost, is better qualified to take the lead than just the Four
Hundred of New York and Newport.

And yet there is a fundamental error in the whole calculation. It is
simply not true that these circles exercise any sort of leadership for
the nation, or have become the starting-point of a New World
aristocracy. The average American, if he is still the true Puritan, is
outraged on reading of a wedding ceremony where more money is spent on
decorating the church than the combined yearly salaries of thirty school
teachers, or of the sons of great industrial leaders wasting their days
in drinking cocktails and racing their automobiles. If, on the other
hand, he is a true city-bred man, he takes a considerable pleasure in
reading in the newspaper about the design and equipment of the latest
yacht, the decorations in the ball-room of the recently built palace, or
about the latest divorce doings in those elect circles. The two sorts of
readers—that is, the vexed and the amused—agree only in one
thing;—neither of them takes all this seriously from the national point
of view. The one is outraged that in his large, healthy, and
hard-working country, such folderol and licentiousness are gaped at or
tolerated. And the other is pleased that his country has become so rich
and strong as to be able to afford such luxuriousness and extravagance;
he looks on quizzically as at a vaudeville theatre, but even he does not
take the actors in this social vaudeville the least bit seriously. The
one accounts this clique a sort of moral slum, and the other a quickly
passing and interesting froth; and both parties overestimate the
eccentric whimsies and underestimate the actual constant influence of
these circles in improving the taste for art and in really refining
manners. But this clique is accounted a real aristocracy merely by
itself and by the tradesmen who purvey to it.

In spite of this, American society is beginning to show important
differentiations. It is not a mere sentimental and fanciful aristocracy,
trying to imitate European monarchianism, and it is not the
pseudo-aristocracy dancing around the golden dinner-set; it is an
aristocracy of leading groups of people, which has risen slowly in the
social life of the nation, and now affords the starting-point of a
steadily increasing individuation of social layers. The influence of
wealth is not absent here, but it is not mere wealth as such which
exalts these people to the nobility; nor is the historical principle of
family inheritance left out of account, although it is not merely the
number of one’s identifiable ancestors that counts. It is, most of all,
the profounder marks of education and of personal talent. And out of the
combination of all these factors and their interpenetration proceed a
New World group of leaders, which has in fact a national significance.

If one were to name a single person who should typically represent this
new aristocracy, it would be Theodore Roosevelt. In the year 1649, Claes
Roosevelt settled in New Netherlands, which is now New York, and from
generation to generation his sturdy descendants have worked for the
public good. James Roosevelt, the great-grandfather of the President,
gave his services without remuneration to the Continental Army in the
war for independence; the grandfather left the largest part of his
fortune to charitable purposes; and the father was tirelessly active in
furthering patriotic undertakings during the Civil War. And as this
family inherited its public spirit, so also it inherited substance and a
taste for sport and social life.

Now this product of old family traditions has been greatly influenced by
the best intellectual culture of New England. Theodore Roosevelt is
distinctly a Harvard graduate; all the elements of his nature got new
strength from the classic world of Harvard. The history of his nation
has been his favourite study, and he has written historical treatises of
great breadth of view. Therewith he possesses a strong talent for
administration, and has advanced rapidly by reason of his actual
achievements. And thus education, public service, wealth, and family
traditions have combined to make a character which exalts this man
socially much higher than the Presidential office alone could do.
McKinley was in some ways greater, perhaps—but in McKinley’s world there
was no third dimension of aristocratic differentiation; it was a flat
picture, where one might not ask nor expect any diversification in the
other dimension. Roosevelt is the first aristocrat since many years, to
come into the White House.

Aristocratic shadings can occur in a country that is so firmly grounded
in democracy only when the movement goes in both directions, upward and
downward, and when it evolves on both sides. If it were a question on
the one side of demanding rights and forcing credence in pretentious
display, and on the other side of demanding any sort of submission from
less favoured persons or assigning them an inferior position, the whole
effort would be hopeless. The claim to prerogative which is supported by
an ostentation calculated to hypnotize the vulgar and a corresponding
obsequiousness of the weak, can do nothing more than perhaps to preserve
aristocracy after it has taken deep historic root. But such a degenerate
form cannot be the first stage of aristocracy in a new country. When a
new aristocracy is formed, it must boast not of prerogatives, but of
duties, and the feeling of those not included cannot be one of
inferiority, but of confidence. And this is the mood which is growing in

Such duties are most clearly recognized by wealth, and wealth has
perhaps contributed most to begin the aristocratic differentiation in
American society; but it has not been the wealth which goes into
extravagant display or other arrogant demonstration, but the wealth
which works toward the civilized advance of the nation. However much it
may contradict the prejudices of the Old World, wealth alone does not
confer a social status in America. Of course, property everywhere makes
independence; but so long as it remains merely the power to hire things
done, it creates no social differentiation. The American does not regard
a man with awe because he stands well with trades-people and
stock-brokers, but discriminates sharply between the possessions and the
possessor. In his business life he is so accustomed to dealing with
impersonal corporations, that the power to dispense large sums of money
gives a man no personal dignity in his eyes. Just in the Western cities,
where society centres about questions of money much more than in the
East, the notion of property differentiation between men is developed
least of all so far as it concerns social station. The mere circumstance
that one man has speculated fortunately and the other unfortunately,
that the real estate of one has appreciated and of the other
deteriorated in value, occasions no belief in the inner difference of
the two men; the changes are purely economic, and suggest nothing of a
social difference.

At most there is a certain curiosity, since property opens up a world of
possibilities to a man; and he is considerably scrutinized by his
neighbours to see what he will do. In this sense especially in the small
and middle-sized cities, the local magnates are the centre of public
interest, just as the billionaires are in large cities. But to be the
object of such newspaper curiosity does not mean to be elevated in the
general respect. The millionaire is in this respect very much like the
operatic tenor; or, to put it less graciously, the hero of the last
poisoning case. It is the more a question of a mere stimulation to the
public fancy, since in reality the differences are surprisingly small.

If one looks away from the extravagant eccentricities of small circles,
the difference in general mode of life is on the whole very little in
evidence. The many citizens in the large American city who have a
property of five to ten million dollars seem to live hardly differently
from the unfortunate many who have to get on with only a simple million.
On the other hand, the average man with a modest income exerts all his
strength to appear in clothing and social habits as rich as possible. He
does not take care to store up a dowry for his children, and he lays by
little because he does not care to become a bond-holder; he would rather
work to his dying day, and teach his children while they are young to
stand on their own feet. So it happens that the differences which
actually exist are very little in evidence; the banker has his palace
and his coach, and his wife wears sealskin; but his shoe-maker has also
his own house, his horse and buggy, and his wife wears a very good
imitation of seal—which one has to rub against in order to recognize.

But the situation becomes very different when it is a question of
wealth, not as a means of actual enjoyment, but as a measure of the
personal capacities that have earned it. Then the whole importance of
the possession is indeed transferred to the possessor. We must again
emphasize the fact that this is the real impulse underlying American
economic life—wealth is the criterion of individual achievements, of
self-initiative; and since the whole nation stretches every nerve in a
restless demonstration of this self-initiative, the person who is more
successful than his neighbours gains necessarily their instinctive
admiration. The wealth won by lucky gambles in stocks, or inherited, or
derived from a merely accidental appreciation of values or by a chance
monopoly, is not respected; but the wealth amassed by caution and
brilliant foresight, by indomitable energy and tireless initiative, or
by fascinating originality and courage, meets with full recognition. The
American sees in such a creator of material wealth the model of his
pioneer virtues, the born leader of economic progress, and he looks up
to him in sincere admiration, and respects him far higher than his
neighbour in the next palace who has accidentally fallen heir to a
tenfold larger sum. It is not the power which wealth confers, but the
power which has conferred wealth, that is respected.

And then there is a more important factor—the respect for that force of
mind which puts wealth, even if it is only a modest amount, in the
service of higher ends. Men have different tastes; one who builds
hospitals may not understand the importance of patronizing the fine
arts; one who supports universities may do very little for the church;
or another who collects sculptures may have no interest in the education
of the negro. But the fundamental dogma of American society is that
wealth confers distinction only on a man who works for ideal ends; and
perhaps the deepest impulse toward the accumulation of wealth, after the
economic power which it confers, is the desire for just this sort of
dignity. And this desire is deeper undoubtedly than the wish for
pleasure, which anyhow is somewhat limited by the outward uniformity of
American life. How far social recognition is gotten by public-spirited
activities and how far social recognition incites men to such activity,
is in any particular case hard to decide. But as a matter of fact, a
social condition has come about in which the _noblesse oblige_ of
property is recognized on all sides, and in which public opinion is more
discriminating as to the social respect which should be meted out to
this or that public deed, than it could be if it were a question of
conferring with the greatest nicety orders and titles of different

The right of the individual to specialize in various directions, to
focus his benefactions on Catholic deaf-mutes or on students of insects,
on church windows, or clay cylinders with cuneiform inscriptions, is
recognized fully. Confident of the good-will of men of property, so many
diverse claims have arisen, that it would be quite impossible for a
single man out of mere general sympathy with civilization to lend a
helping hand in all directions. The Americans esteem just that
carefulness with which the rich man sees to it that his property is
applied according to his personal ideas and knowledge. It is only
thereby that his gifts have a profound personal significance, and are
fundamentally distinguished from sentimental sacrifice or from
ostentatious patronage. Giving is a serious matter, to which wealthy men
daily and hourly devote conscientious labour. A man like Carnegie, whose
useful bequests already amount to more than a hundred million dollars,
could dispose at once of his entire property if he were in a single week
to respond favourably to all the calls which are made on him. He
receives every day hundreds of such letters of request, and gives almost
his entire strength to carrying out his benevolent plans.

And the same is true on a smaller scale of all classes. Every true
American feels that his wealth puts him in a position of public
confidence, and the intensity with which he manifests this conviction
decides the social esteem in which his property is held. The real
aristocrats of wealth in this part of the world are those men whom
public opinion respects both for the gaining and the using of their
property; both factors, in a way, have to be united. The admirable
personal talents which accumulate large properties, and the lofty ideals
which put them to the best uses, may appear to be quite independent
matters, and indeed they sometimes do exclude each other, but the
aristocratic ideal demands the two together. And the Americans notice
when either one is absent; they notice when wealth is amassed in
imposing quantities, but then employed trivially or selfishly; or, on
the other hand, when it is employed for the very highest ends, but in
the opinion of competent men has been accumulated improperly. The public
feels more and more inclined to look into the business methods of men
who make large gifts. The American does not recognize the _non olet_,
and there have often been lively discussions when ill-gotten wealth has
been offered in public benefaction.

Wealth gotten by distinguished enterprise and integrity, and employed
conscientiously and thoughtfully, confers in fact high social
distinction. But it is only one factor among others. A second factor is
family tradition, the dignity of a name long respected for civil
high-mindedness and refinement. A European has only the barest
impression of the great social significance of American genealogies, and
would be surprised to see in the large libraries whole walls of
book-shelves that contain nothing but works on the lineage of American
families. The family tree of the single family of Whitney, of
Connecticut, takes up three thick volumes amounting to 2,700 pages; and
there even exists a thick and handsome volume with the genealogies of
American families of royal extraction. There are not only special papers
devoted to the scientific study of genealogies, but even some of the
large daily papers have a section devoted to this subject. Much of this
is mere curiosity and sport—a fashionable whim, which collects ancestors
much like coins or postage stamps. Although the preserving of family
traditions and an expansive pride in historic lineage do not contradict
democratic principles, yet the interest in pedigree, if it takes real
hold on the public mind, very soon leads to a genuine social

Such differentiation will be superficial at first. If none but
descendants of Puritans who came over in the “Mayflower” are invited to
a set of dances, a spirit of exclusiveness is shown which is indeed
undemocratic; but this sort of thing is in fact only a playful matter in
American society. The large organizations that choose their membership
on the ground of peculiar ancestry make no pretence to special
privileges, and many of them are nothing but philanthropic societies. On
the other hand, if the aristocracy of family were to assume special
rights, it would be no innovation on American soil, because in the
earliest colonial days many of the social differences of English society
were brought over, and the English class spirit did not disappear until
after the Revolution, when the younger sons of English gentlemen no
longer came over to this country. In the South, a considerable spirit of
aristocracy persisted until after the Civil War.

Such superficial differentiation has virtually disappeared to-day. The
mere tinsel of family aristocracy has been torn off, but for this reason
the real importance and achievements of certain families come out all
the more clearly. The representatives of venerable family names are
looked on with peculiar public confidence; and the more the American
nation becomes acquainted with the history of these families, which have
been active on American soil for eight or ten generations, the more it
respects their descendants of the present day.

It is true that conditions are still provincial, and that almost no
family has a national significance. The names of the first families of
Virginia, which are universally revered in the South, are almost unknown
in the North; the descendants of Knickerbocker families, whose very name
must not be mentioned in New York without a certain air of solemnity,
are very much less considered in Baltimore or Philadelphia; and the
western part of the country is naturally still too young to have
established such traditions at all until recently. But the following is
a typical example for the East:

Harvard University is governed by seven men who are chosen to fill this
responsible position, solely because the academic community has profound
confidence both in their integrity and in their breadth of view. And yet
it is no accident that among these seven men, there is not one whose
family has not been of service to the State of Massachusetts for seven
generations. So that, even in such a model democratic community as
Puritan New England, the names of families that have played an important
public part in the middle of the seventeenth century are as much
respected as the old “märkische Adel” in Prussia. And although they are
without the privileges of nobility, the whole dignity of the past is
felt by every educated person to be preserved in such family names.

But the most important factor in the aristocratic differentiation of
America is higher education and culture, and this becomes more important
every day. In speaking of universities, we have carefully explained why
higher culture is less closely connected with the learned professions in
America than in the European countries. We have seen that the learned
professions are fed by professional and very practical schools, which
turn out a doctor, lawyer, or preacher without requiring a broad and
liberal previous training; and how, on the other hand, the college has
been the independent institution for higher culture, and how these two
institutions have slowly grown together in the course of time, so that
the college course has come at length to be the regular preparation for
those who attend professional schools. Now, in considering the social
importance of higher individual culture, we have not to consider the
learned professions, but rather the general college training; and in
this respect we find undoubtedly that common opinion has slowly shifted
toward an aristocratic point of view. The social importance ascribed to
a college graduate is all the time growing.

It was kept back for a long time by unfortunate prejudices. Because
other than intellectual forces had made the nation strong, and
everywhere in the foreground of public activity there were vigorous and
influential men who had not continued their education beyond the public
grammar school, so the masses instinctively believed that insight, real
energy, and enterprise were better developed in the school of life than
in the world of books. The college student was thought of as a weakling,
in a way, who might have many fine theories about things, but who would
never take hold to help solve the great national problems—a sort of
academic “mugwump,” but not a leader. The banking-house, factory, farm,
the mine, the law office, and the political position were all thought
better places for the young American man than the college lecture halls.
And perhaps the unpractical character of college studies was no more
feared than the artificial social atmosphere. It was felt that an ideal
atmosphere was created in the college to which the mind in its best
period of development too readily adapted itself, so that it came out
virtually unprepared for the crude reality of practical life. This has
been a dogma in political life ever since the Presidency of Andrew
Jackson, and almost equally so in economic life.

This has profoundly changed now, and changes more with every year. It is
not a question of identifying the higher culture with the learned
professions, as in Germany—there is no reason for this; and such a point
of view has developed in Germany only by an accident of history. In
America it is still thought that a graduate of one of these
colleges—that is, a man who has gone about as far as the German student
of philosophy in the third or fourth semester—is equal to anybody in
culture, no matter whether he afterward becomes a manufacturer, or
banker, or lawyer, or a philologian. The change has taken place in
regard to what is expected of the college student; distrust has
vanished, and people realize that the intellectual discipline which he
has had until his twenty-second year in the artificial and ideal world
is after all the best training for the great duties of public life, and
that academic training, less by its subject-matter than by its methods,
is the best possible preparation for practical activity.

The man of academic training is the only one who sees things in their
right perspective, and gives them the right values. Even the large
merchant knows to-day that the young man who left college at twenty-two
will be, when he is twenty-seven years of age, generally ahead of his
contemporaries who left school at seventeen and “went to work.” The
great self-made men do indeed say a good deal to comfort those who have
had only a school training, but it may be noted that they send their own
sons to college. As a matter of fact, the leading positions in the
disposal of the nation are almost entirely in the hands of men of
academic training, and the mistrust of the theorizing college spirit has
given place to a situation in which university presidents and professors
have much to say on all practical questions of public life, and the
college graduates are the real supporters of every movement toward
reform and civilization.

All in all, it can no longer be denied that a class of national leaders
has risen above the social life of the masses, and not wholly, as
democracy would really require, by reason of their personal talents. A
wealthy man has a certain advantage by his wealth, the man of family by
his lineage, the man of academic training by the fact that his parents
were able to send him to the university. This is neither plutocracy nor
hereditary aristocracy, nor intellectual snobbery. We have seen that
wealth wins consideration only when well expended, that ancestry brings
no privileges or prerogatives with it, and that an academic education is
not equivalent to merely technical erudition. The personal factor is not
lacking, since we have seen that the rich man must plan his
benefactions, the man of family must play his public part, and that
academic training is in the reach of every young man who will try for
it. The fundamental principles of democracy are therefore not destroyed,
but they are modified. The spirit of self-assertion which calls for
absolute equality is everywhere brought face to face with men who are
superior, whose claims cannot be discounted, and who are tacitly
admitted to belong rightfully to an upper class.

Differentiation, once more, works not merely upward, but also downward;
the public leader pushes himself ahead, and at the same time the great
masses are looking for some one whom they may follow. It is not a matter
of subjection, but of confidence—confidence in men who are recognizedly
better than many others. There can be no doubt that a reaction is going
on throughout America to-day, not against democracy, but against those
opinions which have prevailed in the democracy ever since the days of
the pioneers. A great many people feel instinctively that the time is
ripe to oppose the one-sidedness of domination by the masses; people are
forcibly impressed by the fact that in politics, government, literature
and art, the great achievements are thwarted by vulgar influences, that
the original individual is impressed into the ordinary mould, and that
dilettanteism and mediocrity rule triumphant and keep out the best
talents from public life. People see the tyranny of greed, the reproach
of municipal corruption, the unwholesome influence of a sensational
press and of unscrupulous capital. They see how public life becomes
blatant, irresponsible, and vulgar; how all authority and respect must
disappear if democracy is not to be curbed at any point.

The time has come, a great many feel, in which the moral influence of
authority is needed, and the educational influence of those more
cultivated persons who will not yield to the æsthetic tastes of the
vulgar must be infused into the democracy. The trained man must speak
where the masses would otherwise act from mere caprice; the disciplined
mind must lead where incompetence is heading for blind alleys; the best
minds must have some say and people must be forced to listen, so that
other voices and opinions shall have weight than those that make the
babel of the streets. The eclectic must prevail over the vulgar taste,
and the profound over the superficial, since it is clear that only in
that way will America advance beyond her present stage of development.
America has created a new political world, and must now turn to
æsthetics and culture. Such a reaction has not happened to-day or
yesterday, but has been going on steadily in the last few decades, and
to-day it is so strong as to overcome all resistance. The desire for the
beauty and dignity of culture, for authority and thoroughness, is
creeping into every corner of American life.

The time is already passing which would do away with all discipline and
submission in school and family life; public life brings the trained
expert everywhere into prominence. The disgust at the vulgarity of daily
life, as in the visible appearance of city streets, increases rapidly.
The sense of beauty is everywhere at work; and men of taste, education,
and traditions, rather than the city fathers who are elected by the
rabble, are finally being called to positions of leadership. The
democratic spirit is not crumbling, and certainly the rights of the
masses are not to be displaced by the rights of the better educated and
more æsthetic; but democracy is in a way to be perfected, to be brought
as high as it can be brought by giving a representation to really all
the forces that are in the social organism, and by not permitting the
more refined ones to be suppressed by the weight of the masses. The
nation has come to that maturity where the public is ready to let itself
be led by the best men.

It is true that the public taste still prevails too widely in many
branches of social life; there is too much triviality; too many
institutions are built on the false principles that everybody knows best
what is good for him, and too many undertakings flatter the taste which
they should educate. But opposite tendencies are present everywhere. The
more the economic development of the country is rounded off, the greater
is its demand for social differentiation, for the recognition of certain
influences as superior, for subordination, and for finer organization.
Just as economic life has long since given up free competition, and the
great corporations show admirably that subordination is necessary to
great purposes, and the world of labour has become an army with
strictest discipline and blind allegiance, so in the non-economic world
a tendency toward subordination, individuation, and aristocracy becomes
every moment more evident.

To this tendency there is added the new conception of the state.
Democracy is, from the outset, individualistic. We have seen everywhere
that the fundamental force in this community is the belief of every man
in his own personality and that of others. The state has been the sum
total of individuals, and the state as something more than the
individual has appeared as a bare abstraction. The individual alone has
asserted itself, perfected and guided itself, and taken all the
initiative. And this belief in the person is no less firm to-day; but
another belief has come up. This is a belief in the ethical reality of
the state. Public opinion is still afraid that if this belief increases,
the old confidence in the value of the individual, and therewith of all
the fundamental virtues of American democracy, may be shaken. But the
belief spreads from day to day, and produces its change in public
opinion. Politics are trending as are so many other branches of life;
the emphasis is passing from the individual to the totality. As we have
seen that the Americans adorned their houses before their public
buildings, quite the opposite of what Europeans have done, so they have
given political value to the millions of individuals long before they
laid weight on the one collective will of the state. The men who would
have sacrificed everything rather than cheat their neighbours have had
no conscientious scruples in plundering the state.

It is different to-day. The feeling grows that honour toward the state,
sacrifice for it, and confidence in it are even more important than the
respect for the totality of individuals. These opinions cannot be spread
abroad without having their far-reaching consequences; the state is
visible only in symbols, and its representatives get their significance
by symbolizing not the population, but the abstract state. The
individual representative of government is thus exalted personally above
the democratic level. To fill an office means not merely to do work, but
to experience a broadening of personality, much as that which the priest
feels in his office; it is an enlargement which demands on the other
side respect and subordination. This tendency is still in its
beginnings, and will never be so strong as in Europe, because the
self-assertion of the individual is too lively. Nevertheless, these new
notes in the harmony are much louder and more persistent than they were
ten years ago.

Thus there are many forces which work to check the spirit of
self-assertion; in spite of the liveliest feeling of equality, a social
differentiation is practically working itself out in all American life.
Differences of occupation are, perhaps, the least significant; a
profession which has such a great claim to superiority as, for instance,
that of the army officer in Germany, does not exist in the United
States. Perhaps the legal profession would be looked on as the most
important, and certainly it absorbs a very large proportion of the best
strength of the nation. The high position given the jurist is probably
in good part because, unlike his Continental colleague, as we have
explained at length, he actually takes part in shaping the law. In a
different way the preacher is very greatly respected, but his profession
decreases slowly in attractiveness for the best talents of the country.
The academic professions, on the other hand, have drawn such talent more
and more, and will continue to do so as the distinction grows sharper
between the college teacher and the real university professor. The
pre-eminently reproductive activities are naturally less enticing than
those which are creative, and wherever talent is attracted it quickly
accomplishes great things, and these work to improve the social status
of the profession. The political profession, as such, is far down in the
scale; only governors, senators, and the highest ministerial officials
play an important social part. Of course, one cannot speak of the
especial recognition of mercantile or industrial professions, because
these offer too great a variety of attainment; but certainly their most
influential representatives are socially inferior to none in the

Social differentiation does not rest on a sharp discrimination of
profession, and yet it is realized from the highest to the lowest
circles of society, and to a degree which fifty years ago would have
greatly antagonized at least the entire northern part of the country. In
Washington, the exclusive hostess invites only the wives of senators,
but not those of representatives, to her table; and in the Bowery,
according to the accounts, the children of the peanut vendor do not
deign to play with the children of the hurdy-gurdy man, who are vastly
more humble. The Four Hundred in the large city quietly but resolutely
decline to invite newly made millionaires to dinner; and the seamstress,
who comes to the house to sew or mend, refuses to sit down at table with
the servants. Already, in the large cities, the children of better
families are not sent to public, but to private schools. The railroads
have only one class of passenger coach; but the best society declines
that, and rides in the Pullman cars. The same distinctions hold
everywhere, and not merely as a matter of greater luxury for the rich,
but as a real social distinction. At the theatre, the person who
socially belongs in the parquet prefers to sit in one of the worst seats
there to going into the balcony, where he does not belong, even though
he might hear and see better.

The increasing sympathy with badges, costumes, and uniforms—in short,
with the symbols of differentiation—is very typical. There was a time in
which a free American would have refused to wear a special livery; but
to-day nobody objects, from the elevator boy to the judge, to wear the
marks of office. The holiday processions of working-men and veterans
become gayer and gayer. Those who have seen the recent inaugurations of
the presidents of Yale and Columbia have witnessed parades of hundreds
of gay and, it seemed, partly fantastic costumes, such as are now worn
at every university celebration in America—symbolic emblems which would
have seemed impossible in this monotonous democracy twenty years ago.

The inner life of universities gives also lively indication of social
cleavage. In Harvard and Yale, there are exclusive clubs of the social
leaders among the students. It is true that hundreds of students go
through the university without paying any attention to such things; but
there are almost as many more whose chief ambition is to be elected into
an exclusive circle, and who would feel compensated by no sort of
scientific success if they were disappointed in their aspirations for
club life. In the same way many families which have become wealthy in
the West move to New York or Boston, in the vain hope of breaking into
society. The social difference between near-lying residential sections
is, indeed, much greater than in Europe; and real estate on a street
which comes to be occupied by socially inferior elements rapidly
depreciates, because the inhabitants of any residential section must
stand on the same plane.

The transformations which the place of the President in public
consciousness has gone through are very characteristic. A newly elected
President is to-day inaugurated with almost monarchical pomp, and he
reviews the Navy, as he never would have thought of doing some years
ago. He sits down first at the table and is served first. An invitation
to the White House is felt as a command which takes precedence over any
other engagement. All this has happened recently. It was not long ago
that persons refused an invitation to the White House, because of
previous engagements. In social life all men were merely “gentlemen,”
regardless of the capacities which they had during business hours, and
in matters of invitation one visited the host who was first to invite
one. All this is different now.

There is even some indication of the use of titles. Twenty years ago
students addressed their professors with a mister, but to-day more often
with the title of professor; and the abuse of military titles which goes
on in the West amuses the whole country. In the army itself aristocratic
tendencies are strongly manifest, but only here and there come to
general notice. Contrary to the spirit of official appointments, men are
not advanced so rapidly who work up from a socially inferior level, but
the social élite is favoured. Etiquette in social life is becoming more
complicated; there is more formality, more symbolism in social
intercourse. A nation which pays every year more than six million
dollars for cut roses and four millions for carnations has certainly
learned to decorate social life. There is even more etiquette in
professional life. The professional behaviour of lawyers, physicians,
and scholars is in some respects, at least in the East, more narrowly
prescribed than it is even in Europe.

Looking at the situation as a whole, one sees the power of this new
spirit, not so much in these petty symptoms as in the great movements of
which we have spoken at length in other connections. There is the spirit
of imperialism in foreign politics, and it cannot expand in its pride
without working against the old democratic tendencies. There is the
spirit of militarism, triumphantly proud of the victorious army and
navy, demanding strict discipline and blind obedience to the commander.
There is the spirit of racial pride, which persecutes the negro and the
Chinese, and hinders the immigration of Eastern and Southern Europeans.
There is the spirit of centralization, exalting the power of the state
above the conflicting desires of the individual, and in economic matters
hoping more from the intelligent initiative of the state as a whole than
from the free competition of individuals, and assigning to the
Federation tremendous undertakings, such as the irrigation of the West
and the cutting of the Panama Canal. There is the spirit of aristocracy,
tempting more and more the academically cultured and the wealthy into
the political arena. There is the spirit of social differentiation
coming into art and science, and bringing to the life of the nation
ideals of beauty and of knowledge which are far above the vulgar
comprehension. Eclectic taste is winning a victory over popular taste.
The judgment of the most learned, the refinement of the most educated,
and the wisdom of the most mature are being made prominent before the
public mind. We have already seen how this new spirit grows and unfolds,
and how the one-sidedness and eccentricities of political, economic,
intellectual, and artistic democracy are being outgrown day by day, and
how the America of Roosevelt’s time is shaping itself in accordance with
the civilizations of Western Europe.

There are some who behold this development with profound concern. That
which has made America’s greatness, which seemed to be her mission in
the world, was the belief in the ethical worth of the individual. The
doctrines of self-determination, self-initiative, and self-assertion,
and the civilization which rested on such a foundation, have nothing to
hope and much to fear from social differentiation and imperialism.
Aristocratic tendencies appear to undermine this ethical democracy, and
the imperialistic symbols of our day mock the traditions of the past.
There will certainly be many reactions against these aristocratic
tendencies; perhaps they will be only small movements working through
the press and at the ballot-box against the encroachments on the spirit
of the past and against the expansion of office, and hindering those
aristocratic tendencies which depart too far from the traditions of the
masses. Perhaps, some day, there will be a great reaction. Perhaps the
tremendous power possessed by the labouring classes in the country will
lead to battles for ethical principles, in which the modern æsthetic
development will be reversed; it would not be the first time on American
soil that ethical reform has produced social deterioration, for “reform”
means always the victory of naked, equalizing logic over the
conservative forces which represent historic differentiation. So the
Revolution abolished the patrician society of New England, whose
aristocratic members survive in the portraits of Copley; and the day may
come when trades-unions will be victorious over that aristocracy which
Sargent is now painting. Even the reform which emancipated the slaves
destroyed a true and chivalrous aristocracy in the South.

But it is more likely that the steady development will go on, and that
there will be a harmonious co-operation between the fundamental
democratic forces and the lesser aristocratic ones. It cannot be doubted
that that democracy of which we have aimed to describe the real intent,
will remain the fundamental force under the American Constitution; and
however strict military discipline may become, however aristocratic the
social differentiations, however imperialistic the politics, however
esoteric art and science, undoubtedly the greatest question put by every
American to his brother will be: “What do you, purely as an individual,
amount to?” The ethical rights and the ethical duties of the individual
will be the ultimate standard, and aristocratic pomp will always be
suppressed in America whenever it commences to restrain the passion for
justice and for self-determination.

The most serious Americans are in the position of Tantalus; they see, in
a thousand ways and at a thousand places, that a certain advance could
be made if somehow the vulgar masses could be got out of the way; they
see how civic and national ends could be attained almost without trouble
by the ample means of the country, if as in Europe, the most intelligent
minds could be put in control. They want all this most seriously; and
yet they cannot have it, because in the bottom of their hearts they
really do not wish it. They feel too profoundly that the gain would be
only apparent, that the moral force of the nation would be sacrificed if
a single citizen should lose the confidence that he himself is
responsible for the nation which he helps to guide and to make. The easy
attainment of success is only a secondary matter; the purity of the
individual will is the main consideration. With this stands or falls
American culture. Development is first of all an ethical problem; just
because the world is incomplete, is hard, and unbeautiful, and
everywhere needs to be transformed by human labour, just on that account
human life is inexhaustibly valuable. This is the fundamental thought,
and will remain so as long as the New World remains true to its ideals.
The finer notes are only an overtone in the great chord; it is only
faintly discerned that the world is valuable when it is beautiful—after
it has been mastered and completed.

In this opposition between the ethical and the æsthetic, between the
democratic and the aristocratic, America will never sacrifice her
fundamental conviction, will never follow aristocratic tendencies
further than where they are needed to correct the dangerous
one-sidedness and the excrescences of democratic individualism; at
least, never so far that any danger will threaten the democracy. The
pride of the true American is, once and for all, not the American
country, nor yet American achievements, but the American personality.

One who seeks the profoundest reality that history has to offer, not in
the temporal unfolding of events, but in the interplay of human wills,
will agree with the American’s judgment of himself. Looking at the
people of the New World even from afar, one will find the fascination,
novelty, and greatness of the American world mission, not in what the
American has accomplished, but in what he desires and will desire.

Nevertheless, this will not seem strange or foreign to any German. In
the depths of his soul, he has himself a similar play of desires. In the
course of history, reverence and faithfulness developed in the German
soul more strongly than the individualistic craving for
self-determination and self-assertion; aristocratic love of beauty and
truth developed before the democratic spirit of self-initiative. But
to-day, in modern Germany, these very instincts are being aroused, just
as in modern America those forces are growing which have long dominated
the German soul.

The American still puts the higher value on the personal, the German on
the over-personal; the American on the intrinsic value of the creating
will, the German on the intrinsic value of the absolute ideal. But every
day sees the difference reduced, and brings the two nations nearer to a
similar attitude of mind. Moreover, both of these fundamental tendencies
are equally idealistic, and both of these nations are therefore destined
to understand and to esteem each other, mutually to extend their
friendship, to emulate each other, and to work together, so that in the
confused play of temporal forces the intrinsically valuable shall be
victorious over the temporary and fleeting, the ideal over the
accidental. For both nations feel together, in the depths of their
being, that in order to give meaning to life man must believe in
timeless ideals.