Gilded Age: Prominence & Patricide

Anyone familiar with the Hudson River Valley in New York State is familiar with the rise of tourism that accompanied the twenty-five year economic boom that we sustained since Reagan.  All along the Hudson River are mansions from the Gilded Age revealing insights into both the families and fortunes of America prior to World War I and the income tax.  Although often portraying the lifestyles of the rich and famous, the Gilded Age was extraordinarily dysfunctional as families imploded from the psychological and social impact of excessive leisure.

‘Gilded’ by Deborah Davis, ‘The House of Wittgenstein’ by Alexander Waugh, ‘Tycoon:  The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbuilt’ and the recent ‘The Fall of the House of Walworth’ by Geoffrey O’Brien detail the slow imminent demise of infamous families cravenly tied to wealth.

Davis’ book focuses’ on Newport Rhode Island, Waugh on the life and times of post war Vienna while O’Brien moves along to Saratoga Springs, New York.  Both resurrect the idiosyncratic and ultimately tragic malcontents who ruled for generations within the ‘old wealth of the new world.’

These authors detail the life, sexual escapades and murderous plots that become of individual family members unhinged from any moral foundation.  By never having to work or for that matter deal with reality, many family members wallowed in dysfunctional habits unbecoming the efforts of those who created such wealth.  The best a decent progeny could hope for was to relieve himself in the freedom of travel.

Their is much to rediscover or appraise when encountering the mad lives of those unfit to contribute to either society or their own undeveloped conscience.  Even John Paul II wrote about the theology of work to counter the Marxist claim that industrialism sustains alienation.  True indeed, but their remained many who benefited from the ravish wealth that became this great age.  Averell Harriman Mortimer and his son remade the Atlantic Alliance under Truman is a proud example of families that maintained both composure and fortuitous rectitude throughout their wealth.

The Gilded Age and its social, historical treasure needs to be measured in the political light of American exceptionalism.  Many such wealthy families made enormous contributions strengthening both American resolve and freedom abroad.  But the sordid display that became of those unwilling to shape their freedom because they idolized their own social stature was unrelenting in the scope of demise.

Freud’s Vienna and his Kabbalistic vein of introspection into the soul of man dethroning reason helps us understand what today we call ‘personality disorder’.  Such maladaptive behavior is on the rise in western nations, it is unbecoming of those who ‘work for a living’.  Hadn’t Jay Leno’s recent visit to a Los Angeles hospital for exhaustion spoke to and informed many that the intensity and duration of leisure can take its toll.

The Gilded Age did not have the pleasure to recognize the utility that became of modern psychology under the guise of Freud, Jung, Rogers, Frankl, Erickson and Fromm.  Contemporary life is still beholden to antiquated vision that possession alone is sufficient for life.  Only a few understand the price paid in acquiring an ever greater grasp.

‘Man cannot live on bread alone’ is the maxim of a Christian heritage exhorting the nuptial (reciprocal) nature of humanness.  We must learn to appreciate that truths come to us in frail earthen vessels.

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About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
This entry was posted in Conservatism, Ethics, Identity Development, John Paul II, Money, Morality, Perils Of Specialization, Sociology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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