by Elbert Hubbard in 1905
by Linda S. Santucci
Hubbard's "New Atlantis" — A Possible American Utopia
in the New Millennium?
Now written in the new millennium year 2000, here is one of Elbert Hubbard’s (1856-1915) turn of the 20th century articles on what he called “Conspicuous Waste,” “Conspicuous Consumption”,and "Conspicuous Leisure," illustrating a social history of respectability throughout centuries.
In Part 1 he satires the “Superior Class”, to illustrate his points. By introducing simple terms as proper nouns, he dissects what society considers to be the value of “Respectability.” However, he suggests seriously that the evolution of humankind is thwarted, not advanced, by the self-deception and make-believe that is involved in the process of Conspicuous Consumption.
In Part 2, Hubbard describes his utopian concept of a "voluntary community" that he feels is the secret to happy and successful human evolution, pointing out that the Master Jesus taught principles of community or "communism" in the true sense, which is not what we know today as "totalitarian socialism" or fascism, but is democracy accompanied with personal responsibility for each citizen.
In Part 3, Hubbard further elucidates upon the elements of concern for the good of all, such as the system upon which ancient Athens was successful, and upon which universal Laws function—and presents the successful "experiment" of The Roycrofters of East Aurora as a contemporary example of, not socialism in the political sense, but of a community's "own" economic basis, in the voluntary participation of its members in common. It is significant to note that Hubbard wrote this article long before political Communism and later Socialism (via the 1930s and ongoing Progressive movement embedded within in the US government) became a growing threat to world freedom rather than fostering a true evolutionary environment for humanity; and it's ironic that his life ended alone with his beloved wife in 1915, due to German torpedoes—and the kind of communism as Elbert Hubbard defined and discussed it in this article, was to become the Communism of evil destruction within Germany, intending to "take over the world" by the 1940s, leading to World War II.
Indeed by 2009 in this 2nd Edition of 2000 C.E. at The Four+Corners, fascist, totalitarian socialism has reached the very doorstep of every American, and is expected possibly to contribute to the integrated global necessity of a World War III.
Note: Elbert Hubbard wrote many inspirational and satirical articles about life and living, and published them through his own successful publishing company in East Aurora, New York: The Roycrofters. The Roycrofters were "devoted to printing and binding books, making furniture, and working in ornamental iron and in copper."
(These copper pieces alone today, with Hubbard's own trademark for The Roycrofters, shown above to the left, are worth thousands of dollars, according to a September 18, 2000 House and Garden Television show, "Collectibles".)
Hubbard was also a Rosicrucian, known to have advised and assisted Dr. H. Spencer Lewis lay the groundwork for introducing Rosicrucian principles and universal laws to America in 1915, within the context of the early 20th Century American culture*. Hubbard's concept of community, however, was his own individual ideal that is not necessarily found in the same form within "Rosicrucian Orders" past or present.
Unfortunately, Fra Hubbard’s lifetime ended in an embrace with his wife in their cabin as a passenger on the Lusitania, torpedoed in 1915 near the British harbor, a precursor to World War I—before Dr. Lewis officially founded the 20th Century cycle of Rosicrucian activity in America.
*This Rosicrucian system of study has been continued under the leadership of initiatic successor ad vitam Gary L. Stewart, Rosicrucian Imperator, within the monograph study of the Confraternity of the Rose Cross (CR+C). For further information, see 2000 C.E. introduction to the article by Ralph M. Lewis, "Mastership".
Written in 1905
by Elbert Hubbard
Part 1 of 3:
History of Conspicuous Waste
1905 Satirical Commentary Still Relevant in the 21st Century
Society is in process of evolution. We are still barbarians—children, if you will, and man is yet primitive. All that has gone before is a preparation for better things to come, but we are moving rapidly, and, I believe, securely, toward nobler things.
Among the savage tribes the chief place of honor is given to those who can kill most. The business of savages is: first, to get enough to eat; second, to protect themselves from foes, either men or wild beasts. The man who can kill most is king by divine right. So the mighty hunter becomes chief, or the great warrior is king. Those who dispute the title are liable to die suddenly.
Low down in the scale, they eat the enemies they kill—either human or beast-brute. Later, they eat the beast-brute alone, and take the human enemies captive for slaves. Genuine savages, however, never seek to capture males—they kill these and save the women.
Genesis of Property
The very first form of property was the ownership of women. The Romans captured the Sabine women, because that was the regulation thing to do. Our pity need not be wasted upon the women—they simply exchanged owners—they were slaves in either case. Males were not at first made slaves, because it was inconvenient—there was danger of uprisings; it caused discontent among the slave women; and for a man there was no market, while a woman was in demand. She was valuable: first, as a wife, and second, as a worker. There are animals where the lordly male holds a dozen or more females captive, but it was man who first set his females at work.
Darwin says there is no doubt that marriage was at first a matter of coercion and purely a property-right. Certain ceremonies even now go with the transfer of real estate and most other property, and the marriage ceremonial was, in the beginning, a public notification of ownership and a warning to all parties to keep hands off. The husband had the power of life or death over the wife and her children. She, being a slave, performed all the menial tasks—she was the worker.
And the product of her labor belonged to her lord. Thus do we get the genesis of property. First, the man owned the woman. Second, he owned all that she produced. The man produced nothing—he was the protector. To be sure, he killed animals, but he did not deign to skin them nor prepare the flesh for food—woman did all this. For him to work would have been undignified and disgraceful—only slaves worked. And so to prove his prowess, his true greatness, he never did a thing but kill and consume.
He was looked up to and reverenced—that is to say, he was respectable. And he took good care never to put his respectability in jeopardy by doing a menial thing. If high enough in the scale he had an armor-bearer, who carried his implements of death. The Polynesian chiefs do not even lift the food to their mouths, and the women dress and undress them. This, of course, is the extreme type, but I mention it to show the tendency. The outcrop is occasionally seen yet in the nobleman who has a valet. And we all know of men who never do a useful thing for fear of losing caste. The survival may even be seen in England, where no gentleman will "clean" his own shoes—this work is done by women. On the Continent, the care of public lavatories is all given to women. The woman is the scullion, the menial, the drudge, the vehicle of what is dirty, uncouth, inconvenient or disgraceful.
The property-right in marriage still exists, and the Common law of America, which is founded on the Common Law of England, which is founded on the Common Law of Rome, provides that the property produced by the industry of the wife belongs, by legal right, to the husband. She may make blankets, beadwork, baskets, and her husband can take these things and do what he chooses with them.
Up to the year Eighteen Hundred Sixty-three, the custom of men selling their own children was common and well recognized in various States in America. And the children yet belong more to the man than to the woman.
In England the law still gives the husband the right to "reprove" a refractory wife—the same right that he has over his children. Yesterday he could kill her; and the right to "reprove" with a stick is yet conceded in London police-courts, but provision is made limiting the thickness and length of the stick.
We have seen that at first women alone were enslaved, but later more workers were needed, and then men were made slaves also. Very often these were given charge of women slaves. And so the supervision of slaves by slaves, or the ownership of slaves by slaves, has, to a certain degree, still survived. These things are not noted here by way of criticism or reproach, but simply to make clear the proposition that personal property began with the ownership of woman, and with that which she produced.
Beyond Savagery—Soldier and Priest
When man first emerges from savagery, he evolves two classes to which are paid special honors and emoluments. These offices are those of the Soldier and the Priest.
At first the priestly offices are performed by the warrior himself, and consist in incantations, cajolings of the Great Spirit, pacifications, and prayers for victory.
Later, the warrior begins to set apart certain people to do certain things, and he delegates this office of dealing with the Unseen to another.
The priestly office always subsists on sufferance of the soldier, although, in times of peace, it seemingly takes precedence of it, and this fiction the soldier helps carry out. Doubtless, in degree, the soldier actually does become the creature of what he creates, just as men become enslaved by their business. But in emergency, when the stress comes, depend upon it, the weight of priestly temporal power is quickly dissipated, and soldiers bivouac in the temple of the Most High.
The danger being past, the soldier comes back to the priest for absolution, assurance and consolation. Kings are always crowned by priests—it is the priest who applies the vaseline of authority. The priest is the mysterious agent of Deity. As the priest is made by the soldier, so the soldier bends his knee only to the priest, and both devoutly believe in their Divine Right. In olden times the priests usually explained to the people that the king was really not a man—he was a half-god. His motherhood could be proved, so they did not trifle there with the fact, but his father was a god—this pedigree could not be disproved. The priest said it, the soldier-king, himself; thought it must be so, and he even cut off the heads of all who questioned it.
Therefore, the people grew to believe it as a matter of convenience, for we believe the thing that is profitable to believe. Emboldened with their success, the priests even declared that the Chief Priest, or their own ruler, was a half-god.
I have said that the priest was at first a servant, just as in Germany, in the time of Mozart, the musicians and artists ranked with cooks and scullions.
The priestly office was a trifle higher, but even yet the priest is more or less of a slave. In England he dresses like a butler and looks like one. Both wear a look of woeful desolation, and a penalty is attached for spontaneous or natural behavior.
I know a butler who had his pay cut in two because he ventured a word of suggestion in a conversation between the hostess and a guest. The guest nearly fell off his chair in amazement to think a butler had opinions upon any subject, and the hostess flew into a rage. Later, the recalcitrant one smiled at a witticism of one of the guests, and he was summarily dismissed from service, and his name placed on the Black List. You can kick a good butler from behind and not a shade of emotion will pass over his face. It is much the same with the priest—he is supposed to reveal pious passivity and nothing else.
He is paid to do certain things—officiate at burials, weddings, christenings, and to pray and preach. Any relaxation of dignity is quickly resented. When he enters, laughter ceases and children crawl under the bed. So true is this that, when an exception is noted, people call your attention to it by saying, "Our pastor plays cards and is a jolly good fellow." The exception but proves the rule—the priest in his livery rebukes levity and spreads a pretence of solemn piety.
Let him attempt to mix in politics or business and he is mighty soon called back to his proper position by a reduction in both pay and honors.
The offices of soldier and priest absorb all honors and all emoluments at first—they divide every good thing between them. And the chief characteristic of each is that neither does any work of a useful kind.
They are non-producers—and conspicuously so.
They advertise themselves and the dignity of their office in two ways—by a Conspicuous Leisure and by a Conspicuous Consumption. Their entire abstention from industrial production reveals this Conspicuous Leisure, and the ownership of a vast number of things they do not need reveals Conspicuous Consumption.
Thus great soldiers and great priests have always lived in conspicuous palaces, and worn peculiar and costly raiment and trappings.
Silks, robes, jewels, golden crowns, bracelets, rings, breastplates, miters and red hats are all a part of this Conspicuous Consumption or this Conspicuous Waste. And as if these things were not enough, and for fear some one would overlook this Waste, the great soldier or great priest always had banners and flags carried ahead of his presence, and also there were trumpeters and players upon tom-toms who beat their drums and blew their horns and rode ahead upon gaily caparisoned horses that cavorted to the sounding of the music.
Then came the great man himself, upon a horse or a throne, in a carriage or carried in a palanquin.
These things all remain with us, more or less. A one-horse carriage might carry our President, but this would mean social damnation and the laughter of the groundlings: four horses for the Governor's carriage and six for the President's—this is the rule.
To be sure, we are a little rusty in these things, so the horses occasionally run away when the band plays, or the trolley-car runs into the President's carriage, and, with an irony known only to inanimate things, kills the guard; but pageantry survives and will survive.
The objection can be made that Washington society is only a small number, and, if they alone form the Superior Clan, are really not worth consideration. The point is worth considering. Society at Washington is a grade below Biltmore, partaking of strenuosity and uncertainty: it is not quite sure that it is respectable, while Biltmore and Shelburne never doubt. These people, it is true, are not of much consequence, excepting to themselves, and are mentioned merely as an extreme type. They are like a picture painted with a broom, very much in evidence.
The fact is that every city, town and village has its self-appointed Superior Class, and this class gets its tone and takes its fashions from the extreme types just mentioned.
That these people in the smaller towns actually do work with their hands, and help carry the burdens of the world, is true, yet on Sundays and other holidays they delight in parading themselves in a dress which seems to advertise that they do not work.
Their raiment, when they can afford it, is the dress of those who habitually indulge in Conspicuous Waste.
Almost without a single exception they look forward to a time when they will not have to work. And those who do have to work unremittingly here, are offered an equivalent through a promise of endless rest and a mansion in the skies.
No heaven has yet been pictured excepting as a place of idleness and Conspicuous Waste.
Your country storekeeper, if he is prosperous, straightway advertises his prosperity in Conspicuous Waste. He builds a house five times as big as he needs.
One might at first suppose that the size of a house would give the beholder some idea of the number of people who live in it, and this is true: excepting that small families live in large houses and large families in small houses. Indeed, the number in any given family is usually in inverse ratio to the size of the house. If prosperity smiles, the wife has two servants, and the daughter ceases to work, in order to advertise the father's prosperity.
The mother will tell you her servant-girl woes, and of all she suffers, but what can she do? She was far happier when they lived in a cottage and she did her work, but now there are all these things to care for, and the social duties besides. Yet she is very happy in her misery. They are respectable and must advertise the fact; so the fashion that Paris decrees in dress is followed as it filters through New York, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Galesburg, and Des Moines, Iowa, as the case may be. And this fashion is always with a design of Conspicuous Waste.
Thus the starched shirt, high, stiff collar and white cuffs come straight from men who did no work, and dressed so they could not.
Formerly the stiff "billed shirt" was worn only by preachers, doctors and lawyer—it was the badge of exemption from manual labor. But now every farmhand on Sunday will get into this uncouth and uncomfortable apparel and go to church.
He endures the discomfort and goes to church because these things lend him eclat—he is, forsooth, respectable.
In truth, in rural communities this is the test, "Does he go to church?" If he does not, he is not respectable.
And if he goes to church, he must dress like the others. So his clothes take on the priestly touch: for the collar, cuffs and shirt-bosom all trace a direct pedigree to the vestments of the priest, who wore his robes to prove to everybody that he was different, set apart, peculiar, and had no place in the plain, industrial life of the community. Woman's dress reveals more than that of a man in reaching out for Conspicuous Waste.
The bracelets on her wrists, and the gold chain about her neck, go back to the time when these things had a positive use. The chain at her neck became gold, instead of iron, when she became the pride and pet of her owner. So jewels now advertise that woman is favored by a man.
The fashionable woman's hat, skirt, corset and shoes advertise her inability for useful effort. Rawlins says that in Abyssinia free women wore trousers, while slave women were compelled to wear a skirt. The skirt means servility—it hampers the wearer at every step, and if the dress be really fashionable, the owner has to lift the skirt in her hands; while in the courts of Europe boys and girls are set apart to follow and carry this cumbersome train.
And as for the women's hats and bonnets, they no longer pretend to be for protection or service—the head-gear is purely for display. And the bonnet that is a "dream of loveliness" today is considered a " fright" on the morrow.
For Conspicuous Waste demands that you shall discard things before they are worn out, hence the changes in fashion. Corsets unfit the wearer for useful effort, and were at first used to bring about a becoming delicacy and deformity.
The French heel is not really French, but is Parisian, and advertises that the wearer is not a peasant who carries burdens on her head.
To carry a heavy burden you must have your foot squarely on the ground, but to walk at all with a French heel is a difficult performance. A case in point may not be out of place: A woman came up from New York to visit the Roycroft Shop.
She wore very high French heels, and got along all right on the sidewalk or on the floor. But once she started to take a short cut across the lawn. There had been a rain the night before, and while the sod looked smooth and pretty it was very soft, so our good woman's high heels went right down into the ground.
I watched the lady from a safe distance and noticed her flounder. I have always been somewhat interested in dynamics, and I was afraid she would fall forward, and as she weighed a hundred and seventy, there might be a "silver-fork fracture."
She did fall, but she did not fall forward, as I had expected.
She fell backward and made her impress on the turf. She lost her center of gravity, and so did everybody who saw the operation.
She was absolutely powerless to recover herself, and it took the combined efforts of Deacon Buffum and Ali Baba to carry her to a place of safety.
I mention this seemingly irrelevant incident to prove the effectiveness of a form of dress that was designed to reveal the disability of the wearer.
The woman did not work and could not—in those clothes.
This woman also wore the long skirt and the straight-front corset which further advertised her unfitness. Can one imagine a mother clad in such garments?
Motherhood, and the signs of motherhood, are sacred to all good men, but here was a woman who wore garments that exaggerated her hips and bust, proving an alibi for other parts of her anatomy, and shoes that rendered her an easy prey for any predaceous Roman in search of female Sabines! Yet, she was a worthy wife and mother, and her attire was only a histrionic make-believe.
But having completed the circle, back comes Conspicuous Waste, and we find Fashion's devotee of the extreme type, dressing and acting with a most becoming modesty. Thus we have the well-bred golf-girl with her thick-soled, flat-heeled shoes, who discards corsets and the long skirt, and can ride a cross-saddle like a man. In this type of Wadsworthi we get a gentleness of voice and behavior in both men and women that is very pleasing. Some of these women work at trades—bookbinding or wood-carving.
The men pose as stock-raisers or farmers, or write books. And for a time the prophet of the better day thinks the cycle is complete and that we have come back to decency and simplicity.
But alas I be not deceived: it is all a make-believe—merely a refinement of Conspicuous Waste, just to catch the admiration of the more subtle and refined. They have cut the vulgar peoples out of their lives absolutely; they take no note of them; they eliminate the doer and the worker; they eradicate the promoter and the man of enterprise, and they live in an esthetic heaven, four times removed from the man of prowess and power, but they still cling blindly to the honorific rewards that are due to Conspicuous Waste, and exemption from the world of useful effort. It is the same old ideal of warrior and priest—the simplicity is a costly pretense, and many servants are required to carry it out. And, if we are subtle enough to appreciate it, we bend the knee and bow before the extreme type of Esthetic Futility. It is Smugness and Self-Complacency polished and refined until it looks like genuine merit. It is similar to that peculiar specimen of the demi-monde in Philadelphia that passes for a Quakeress, and sometimes deceives even the members of the Clover Club.
A still further refinement of histrionic seizure of honors is sometimes seen among the descendants of geniuses, who have produced somewhat of a marked literary or artistic excellence.
These people are like the descendants of Captain Kidd—they have everything but the great man's courage and ability. The dead ancestor was a writer, and a man of culture and kindness; the play-actor descendants assume the gait and gesture, the manner and habit of this supposed greatness. Theirs is the tone of kindness, minus the kindness; the thoughtful looks without the thought.
They tell of literary tasks, and relate how busy they are at this or that great problem, but they never solve any problem, and the long-expected book dies a-borning.
At the last the reverence of these degenerate descendants of great men for literature is a pretense—towards the living men who produce literature, this social Superior Class have only aversion and scorn. Their reverence is for the dead. Shakespeare, Browning, Keats, Rembrandt, Shelley, Thoreau, Whitman and Byron were not respectable; and the decayed gentility that holds letters in its custody would have scorned a genuine creator during his life. When Emerson wrote this line: "No law is sacred to me but that of my own nature," most of his kinsmen forsook him, he was compelled to resign his pastorate, and he was repudiated by his Alma Mater.
That most sweet and gentle of all women writers, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was accursed in the mind of her father to the day of his death, because she did not conform to his idea of what was respectable and right and proper.
She sent him letters, but they were returned to her unopened; she dedicated to him books, but he refused to read them. And now he lives only because he sired this daughter, and his folly and his hate are his sole monument.
Our social play-actors have neither the ability nor the inclination to concentrate on chaos and make it concrete. They will not pay the price; they demand the honors, but they want ease. A still further variant of self-deception reveals itself in certain religious sects that are supposed to do things just as their founder did.
They assume a marked placidity of manner, speak in meaningless monotone, and take on the smile of vacuity that is supposed to reveal abnegation. Their speech is a gibberish which probably meant something to the person who first used it, but is now a glib, parrot-like production that befogs the reason and staggers understanding.
Those that most affect passivity—pretending to build upon the teachings of one who scorned all exclusive ownership of things—take a fresh lease on loot and parade their Conspicuous Waste, fall down and worship the golden calf, and clutch after the futilities for which barbarians struggle, and for which women sell their souls, and thieves break through and steal. Mammon thus secures new cohorts, and money-changers again take possession of the Temple.
Superior Class Marks of Distinction
It will be seen from what has gone before that the standard of respectability is fixed by the soldier and priest. These, with their satellites, form the self-appointed Superior Class. The distinguishing features, or badge, of the Superior Class are: Conspicuous Waste of time, money and materials; and abstention from all useful or necessary industry.
To work with your hands, or wear the garb of a working person, would be to forfeit one's good name. It would mean abandonment of the position of power, an admission before the world that you are only commonplace.
And so to differentiate themselves from the herd, the members of this Superior Class have always worn a peculiar and distinctive garb.
Indeed, Herbert Spencer seems to think that the primal use of dress is not for warmth or protection, but to reveal the social status. It will be remembered that Carlyle works out the idea at length in his Sartor Resartus.
One specially grim fact he states, and that is that a naked House of Lords would inspire no awe.
Masters require their servants to wear a livery. In Athens, in the time of Pericles, only free men were allowed to wear sleeves.
In England, the butler, being nearest the master, is allowed to dress somewhat like him, or like a priest; in fact, he presides. But boots, lackey and coachman grade off into distinct types, You see the servant and you know at once his grade, and you treat him accordingly.
Moreover, you know to what family he belongs, for each house has its color or stripe. You can always tell the German soldier from the French by his uniform; so do you recognize the livery, and say the man is a DeLancy, a Foxhall, a Percy, a Keene, a Bradley-Martin, as the case may be. The man is marked and his grade revealed by his dress, just as are officers in the army. In penitentiaries, the same idea holds. The prison has its uniform, and a man in the stripes of Sing Sing could not travel far without being challenged. Once, in my callow days, I accepted a wager that I could wear a prison suit, and walk from Buffalo to Cleveland without serious molestation. It took me over four days to get thirty miles, I was arrested nine times, and at Dunkirk I came near being mobbed by Sunday School picnickers, and was compelled to give up my uniform for citizen's clothes. Yet I was a free man and innocent of crime, and there was no law defining what I should wear, so long as it was male attire.
But there are unwritten laws, and to a great degree society dictates what its members shall wear, just as in feudal times, and much the same today, the master dictates to his servants what their clothing shall be.
And the master himself is caught in the mesh that he has woven, and this soulless something we call Society dictates to him what he shall do and what not. There are limits beyond which he can not go. So the men who make fashions are caught and held captive by them, just as the children who play ghost get badly frightened themselves.
And one of the fixed canons for the man of the Superior Class and all of his family is that they shall do no useful work. Plain folks are only forbidden to work on Sunday, but this man can not work any day, on pain of social damnation.
And another canon is that he shall live in a certain locality, or lose caste. If his family does not comply, it forfeits all claim to respectability. A man may carry a bag of golf-clubs on the public street, but he dare not be seen with a hoe and pickax. He may tote a violin-case, but he dare not so much as touch a coal-scuttle in public.
A woman of the Superior Class may attend to flowers, but she must not work in the vegetable garden. The thing that has directly to do with the maintenance of life is bad form, crude, rude, vulgar and forbidden. But, curiously enough, the law of Vicarious Doing comes in and women of the Superior Class may make garments for the heathen, when they would be disgraced if they made clothing for themselves or their own family. The human mind delights in make-believe, thus showing our arrested development. We like to make ourselves believe we are useful, when all the time we know we are not. We like to think we are sacrificing ourselves and being martyred, when all the time we know we are having a good time and doing the thing because we want to. Often we are happiest when most miserable. Thus we have these quasi-charitable and pseudo-religious societies that "work for humanity"—folks who go a-slumming, who form clubs that seek to educate people who work with their hands into the habit and thought of those who do not.
That these efforts to benefit are largely futile is nothing against them to those who indulge in them, because to them futility is a virtue—to do positive good is a disgrace. These people chase the innocent aniseed-bag—a Vicarious Fox—as a business; so make-believe and pretense enter into their religion and charities, no less than into their pastimes. The fabric of their lives is largely play-acting. It would be unjust to call them hypocritical and insincere. They are sincere in their insincerity, and their rag dolls are to them real babies. This habit of self-deception permeates the Superior Class and makes their evolution a very slow and tedious process.
Grown-ups delight in make-believe. Count Leo Tolstoy, the greatest thinker in Russia, and a rich man, plays he is a peasant; and often gives his family goose-flesh by threats to give away his property. Those who threaten to dissipate their property never do, and those who do, do not intend to.
Americans are rich people with big estates, who live the Simple Life five days each month and the rest of the time drive bang-tail horses or ride in Red Devil automobiles, defying bucolic justice. Education, until yesterday, was of two kinds—priestly and military. Roughly speaking, Harvard represents the one, West Point the other.
Harvard has departments of Theology, Law, Medicine and the Classics—all are non-productive, and largely make-believe. The simple fact that the education in Law, Medicine and Theology of twenty-five years ago is now regarded as inept, puerile and inconsequent, shows the make-believe in the pedagogics and science of the past.
As for the study of the Classics, its chief charm lay in its Futility—in the fact that it unfitted a man for useful life. To know a dead language was a meritorious separation from life, and a thing desirable. Its desirability was an honor—you could use it so seldom and with so few.
Education in the science of war, which is the science of carrying desolation and inflicting death, is still considered to be an honorable acquirement. So everywhere we have Military Schools, where the martial spirit is instilled and encouraged, and where patriotism—the detestation of other countries—is inculcated. That this class of schools do good there is no doubt, but they minister largely to this habit of self-deception so common in the Superior Class. The people who patronize these academies joyously believe that they are fitting their boys to protect the toilers.
Anyway, they unfit the boy for becoming a toiler.
Thus we hark back to the savage idea, which was that the best men should be set apart to protect the tribe. "In England," Gladstone once said, "there are only two honorable walks open to young men: the Army and the Church."
It is still the Warrior and the Priest, guised and glossed by a smug, complacent make-believe, carried out and refined by higher personal potencies. Visit Old Point Comfort, Saratoga, Newport and Point of Pines and you will at once see the premium paid to ineptness and futility.
The inability and the disinclination to partake in useful effort is considered a virtue, in that it proves the prowess of the person—his power to make others do for him. This was surely so in the beginning—the Roman soldiers who stole women made them work and later when they stole men they made them do things, too. We are told that the pyramids of Egypt were built by slaves; we know that it was wisely directed slave labor that made Athens great; that it was slave labor that evolved Venice. So power and prowess really have a certain virtue. Those old-time warriors were just what they pretended to be. And that brings us up to still another phase: Meritorious Substitution, or Salvation by means of a Vicarious Pecuniary Atonement.
Respectability Through Vicarious Virtue
The Superior Class at Asheville, Saratoga and Newport have no power and reveal no prowess, but they take to themselves all the credit of prowess and parade their ability in killing time and following the aniseed make-believe trail, poetically speaking. The men of power who exploited labor or monopolized good things through force of arms or force of cunning and intellect were the ancestors of these men. And, by a strange paradox, these descendants of men of power scorn a genuine, living man of power, and take to themselves credit on being one or two removes from a sure-enough person of prowess.
If Captain Kidd were alive today he would not be considered Respectable, although, no doubt, he was, in the circle in which he moved. But I am told there are lineal descendants of Captain Kidd who are very proud of the name. So we have many descendants of Captain John Smith, who was no less an outlaw. There are well-authenticated pedigrees of persons tracing a line direct to Pocahontas, and these people take much pride in saying they trace to a genuine American. But if Pocahontas were alive today they would hardly have the old lady in their homes and call her gran'ma.
It is somewhat like Anton Seidl, who claimed to be a natural son of Franz Liszt. When asked as to the truth of this claim, Philip Hale said, with a yawn, "Oh, but it is no great mark of distinction—there are so many claiming the honor, you know!"
Liszt is dead, removed from us by both time and distance, but, by a curious metamorphosis, we evolve the bar sinister into a virtue, and multiply honors by the square of the distance. Almost anybody traces back to William the Conqueror, and that he was a Natural Son of Nobody makes no difference. Thus we have Societies of gentlewomen whose sole badge of distinction lies in that they had certain ancestors who fought in a certain war. No inquiry is made into this man's character, or as to why he fought. So we have had the very curious spectacle of a woman at Reading, Pennsylvania, knocking for admittance to this Society, and on proving that she had ancestors who were with Washington at Yorktown, was duly admitted with appropriate rites and ceremonies.
Her ancestors, it has since transpired, were Hessians, but the woman still refuses to abdicate. This story really has very little to do with the argument, but the truth may be stated that this descendant of the Hessians had just as much to do with the Revolutionary War as the somewhat unreasonable women who now shrilly demand her resignation. Just how Respectability may be rightly claimed by people who have done nothing, because they had ancestors who did, will be shown later, and at the same time will be revealed why men pride themselves on being different from their ancestors in whom they take much pride. This idea of Respectability through Vicarious Virtue is an interesting subject for the psychologist, involving as it does the pretty make-believe of a histrionic benefit, where we play to the gallery of our own self-esteem. The idea of Respectability is a phantasmagoria contrived and created by the people that it controls. The desire is not to be, but to seem. The intent of life is to make an impression upon other people, and this, and this alone, is the controlling impulse in what is called Good Society. And so, to a great degree, we are all play-actors, and make-believe runs through the entire fabric of our lives. To the man who can get off at a little distance, so as to get the perspective, the whole thing is a comedy. But not wholly a comedy of errors, for it is all evolution—slow, perhaps, but necessary and very sure.
That churches and institutions exist is proof that they are necessary, for everything is its own excuse for being, said John Ruskin. However, things do exist after the use for which they were created has passed. And then they may become a nesting-place for disease. And the Superior Class—the class that sets the standard of Respectability—is the class that clings to the dead and outworn. It resists all thought of change and improvement, and fights progress with a bitterness that shows no relenting.
(Continued in Part 2 of 3)
Go to: Part 2, "Respectability" (Hubbard's concept of "voluntary community")
Go to: Part 3, "Respectability" (Athens' economic community: The Roycrofters)
See Also, 2000 C.E.'s — "Last Words: Elbert Hubbard on the Lusitania"