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In reading David Nasaw’s biography of Andrew Carnegie, I found all sorts of disparate goodies. Carnegie was a fascinating and complex character who dropped out of school and started his work career when he was just 13.
Embracing a classic “go the extra mile” work ethic, he impressed his employers and managed to climb through the ranks rather quickly. By the time he was 18, he was earning a whopping $40 a month. And by maneuvering his way into a variety of deals that his mentors and employers were involved in, he became wealthy before he reached age 30.
Part of the public’s fascination with Carnegie was his cartoonish appearance, barely five feet tall, rotund, with a notably homely face that was partially concealed by his trademark bushy beard. Perhaps because of his lack of both physical stature and education, Carnegie, an extremely insecure man, was obsessed with his image.
Determined to create a reputation as a dignified, learned gentleman who would be looked upon favorably by society’s upper crust, he focused on such pursuits as reading, becoming a connoisseur of expensive art and fine wines, and developing impeccable manners – anything that would put him in good stead with the elite classes in Pittsburgh, New York and Great Britain. Ultimately, he even became a prolific writer and much sought after public speaker.
Remarkably, from his middle 30s on, Carnegie spent most of his time enjoying the good life while his partners (including his younger brother Tom) ran his businesses. It was common for him to visit England and Scotland every year for two or three months at a time, accompanied by a large entourage of friends and high-profile acquaintances, all at his own expense.
Carnegie was a bachelor until age 51, due in no small part to the fact that he was tied to his mother’s apron strings. Only after his mother died did he finally marry his longtime sweetheart, Louise Whitfield.
But what I found most interesting about Carnegie was that he was a limousine liberal before there was such a thing as a limousine. Carnegie, one of the two wealthiest men in America at the time, went so far as to proclaim himself a socialist, even though, when it was convenient, he did not hesitate to disparage other socialists.
Following in the tradition of elder members of the Carnegie clan in his native Dunfermline, Scotland, he took great care to establish a reputation for standing up for the working man. To his dismay, however, his self-righteous chest-pounding did not bring him the adulation he so desired.
Instead, he earned a reputation as a notorious hypocrite as a result of his using brute force to put down union uprisings at his steel plants and repeatedly coercing his workers to agree to stretch their workdays from eight to 12 hours.
Carnegie’s hypocrisy and philosophical confusion reminded me of the class warfare and hypocrisy we are witnessing today from the likes of crony capitalists, Silicon Valley brat billionaires, and Hollywood’s rich and famous. If it were not for intellectuals, media personalities and so many of the wealthiest among us enthusiastically embracing the idea of collectivism, Barack Obama’s plans to spend America into oblivion would not stand a chance.
How can people who are intelligent enough to become wealthy buy into a philosophy that calls for aggression against individual rights? Clearly, the answer is because it is based on emotion, and emotion has a way of trumping intelligence.
What else would cause a genius like Albert Einstein to arrive at the conclusion that socialism is far more humane than capitalism? In a May 1949 issue of the socialist magazine Monthly Review, Einstein wrote, in part:
“The issue is socialism versus capitalism. I am for socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough. Money constitutes no proper basis of civilization. The time has come to regenerate society – we are on the eve of a universal change.”
Einstein certainly was right about our being on the eve of universal change (i.e., a “fundamental transformation” of the American way of life). Sadly, as society has advanced technologically over the past hundred years, it has simultaneously regressed sociologically and morally. Politicians have honed the art of playing on people’s emotions (particularly guilt and greed) as a way of achieving and maintaining power, the result being that redistribution of wealth has become a multi-trillion-dollar industry.
The idea of forcing others to share their wealth appeals to man’s flawed nature, particularly his desire to attain prosperity without work. In a democracy, appealing to this human flaw is a winner every time, which is why the Founding Fathers established America as a republic.
Unfortunately, that lasted only until the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, so, for all practical purposes, we have evolved into the Founding Fathers’ worst nightmare: a society based on majority rule – meaning tyranny of the majority.
Those who hunger for power and those who are envious and immoral will always be with us and always find a way to form an alliance that makes it possible for them to achieve their dual objectives. And hypocritical limousine liberals — from Andrew Carnegie to Warren Buffet, Ted Turner and Al Gore — will always be an important catalyst in helping the sordid relationship between the two work smoothly.
I guess this means that if you don’t aspire to power over others, and aren’t envious, wealthy, or guilt-ridden, you’re on the outside looking in. Which would be bad enough, but, unfortunately, it also means you get the government they deserve.