‘The man who claims authority…is an object of distrust and resentment’


“America has always been a country of amateurs where the professional, that is to say, the man who claims authority as a member of an elite which knows the law in some field or other, is an object of distrust and resentment,” W.H. Auden wrote in the middle of the twentieth century during the peak of America’s postwar ascendancy.

He had more to say:

Thanks to the natural resources of the country, ever American, until quite recently, could reasonably look forward to making more money than his father, so that, if he made less, the fault must be his he was either lazy or inefficient. What an American values, therefore, is not the possession of money as such, but his power to make it as as proof of his manhood; once he he has proved himself by making it, it has served its function and can be lost or given away. In no society in history have rich men given away so large a part of their fortunes. A poor American feels guilty at being poor, but less guilty than an American rentier who has inherited wealth but is doing nothing to increase it; what can the latter do but take to drink and psychoanalysis?

This excerpt comes from “Postscript: The Almighty Dollar,” also written in the 1950s. It explains, well, a few things going on with the approval that a certain GOP presidential candidate gets for boasting he pays no taxes.

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