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Lewis Lapham, in his book Money and Class in America, asserts that Americans have been so feverishly blinded by the “faith in money” that the pursuit for flashy affluence has established itself above more sophisticated human virtues. Although his argument intends to provide commentary on America’s crazed love for money, Lapham incorrectly assumes that Americans blindly worship millionaires as wise role models and that other first world nations are more altruistic than their capitalist counterpart.
Ever since the year robber barons arose during the Gilded Age of America, millionaires and billionaires have been lavishly rewarded with the celebrity treatment, their names ringing through America’s money-obsessed ears almost as prominently as freedom rings in America’s glorious patriotism. However, that is not to say that the fame resulting from owning large sums of money equates to immediately being “perceived as being necessarily good and wise”, as Lapham puts it. Even the previously mentioned term “robber barons” was coined as a socially criticizing, derogatory nickname labelling fat-pocketed millionaires as corrupt and voracious. The amount of anger from the lower and middle class had towards unscrupulous wealthiness demonstrates how early Americans had already come to hate the wealthy. Even modern day celebrities like Kim Kardashian are characterized by the public as being as terribly uneducated as they are terribly voluptuous. Though these celebrities are rich enough to cry about losing $175,000 earrings in the ocean and still have their fame intact, they are definitely less American role models than they are A-list laughingstocks in the eyes of the public. Therefore, in contrast to Lapham’s argument, Americans are at least intellectually critical enough to identify corruption and incompetence within those that are, according to Lapham, supposedly praised as prosperous paragons.
Often has America been labeled as the greedy, self-serving businessman of the world; this sentiment is clearly apparent in Lapham’s argument. However, Lapham’s logic is that while America obsessed over money, the more pure and intellectual first-world nations “have raised up countervailing faiths in family, honor, religion, intellect, and social class”. One can assume from his argument that America had always been the spoiled brat that the more mature foreign nations constantly had to babysit. However that is not the case; America actually provided support to the Allies in their most dire situations, including both World War I and II. America was the nation that took the responsibility of loaning their money and war supplies to Europe when they desperately needed assistance the most. Though America may have done it as a method of ensuring friendly Euro-American relations, its actions were clearly not lacking in the honorary values that Lapham states. Lapham also fails to realize that America’s vices, no matter how many or how unethical, can not magically invalidate the vices of other nations; his portrayal of Germany, Russia, and France as being inherently socially superior nations is cynical and inaccurate. America’s “faith in money” does not erase Germany’s historically infamous fascism, Russia’s oppressive homophobic jurisdiction, and France’s own “revolutionary” economic turmoil. If Lapham wants to properly criticize America’s flaws, he must do so while fully acknowledging the flaws of the nations he compares America to.
Lapham’s overbearingly cynical opinion of America’s attitude towards money impairs his ability to logically criticise American society; he assumes that America is only home to those who either are rich or blindly worship the rich, completely ignoring the flaws of the “superior” nations and America’s historical efforts in providing financial support to other nations. Perhaps before Lapham decides to ridicule the American “faith in money”, he should first have some faith in America himself.
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