December 24, 2003

The Fourth Great Awakening and the Second Gilded Age

Mark Kleiman tries to understand why his karmic burden is so heavy, and why he is condemned to live through both the Fourth Great Awakening and the Second Gilded Age. "I wish none of this had happened!" wails Mark.

So do I, and so do all who live in such times. But that is not our task. Our task is to decide what to do with the times that are given us:

Mark A. R. Kleiman: The Second Gilded Age: Tom Spencer has a front-line report on the political psychology of the upper crust in a highly stratified society. It makes him think of the Gilded Age (his specialty as an historian) and of a Star Trek episode which I haven't seen but which from his description is derivative of the Eloi-and-Morlocks society of The Time Machine. Spencer's rather chilling account puts some social meat on the bare-bones statistics on inequality and mobility cited earlier in this space.

I must have done something really awful in a previous life to be condemned to live through both the Fourth Great Awakening and the Second Gilded Age. Perhaps I voted for Harding.

Posted by DeLong at December 24, 2003 11:58 AM | TrackBack


It's not very interesting to me that the Cloud Minders of our society are who they are and say what they say. What does one expect? The issue is why so many of "the others" identify with the interests of the elite. I expect it is rather the same kind of loyalty to the plantation owner that one saw in an 80s Salvadoran thug -- a son of the peasants he now tortures, rapes and kills. A combination of crafty understanding of which side the butter is on with violence expressing the self-loathing of a truly weak man.

Posted by: Richard on December 24, 2003 12:22 PM


"I must have done something really awful in a previous life to be condemned to live through both the Fourth Great Awakening and the Second Gilded Age." Nah, he's a Boddisatva. He's supposed to fix this. :-)

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on December 24, 2003 12:25 PM


With all due respect, that Tom Spencer "frontline report" is an ill-considered hodgepodge of anecdote and half-baked theories. And the fact that Kleiman is citing the Krugman and Uchitelle pieces as "bare-bone statistics" -- thereby implying that they're just telling the cold, hard truth -- is, given the discussions in earlier threads here, dismaying.

Most important, the idea that "the social classes in American really don‘t have much contact with each other these days," implying, I guess that they once had more contact with each other, is without historical foundation. There's little doubt that culturally, socially, and physically there's far more interaction between the wealthy and the middle classes today than there was in the days when, say, George W. went to Yale, to say nothing of the days when his dad did.

Posted by: Steve Carr on December 24, 2003 03:23 PM


He's not just living through another Gilded Age and another Great Awakening; he is also living through a repeat of the age of American imperialism/use of foreign war as a means of deflecting attention from domestic discontents that McKinley began with the Spanish-American War (See Walter Karp, "The Politics of War"). Its a trifecta.

Posted by: BobNJ on December 25, 2003 07:29 AM


Steve, the wealthy will always be isolated - that's one of the things wealth buys. Your wealthy/middle class commemt is what's revealing. That the top .1% have to deal with doctors, dentists, lawyers and accountants (in the top 5%?) isn't the point. It's the shrinking of the broad middle back to what it was in the first Guilded age.

Posted by: alan aronson on December 26, 2003 12:29 PM


Somewhere, Thomas Frank (editor of The Baffler) is muttering darkly, "I told you so." The Bafflerites been writing about The New Gilded Age since 1988. Of course, everyone called him shrill. Sound familiar?

Posted by: Armature on December 26, 2003 12:58 PM


Shrill (adj.) - describing (1) a person who states the truth, even when politically incorrect; (2) a person who remembers and states what happened months or even years ago, even when such utterances are Not Cool and are contrary to the interests of the elites; (3) reportage which doesn't balance out the truth with spin or lies or BS, in order to obtain pseudo-objectivity.

Posted by: Barry on December 26, 2003 06:29 PM


The first Gilded Age was the rise of the capitalist class to pre-eminence, at the expense of royalty. As such, it was a democratization of wealth and power, when compared to the previous system of Feudalism, in which only inheritors and the occasional conqueror became rich.

Part of what made the Gilded Age something of a scandal was that the wealth was held outside of the previously legitimate center, the nobility, which was backed by the power of religion.

The current situation is made complex by the internationalization of wealth and power and the rise of certain sections of the third world to greater prosperity. Would the calculations of the assets of the richest 1%, as a percentage of societal wealth, be the same if the global economy were taken into account? And which way would the statistics move?

The legitimacy of the current crop of economic leaders is more secure than those of the First Gilded Age, as it does not represent the emergence of a new class, nor does it represent a weakening of the role of religion in society, as did the first Gilded Age. I think this is why so many identify with the interests of the elite, despite the lack of a "Divine right" to their wealth.

The major religions have already adopted their ideology to capitalism and democracy, so the rise of religiosity (the Great Awakening) does not threaten the elite classes. Except that the rise of religiosity may be identified with the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism (this history is not yet written) which certainly threatens the western elite.

Also, does capitalistic prosperity imply materialism and a scientific world-view to such an extent that societies (such as the Islamic) can prosper only at the cost of muted faith, as in the West?

Posted by: Warren on December 27, 2003 09:37 AM


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